Interview with Filmmaker Danielle Durchslag (ANATEVKA)

ANATEVKA, 4min., USA, Family
Directed by Danielle Durchslag
A group of school children perform a darkly comedic version of the song Anatevka, from Fiddler on the Roof, for their parents, with new lyrics exploring the modern tribulations of Jewish communal anxiety.

1. What motivated you to make this film?

Years ago, I attended a Fiddler on the Roof themed birthday party for a girlfriend’s daughter. Alongside the other adults, I watched a group of young Jewish ladies in pink ballet outfits, singing and dancing all the big hits from the show. One song they did not perform, I noticed, was my personal favorite from the musical, a sorrowful, sarcastic number sung by the ensemble about being forced to flee their beloved, poor, small village, Anatevka, due to the violent antisemitism perpetrated on them by their Christian neighbors. It’s a heavy, sardonic, shrug of a song. Not the tone we typically associate with children’s birthday parties.

Yet Anatevka’s exclusion haunted me, as did the party in general. Why, I kept wondering, with so many powerful examples of Jewish art, does this one story stubbornly persevere, especially in America? My people have not lived in shtetls for a very long time, thankfully, and though hatred of our community certainly and terrifyingly continues, the story of American Jewish life is largely one of safety and success. Yet this tale, of our poverty and victimhood, of being fundamentally unsafe, remains at the center of how we see ourselves and invite others to see us.

So, I decided to write and direct a short film parody of the original Anatevka song, with new lyrics directly examining my tribe’s stubborn focus on our well-earned victimhood, despite having so many other rich sources of meaning in our tradition. My film is a darkly funny take on how we often teach Jewishness to young people AS victimhood, and the implications of defining this ancient, beautiful, very much alive identity by scarcity instead of abundance.

2. From the idea to the finished product, how long did it take for you to make this film?

It took over two years! Covid really pushed us back. I had to wait until the idea of gathering 7 children in a room, and having them sing close to one another, mask-less, did not feel like an unsafe premise. Now with rates up again in New York City, where I live, I feel so very lucky that no one got Covid during our rehearsal or filming process.

3. How would you describe your film in two words!?

Dark Fiddler.

4. What was the biggest obstacle you faced in completing this film?

All filmmaking comes with obstacles, always. On this production we had to deal with potential Covid exposures, emergency last minute casting, and the loss of our chosen location less than a week before our start date.
Hard to say which of these provided the largest obstacle!

My biggest personal obstacle, every time I direct, is being honest and clear rather than pleasing, and I believe a lot of female filmmakers know this particular challenge. As women, we’re conditioned so often to host human interactions rather than honestly express our preferences, to treat the experience of other people as much more important than our personal agenda. But that does not work for film directing! I always want to create a friendly, positive, collaborative vibe on set, but I also have to remind myself, constantly, that my central job is to clearly state my vision, so other folks around me can help bring it to life. That is very different from simply pleasing my collaborators.

5. What were your initial reactions when watching the audience talking about your film in the feedback video?

I felt so touched and lucky!

My last film premiered in NYC just before Covid started. I got to attend that premiere, and then, thanks the pandemic, the film made its way around the world without me. With international travel prohibited for almost all of its run, I could not attend any of that film’s foreign screenings. So, for months, I sent it off to festivals across the globe, with literally no idea or lived experience of its audience reception.

Getting to see and hear feedback in the TOFFFF video, especially after missing out on feedback last time around, feels incredible. I’m so elated and happy to see what landed for viewers. Also, as a film with so much Jewish content that parodies a Jewish song, I did not know if or how non-Jewish audiences might respond to Anatevka. Receiving such positive reactions from a truly diverse group of viewers has shown me this film does connect with a more general audience, which is great.

6. When did you realize that you wanted to make films?

I started dreaming about filmmaking in college, but did not start doing it until many years later. Back in the late 90’s/early 2000’s men dominated the industry even more than now (hard to believe, I know, but it has actually been worse. We still have so far to go!) and I couldn’t really imagine a place for myself as a film director. Only in my late 30’s did I start taking classes and dedicating myself to coming back to that initial dream.

7. What film have you seen the most in your life?

This is a tough one. I’m honestly not sure which film I have seen the most times, but the films I currently return to the most for cinematic inspiration are probably Antonia’s Line, the feminist masterpiece by Marleen Gorris, and Bergman’s Cries and Whispers. While preparing to make Anatevka, I watched and thought a lot about Cold War, a remarkable movie directed by Pawel Pawlikowski.

8. What other elements of the festival experience can we and other festivals implement to satisfy you and help you further your filmmaking career?

You are already doing so much! Getting to share my film several times through TOFFFF, seeing audience feedback, and getting interviewed by the festival, both in print and on the podcast, is fabulous! I have never had this many opportunities come from a single festival, and I’m grateful.

9. You submitted to the festival via FilmFreeway. How has your experiences been working on the festival platform site?

I’ve had a very positive experience. FilmFreeway is such an efficient home for global film festival information.

10. What is your favorite meal?

Steak and fries.

11. What is next for you? A new film?

I’m both a filmmaker and a visual artist, so I have film and non-film based projects coming up. For the last few years I’ve been working on a brand new, short, movie musical, titled Good Shabbos, with a fabulous composer, Rachel J. Peters. Good Shabbos tells the story of the relationship between a wealthy Jewish doyenne and her queer, progressive, adult daughter, dissolving over the course of one Jewish calendar year due to conflicts over Zionism and homophobia. The audience learns of their dynamic and separation exclusively through the sung weekly Shabbos voicemails the mother leaves to her child. Each voicemail is a new, original song, with lyrics by me and music by Rachel. I’m hoping to begin pre-production on Good Shabbos in 2023.

For more information on all my projects, which include sculpture, photography, film, and performance art, please check out my website,, or follow me on IG, where I’m @ddurch.


By matthewtoffolo

Filmmaker and sports fan. CEO of the WILDsound Film and Writing Festival

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