Praying with Lior, the profoundly moving and entertaining documentary about an extraordinary family, a young ‘spiritual genius” (according to some) and a Bar Mitzvah will open theatrically in New York City at the Cinema Village on February 1st, and at the Laemmle Music Hall in Los Angeles on March 14, and other cities throughout the Spring. It will also have a special preview screening at the New York Jewish Film Festival on January 15, 2008.
Ilana Trachtman's feature-length documentary had its world premiere at the 2007 San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, where Variety enthused: "Trachtman captures a complex family dynamic in which Lior isn't the only intriguing personality…These people are so interesting, and Trachtman's handling so intimate and involving, it would be very welcome if she revisited the family every so often, 'Up'-style."
Shot over three years and focusing on the months leading up to Lior's Bar Mitzvah in 2004, Praying with Lior draws a riveting portrait of a high-functioning, quick-witted, friendly and sincere boy, who, as he proudly approaches manhood, is simultaneously "retarded" and, according to his many admirers, a "spiritual genius." It also offers a wonderfully illuminating window into how disability can strengthen a family and a community. In extensive media coverage in Philadelphia where the film was shot, Praying with Lior has already been hailed for encouraging greater inclusion in faith communities for persons with disabilities.
Trachtman, a producer and director of several award-winning projects for PBS, Showtime, HBO Family and A&E, had already proven adept at content-rich, character-driven cinema verité. Here she used those skills as she gained unique access into the day-to-day lives of the Lieblings, a deeply spiritual if unconventional family.
Lior's siblings figure prominently in the film, making observations about life with their "special" brother; but it is Lior's parents who stand out by demonstrating extraordinary compassion and selflessness. Mordecai Liebling, a nationally known rabbi and former director of the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation, is unabashedly proud of his son's embrace of spirituality, interest in “davening” (praying) and whole-hearted, off-key singing. Lior's mother, Rabbi Devorah Bartnoff -- who died of breast cancer in 1997 -- together with Lior's stepmother, Lynne Iser, lavish generous servings of love and provide the film's feminist perspective.
The soul of the film is revealed by the history of the mother. Knowing the seriousness of her illness, Rabbi Bartnoff filmed home movies of herself and her very young son Lior so that he would have a clear memory of her love for him. What is also clear from those celluloid memories is her profound appreciation of Lior’s special qualities; she expresses an unrequited wish to survive to his Bar Mitzvah – a wish that Lior becomes convinced is fulfilled, at least in spirit.
Features a soundtrack composed by the klezmer and bluegrass virtuoso Andy Statman, one of the most influential acoustic musicians of our time. The editor is the acclaimed Zelda Greenstein, and the cinematographer is Emmy Award-winning director/cameraman Slawomir Grunberg. This is the New York-based Trachtman's independent feature film debut.