A compelling and charming film comes to Scottsdale on Sunday, Feb. 23.

A compelling and charming film comes to Scottsdale on Sunday, Feb. 23.

This Sunday in Scottsdale, the film Road to Eden will be shown at the Harkins Camelview. If your Sunday afternoon is still free, I urge you to see it. If it’s not, then break your other appointments and go.

When I sat down to write about it, I was just going to view the eight-minute preview available on the film’s website. But I was so taken by that clip, I decided to stay up way too late last night to view the entire film (which writer/director Doug Passon had provided to me in advance).

So I may be sleepy this morning, but that is entirely overborne by the pleasure and excitement I took away from the film.

Not knowing what to expect in a film made by someone whose day job is attorney (Doug works in the Federal Public Defender’s Office in Phoenix), I was surprised but intrigued to see the movie is an exploration of the Jewish holiday called Sukkot. Here is part of the film’s description:

“Road to Eden is a feature-length documentary film that captures the essence of Judaism’s most profound teachings about our connection to the earth, the fragility of existence, and our dream of a world perfected.”
“The spine of the film is the inspirational journey of Dan Nichols, a tour de force of modern Jewish music, who took his show on the road for the Jewish festival of Sukkot in October 2011. Dan and his incredible band Eighteen loaded into an RV and wandered through the Deep South. Each day of Sukkot brought a new town, a unique celebration, and uplifting, sometimes heartbreaking Sukkot stories.”

Before you make assumptions, this is not a movie made just for a Jewish audience. The messages it explores—about community, and ardor for a life fully lived, and about ever becoming a fuller self—are compelling ones for any viewer.

In addition, Doug told me, “Although the movie is rooted in Jewish thought, the themes of the film are universal and particularly relevant to the legal community, with a heavy emphasis on immigrant rights and social justice.”

"Road to eden" includes beautiful visual markers throughout that should be printed, framed and displayed.

“Road to Eden” includes beautiful visual markers throughout that should be printed, framed and displayed. (Here’s just one.)

Those last two elements come through strongly, especially as Dan Nichols and his bandmates travel through Alabama, which at the time had just enacted a harsh anti-immigration law (“the Arizona law on steroids,” as a Diane Sawyer describes it in a news clip). And the journey about Sukkot is masterfully capped by an extended discussion about Martin Luther King, Jr. As we hear from a fellow civil rights advocate, Rev. Samuel “Billy” Kyles, who stood next to King as he was shot in Memphis, viewers may be moved to explore their own choices and the public policies that guide us all. It is a deeply moving interview.

If you only view the movie to learn more about Sukkot, a below-the-radar holiday, it would be worth it. (The holiday requires construction of a temporary structure, largely open to the elements, recalling those who had been freed from slavery in Egypt but who had to wander before ever finding a permanent home.) Seeing the variety of creative ways people celebrate is marvelous. But it wasn’t until about 40 minutes in that I could see that all of us humans may be encapsulated in Sukkot—at least, all of us humans who are still questing and aiming to improve.

Here is Dan Nichols praising the Jewish kids camps that dot the country and that mean so much to those who attend:

“Who’s there? These living, breathing Sukkot, these children, who are in transition, who are not strong structures yet. They are still trying to figure out who they’re gonna be, what’s important to them, what they stand for.”

Open-eyed viewers may see a little of themselves in those summer camps.

The generational imperative is strong in the film, and it is emphasized finally in the civil rights advocate interview. Dan asks Reverend Kyles how he continues on, even in the face of heartbreak like the assassination of Dr. King. The answer: We still have a long way to go. But “these young people will find ways that we cannot imagine.”

Before I sign off, I must point out two additional strong elements of the film: The music (yes, it’s a band-on-the-road film) is fantastic, heartfelt, beautifully composed and sung. And the interstitial illustrations that pepper the film are remarkable, wisely chosen and perfectly evoke the path on a road to a better world. Animation was done by ZAZ Animation Studio, Israel.

The film is playing one time, as part of the Greater Phoenix Jewish Film Festival. Tickets are available for purchase on the Festival website, or you can buy tickets at the theatre right before the screening. Students are 1/2 price.

The film screens Sunday, Feb. 23, at 3:00 pm, at Harkins Camelview Theatre, 7001 E. Highland Ave., Scottsdale 85251. I hope to see you there.

More about the film is here.

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