Ezra Edmond is a writer, director, and animation producer who recently released a short film entitled Blewish, centered around a child and his exploration of his Black and Jewish identities. The film premiered at the 2021 Chicago International Children's Film Festival and has been making the rounds in the film festival circuit.
In this "Ten Questions" article, Edmond shares with us how he entered the film world, the inspiration for his film, and more:
How did you get involved in film?
I've always loved film, tv, animation, and storytelling of all kinds. I was always crafty as a kid, and as soon as I realized that animation was an art form I could learn, I was hooked. The idea of creating characters, drawing, having everything come to life; knowing you've created something that "lives and breathes" that other people can relate to - that's so cool and has always been incredibly magical to me. Same for telling stories. I always loved reading and being told stories when I was young, and realizing the power a good story has, how it can change someone's life, or transport them to a brand new magical world. In animated film and tv, you get to do both - create worlds and breathe life into the characters that inhabit them, so it was always something that was just fascinating to me. I wanted to learn everything I could about how to do it.
What was the inspiration for Blewish?
When I was a kid, I didn't see many other Jewish people of color when I was in Jewish spaces (Hebrew school, youth group events, etc). A few years ago, I was at a bookstore where I saw a white Jewish mother looking for something for her mixed-race kids. She lamented that there wasn't much representation for Jews of Color available, and in that moment I wished I had something to give to her to help show the kids representation of their identities; something to help bond with others like me and help bring people together. That moment stuck with me, and as I began exploring what I could do if I was in that situation again in the future - as well as thinking about what I would've loved when I was those kids age - Blewish started to come to me!
What was the writing process like for your film?
I knew I wanted to write a short film from the beginning, and one of the hardest challenges there is not making it too long. Knowing I wanted to base it off my childhood, as well as the hindsight I now have as an adult, a lot of thought went into figuring out the moments I wanted to highlight as well as figuring out my intent, the point I was trying to make - without it feeling too heavy handed or melodramatic. Once I had those ideas written down, I worked on a script - and went through a few drafts, always trying to make the story shorter and more compact with each pass. One of the biggest decisions made was to remove all dialogue from the script, knowing that the film would be easier to make without dialogue - and it would be more relatable as well, as language wouldn't be a barrier to watching it. In removing the dialogue, there was a fun challenge to figure out, "how to make the scenes relatable and emotion come through without anyone speaking". The writing process continued into the storyboard phase, and the story continued being refined across the whole production process.
Did you know you wanted to create an animated film from the beginning as opposed to another type of film?
As I mentioned before, I've always loved animation. In this project I really wanted to challenge myself to tell a meaningful, personal story in under five minutes - using animation. Blewish felt like the exact right story to explore in this format, and one I had been wanting to tell for a while. Honestly, I don't think the story would have worked as well in a live action format. I wanted this story to connect to kids, as well as adults, and I wanted any viewer to be able to see themselves in Blewish even if they're neither Black or Jewish. Animation is relatable in a different way than live action is. Animation has a special way of allowing you to connect to it while filling in the blanks yourself, because - no matter how well drawn, or well animated the piece is - your brain requires you to use your own imagination and personal experiences to connect, complete the visual illusion, and really feel "the art of animation" as alive.
Did you experience any challenges in making this film?
I worked with an absolutely wonderful team of animators and artists that made this production an absolute dream come true. One of my hardest personal challenges was figuring out how to tell this story. One of my biggest fears in writing was that the story I would tell would upset friends that I had when growing up. While the story of Blewish is about feeling like an outcast, I did have friends in my childhood, and I didn't want those friends to watch this film and feel like they weren't really my friends at the time that Blewish takes place. Not every day when I was a kid was a bad day by any means, but this film is about the days that could've been better ones. It was a challenge to find that balance and hopefully inspire people to do their part to help build a future where everyone always feels welcomed & accepted.
How has your film been received since its release?
The response has been very positive, and it's incredible to me that so many people are enjoying Blewish - especially since I doubted myself many times during production, wondering if "anyone would actually like, or 'get' this project". Watching the film with people, in theaters as well as over zoom screenings, has been an incredible experience. I've received messages, photos of people watching with their children - and sometimes in their children's schools with their classes. The experience has been extra special each time I have received a message from a fellow JOC, or from parents with bi-racial / mixed race Jewish kids. Knowing that this story resonates and means something to so many is absolutely amazing to me - I hoped that people would enjoy the film, but I never expected to feel so much emotion hearing such a positive response from viewers. It makes me really happy that I found the confidence to share my story, because like I said, I doubted myself many times and never expected this response. It's really helped me see how important and valuable representation is.
Do you have plans to make any other films centered around Jews of color?
I absolutely would love to. I'm not completely sure what the next story I want to tell is, but Blewish is absolutely not going to be the last one. However, I know that while Blewish deals with the themes of acceptance and representation, I want my future stories to start from a point where Jews of Color are seen as normal and accepted. Showing the struggles & difficulties is important, but seeing oneself as more than " just a struggle" is necessary too. If we normalize Jews of Color in our stories, we can create more space for JOC's not to feel outcast anymore.
"Representation matters" is a common refrain in the media lately- how do you think movies/shows/other media representing Jews of color will make a difference in how Jews of all hues are treated and accepted?
Growing up I didn't see any Jews of Color in the media (very few exceptions like Sammy Davis jr) and when I was in Jewish situations (Synagogue, Youth Group, Temple, Camp, etc) there weren't very many Black Jews or other Jews of Color either. Now that I'm an adult and I've learned how many Jews of Color there are that are actors, I often wonder why more of them haven't played Jewish characters in the media, because as a kid, seeing that representation would've really made me feel like less of an outlier. Seeing more JOC's in the media also helps dispel the stereotype that all Jewish people look the same, or act the same - when there are so many races, cultural nuances, looks, and backgrounds across the Jewish spectrum - and those differences are what makes the Jewish community so special. I believe that seeing representation helps normalize, and when people and their situations & backgrounds are normalized, they are treated better because they don't seem so "unfamiliar". Representation is incredibly important in creating an accepting world & future generations.
Do you have any advice for aspiring filmmakers?
Tell your story. Trust yourself. Write with details and specificity. Don't worry about 'who is going to like this', just trust yourself to tell your story out in a genuine way - and the people who need it most will find it. Don't feel like you have to change who you are or the stories you want to tell for anyone. The nuances that make your story yours, are also the details that will make your story shine.
Where can people see your film?
You can follow our instagram @BlewishShortFilm or visit http://blewishshortfilm.com/ where we will post and share all future screenings, events, and opportunities to see Blewish!