A new documentary taps into the zeitgeist of socialism – J.

Five years ago, Oakland filmmaker Yael Bridge set out to make a film about socialism in 21st century America. At the time, she had no idea that Bernie Sanders, the self-proclaimed Democratic Socialist Senator from Vermont, would gain popularity or that the Democratic Socialists of America would increase their membership from 3,000 to more than 90,000 over the course of of the same period.

“We really hit the air at the right time,” said Bridge, whose 2020 documentary, “The Big Scary ‘S’ Word” began streaming on Hulu in March after a successful festival run. of cinema all over the world. (The “S” stands for socialism, of course.)

By contrast, the anti-government protests that erupted in Cuba last summer have decidedly does not have play in his hand after shooting footage there in 2014 for a documentary about Guantanamo City’s small Jewish community. “At the time I filmed, Cuba was not on the verge of change,” she said.

Accordingly, the documentary she is making for her residency at the Jewish Film Institute in San Francisco is more of a timeless portrait of a small Jewish community in Cuba and the values ​​that sustain it than a socio-historical piece. “It’s just a little moment of truth in this small town in Cuba,” she said. “And it’s quite beautiful.”

For the most part, Bridge’s film career has focused on “big” rather than “small” social and political documentaries. She produced “Left on Purpose,” winner of Best Festival at the Berkeley Film and Video Festival in 2016, about an aging anti-war activist in crisis. She served as production manager at Inequality Media, a digital video company created in 2015 by economist Robert Reich and filmmaker Jacob Kornbluth to unpack complex economic and political issues in a way the average viewer could understand. In 2017, she produced the Emmy nominee Saving Capitalism,” featuring Reich and based on his book.

With barely a break, the team then launched into “The Big Scary ‘S’ Word”, which Bridge produced and directed. The idea for the film was born out of “Saving Capitalism”. As the production team crisscrossed the country during the 2016 primary season, they found an unexpected degree of receptivity to the socialist ideas espoused by Sanders, who was campaigning for the Democratic nomination, and others, like the Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Bridge said they “came in contact with a lot of voters in counterintuitive places, like farmers in the Midwest, who said, ‘Well, I like Bernie and I like Trump — I could go in both ways. And of course we know what happened.

She was not alone in noticing the crescendo of voices of those who were fed up with the governing elites as their middle-class status and/or aspirations receded. And a significant number of voices, she added, said they would be comfortable voting for someone who identifies as a Democratic socialist.

“It was a huge change for me,” Bridge said. “I grew up in a very progressive family. I had progressive politics myself. But being a socialist wasn’t even something in my social circle.

Bridge grew up in Philadelphia and attended a Jewish school. His parents were public interest lawyers and “hardcore liberals”. His grandfather, a photographer who taught his craft to a young Yael, lived in Palestine before immigrating to New York in 1902. After high school, Bridge spent a year in Israel, studying photography, traveling and living in a kibbutz near his grandfather’s birthplace.

She earned a certificate in Documentary Film at The New School in New York and a few years later entered the Stanford MFA in Documentary Film and Media program, directing four short films for her degree.

While socialism wasn’t a word Bridge heard much in her early years, during the 2016 election she had woken up to how it resonated with her generation.

Members of the Guantanamo Jewish community hold a small bat mitzvah service for two elderly women from the community. (Photo/Yael Bridge)

“All the political proposals and values ​​were totally aligned with where I was,” she said. “I thought Robert Reich was as left as it gets, and then I thought, ‘Oh, actually, there’s a lot more left that’s available, and I don’t know about that. “”

“‘S’ Word” includes interviews with authors such as Naomi Klein (“This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate”) and John Nichols (the 2011 book “The S-Word”), and the philosopher-activist Cornel West, who asserts in the film that “socialism is as American as apple pie”.

Bridge’s goal was to extract the word “socialism” from purgatory from its popular connotations in American society. Lee J. Carter, a former Marine who in 2018 won a seat in the Virginia legislature with the endorsement of the Democratic Socialists of America, says in the film that since “the red scare, anyone who has used the swear word scary in S is automatically equated with Stalin. It does not work anymore.

Other speakers in the film suggest that, as in some prosperous European nations, socialism can be compatible with democracy. The film also includes working-class people — a public school teacher, an ER nurse, a city councilwoman — describing the myriad ways the American capitalist system isn’t working for them.

Following the launch of ‘The ‘S’ Word, Bridge, who is pregnant with a second child after giving birth to daughter Aleph in 2019, reflected on footage she shot in Cuba. Her interest was incidental, unrelated to the country’s communist history, as she had previously taken a “totally eye-opening” family vacation to Havana and learned about Jewish Cuba.

She found the lens of looking at Cuba through Judaism “really fascinating. I was curious to know why these people wanted so much to be Jews and how they had maintained this identity during so many years of repression. And how does this theology hold up, when Cuban culture is so attached to atheism? »

She returned on her own, visited other cities, made contacts and did preparatory work, and returned to Guantanamo in 2014 for a week with a small team. Among Guantanamo’s small Jewish community – 40 to 50 Jews at the time, in a city of 200,000 – two women in their eighties had decided to do bat mitzvahs, which ended up giving Bridge a nice base to build on. his history.

“There are many things that encourage Jewish identity in Cuba today, including a good Shabbat meal,” Bridge acknowledged. “But at Guantanamo, I didn’t see that much. They are a very warm and tight-knit community. They are also all family. Here is this whole community which was originally just two Turkish brothers” who ended up there after the First World War.

Waiting for the chance to finish this movie for so many years, “I worried that my story in Cuba would become irrelevant,” Bridge said. ” But this is not true. It was the same with the film about socialism after Bernie lost the primary race: I was afraid he had lost his moment. But on further thought I decided no, these stories are bigger, these issues still matter and will matter for a long time.

“The big scary ‘S’ word.” 88 minutes, unrated. Available to stream on Hulu and to rent on Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV and other platforms.