The Arty Semite

Filmmaker Made Public Humiliation His Muse

By Curt Schleier

  • Print
  • Share Share

Independent filmmakers can face many discouraging obstacles on the road from concept to screen. But Seth Fisher found a way to make sure he would not abandon his first full length feature along the way: his fear of public humiliation.

“As soon as I started writing ‘Blumenthal’ I started a blog called watchmemakeamovie.com,” he said in a telephone interview with the Forward. “Every day I’d post what I did that day. I figured if I was going to announce to the world that I was going to make this movie, I would have to see it through to the end. It would be embarrassing if I stopped.”

That was back in November of 2010. Now, more than three years later, “Blumenthal” opens in New York on March 28. with more cities added in the coming weeks. The movie, already a Jewish film festival darling, is about the family of successful playwright Harold Blumenthal, who dies while laughing at one of his own jokes.

His survivors are a younger and jealous brother, Saul (Mark Blum), Saul’s wife Cheryl (Laila Robins) and his son Ethan (writer/director Fisher). As Saul grapples with his angst, Cheryl deals with aging and Ethan with trying to find the perfect woman.

Fisher spoke to the Forward about where the film came from, why the characters were Jewish, and what Tom Stoppard told him about Jewish characters.

Curt Schleier: I found the film very enjoyable, but I wasn’t entirely sure what you wanted to say. Can you explain?

Seth Fisher: I like to say it was more what I was trying to explore then what I was trying to say. I was interested in exploring people in different stages of their lives across gender in this period of American history. They all seem to be prone to looking at their lives and asking, is this enough? Could I have more? And could I be better off? And all of this is at the expense of living in the present.

Where did all of this come from?

It came from a couple of places. I worked as an actor in the New York theater scene and was lucky enough to work with some pretty recognizable and famous people. Every day, family would show up, and I started wondering what it would be like to be Arthur Miller’s least talented brother. (Not that I worked with Arthur Miller.) Or what would it be like to be Steven Spielberg’s nephew, to have the name but not the talent. So that was the catalyst. Also, I had characters similar to Cheryl and Ethan in short films I’ve done. I wanted to explore them more. Saul’s story is really a brother’s story. I have an older brother who is very successful. So this part is drawn from my own experience, though it’s worth stating that my brother is not a writer. He’s a venture capitalist in Israel.

Any particular reason the Upper West Side family is Jewish?

I just did a Q&A at a Jewish film festival where someone asked me if this was a Jewish movie. I didn’t see the movie in that light, but now the logic of it crosses my mind. I think Jews are questioning people. It’s a very Jewish thing to question everything, success, failure, how you look. Everything that comes in front of you.

Something I just thought of. When I appeared in “Rock’n Roll” (on Broadway), I asked [playwright] Tom Stoppard why he made the character who returns to Prague Jewish. He told me, ‘I thought about it. I’m Jewish so I’ll make him Jewish.’ It was just mechanics. He then told me how he only found out about being Jewish when he was about 40.

Tell me a little about your background.

I grew up in San Antonio. My family is South African Jews. They immigrated in 1976. I grew up in a Conservative household and yes, was a bar mitzvah. My brother obviously made aliya and is in Israel.

Were you one of those kids who ran around with a camcorder?

I wasn’t. I was the kid who would frustrate his siblings and rewind every VHS movie we watched and watch it again. As a kid I was less interested in the concept of movies than in stories. I loved watching plays and the idea of actually getting behind the camera didn’t occur to me until later. I was into still photography for a while and then started with short films.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Seth Fisher, Interviews, Film, Blumenthal

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • Is anti-Zionism the new anti-Semitism?
  • "I thought I was the only Jew on a Harley Davidson, but I was wrong." — Gil Paul, member of the Hillel's Angels. http://jd.fo/g4cjH
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.