Review: ‘In Satmar Custody’

Exploitation of Jewish Yemenite immigrants by an extreme, anti-Zionist sect of Orthodox Jews is indicted in Nitzan Gilady's "In Satmar Custody." But potentially shocking expose is weakened by one-sided reportage that leaves too many questions unanswered.

Exploitation of Jewish Yemenite immigrants by an extreme, anti-Zionist sect of Orthodox Jews is indicted in Nitzan Gilady’s “In Satmar Custody.” But potentially shocking expose is weakened by one-sided reportage that leaves too many questions unanswered. Whether results are due to filmmaking ineptitude or a deliberate omission of input from all sides, pic’s tabloid flavor won’t encourage wide broadcast sales outside Israel.

Opening titles inform that Satmar sect recruiters lure Yemenite Jews to the U.S. on guarantee of work and education, warning that moving to Israel instead would mean godlessness and forced military service. This is the first of many suppositions we must take on faith, since no outside observers are tapped to confirm or deny them — and no Satmar officials are interviewed. Emigrating with wife Lauza and their family, Yahia finds those promises empty. Worse, an infant’s apparent death from shaken-baby syndrome leads to Lauza being suspected of murder, their remaining five children shuttled off to other Satmar families. There’s definitely injustice going on, but poorly assembled film — with lensing often appearing clandestine — advances a predetermined agenda with suspect lack of clarity or balance.

In Satmar Custody

Docu - Israel

Production

A Yona Prods. presentation. Produced, directed by Nitzan Gilady.

Crew

Camera (color, DigiBeta), Yaron Orbach; editor, Ron Goldman; music, Ophir Leibowitch. Reviewed at San Francisco Film Festival, April 26, 2004. English, Hebrew, Yemenite and Yiddish dialogue.Running time: 70 MIN.
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