Imagine how sweet it would be to reconnect with someone who was important in your life fifty years ago. Now, imagine that reunion resulting in a film that is streaming on Amazon and winning widespread praise.
This is Wendy Kout’s story. In the early 70s, she took a class on Judasim taught by Noah benShea, then a young Assistant Dean at UCLA. Kout went on to write and produce for TV (and now has a play called Survivors, which is catching a crucial moment on many stages). Recently, the two were re-introduced when it was discovered they both live in Santa Barbara.
Jacob the Baker offers simple but profound pearls of wisdom and sustenance.
After reuniting, Kout envisioned a film based on benShea’s hugely popular book Jacob the Baker: Gentle Wisdom for a Complicated World (and its companion books). The book has captured millions of hearts, including those of Julia Roberts, baseball legend Sandy Koufax, and Starbucks founder Howard Schultz. How has he done this? By offering simple but profound pearls of wisdom and sustenance.
A Bright Light in a Dark Season
Now, in the middle of a largely dark Oscar season (Barbie aside), here is a film no one ever thought could get made. The film follows a skeptical woman journalist interviewing Jacob about his impact helping people in states of crisis. It tells several stories from different countries, including the impact of a military veteran suffering from PTSD; a woman struggling with the impending death of her father; another dealing with one’s loss of faith; and more. With the world in chaos, and so much division, Jacob arrives just in time.
With the world in chaos, and so much division, Jacob arrives just in time.
None of this was easy. “The most obvious challenge in the making of the film was to shoot a small independent production in four countries during the pandemic,” says Israeli-born director Gev Miron, who was brought in by Wendy Kout. “We started shooting in January 2021 and luckily, we were able to find great international crews, who supported us, got the vision, and were able to work with us remotely.” Much of the touch here feels feminine. The composer is Sharon Farber; her daughter, 12-year old Eden (remember this name) sings a powerful theme song that is already picking up musical awards. The producer is Summer Yang.
The next question was how to get this inspirational, ‘faith-adjacent,’ and timely piece on screens. It turns out that Noah benShea has fans in powerful places, including at mega-agency Creative Artists Agency (CAA). It sponsored a screening one night, which blew a usually jaded crowd away. CAA agreed to find distribution, and the world premiere took place for a week at a theatre in Los Angeles. Now, we can all watch from home.
Kudos All Around
Its supporters are many and heartfelt. Mark Johnson, a producer of Breaking Bad fame, says, “In the world in which we are living, Jacob The Baker is an essential film. We need it to remind us of so many of the glorious aspects of the human spirit. I often forget why we’re here on this planet; Jacob the Baker reminds us!”
I often forget why we’re here on this planet; Jacob the Baker reminds us!
The hopes of the filmmakers are not about awards or even financial returns. “We want viewers to see that they are not alone,” says Kout. “That they have the capacity to move forward and to forgive.” Adds benShea, her professor of all those decades ago, “I hope that this film, and the stories within it, will remind people that no matter what they’re going through in their own lives, that there’s always something we can do to make things better.”
Michele Willens is the author of “From Mouseketeers to Menopause.”