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93QUEEN (2018) review

September 1, 2018

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produced by: Adam Bolt, Heidi Reinberg and Paul Eiselt
directed by: Paula Eiselt 
rated: not rated
runtime: 90 min.
U.S. release date: July 25, 2018 (limited), August 29, 2018 (Music Box Theatre, Chicago, IL)

 

I bet you never thought you needed to see a documentary about an all-female Hasidic EMT emergency corps, but here is “93Queen” to correct that. Furthermore, I bet you didn’t even know such a film existed, but that’s exactly what director Paula Eiselt is counting on. Within the first fifteen minutes, it becomes clear why Eiselt chose to follow Rachel “Ruchie” Freier around Borough Park, Brooklyn and tell the world how inspiring and intrepid this resilient woman is.  She is a charismatic and unapologetic figure, one who is captured and presented in an up close and personal approach that is free from hagiography, providing viewers with an understanding Freier’s intent and the impact she’s had on the lives of the like-minded women that surround her. 

The consistently on-the-move Freier is the co-founder of an organization known as Ezras Nashim (Women for Women), which was created to meet emergency medical needs of Hasidic women (particularly of the OB/GYN variety) in the Jewish community she resides in, a place considered the largest ultraorthodox group in the U.S. It’s a historical and controversial move, one that not only challenges the view of a woman’s place in the Chassidic community (translation: modest, married and staying at home to care for the children), it also challenges the all-male, Hatzolah, a volunteer ambulance force (considering the largest in the world) consisting solely of Jewish men that’s been around since 1969. Throughout the film, Eiselt includes interview segments from a disguised member of Hazolah, since their organization forbids any communication with the media, offering some insight to their position toward Freier and Ezras Nashim.

 

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While Freier received support and volunteers from like-minded Jewish women in her community, there was inevitable criticism and backlash from men (mostly) and woman who didn’t want to see tradition and religious beliefs disregarded. Freier and her  volunteers received paramedic training to become EMTs, developed a response protocol and then create a marketing plan for the corps – all while enduring negative feedback and comments, both in person and online. The fierce opposition mainly sang the same “the focus of a woman is being a mother” tune, as accusations of “radical feminists” are being tossed at them as well. No matter how much progress Freier and company see, they still feel the sting of setbacks, like when the neighborhood rabbis decline to endorse them and when someone wrote to Freier’s daughter’s school to complain about her being appointed Mother of the Year.

Indeed, the negativity is exhausting and disheartening, but then again Freier and the other women have heard it before and when they start to hear grateful responses from women who’ve received emergency treatment from Ezras Nashim, it becomes harder to hear such negatively.

As “93Queen” follows Freier, we see the support she receives from her husband, Tzi David Freier and marvel at the fact that she’s the mother of six children – a fact that just made me quite exhausted while watching (especially when she’s shown making her own challah bread). Freier is an indomitable force of nature, who worked part time as a legal secretary and then a paralegal, eventually majoring in Political Science and then went on to attend law school and as the film unfolds, we see her pursue becoming a civil court judge, hoping to have a greater impact and influence in the community. Of course, the inclusion of this pursuit inevitably finds Freier winning the election, becoming the first Hasidic woman to hold public office in the U.S.

 

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As the volunteers of Ezras Nashim find success and receive something akin to celebrity status on a local level, Freier’s persistence and stubbornness tends to ruffle some of her supporters, causing a rift where there was once unity. We see this in particular when a stipulation is decided that all volunteers must be married (a stance which is never really defended very clearly or well here), which doesn’t sit well with some of volunteers who’ve passionately supported and worked hard to make the corps. what it is. I wish the film got into that impasse a little more, since it’s an intriguing aspect in the development of Ezras Nashim, but I suppose the overall focus here is how inspirational Freier has been and remains.

The documentary is named after the code the New York City Fire Department recognizes Ezras Nashim as and overall it’s and eye-opening look at a group of compassionate women, who have seen a need and consistently met it with a reliant spirit. While the film would’ve benefited from footage of actual patients  (we hear from one grateful one during a montage), something tells me anonymity plays a factor there. “93Queen” made its world premiere at Toronto’s Hot Docs festival and continues to expand in limited release this weekend in California and in New York, where director making a Q&A appearance after the September 2nd screening at the North Shore Cinema. Click here for details.

 

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RATING: ***

 

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Joe Dubowski permalink
    September 1, 2018 9:06 am

    Thanks for reviewing this. I would not have known about it if I had not read your review. I might like to see it sometime.

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