The Jewschool Interview: Universal Face director Guy Lieberman

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See the Film
This Wednesday, May 31 @ Makor (NYC); June 1 @ JCC in Manhattan (NYC); June 8 @ Evergreen (CO); June 13 @ JCC Boulder (CO); July 17 MJE (NYC); July 21 @ JEC (NYC).
Interview with Filmmaker Guy Lieberman
What’s your story? Who are you, where do you come from, what are you about?
I grew up in affluent, white, Jewish Jo’burg South Africa. My generation of the Lieberman clan is pretty unconventional, known for it’s characters and cultural creative powerhouses, made up of artists, architects, producers, event creators and ethno-spiritual explorers. My father was one of eight kids, I’m one of 27 first cousins.
My parents brought us up with a broad allowance of expression – they themselves were pretty much down the line, but quite hip in their own ways; my father had an electronics business, and my mother taught 8-year-olds at the King David Jewish dayschool for 40 years.
I spent my twenties exploring the world, principally the third world, and most of my time went toward seeking big, wild nature and the ancient peoples that still lived there. I travelled through most and lived in some 34 countries and kingdoms through my travels, having some extraordinary experiences and meeting many remarkable people. The general focus was to see what lay hidden in ancient – and modern, and postmodern – cultures that created a fabric for human expression, in all it’s forms. But that sounds heavier than it was. There was a lot of joy during my travels.
In late ‘94 I arrived in Dharamsala, Northern India, home of the Tibetan Government in Exile and the Dalai Lama. I was totally struck by everything Tibetan; their manner, their traditions, their political struggle. I quickly became inspired to see what I could do, as a South African, for the Tibetan freedom movement. I felt, like many, that South Africa was riding on a high moral ground and could much to help the Tibetans. I became something of a political activist with a cultural twist. (image attached, taken in October ‘04).
In mid-95, having lived in Dharamsala since my arrival, I met with the Dalai Lama in a private audience and spoke about my high ideas of Afro-Tibetan relations which had been nurtured further during the months that I was there. He was very encouraging, and sent me on my way with his blessings. The next five years had me committed to the Tibetan cause with a fire that I’d never known. I was convinced Tibet would be free from Chinese oppression, and soon. I also sidelined with the PeaceJam Foundation an organisation that brings together high school kids from communities torn by violence and Nobel Peace Laureates, as their South African chapter director.
During that time I acted as the Dalai Lama’s liaison to his visits to South Africa, and had some very fortunate opportunities to be with him in the presence of some of Africa’s spiritual and political giants, including playing a role in the meeting between the Dalai Lama and then President Mandela.

By the end of ‘99, as Director of the Dalai Lama’s millennium initiative for the African continent, the World Festival of Sacred Music and as liaison for his visit to Cape Town for the Parliament of World Religions, I came to feel that if I did not reassess my own traditional and spiritual roots, I would end up like many of my friends; white, faux Tibetans, adapting this Asian culture to make it mine. As much as I treasured, and still do, my relationship with the Tibetans, I understood that I was Jewish and I knew this and wanted to know it more. So after the Dalai Lama’s departure from Cape Town I left for Israel in early 2000. I’ve been based there ever since.
What’s your movie about?
The movie is about what I have discovered living in Israel among Jews from everywhere. It’s about our talents, our creativity, our impulses, some of which I believe are quite unique to our people. It takes it’s form – music documentary – from a very detailed collaboration of all sorts of Jews; techies, musicians, artists, producers, rabbi’s, visionaries, nature lovers, and transcends the ethnic, secular and religious boundaries. In a way, it is a teaser as to what could be if we tried to harmonise in a larger way. That’s why I made it as a music video, so we’d have to harmonise, otherwise it would not work. And it’s shot through the lens of the Kabbalah, but from a film-makers perspective – I am not a scholar, and the only message that lies within it is the message that I myself discover as I film it. It is a true exploration.
Who have you interviewed for your film so far?
Some have been shown in the pilot, others will be shown in the larger series. They are: Hanah Golda Ben David, a Parisian musician, Moshe Ganesh the Galilean shepherd and percussionist, Gedaliah Gurfein, social visionary, David Friedman, Kabbalistic scholar and artist, Avraham Loewenthal, Kabbalistic artist and one whom I would consider a tzaddik, Mira Raanan, teacher and mother, Steve Hancoff, US Cultural Ambassador, Daniel Flatauer, Tsfat Ceramicist, Steve Barnett, Audience Conductor, Surfing Rabbi Yom Tov Glazer, Boaz Elkayam, world renowned luthier, Yoram Raanan, artist, Yehuda Katz, musician, Baruch Erdstein, Kabbalah activist and musician, Asher Bitansky, manager of Zohar Fresco, whom we also interviewed, world respected master percussionist, and Ayala from the Jerusalem Circus.
What do you consider to be the relationship between music and Kabbalah?
There are an abundance of sources on this subject, too vast to go into here. But basically Kabbalah seems to be layered into so many levels, and one of the ways to express this so it impacts the souls of those performing and those receiving it, is via music; through sound vibration, through inspiration, through devotion. There are far more technical and deeper Torah-related aspects that tie Kabbalah and music together, and while I’ll be researching further into this as the series progresses, the ones I mention here resonate well with me.
What’s your game plan? When can we expect the next installments and what do you plan to do when you have all 10 shot?
The game plan is to show the film, to share it with American Jewry. Then, I hope to raise enough interest and resources, that being financial backing and distribution channels in order to create the next nine short films. The rest of the series will be shot all over the world – the idea is to travel to each continent and meet with Jews everywhere, from the heart of New York to southern Chile, from Southeast Asia to Scandinavia, from Morocco to Cape Town, all with a subtext of the ingathering – we’ll be doing most of the shooting and final edit in Israel. We’re seeking the most fascinating Jews, from the big names through to the unknowns, from the super successful to those struggling to rise up, to see what fabric lies within us that draws out what is entirely unique about us as a people – what we have gathered from our Diaspora in relation to the other nations, what we have offered the world in return. No sector (within reason) will be overlooked.
When the 10 are shot and out there on the wires, I’ll probably take a week to get some rest, and then the direction this seems to be going in is that a foundation will rise up from this, with live programming including tours to Israel to take people on Universal Face experiences, meeting and engaging with those profiled in the films, and taking Universal Face on the road – travelling with an itinerant selection of teachers, artists and musicians to parts of the world and having interactive festivals and concerts, show the films, host VJ parties using the footage… And basically inspire our people, all over the world, to rise up in spirit and feel their Jewishness in any way they can.
What can others do to help?
I suppose they can begin by seeing the film. If it moves them, encourage others to see it. If they know of people who would want to support the larger project, I’ll go meet them. Anywhere.
Where and when can people see “Earth”?
The list of events which is getting updated as folks get wind of the film, is listed on So, they are welcome to attend any public events listed, and there are also a few parlour screenings happening, where people are requesting more intimate screenings with close friends. I welcome these gatherings.

2 thoughts on “The Jewschool Interview: Universal Face director Guy Lieberman

  1. I think you have created produced and nutured into life an incredible look at kabalah, judaism, and the people of israel i[ncluding by proxy unca-steve.] I believe you will succeed in your effort to create interest and support for this inspired and unique film.
    I think also maybe you should put on a litt;e weight, you could use a rest and some home cooking.
    In short –

  2. What is the JEC???? Where is The JEC. I called the Jewish Enrichment Center in NYC, and they had no idea what I was talkng about. I really wanted to see the film but have no idea how to!
    When are you coming back to NYC, and what on earth is JEC.

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