Projecting Freedom: Cinematic Interpretations of the Haggadah

by H. Glenn Rosenkrantz

A group of noted film and video artists have spent the last year studying and interpreting the Passover Haggadah and reflecting on it through their art, and their creations are now premiering in venues around the world as the Jewish holiday of freedom is marked.

Titled, Projecting Freedom: Cinematic Interpretations of the Haggadah, this groundbreaking artistic and educational project is tied to the Passover holiday. The project features video shorts with personal takes on the liturgy, songs and rituals that is the narrative basis for the Passover seder.

The initiative, spearheaded by the Skirball Center for Adult Jewish Learning at Temple Emanu-El in New York, brought together a group of film and video makers who spent nearly a year studying the Haggadah, interpreting its various parts, and giving them expression through a 21st century art form. The individual pieces last just a few minutes each, but taken separately or together, translate the Haggadah into creative and compelling language, meaning and imagery.

“While the Haggadah has been visually interpreted in manuscripts and print for a thousand years, this may be the very first cinematic interpretation of its words, and demonstrates the continued relevance of our classic texts in the life of contemporary Jews,” said Rabbi Leon Morris, executive director of The Skirball Center. “These extraordinary video artists and filmmakers do more than fulfill the obligation of telling the story of our exodus in a new way. They translate the Haggadah into a new form and make us think about it in new ways.”

The artists have been encouraged to interpret the sections of the Haggadah in a creative manner, reflecting their own individual encounter with it. They have worked with Rabbi Morris and Saul Robbins, curator for the project, to study, explore and discuss the history, meaning and structure of the Haggadah.

Leveraging the digital nature of the art form and its potential for education, the shorts will live on the project’s website, along with a study guide, and other filmmakers, video artists and students will be encouraged to create and submit their own cinematic interpretations of the Haggadah to be featured there. The aim, Morris said, is to spur further discussion of the Haggadah and Passover, and underscore The Skirball Center’s emphasis on artistic expression in Jewish life and education.

The filmmakers and video artists recruited to take part in this groundbreaking initiative represent a full spectrum of cultural and religious affiliations and experiences, and many have received noted recognitions for their works and achievements. Two of them were represented in Reinventing Ritual: Contemporary Art and Design for Jewish Life, a recent exhibit at The Jewish Museum in New York that will show at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco beginning next month.

The video shorts premiered last week in New York City and on and had their European premiere during the Other Seder event of the Jewish Community Centre for London. A West Coast premiere will take place during the Out of Order Seder on March 31 at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco.

The Skirball Center for Adult Jewish Learning received a grant from The Covenant Foundation for Projecting Freedom: Cinematic Interpretations of the Haggadah.

For more information about Projecting Freedom: Cinematic Interpretations of the Haggadah, visit the project Website.