A good filmmaker always keeps the camera on.
Last year, as a senior at Teaneck’s Torah Academy of Bergen County and a member of its state-champion mock trial team, Josh Weinberg recorded team practices and trials.
When Torah Academy was told that the national competition would not be rescheduled to accommodate the team’s Sabbath observance, Josh kept his finger on the "record" button. And, when they were ultimately allowed to participate in the national competition in North Carolina, Josh’s camcorder came with them.
On Saturday night, Nov. 1′, Josh’s mock trial documentary won first prize at the Fort Lee Film Commission’s "New Jersey Filmmakers of Tomorrow" awards banquet at the Fort Lee Hilton. Along with the top honor, Josh won a trophy, a bond, a Martin Scorsese DVD collection, and 3′ hours of free film editing at a professional studio.
"As the mock trial story unfolded, I saw that there was a potential for a compelling documentary which would embody a religious bias story as well as the ‘contest film’ concept," said Josh, who is learning this year at the Reishit Yerushalayim yeshiva in Israel for the year, and who returned to New Jersey for the contest.
"I consider the film a work in progress," said Josh, whose family lives in Teaneck, "and hope to arrange an interview with Cong. Steve Rothman (D-Ninth District), who was involved in the team’s accommodation [at the national contest], as well as with members of the national board and other members of the media."
Josh said the contest was open to films of all kinds documentaries, narratives, music videos, and the like. He entered both the mock trial documentary and a narrative film.
"I definitely hope to pursue a profession in the film industry," said Josh, adding that he is interested in film directing and editing. Next year he will attend New York University’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study.
In addition to team meetings and matches, Josh’s award-winning documentary features interviews with Coach Yigal Marcus, Torah Academy principal Rabbi Yosef Adler, heads of the New Jersey Bar Foundation which sponsors mock trials in the state and team members.
"When I had gathered the interviews I wanted," said Josh, "I was left with close to 75 hours of footage, which had to be cut down to 1′ minutes because of contest regulations."
The film’s central theme is the controversy that ensued after national mock trial organizers initially refused to move the contest’s Saturday matches to a different time to enable Torah Academy to compete. Though they eventually capitulated, the national organizers decided last month not to make such an accommodation again. Subsequently, New Jersey withdrew from the national competition and is currently seeking an alternative venue in which its state champion can compete.
"I think it took a lot of courage for New Jersey to pull out of the national competition," said Josh, "and I respect their decision to not take part in a contest which does not give the opportunity to win to all the schools that compete."