Review by Amir Khalif of "David," a Fendelman Film
"David" tells the story of an 11-year-old boy growing up in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. Daoud’s father is a respected neighborhood imam and Daoud is following in his footsteps: learning the Qur’an, instructing younger children and wearing traditional clothing. Despite the discipline inspired by culture and religion, it is clear that Daoud is struggling with his identity as his only friend is his older sister, and in his interactions with his cousins and peers Daoud is awkward at best. While not suffering from a crisis of faith, Daoud is unable to reach out and connect with those around him. Most people can look back on this time and relate to some degree how painful this can be.
While watching over a younger cousin in the park, Daoud senses both the similarities and otherness in a group of Jewish boys studying the Torah. When he sees that one has been left behind, Daoud attempts to return it but has to leave it in a mailbox. Later he discovers that instead of the Torah, he left the Qur’an of his grandfather, which his uncle had just passed on to him with the admonishment of “I know you will take good care of it.” In his attempt to retrieve it, Daoud sheds his outer garments and finds that he blends right in. Too well, in fact, as he is shuffled into Yeshiva by a gentle rabbi.
Daoud – now David – spies the book but is unsuccessful at obtaining it. He returns the next day, and again, and then again as he is finally able to make connections to others despite the clearly defined boundaries of history, culture and religion. Even after he succeeds at finding his Qur’an, David does not confess, nor does he stop the charade. But double-lives do not last long. While enjoying Coney Island as only young boys can, David misses a recital at the mosque, stoking the fire of family tensions which include his sister’s desire to go to college in California. Soon after, one of the boys discovers his secret and outs him to the others. In a storm of shock and loss, David haunts the streets of Brooklyn until he collapses in the sanctuary of the mosque. Both David and his family are forced to come to terms with the realities of the time and place that they live in.
After the screening, the director – Joel Fendelman – stated that a large part of his inspiration came from his own struggle with identity while growing up Jewish in Miami. What is especially moving about this film is its ability to express how faith and culture can provide the deep roots that are necessary to prevent a person’s identity from falling down – even in the jungles of Brooklyn. At no point did anyone question their beliefs and with that, one could almost sense the hand of God in the lives of the characters. It made me wonder – humbly – if one of the ways in which God views the universe is similar to how I saw the story unfold: despite knowing what will ultimately happen, you are glued because there is a lesson to be learned and you want to know what the individuals will take from it.
The main characters of this film – urban youth bound tightly to cultural and religious norms – are perfect for this story and the questions it raises. Though they are old enough to understand the concept of “other,” they are unable to articulate what that otherness means. They make friends easily and defend those relationships with sincerity. Children who are younger would not have the emotional or mental maturity to truly make sense of their experience, while adults would have to work the other way around, swimming upstream through their prejudices.
The most commented on aspect of this film was undoubtedly the ending. So as to not spoil the film even further, I will merely say that there were several endings filmed and the final choice is one that leaves the audience questioning. This was the best decision. This is not a film of answers, it is about inspiring questions. It should make you ask about yourself, your family, your culture, religion, neighborhood,city, nation, history and on and on. It also stresses the need to ask and learn about your neighbors from your neighbors. Differences are easy to spot and easy to exploit. Discovering our similarities, our commonalities and our shared truths requires hard work, but in the end it is vastly rewarding.
Amir Khalif works in development at a large church in Manhattan. He also owns and runs a small Fair Trade business. Amir has an MA in Sustainable Business and Communities from Goddard College. He is planning on entering an interfaith seminary in the fall. Amir spends much of his free time learning, loving and remembering with the Nur Ashki Jerrahi Sufi community.