Everyone has a crazy family story, but not everyone is inspired to make a movie about it.
“My wife just had two children. It should have been the happiest time of my life,” said Marvin Samel New times. “But then my mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. During the babies’ feedings at 2 a.m., I started writing vignettes of my dad. I remembered the time he claimed have a twin brother. I thought about the time I took him to the Apple Store at Aventura Mall to buy him an iPhone. ”
From these drafts came the idea for Samel’s first feature film, iMordechai, which has its world premiere on the opening night of the Miami Jewish Film Festival Thursday. Prior to iMordechaiSamel was in the cigar business and was not familiar with film production until his first day as a director.
“My producers were experienced filmmakers, and they were looking for a director. Eventually, they appointed me,” says Samel. “They thought if I hadn’t realized it, I would have lost control of my family history.”
The autobiographical story centers on Samel’s father, Mordechai, a Holocaust survivor who gets a new start in life by learning to use his brand new iPhone. Samel says he relied heavily on his experienced cast and crew to make the film.
“I didn’t try to pretend until I did,” he adds. “I was honest with everyone that I was the least experienced person on set. I told them, ‘I’m counting on you.'”
Veterans Judd Hirsch and Carol Kane, who previously worked together on the 1970s sitcom, play the film version of Samel’s parents, Mordechai and Fela. Taxi.
“I didn’t have time to realize it while I was shooting,” explains Samel. “I couldn’t be flabbergasted to see all these big stars playing with my family because there was always something going on on set. I never told Judd what to watch Taxi when I was a child with my father, it was one of the rare moments of bonding that we had. ”
Hirsch signed on for the project, delighted to be working with a filmmaker for the first time.
“Getting in there can be a little scary, but it’s an adventure,” says Hirsch New times. “When he had Carol I knew we would be fine together. We had a great time working together on Taxi.”
Hirsch admits he was a little intimidated playing a real person who is still alive.
“Marvin asked me if I wanted to meet his father. I said no, I didn’t want the burden of having to be exactly like him,” he said. “Two minutes later, Mordechai walks in and we’ve become best friends.”
A long career in both comedic and dramatic roles helped Hirsch; iMordechai mixes comedy with drama. The actor says you have to play every beat the same.
“Underneath every tragedy, there is humor,” Hirsch explains. “And with all the tough things Mordechai went through in life, he found a way to be funny. He found a way to have a good time in this endurance competition of a lifetime.”
Kane agrees with this philosophy.
“You play any kind of role trying to be honest and real,” the actress says. “James L. Brooks, one of the creators of Taxi, said, ‘Don’t try to be funny. If we write it funny, it will be funny. If it’s not funny, we’ll have to rewrite it. It was amazing advice. ”
While Hirsch was able to talk to the real Mordechai to get a taste of the character he was playing, Kane didn’t have the same luxury. Fela died shortly before filming began in 2019.
“Marvin gave me pictures of his mother and photographs, which was very helpful to me,” Kane said. “It is a responsibility to honor someone who has lived a rich and fulfilling life, but it is also a gift.”
The film was shot on location in South Florida, with scenes shot in recognizable locations like Aventura Mall and Lincoln Road, where the final scene takes place. For Samel, the decor was a crucial detail in the representation of his family.
“I could have filmed in another state and cheated for Miami, but I wanted this movie to be my love letter to Miami,” he says. “I felt like every shot had something to do with my parents.”
iMordechai. 7:30 p.m., Thursday, Jan. 13, at North Beach Bandshell, 7275 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; and 8 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 22 at the Michael-Ann Russell Jewish Community Center, 18900 NE 25th Ave., Miami; miamijewishfilmfestival.org. Tickets cost $ 18.