Schenectady County

Visit by three scribes draws filmmaker to interfaith events

Two Schenectady County events could have a role in a new documentary about interfaith friendships.

Two Schenectady County events could have a role in a new documentary about interfaith friendships.

Filmmaker Alec Hirschfeld will visit the area Sunday with his production company, Eastern Life Films. An event scheduled for that day, “3 Scribes, Friends with Art,” at the Robert and Dorothy Ludwig Schenectady Jewish Community Center will be the main focus for the visit.

Neil Yerman, Karen Gorst and Mohamed Zakariya, three calligraphers of the Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths, will create a work of art together at the JCC before giving a lecture at Union College’s Nott Memorial in Schenectady. The trio will be filmed for Hirschfeld’s latest documentary, “The Letter Project.”

“Apparently [the scribes] don’t get together very often, so when Hirschfeld found out about the event he wanted to follow them to see what kind of shots he could get,” said JCC Vice President Gary Goldstein.

The filmmaker is a friend of the trio and has been working with them for months as the focus of his newest project.

“The centerpiece of the film will be a work created by the scribes, in the form of a scroll, based on themes common to the three Abrahamic faiths. Designed to display fully opened, the scroll will have the impact of a painting when seen from a distance, with increasing interest and complexity as the viewer comes near enough to read the text. Calligraphic scripts in Hebrew, Arabic, English, Latin, and Spanish will weave together in a way that has never been attempted by any other artists,” Hirschfeld wrote on the production company’s website,

The documentary was originally meant to address religious misunderstandings and how they contribute to conflicts in the Middle East, but Hirschfeld felt the trio’s interfaith work would spread an inspirational message during a time when “Islamophobia” is on the rise.

The filmmaker and the artists met when Yerman was commissioned to renovate a Torah at the Jewish Center of the Hamptons, where Hirschfeld’s wife, Debra Stein, is the East Hampton congregation’s cantor. When the couple learned of the trio’s friendship and occasional collaborative work, they thought the story would be appealing to viewers.

The documentary has been in production for the last year, and Eastern Life Films is waiting for a funding decision from HBO Documentaries to support the film’s budget and potentially air the final product on the cable network.

Previous projects by Hirschfeld include “Out Here in the Fields,” a documentary about preserving America’s natural beauty and farmland, and “Accabonac Harbor,” a short film about East Hampton, in Suffolk County. He also has previously worked on the movie “Terminator” and the “Law & Order” television series.

“I just hope people learn about the importance of personal relationships and how they transcend politics,” Goldstein said about the event. “It’s about getting to know one another as a people and gaining commonalities.” At the event, the scribes will speak about their relationship as artists from different religious backgrounds, how they create, their techniques and what inspires them.

Goldstein reminds those attending the event that it is unknown if anything filmed during the local visit will be used in the final version of the documentary.

The event at the center on Balltown Road will run from 1 to 4 p.m., when the artwork created throughout the day will be showcased. The lecture at Union begins at 5 p.m. Both events are free to the public.

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