JEWS (3 x 60’)

BBC, 2008

“Is there a better documentary filmmaker in the UK at the moment than Vanessa Engle?”
The Guardian

This series offers a kaleidoscopic insight into Jewish life in Britain today.  It documents the beliefs and culture of very different kinds of Jews, ranging from atheist and secular Jews through to fully observant ultra-orthodox Jews.  The series looks at family histories, belief systems, relationships, and the psychology and meaning of what it is to be Jewish.


Ep 1 gives an exceptionally rare insight into ultra-orthodox Jewish life in a closed community in North London.  With extraordinary access to the Haredi community in Stamford Hill, it tells the improbable story of Samuel Leibowitz, a 38 year old ultra-orthodox Jew born and raised in Stamford Hill, who has multiple convictions for drug smuggling. The film follows him as he emerges from nine years in prison and returns to his community.  Filmed over five months, it documents his re-entry into ultra-orthodox life, as he attempts to overcome his transgressions and live once again as an observant Haredi Jew. 



Ep 2 is about the psychological inheritance of the Holocaust and is a reflection on the second generation experience, exploring how the past informs the present and how history lives on inside our heads.  The film features eight individuals who are the children of either refugees or survivors and examines the ways in which they are affected by their family histories.  One woman carries the same name as the 6 year old daughter her mother lost in the camps. Another woman is so haunted by her mother’s mental collapse that she has relocated to Vienna to try to unearth the source of her family’s trauma.  Despite their differing experiences, all the interviewees share a sense of rootlessness, as well as a deep-seated feeling that being Jewish is a dangerous thing to be. 



Ep 3 is an observational documentary set in the Orthodox Jewish community in Hendon in North-West London.  The subject of the film is the 52 year old millionaire philanthropist Jonathan Faith, former owner of high street chain Faith shoes.  Having recently sold his company for millions of pounds, Jonathan embarks on a mission to reverse the decline in the size of the religious Jewish population.  He hopes that by using marketing techniques he learnt in the footwear business, he can get the numbers back up.


The Sun
“It stuck to the traditional virtues of good documentary making: patience, curiosity and the maturity to let its subjects speak for themselves. Stunningly successful, subtle and enthralling. Unmissable”
The Daily Telegraph
“The BBC’s excellent new series of films Jews explores real lives rather than “issues”. Engle’s series tries to get to grips with Jewish life in Britain. What you are left with are those faces. The crooked smile of the Auschwitz survivor from Salonica. The trapped eyes of the Hasidic drug dealer. The cornered look of the Jewish atheist who doesn’t want to hurt his father. They aren’t issues. They’re what life is”
The New Statesman
“A brilliant series, Engle is a patient and penetrating film-maker”
The Times
“This is a lovely piece of work, simple yet moving, by the intelligent documentary-maker Vanessa Engle”
The Sunday Times
“Wonderful. It was all immensely touching and provoked questions about belonging and nationality, of our responsibility to the future and the obligations of the past. Powerful programme-making”
AA Gill in the Sunday Times
“Episode two was essential viewing, a wide-reaching, subtle investigation of the “psychological stain” on the children of Holocaust survivors. Each case was fascinatingly different. Overall, the film caught something intangible, delicate and fugitive: it was a portrait of a state of mind”
The Independent on Sunday
“The most interesting person in Jews was never seen. Vanessa Engle who made the film, has a persistent, inquisitive, teasing way about her, which reduced even the highly orthodox Hasidic Jews of Stamford Hill to giggles”
The Guardian


Producer/director: VANESSA ENGLE



Assistant producer: ZARA AKESTER


Executive producer: NICK MIRSKY


Nominated and commended for the Grierson award for Best Documentary Series