JTA — When “Saturday Night Seder,” a Passover-themed virtual comedy show, was a hit at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, its funders realized there was a strong appetite for new kinds of Jewish stories in the entertainment world.
Now the Jewish arts nonprofit Reboot is dreaming bigger. It’s funding dozens of new projects, including a podcast about Abraham’s mother from the creator of “Transparent,” a TV series about the Jewish mobsters of Las Vegas, and a documentary short about male circumcision called (yes) “Uncut Gems.”
They are all among the initial slate of Reboot Studios, a seed funding initiative for movies, TV, podcasts, books and other multimedia projects featuring unique perspectives on Jewish life.
“We’re like the Sundance Labs for the Jewish world,” Reboot CEO David Katznelson told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, referring to the independent film festival’s incubator program for new talent. “Our dream is just to be that beginning step.”
Reboot’s projects run the gamut of Jewish creators and topics. They include “Boom,” an adaptation of bestselling author Adam Mansbach’s memoir “I Had a Brother Once”; “The Amtlai Tapes,” a podcast from “Transparent” creator Joey Soloway about Abraham’s mother; and a documentary about the intersection between Jewish and Black communities from “Little White Lie” director Lacey Schwartz Delgado.
There are also scripted series like “Jews Without Money,” an adaptation of the 1930 Mike Gold novel about Jewish tenement housing on the Lower East Side from Found Magazine creator Davy Rothbart; “Tribe,” about the real-life relationship between a historically Black college and a Jewish professor it sponsored who was at risk of being deported to Nazi Germany; and “Miss Flamingo,” about the role Jewish mobsters played in the creation of Las Vegas.
Many other Jewish creators are signed on to work with Reboot, including Lisa Kenner Grissom, Benji Kahn, Adam Kantor and Jessie Kahnweiler, the latter of whom is making that new “Gems” — no relation to the Adam Sandler movie — as a comedic documentary short about male circumcision.
Reboot Studios’ advisory board includes acclaimed songwriter Benj Pasek and Showtime executive Amy Israel, and its initial investors include “Will & Grace” co-creator David Kohan. Additional funding is coming from existing Reboot funds; the nonprofit is currently supported by philanthropic groups including the Jim Joseph Foundation, the William Davidson Foundation, and CANVAS, a Jewish arts initiative. JTA parent 70 Faces Media also receives funding from these organizations.
Reboot Studios will be credited as an executive producer on the finished projects.
In addition to funding, Katznelson said Reboot would also provide the projects with fundraising networks and connections to around 1,200 different community organizations, ranging from temples to Jewish community centers to Moishe Houses occupied by young adults, to promote and put on events around the projects.
Reboot’s initial request for proposals included requests for specific themes, including women’s stories and stories about the expanded Jewish Diaspora. Katznelson believes that helped contribute to the diversity of projects on the studio’s initial slate, which include multiple projects by Jews of color and LGBT+ Jews.
Katznelson, who has a background as a Grammy-nominated music producer, wants to raise more money to expand Reboot Studios’ slate even more. He dreams of working with famous Jews such as Mel Brooks, J.J. Abrams and Damon Lindelof, in addition to new voices. The studio isn’t restricting its pool to only Jewish storytellers, but all its projects must have Jewish themes.
“We believe that with the darkness of antisemitism and the other aspects of the darknesses that we’re facing right now, that we need to tell these new Jewish stories,” he said. ”There’s nothing better than amazing stories, good art, to help change opinions, change minds, inspire people.”