|Dani Goffstein feels very much at home being on the “Fringes.” The USC cinematic arts major grew up in Teaneck.|
You’ve probably never seen a movie in which black-hatted chasidim, armed to the teeth, set out to bag a few rednecks with the battle cry, “OK, boys, let’s kill some mother – anti-Semites.”
But if Teaneck native Dani Goffstein’s proposed film, “Fringes,” reaches its $180,000 crowd-funding goal (www.indiegogo.com/projects/fringes-the-movie-paying-it-backwards) by September 18, it’s just a matter of time.
“As an incoming junior at the USC School of Cinematic Arts, I have written the script for an independent feature-length film, called ‘Fringes,’ which is currently in pre-production,” the nearly 21-year-old screenwriting major explained in a write-up printed in the bulletin of Congregation Beth Aaron, his hometown shul.
“Fringes” (fringesmovie.com) tells the story of Rabbi Schneur Berkowitz, a Chabad rabbi in a small Texas town who takes under his wing the lost soul Dale Towne, son of the crooked and bigoted mayor. The elder Towne threatens the rabbi, so Berkowitz summons assistance from Lubavitch headquarters in Crown Heights in the form of three gun-slinging, street-talking bachurim (young religious men) prepared to dole out some vigilante justice.
|The poster for “Fringes” features three bachurim acting as “enforcers.”|
The flick’s tagline: “Revenge is a dish best served kosher.”
“‘Fringes’ is an unprecedented blending of the conventions of the classic gangster genre with elements of spaghetti Western, dark comedy, and religious drama spun into a tale of redemption, religion, and revenge,” according to Goffstein. “Told through surrealist motifs, heightened violence, and a mix of Yiddish and traditional Mafioso speak, the film, at heart, is a beautiful tale of redemption between a rabbi and his student, searching for answers in a chaotic world of the morally compromised.”
A lifelong film buff, Goffstein, who graduated from the Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey and Yeshiva University’s high school for boys, appeared in summer productions at the JCC in Tenafly. He also was the first yeshivah student ever to place first in the New York City finals of the English Speaking Union’s National Shakespeare Competition. “When I was 14, I had an agent and went to auditions for commercials, but never booked a single gig,” he said. “So I decided to go behind the camera.”
Quentin Tarantino’s 2009 war fantasy “Inglourious Basterds” got him thinking about “Jewsploitation” as a new genre, in the mold of the 1970s blaxploitation films that shone a fresh cinematic light on African-Americans.
“I was so blown away when I saw ‘Inglourious Basterds,’ because my whole life I had thought of Jews as victims everywhere they went, and in this movie history was rewritten,” he said. “I thought that was so cool. I wanted to do that for other people, to take them out of reality for a little bit.”
That kernel of a concept crystallized on Sukkot a couple of years ago, when Goffstein, then a freshman, went to the Chabad Jewish Student Center at USC along with his frat brother Joe Weil from St. Louis, who has been making feature movies since age 16. The pair got chummy with three bachurim visiting from Crown Heights to lend the rabbi a hand over the High Holy Days.
“We were talking about how much fun it would be if they were up to some gangster activity while they were there, and Joe asked if I would write this movie for him about chasidic gangsters,” Goffstein said.
This took some serious thought. “I wasn’t sure how to deal with Judaism in my previous screenplays. Teachers always say to write what you know, and I very much know Orthodox Judaism, but had no desire to write a religious drama,” he said.
“I wanted to write more fun material, and this was a way for me to create a new universe with these [fictional] bachurim. They work for an agency in Crown Heights that protects and defends Judaism all over the world.”
“Fringes” is to be directed by Weil and produced by fellow USC student Sam Canter with Joy Hurwitz, widow of the avant-garde director Harry Hurwitz. “Joe had met Joy at a bat mitzvah and she fell in love with the script and got all the professionals involved,” Goffstein said.
Hurwitz brought in an Emmy-nominated casting director, who has attached talent to the script from films such as “Jerry Maguire” and “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” and television shows such as “Arrested Development” and “Six Feet Under.” The three Chabadniks who inspired the screenplay have agreed to be on set to assure authenticity in clothing and dialect.
“Hopefully we will start shooting in the next few months,” Goffstein said, giving kudos to his parents for allowing him to follow his dreams to California – unconventional though those dreams may be for an Orthodox boy from Teaneck.
“I hope ‘Fringes’ gets made and we get it around to festivals,” he said. “I hope it’s something Jews take pride in and are happy about. And I hope this is just the beginning of my career.”