Local screening preview: JEWTAH | Buzz Blog
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Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Local screening preview: JEWTAH

Co-writer/star Jeremy Rishe and the long road toward the local premiere

Posted By on August 3, 2022, 10:07 AM

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click to enlarge Jeremy Rishe (center) in Jewtah
  • Jeremy Rishe (center) in Jewtah
For any creative work, it can be a long road to getting that work from your head out into the world. For Jeremy Rishe and the team behind the feature film Jewtah, it feels particularly long.

Rishe—an actor now based in New York, but raised in East Millcreek—is the co-screenwriter and star of Jewtah, an absurdist comedy inspired by Rishe’s experience growing up Jewish in Utah. He plays a character named Pincus, an adult still living in his grandparents’ basement in suburban Utah and traumatized by childhood bullying to the point of being virtually housebound. He’s forced to confront his fears, however, when his grandmother announces that she’s selling the house—and a strange muse visits Pincus that he must write a musical to bring peace.

The concept dates back 15 years, when friends encouraged him to write something built around the unique experience of being Jewish in Utah. “The script started as a very expensive whackadoodle farce that, as I spent time with it, became more emotionally personal,” Rishe says. "It became almost like a tone poem of my experiences growing up Jewish in a very LDS place, where religion is such a big part of one’s identity.”

Rishe acknowledges that the experiences represented in Jewtah were heightened for dramatic effect, and that his own childhood wasn’t nearly so traumatic. “Some of the things Pincus went through, I experienced, but it wasn’t like I was tortured,” Rishe says. “I highlighted one or two moments where I did get insulted. … Something I’m realizing as I get older is what a big deal I made about being Jewish in Utah, because I wasn’t included in all the religious things. Then I moved to New York, and this thing that was a big deal to me, nobody cared.”

The “expensive whackadoodle farce” part of Jewtah’s story was ultimately scaled back due to the limitations of a $40,000 budget, with the collaboration of director Cameron Bossert. Rishe connected with Bossert in New York in the early 2000s, at a time when Bossert was a personal assistant for actor/director John Turturro. “I did a reading for a play Turturro was thinking of directing in New York,” Rishe recalls. “After that, I was always bugging Cameron, ‘Tell John I’m doing this, tell John I’m doing that.’ And we just became friends. We’d written some web series stuff together. I’d been working on this script, and at some point I knew I didn’t want to be writing it and directing it and starring in it. … Cameron’s contributions, I thought, gave it a lot more heart. He made the third act of the movie work in a way I couldn’t, because maybe I had no objectivity.”

After shooting on location in Utah, the film was wrapped in 2018, beginning the challenging process of procuring distribution. Rishe and Bossert thought they had that, though, when they connected with specialty distributor Menemsha Films in 2019. “We had a signed contract with them, they were going to do their whole thing, film festivals, screenings. In January of 2020, things were getting ready. Then March 2020 happened [with the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic]. Finances were tight, and the guy who was the point person on our movie [with Menemsha] was the last person hired, first person fired.

“So we put it up on Vimeo. At that point, we were pretty exhausted emotionally, and thought, ‘Maybe we’ll just let it sit there.’”

It took a contact from Joel Huff—a classmate of Rishe’s from the University of Utah Actor Training Program, who plays a supporting role in Jewtah—to explore the idea of finally setting up a Utah premiere screening. That screening will take place this Thursday (Aug. 4) at 7 p.m. at the Salt Lake City Main Library Auditorium, nearly four years after the film was completed.

“I think it was George Lucas who said, ‘A movie’s never done, it’s just abandoned at one point,’” Rishe says. “The one thing I do regret is we weren’t able to do the 500,000 version. But I’m actually very pleased with the result.” CW

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