HINEINI: COMING OUT IN A JEWISH HIGH SCHOOL (Irena Fayngold) Rating:NNN Rating: NNN
When 14-year-old lesbian Shulamit Izen decides to form a gay-straight alliance at the New Jewish High School of Boston, she opens up a spirited debate about tradition and religion that goes all the way back to the Torah.
The fight by the feisty, continually smiling Izen forms the backbone of Irene Fayngold's insightful (if slightly cold) documentary, screening during the final weekend of the Toronto Jewish Film Festival.
In one fascinating early scene, Izen makes a chart of the school's power base, identifying the factions she'll need to win over. As expected, she meets resistance, mostly from the school's headmaster and from several students. One of the more moving sequences shows Izen phoning up her classmates and trying to present her case. Most aren't supportive.
But gradually, her case gains strength, especially when several faculty members, inspired by her chutzpah, begin questioning whether they'll come out themselves.
Fayngold captures the excitement leading up to a key debate, but there's a curious lack of emotion in the proceedings. What's most illuminating is the high level of debate that occurs. These kids aren't slackers. Their minds sharpened by Torah study, they know how to present an argument.
Several under-explored themes include the idea that it might be easier for girls to come out than boys. It might have been interesting to dig a bit deeper into why that is.
What's missing most in the film is passion. We don't get to witness Izen's emotional or sexual feelings for other women or girls. You can understand why Fayngold or Izen herself might want to avoid sentimentality, but it makes Izen's struggle seem more like a legal matter and less like a human one. Screens Sunday (May 14), 1 pm, at the Bloor.