“Reaching for Zion”

Donisha Prendergast, granddaughter of reggae legend Bob Marley, in the new film “Reaching for Zion.” A screening of the movie at Spruce Peak Performing Arts Center leads off the Stowe Jewish Film Festival next week.

The film that kicks off the monthlong Stowe Jewish Film Festival next week has more in common with Bob Marley’s “Exodus” than the Old Testament book detailing how Moses led the Jews from persecution.

“Reaching for Zion” explores the striking similarities between Judaism and Rastafarianism, and gets its Vermont premiere next Wednesday, June 10, at the Spruce Peak Performing Arts Center.

The filmmakers — husband and wife Irene Angelico, the director, and Abbey Neidik, the producer — talked this week about their film and the connections between Jews and Rastas. Both cultures have similar monotheistic beliefs; more important, both have experienced a diaspora.

Angelico says both cultures feature the sign of Judah and the Star of David, “and things like ‘rivers of Babylon’ that come directly from the Old Testament.”

“There’s this real need to have a home, and to have harmony, whether Zion is in Israel or it’s in Ethiopia,” Angelico said. “For people who are in exile, it’s an actual, physical place, but also that spiritual place for many.”

The film centers on Donisha Prendergast, the oldest grandchild of reggae legend Bob Marley, as she journeys the world, looking to see if Marley’s dream of One Love is still possible in today’s world.

“We’re following Donisha’s journey,” Angelico said. “It starts in Jamaica on Bob Marley’s birthday, then into the desert, on to Jerusalem, and back to Jamaica.”

The couple say it was striking to discover how much suffering both groups, Jews and Rastas, endured, and how they have dealt with that. Angelico said there’s “a very strong anti-any-kind-of-intolerance message” to the film that plays well in these times.

She’d like to see the film to be shown on college campuses, saying some hot current musicians, such as reggae star Chronixx, are featured in the film.

Donisha’s journey lent itself to some beautiful scenic shots, Angelico said. It’s filmed in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, in the Negev and Judean deserts in Israel, and all around Jamaica.

Edee Simon-Israel, co-founder of the Stowe Jewish Film Festival, now in its fourth year, said the film is a feast for the eyes.

Aside from the interesting intersecting aspects, it’s “visually a very appealing film,” she said. “The scenery in it is really beautiful.”

It’s a feast for the ears, too, as one might expect with the connections to one Robert Nesta Marley, OM.

Music imbues “Reaching for Zion” from the first frame, with steady Nyabinghi drumming, replicating a heartbeat.

Not by accident, the Stowe Jewish Film Festival gets kick-started with a reggae concert the day before the film gets its Vermont premiere at Spruce Peak.

Simon-Israel said Zenbarn in Waterbury Center felt like a natural venue to unofficially kick off the festival, with music by Soulstice! She said no films or trailers will be shown at the kickoff party, but the reggae tones fit well into the festival’s kickoff film.

“We’re hoping that people who come to Zenbarn might come to see it who otherwise might not come,” Simon-Israel said.

Added Angelico, “I think people should come to the concert to get into the mood and then come to the screening.”

When you put a name in a festival — beer, wine or food; jazz, blues or classical — you’re bound to attract people interested in those things. When you put two different items in the festival name, you might get some overlap.

Jewish people or those interested in Jewish culture might come to get those interests satisfied. But people who just like movies will come because there’s a series of interesting films.

Angelico and Neidick said they learn more after other people watch their films than they ever do while directing, editing, or in post-production. Angelico said the films take on a different, deeper meaning after 10 screenings.

Neidik added, “One thing that is interesting about screening with an audience is that, only when you screen with an audience do you start understanding the film itself.”

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