Shalom Putti

When a little-known Jewish community in rural Uganda comes into contact with a group of Orthodox Israeli rabbis, everyone is destined to be transformed. Director Tamás Wormser documents the extraordinary encounter over seven years, crafting a nuanced and visually arresting documentary reflection on identity, religion and the long shadow of colonialism.

  • Tamás Wormser
    Director
    The Wandering Muse, Step Up!, Touched by Water, Hand to Hand, and more.
  • Tamás Wormser
    Writer
    Wandering Muse, Step Up!, Travelling Light, Touched by Water
  • Tamás Wormser
    Producer
    Wandering Muse, Step Up!, Travelling Light, Touched by Water
  • Project Type:
    Documentary, Feature
  • Runtime:
    1 hour 30 minutes 35 seconds
  • Completion Date:
    April 19, 2022
  • Production Budget:
    250,000 USD
  • Country of Origin:
    Canada
  • Country of Filming:
    Uganda
  • Language:
    English
  • Shooting Format:
    HD
  • Aspect Ratio:
    16:9
  • Film Color:
    Color
  • First-time Filmmaker:
    No
  • Student Project:
    No
Distribution Information
  • JMT Films
    Sales Agent
    Country: Worldwide
    Rights: All Rights
Director Biography - Tamás Wormser

Born and raised in Hungary, award winning filmmaker Tamás Wormser began his artistic career as a theatre director. Wormser’s filmography consists mostly of documentary films but also includes fiction, dance and experimental films. His work has been shown in over 50 countries. After Hand to Hand, a film commissioned by the Vancouver Winter Olympics, Wormser recently completed two major multi-platform documentaries, The Wandering Muse, on Jewish music around the globe, and The Life of the Chateau, on Canada’s defining landmark, the Chateau Frontenac. His latest feature film Shalom Putti will be released at the end of 2021.

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Director Statement

I first encountered the Abayudaya, as the Jews of Uganda call themselves, in January 2013. I was in production on a separate film project, a feature documentary called The Wandering Muse that explored diverse aspects of Jewish identity through the music of the Diaspora. Inhabitants of an isolated community in eastern Uganda, the Jews of Putti were outliers within the Diaspora and had developed an extraordinary musical tradition all their own, integrating Hebrew prayers with African musical idioms. I ended up spending three weeks in their company and they bring a unique voice to that film.

On the 3rd week of my first visit a group of Israeli rabbis arrived in the village, led by Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, a charismatic figure who played an influential role in establishing the Israeli settlement of Efrat, now one of the largest settlements on the West Bank. I quickly learned of Rabbi Riskin’s plans to formally convert the villagers to Orthodox Judaism — and since Judaism is the only faith that also confers a nationality, this meant that Putti’s converts might one day be able to emigrate to Israel.

Although secular myself, I was impressed by the devout nature of Putti’s Jews. But with the arrival of Rabbi Riskin and his team, I was confronted with a perplexing irony. Here was I, a non-observant atheist Jew, yet Rabbi Riskin’s team was prepared to accept me as one of theirs. Meanwhile the people of Putti, who’d identified as Jews for a century, faithfully observing Shabbat and the Jewish holidays, had never been recognized as legitimate members of the so-called ‘Chosen People.’

I realized that I’d come upon an unsettling and remarkable story – and that I’d found the subject of my next film. I would return to Putti four more times over the next seven years, observing and often participating in the daily life of the community, documenting their evolving relationship with Rabbi Riskin and his followers. The result is this film, Shalom Putti.

It has not been an easy project to make. The issues it touches upon issues that are complicated and often divisive –like wealth inequity, colonialism, Israel, Africa and the Jewish Diaspora. My intent is not so much to pronounce or engage in argument, but rather to raise questions, reveal contradictions and evoke individual responses from viewers. My hope is that Shalom Putti might nurture new awareness and dialogue about these important issues.

I choose to avoid narration, wishing to create space for my protagonists to tell their own stories, voice their own hopes and aspirations, and present their own dilemmas. I acknowledge that I am an outsider, to both Putti and Riskin’s world, and that my point-of-view inevitably reflects that fact. I’m also aware of how the western gaze on Africa is often shaped by colonial attitudes and cultural obliviousness, and I recognize that Shalom Putti is just one of many possible stories that one could tell about the community.

Finally, I feel honoured to have been welcomed in Putti, one of the world’s least known, most poor Jewish communities, that is also one of the richest. I would like to express my gratitude to my Abayudaya friends and everyone who participated in making this film.