Unlike in the movies where a stoic hero unflappably acts upon a strict, unwavering ethos and worldview, real life isn’t quite that pat or conclusive. People spend their entire lives attempting to define themselves. Experience, wisdom and maturity combine to inform one’s perception of who they are at any particular moment. Sometimes that matches how the rest of the world perceives them, sometimes not. If a person is mindful of such things, it can be stunning how profoundly one’s self-view can pivot or densen.
Josh Gippin is a documentary filmmaker from Akron, OH. His new picture, “The Chosen People?”, is a thorough examination of his struggle with one of the core elements with which all people have to contend; one’s relationship with their faith.
Gippin explains that he is a secular Jew, which is a person who was born into the faith but doesn’t actively practice it. In fact, he finds some of the defining doctrine to be troubling. In particular, the belief held sacred by devout practitioners that Jews are the “chosen people” of God. Gippin decided to delve into the topic to see if he could distill clarity for himself.
Funded by a Kickstarter campaign, Gippin spent the next three years on the project. The resulting documentary is a de facto crash course in the history of Judaism. He speaks to rabbis, scholars and laypeople in his search for the psychological, theological and historical ramifications attached to being the “chosen ones.”
Acting as both narrator and interviewer, Gippin provides a balanced and unflinching look at the history of the Jewish people. In the hands of another director this could easily be a dry film, but in Gippin’s it’s not. He presents an accessible, fully fleshed-out narrative that defines why tradition is not only important but essential. At the same time, he parses the slavish strictness to that devotion against a modern, secular view of the world.
In intent only, “The Chosen People?” is an intellectual descendant of Kevin Smith’s Dogma. Smith’s film is a scripted comedy that acts as an outlet for him to voice frustrations and concerns with the Roman Catholic Church. “The Chosen People?” serves the same function for Gippin. The comparisons with the two movies ends there but I thought it is of interest to note that there is a precedent of filmmakers looking for religious truth through the sounding board of their art.
Josh Gippin has created a modern day coming-of-age tale about his relationship to one of the world’s oldest religions. He uses sharp, witty filmmaking to construct a documentary rife with agency and candor. By sublimating a litany of opinions and interpretations of the history and creed of the Jewish people with a single goal in mind, Gippin has crafted a film designed to ignite conversation. He brashly reminds us that there is never an end to the journey of discovering who we are.