I Made This Jewish Short Film for the Girl I Once Was

“Funky” focuses on a young woman struggling to find herself again after being sexually assaulted.

The first flashback I had was of a door. That was my first memory of that day. A door opens and closes. I still jump from that sound. The second flashback was of hands. I hated being touched. I’m still working through it. The third was of them, their faces blurred. Their shadows haunt me. They are walking around, free.

It took me nine years to talk about the assault. Ultimately, I only talked about it with a select number of people. Most of the people in my life found out during Q&A’s after watching “Funky.” I always knew the kind of stories I wanted to tell, but needed to find my voice and courage.

“Funky” is a short film that focuses on a young woman struggling to find herself again after being sexually assaulted. It is a dramedy about healing. It was born in the summer of 2022. I was walking up Sixth Avenue and Spring Street listening to “Funkytown” — the line “gotta move on” hit home. The idea for the film immediately landed in my head. I stopped walking, pulled out my phone and wrote notes on each scene and a brief synopsis, even some dialogue lines. The film was everything I’d been yearning to say.

I wanted to write a story about survival to help the girl I was then move on. I was stuck in a “funk” for several years. This film is the kind of story I needed to see. Ela, the main character’s name, has a Hebrew meaning. Eleiha (אֵ ֶלי הָ) means to her; I wrote “Funky” to the girl I was. All of the names in the film have a special meaning rooted in my background as Jewish and Israeli.

Dean is Ela’s romantic interest in the film, and is based on the first guy I ever loved. He reminded me of a part of my home before it got ruined and a part of my childhood before it was taken away from me. He was everything my younger self would have wanted, and in a way, he brought her back to life. It was triggering to fall in love with someone. I wanted “Funky” to show that: the struggle of letting someone in when you are consumed by trauma. I bumped into him two weeks before filming and decided to tell him about the film. He read the script. He asked if Ela was raped and I said, “I was when I was 15.”

There is who I was before, and who I am Now. Before, I was controlled by my past. I cried myself to sleep, woke up shaking from nightmares and was haunted by flashbacks. When I couldn’t vocalize what happened to me, films, books and music were my companions in trying to understand what I couldn’t say in words. The first book I read about rape was “Tess of the d’Urbervilles,” which Ela reads in the film. Tess’s story ended with her execution. To me, going to trial would have been the same experience emotionally. Dean (ִּדין) in Hebrew means justice. “Funky” is my way of getting it. This is who I am now.

The film begins with Ela being fun and sexy. Before making this film, I never got to be that version of myself. While directing “Funky,” it was important to me to stay true to my feelings and experiences as a sexual assault survivor learning to live again. Some of the shots were inspired by the psychological state my character, Ela is in. Every time I experience a trigger, I need to shower right away to scrub myself clean. This is reflected in Ela’s narrative.

Noah is Ela’s best friend. I picked the name because of the biblical story. In the book of Genesis, Noah built an ark to save his family and various animals from a deluge that covered the Earth. Noah (נח) in Hebrew means rest, peace or comfort. Noah guides Ela through her own emotional flood. She is the only character in the film who Ela admits her past to. Noah becomes Ela’s ark.

I was on edge the day we filmed the flashbacks. It was our fifth day of filming; I’d been preparing for the scene for months. Nothing was going according to plan, we were on a tight schedule and I had to change the location for the assault scene. I was sitting on the bed, trying not to think about too much as one of the stunt talents kept making melaugh and the other was super serious — it was a perfect balance. I wanted to film it in one take. I remember my DP (cinematographer) exhaling heavily and putting the camera on the floor right after. I was still crying and shaking from it all, and I walked towards him and asked him to watch the playback. “The bed is not moving,” I said — a problem. We filmed another take. A friend stayed over with me that night once we wrapped up filming because I didn’t know how I would feel. But shockingly, I was okay. It was in the past and done.

Making “Funky” was a release. In one of our screenings, I said it felt like the final step of therapy. I entered a new stage of healing. I wanted to be vague with how long it took for Ela to overcome her trauma because for me it took years and I don’t think there is a formula or a specific time frame. It takes time to heal and it’s okay. I’m hoping this film will help others heal.

Kevin is one of Ela’s friends. He safeguards her when another character teases her. The name Kevin is referenced from the Hebrew word kavanah (כַּוָנָה), which means meaning or purpose. I picked this name because I found my own purpose and power again through making this film.

For many years, I felt lost. There is something beyond dehumanizing in being assaulted. You turn into a shell of a person, a ghost even. I was alive, but I wasn’t. Everything was numb for years. I didn’t know how to move on. “Funky” is my way of taking back my power and freeing myself from the past. We filmed exactly a year ago. Visiting my childhood neighborhood after making this film was different. I had a small flashback, pain in my chest, but I was finally able to breathe.

Part of me still hurts for the girl I was, and always will. But the other part thanks her for surviving and for her resilience in turning her pain into art. Survivors have been reaching out since our very first screening, sharing their stories of harassment and assaults.

Ela didn’t have a choice in what happened to her. I didn’t have a choice in what happened to me. I wanted her to have a choice in the film, and she chooses to heal.

Ela chose Ela, and I choose myself.

Shoval Tshuva

Shoval Tshuva (she/her) is a writer, director, and actress who was born and raised in Israel. Her background in journalism heavily influences her voice as a filmmaker. She draws her strong female narratives from life experiences and is inspired by multicultural art media such as - literature, cinema, art, fashion, and photography. Her debut film, ‘Funky,’ is currently in the festival circuit and was selected by a number of them.

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