Wanting to dive deeper into her own culture and beliefs, Becky Ben David put aside her acting career and began sharing stories from behind the camera.
“I just wanted to make something where people would notice me, and I don’t have to keep auditioning,” said Ben David, a 2008 communications alumna. “But it very quickly turned into a very existential piece.”
After nearly seven years of writing, traveling and filming, Ben David produced and released her first film, American Birthright, in March 2021. The film explores religious and cultural identities and beliefs and is now screening internationally at film festivals, including the Vancouver Jewish Film Festival from March 3 to March 13.
American Birthright won the Indie Spirit Award from the Idyllwild International Festival of Cinema, and the Audience Choice Award from the Seattle Jewish Film Festival for best documentary in 2021.
Ben David started crafting the film after being frequently type-cast in TV shows and commercials as the “stereotypical Jewish best friend,” she said.
Ben David has strong ties to her Jewish culture and upbringing, as she was born in Israel and moved to the United States with her family when she was seven. Being type-cast was difficult for her because she wanted to break the stereotypical portrayal of Jewish people in the media and make a name for herself, but didn’t know how.
It was not until her sister got engaged to a Christian man in May 2014 that she first got the idea to explore interfaith marriage. Her sister’s choice to marry a Christian was seemingly controversial because no one in her family had ever married outside of the Jewish faith.
“I didn’t want to judge my sister and be at odds with her, so I felt like exploring it was necessary, regardless of whether I made a movie or not,” Ben David said.
She taught herself how to film, edit and direct while founding her own production company, Go Tahel Productions, in 2016, to produce American Birthright.
Ben David self-funded the trailer for her film. She then posted the trailer to Jewcer, a crowdfunding platform, and raised roughly $15,000 to fund filming and travel expenses, she said. She also received funding from donors to help with the filming process.
She spent the next six years traveling to places like New York, Philadelphia and Israel alone. She also went to Grenada with Erin Davis, a 2007 communications alumna and editor and executive producer of American Birthright, to speak with her sister about the engagement, and other individuals about their thoughts on interfaith marriage.
Although Ben David and Davis graduated from Temple a year apart, the two did not meet until a mutual friend connected them to help with creating the film.
Even though she’s not Jewish, Davis agreed to help with the film because she wanted to learn more about why interfaith marriage can be a difficult concept for some and not others.
“There’s so much truth that may or may not be uncovered yet, that can really help you find clarity and find purpose,” Davis said.
Davis admired Ben David’s dedication while creating the film.
“She’s so incredibly authentic and really put her life out there for everyone to see and learn from, and it’s an incredibly vulnerable, brave thing to do,” Davis said. “I just respect her so much for doing that. She’s just changing people’s lives.”
Ben David also received help with graphics and editing from her husband, Nathan Ben David.
Nathan was skeptical of the film when Becky first mentioned it to him while they were dating, but after seeing clips and learning more, he was excited to help create the final product.
He appreciates Becky’s authentic and inclusive approach to speaking with people and sourcing answers for the film. He hopes it will help people learn more about people’s beliefs and practices.
“Just because we make a decision for ourselves or we have a certain perspective, doesn’t negate anyone else’s perspective or decision,” Nathan said.
Becky plans to keep showing American Birthright in film festivals for the next year so people can watch, engage and grow with the film on a more personal level. She eventually wants to bring it to streaming services like Netflix.
Becky hopes people will watch the film and gain new perspectives about interfaith marriage and practices in the same way she did while creating it.
“You have to step away from the familiar to really carve out your unique expression of self,” Becky said. “And until you do that, you’re sort of not living your own life.”