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Young filmmaker to put Jewish ‘traditions and struggles’ on screen
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Young filmmaker to put Jewish ‘traditions and struggles’ on screen

Matt Kamis of Berkeley Heights prepares to direct on a film set. He is producing a Jewish-themed short for his senior thesis. Photos courtesy Matt Kamis
Matt Kamis of Berkeley Heights prepares to direct on a film set. He is producing a Jewish-themed short for his senior thesis. Photos courtesy Matt Kamis

Matt Kamis, a Berkeley Heights resident and student at Fairleigh Dickinson University (FDU) in Madison, has a challenging goal for what he hopes will be a successful career in film production.

“What I eventually want to do is portray Jewish culture in America the way Martin Scorsese has [with] Italian culture,” said the rising senior majoring in filmmaking with a concentration in directing.

While machismo in Italian culture, with displays of guilt and redemption, is prominent subject matter in Scorsese’s movies, the 21-year-old Kamis is producing a short film that will feature some Jewish guilt and redemption, along with a bit of machismo, for his senior thesis.

Kamis’ 11- 13-minute film, “L’Dor V’Dor” (From Generation to Generation), tells the story of a young man, the third generation of kosher butchers, who owns a neighborhood shop in a fictional town in north Jersey. He struggles with taking over the shop and keeping a business and tradition going according to the expectations of both his family and community.

“I want to do films about Judaism and developing culture and challenges,” said Kamis in a phone interview with NJJN. “In the past, there were plenty of kosher butchers in neighborhoods. Now, most in our area are disappearing. In [the film’s] case, we don’t know if this particular butcher shop will last to the next generation or not.”

Most of “L’Dor V’Dor” will be shot on Sundays in a north Jersey butcher shop, which is closed that day. The script features a father who inherited the family business from his father and wants his son to take over from him, but their respective views conflict. The son feels he can never satisfy his father, and the father feels his son lacks the necessary skills to succeed him, which could force the store’s closing.

Matt Kamis at the 2017 Cannes International Film Festival.

“The son and the father are not helping each other with their attitudes, and the son becomes deeply depressed and tries to hurt himself,” said Kamis of the plot. The attempted suicide becomes the turning point when the father and son start to form a different relationship.

“At the film’s conclusion, we are not sure what the future of the butcher shop is, but the father and son now understand and respect each other,” he said. “It’s a better environment.”

The dramatic plot fits with Kamis’ goal for the film: “getting people talking about respective traditions and struggles, as well as moving through their pain to find meaningful resolution.”

He first developed the script in a film class at FDU. The school also assists its students in developing their plans for a senior film thesis.

“FDU certainly helps, with advice, budgeting, paperwork, [and] where to find cast members,” Kamis said. “They give you the tools, then you have to take them and use them.”

Kamis budgeted $5,000 for the making of the film, and exceeded that goal by raising $5,187 through the crowd-sourcing website indiegogo.com. He is in the process of interviewing cast members found through the audition website backstage.com.

His film is due April 22, 2020, so Kamis knows he has time to assure all turns out as planned.

“I’m not rushing things with this and I really don’t have to, which is what I want,” he said. “I know I will be very particular about this film and others in the future, so having some time is good.”

Kamis is expected to graduate from FDU in the spring. Afterward he wants to visit Israel and find film work there, he said.

“After that, I’m looking for a graduate school where I can get both a master’s in film and master’s in Jewish studies.”

Kamis participated in the Cannes Film & Business Program, an educational program that takes place during The Cannes International Film Festival, in 2015 and 2017, and he plans on submitting “L’Dor V’Dor” to several Jewish film festivals upon its completion.

jweisberger@njjewishnews.com

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