Emma Seligman, 26, Telling Jewish Stories in Film


@emmmaseligman / @shivababymovie

The Jewish Week’s annual 36 Under 36 honors young leaders, entrepreneurs and change-makers who are making a difference in the life of Jewish New York. For the full list of this year’s “36ers,” click here.

What do you do?

I’m a writer/director of film and television. My first feature film, “Shiva Baby,” based on my film school thesis, played at SXSW and TIFF 2020. 

How did the pandemic affect your work?

In an odd way I couldn’t have predicted, and certainly did not want, the pandemic allowed my film to reach its target audience more easily. Young people, who otherwise would not have gone to their local arthouse cinema or local Jewish or LGBTQIA film festival in a regular year, found the film online. In addition to that, doing Zoom festival Q&As from home allowed me to connect to so many audiences I wouldn’t have been able to travel to in person.

How does your Jewish identity influence your work?

I always gravitate toward telling Jewish stories because I relate to it more, because I’m interested in telling more nuanced Jewish female and queer stories on screen and also because on a practical level, given my significant cultural Jewish upbringing, it’s just easier for me to write Jewish characters.

Was there a formative Jewish experience that influenced your life path?

When I was six in 2002, there was a 20th anniversary re-release of “E.T.” My sister and I were stuck at a crowded bris. It was the first bris I attended and I remember being sweaty, overwhelmed and also horrified by what was happening to my baby cousin in the other room. I remember my uncle said, “F–k this, let’s go see ‘E.T.’” And now I’m a filmmaker.

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