As a Lutheran growing up in Minnesota, Sarah Smith had no way to anticipate that she would one day direct a film about a gay-curious Hasidic man living in Los Angeles. But her award-winning film,” “Black Hat” zeroes in on Shmuel [played by Adam Silver], a married father, whose wife and kids are visiting out-of-state relatives. Suddenly footloose, the devoutly observant Shmuel allows himself a brief foray into gay L.A. where he meets Jay [Sebastian Velmont], a man who lives without the constraints of community expectations. What ensues is tender, provocative, and open-ended, a tiny glimpse into a world that is all-too-often exoticized and ridiculed. In a short 14 minutes, the film—written by Phillip Guttmann, produced by Yaniv Rokah, and co-produced by Loriel Samaras and Guttmann—tells a compelling and fresh story. Eleanor J. Bader spoke to Sarah Smith by phone in June.
Eleanor J. Bader: Were you familiar with ultra-Orthodox or Hasidic Jews before directing “Black Hat”?
Sarah Smith: I first came to New York from a suburb of Minneapolis to attend New York University and stayed in the City for nine years. At first, I felt some culture shock, but by the time I directed the film, I had familiarity with the community. From 2002 to 2006, I worked as a writers’ assistant at the now-closed JC Studios in the Midwood section of Brooklyn. While there, I’d encountered many Hasidic and Orthodox people and had learned a little bit about them.
EJB: A number of recent feature films have introduced Hasidic life to mainstream audiences. How does “Black Hat” fit into this genre?
SS: There are a range of films about Hasidim. Some condemn the community and others just tell a story. Disobedience falls into this latter category.