More than five years in the making, Paula Eiselt’s feature debut is a labor of love about a group of Hasidic women in Brooklyn trying to form the first all-female volunteer ambulance corps in New York. “93Queen” required her to film more than 200 hours of footage over four years straight — by herself.
Getting that level of access into the Hasidic community as a non-Hasidic person is unheard of, but Eiselt is Orthodox Jewish and understands the Hasid’s modesty laws and their customs. She earned the trust of her main subject, Rachel “Ruchie” Freier.
“There’s a lot I can relate to with these women,” she said at a Q&A following a showing of her film at the International Documentary Association’s annual screening series in Los Angeles. “I can give them a voice and get access because of my background.”
Ruchie was key to gaining the appropriate access to the women, who responded to Eiselt’s own background and her commitment to putting forward a fair portrayal of Hasidic women in the media, something the community rarely sees from an outsider.
“By being Orthodox, that was my entry in,” Eiselt said. “I understand the laws of modesty and I was able to respect that.“
And after Ruchie expressed disappointment in how the media has portrayed her community in the past, Eiselt said she could change that. “She was very committed to having an empowered story out there, so she let me in.”
While the first half of the film focuses on the clash between the women trying to found their group, Ezras Nashim, and the all-male Hasidic ambulance corps, Hatzolah, the hardest part about gaining access for Eiselt was actually tapping into the internal conflict among the women. The second half of the film has larger implications than the ambulance corps, even as Ruchie, a lawyer, runs for District Court judge.
“What really drew me to Ruchie was her complexity. … She’s heroic, she’s groundbreaking, she’s a trailblazer, and she has flaws. She’s a human,” Eiselt said. “The thing that I really admire about Ruchie is she is not afraid to be disliked. … I wonder if a man would have done this how we would feel if we saw that ambition.”
Ultimately, Eiselt said, she wants her film to be one of many films about the Hasidic community.
“The Hasidic community is a diverse community like any other place,” she said. “It’s not monolithic, and there are many stories to tell about this community and many truths. … I just think there needs to be a variety of perspectives because no one film can tell a story about an entire community. It’s multiple stories.”
The IDA Documentary Screening Series brings some of the year’s most acclaimed documentary films to the IDA community and members of industry guilds and organizations. Films selected for the Series receive exclusive access to an audience of tastemakers and doc lovers during the important Awards campaigning season from September through November. For more information about the series, and a complete schedule, visit IDA.