By JACK LYONS, Special to Theatrecriticism.com
With a film title like “The Jewish Jail Lady and the Holy Thief,” how could one not be intrigued?
This film documentary digs deep into the telling of the true life story, warts and all, of two remarkable outlier individuals in today’s judgmental, divisive, complicated and troubled driven world, where “fear” has the people by the throat.
This 60-minute film documentary by producer/director/writer Barry Rosenthal, and co-director Victor Velle is a creatively riveting and compelling production in every aspect. Metaphors abound in this film based on the true stories of Rabbi Mark Borovitz and Harriet Rossetto, the 1987 founders of Beit T’shuvah, a Jewish recovery community organization that opened its Los Angeles-based doors to Jewish ex-criminals and addicts as a way of reintroducing them back into traditional societal norms.
Their life stories are boldly expressed on camera, speaking at times, separately and together in interview format style, employs the raw language of street vernacular vocabulary. In the opening scenes of the film Rabbi Borovitz is being honored for his years of service following his epiphany from being a thief, an ex-convict and criminal, a con man, a hustler, and all around lowlife and scoundrel.
He is being introduced and described by his friend and teacher Senior Rabbi Ed Feinstein, of Valley Beth Shalom in Encino, California, who leaves no doubt as to whom Mark was and how he morphed into a spiritual being along with his signature abrasive approach that at times was, and probably still is to some, too off-putting for his audiences. Truth can be a painful, yet powerful and rewarding life experience if processed properly; as is the case with Rabbi Borovitz. A note of caution, however, at this point. The strong adult language in this documentary may not be appropriate for all viewers.
Harriet Rossetto, before meeting Mark was a flawed individual seeking a way to break free and fulfill some sort of destiny by bringing change into her life. Her sleeping around sexual liaison addiction was a dead-end street; realizing she would have to keep traveling that road the rest of her life. There needed to be another pathway for her to leave a life style that was fraught with fear, danger and a possible early self-inflicted death.
Rabbi Borovitz became the author and biographer of his life in a best-selling book “The Holy Thief: A Con Man’s Journey From Darkness to Light” via the L.A. Times book review listings. His book success became the source material for Rosenthal to produce the documentary “The Jewish Jail Lady and the Holy Thief.”
The documentary subject matter and style may not be everybody’s cup of tea, but there is no denying the power and messaging it sends to its audiences. It is replete with comments like: “Life altering,” “It’s uplifting.” “It’s what I’ve been searching for but have been unable to find until now.” to “It’s a film that needs to be seen by all who feel lost and are misfits in a society that doesn’t quite work for them.” Heartfelt and compelling, “The Jewish Jail Lady and the Holy Thief,” is a documentary one might recommend to a friend in need who might benefit from viewing it.
In the technical department Barry Rosenthal and Nick Shanman serve as producers and Rosenthal and Velle as co-directors. The photography of Jake Mitchell, plus the smart and crisp editing of Christos Tsiarus, makes this compelling and (no pun intended) unorthodox documentary flow, taking its viewers on a journey of introspection that normally one would not seek. The beauty of this documentary lies in its candor and honesty of its two subject individuals: Mark Borovitz and Harriet Rossetto. Kudos to the professional talents of its creative team, who understand the plight of the less fortunate among us.
“The Jewish Jail Lady and the Holy Thief” (1 hour) has been submitted to a number of Jewish film festivals worldwide, receiving numerous citations and awards. The film makes its world premiere at historic Graumann’s Theater in Los Angeles this Sunday afternoon at 4:45 p.m. PDT.
Jack Lyons is a member of the Academy of Television Arts and the American Theatre Critics Association.