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If not for her talent, Burshtein’s own story would not be much different from that of thousands of other Israelis who made a midlife journey to Orthodoxy. Born in New York, she moved with her parents to Israel at the age of 1. Later, she attended the Sam Spiegel Film & Television School, in Jerusalem, where she cut a memorable figure, distinguishing herself by her skill and her forthright personality.
“Rama was an opinionated, charismatic and sharp student,” wrote Renen Schorr, the school’s founding director, in an email to the Forward. “She was without a doubt an outstanding directing talent.”
After graduating, Burshtein took a turn that few of her friends expected. Instead of pursuing a career in film, she became religious, got married and had four children, now all teenagers. “It is clear to me that the price she paid, consciously, was very high,” Schorr wrote. “Especially as she dedicated herself to her home and family, supposedly giving up filmmaking.” Though she taught film and made a few minor movies for a Haredi audience, she seemed to abandon the life of a mainstream filmmaker.
With “Fill the Void,” however, Burshtein’s 20-year absence from the Israeli film industry has turned out to be only a hiatus. According to those who know her best, she never gave up filmmaking at all.
“I know a lot of people who became religious, and sometimes they become another person in a minute, but Rama stayed herself,” said Tali Shemesh, a documentary filmmaker whose credits include “The Cemetery Club,” a 2006 film about a group of seniors who hang out in the Mount Herzl Cemetery.
Shemesh went to film school with Burshtein and describes their relationship as “like sisters.” “She had this creativity always — and it never died — to write and tell stories,” she said.
According to Burshtein, the inspiration for “Fill the Void” came from a friend of a friend who had married her brother-in-law after her sister’s death. That situation, with its wealth of emotional possibility and conflict, stayed with her, and she turned it into a script. Shemesh put her in touch with Assaf Amir, a producer.