A week to animate talmudic texts No problem

They’re not exactly reinventing the Talmud, but a group of creative thinkers will be in San Francisco next week to bring the ancient Jewish text to life.

With the help of a dozen university students from around the country, a handful of professional artists, and a hefty dose of creative energy, talmudic tales will take on a modern look at the Contemporary Jewish Museum from Monday, Aug. 12, through  Friday, Aug. 17. The museum will partner with the nonprofit production company G-dcast for a collaborative animation project to produce six short films based on Jewish texts.

Studio G-dcast, a six-day residency program for emerging animators and writers, will be one part filmmaking experiment, one part Torah study, and, ideally, said G-dcast founder Sarah Lefton, a good time for everyone involved. She said the program is a natural next step for the production company, a 4-year-old San Francisco organization designed to promote Jewish literacy through short films (67 of which are available for free on the nonprofit’s website).

Stu Sufrin

“Up until about a year ago, G-dcast was purely a media production company, we just made films and then put them out into the world. And then at some point we started getting asked to come do workshops at schools and synagogues, and we realized how energizing it was to actually be in the room with kids and teens and young adults, and it really changed the way we thought about work,” said Lefton.

With support from the New York-based Covenant Foundation, G-dcast will bring 12 students — from Tel Aviv, New York, Toronto and beyond, ranging in age from 18 to 30 — to San Francisco for an eye-opening week of artistic collaboration at the CJM. Half the cohort members are animators and the other half are writers; writers and animators will be paired into chevrutas (study partners) for the duration of the project.

Next, they’ll delve into Jewish text with the Studio

G-dcast staff members (working Jewish writers and artists such as the organization’s own editorial director, Matthew Roth, and poet/musician Alicia Jo Rabins) to tease out themes and lessons from the Talmud. They’ll have visits from professional animators, producers and Jewish scholars. Finally, they’ll divvy up stories and work in their pairs to animate three-minute films.

On Aug. 16, from 6:30 to 8 p.m., the public is invited to a works-in-progress screening featuring their productions; the animators will be on hand to discuss the work.

Judith Prays

After putting out a call for applicants in April, Lefton says, G-dcast received materials from roughly 60 would-be participants, from a much wider range of artistic backgrounds, affiliations and geographic locations than the filmmaker was expecting.

Stu Sufrin, 18, the youngest member of the cohort, hails from suburban Chicago. After hearing about G-dcast from his older brother, the recent high school graduate and enthusiastic animator says he was drawn to the program because “It’s everything that I am.”

“I’ve had a Jewish education my whole life, since preschool … and I want to make educational TV shows for kids as a career,” said Sufrin, who added that, when he enters the Art Institute of Boston at Lesley University this fall, it will be as an animation major, with a minor in child psychology.

“It’s going to be incredible to work with people who have a lot more experience than me. I’m expecting it to be a pretty serious learning experience, not only in animation but the Talmud aspect, and learning how to work in a team, which is something I haven’t done much of in animation before,” he said.

Judith Prays, 25, has a degree in film from UCLA, and a background making short films for clients such as the educational website MyJewishLearning.com. She also believes deeply in the power of visual storytelling, especially when it comes to Jewish text.

“I use Torah as inspiration all the time — I currently do watercolors about the weekly Torah portion. But I’ve never tried to make something for a younger demographic,” said Prays, who is currently working as a developer and event producer in Atlanta. She’s also looking forward to the challenging pace of the project. “I believe that work expands to fill the time allotted, and I tend to procrastinate … Besides, it sounds exciting,” she said.

Aron Bothman, 29, received his undergraduate degree in biology and Chinese language at U.C. Berkeley before pursuing his animation dreams and enrolling at CalArts near L.A. — a school at which, he said, the Jewish student population is relatively small. “I grew up in a really strong Jewish community in Santa Barbara,” he said. “But I’ve never combined that with my animation work, so I’m really looking forward to that.”

Somewhere in the middle of all that Talmud study and animation work, Lefton and the G-dcast team will be making sure the students enjoy San Francisco. Lunch with a “young, cool” local author is planned — Lefton couldn’t yet say which one — and the group is scheduled to take a tour of the Mission District with Precita Eyes, the mural arts organization.

Seeing as this is the inaugural cohort for the program, Lefton added that there are some aspects of the week where she expects surprises.

“It’s a lot of firsts,” she said. “Which means it’s going to be risky and messy and a lot of fun.”

“Studio G-dcast: An Animated Story Residency”
will screen short films for the public from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 16 at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, 736 Mission St., S.F. Free with museum admission. www.thecjm.org.

Emma Silvers

Emma Silvers is a former J. staff writer.