A holiday screening of the film Tango Shalom was held by a star of the movie, actress Renée Taylor, and its director, Gabriel Bologna, at The Heights at Burbank on Thursday, Dec. 2.
The two attended the screening at the community center and followed the movie viewing with an audience Q&A session. Some residents of the center who were present at the event included a 102-year-old Rockette who still taps, former jazz club owner and prominent music industry agent Norby Walters, and a 93-year-old Vaudevillian performer.
The film centers around a rabbi (Jos Laniado) who enters a televised dance competition with a female Tango dancer (Karina Smirnoff), but finds himself in a tricky situation when he can’t touch his dance partner due to his orthodox beliefs. He then must find a way to continue on with the contest while maintaining his dedicated religious convictions.
Taylor and Gabriel, who are a real-life mother and son duo, became involved in the project after Taylor’s husband and Gabriel’s father, the late actor, playwright and screenwriter Joseph Bologna, wrote the movie with filmmaking brothers Jos and Claudio Laniado. Veteran producers Joel Zwick, Robert Meyer Burnett, and Yan Fisher-Romanovsky are among the crew members who likewise contributed to making the motion picture possible.
While the project was in development, Joseph was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer, but made the decision to continue working on the film. He sadly passed away in Aug. of 2017, but lived three and a half years past the timeline his doctor’s prognosis predicted. Gabriel says shooting the film offered a memorable experience for him and his father, his mother, and his wife, Zizi Bologna, who scored the movie’s soundtrack.
“It was such a joy for us to have this extra time [together], and my father even said it himself, that the movie [was] literally keeping him alive,” Gabriel said. “He had something that he cared so much about that he got to work on with all of us; my mom, myself, him, and my wife. As a family, we got to have this beautiful experience with him in the last years of his life.”
Alongside actress Lainie Kazan as Leah Zlotkin, Taylor stars as Deborah Yehuda, with both portraying dominant family matriarchs. Taylor, an Oscar nominee and Emmy winner, brings a tremendous performance as Yehuda, for which she utilized her personal childhood memories to develop the role.
“She’s a woman who has very little emotions at her fingertips,” Taylor said of her character, Deborah Yehuda. “My mother was like that. My mother cried at everything. If she was angry, if she was sad, if she was happy, she’d cry. So I gave that characterization to the character I was playing.”
Zizi collaborated with composer Zoe Tiganouria to create a stunning score for the movie. While a previous soundtrack had been finalized before the post-production process, as editing was being carried out, Gabriel and the crew felt the tone of the film called for a new fusion of sound to bring the project to life. Zizi and Tiganouria then began collaborating on a score that ended up serving as a perfect fit for Tango Shalom.
“My wife and her composing partner got all these incredible musicians in Greece and they completely redid the music in our film,” Gabriel said. “If you notice, every glance of the eye, every kick, every twirl, has a motif or a musical hit, and it made our story so much more intimate. I don’t know if there’s been a movie where that has ever happened.”
Tango Shalom provides audiences with hearty laughs and enjoyable entertainment, as well as heartfelt messages about the importance of staying true to one’s beliefs. Taylor explained the significance of having the rare opportunity to create a film that depicts a lead character with strong religious principles guiding their life.
“That’s really very thrilling to have that experience, because there aren’t many movies that have the integrity of somebody trying to keep their religion and still have other, worldly experiences,” Taylor said.
Beyond touching the Jewish community, the movie has resonated with a variety of viewers who follow contrasting religions and spiritual practices. Tango Shalom has earned endorsements from several theological leaders, including Catholic Archbishop Felix Anthony Machado, Algonquin Anishinabe Hereditary Chief Dominique Rankin, and Imam Ani Zonneveld of Muslims for Progressive Values. Gabriel says the acknowledgements that have been presented from a diverse group of ethnicities are some of the most rewarding elements of having made the film.
“This really is a Jewish film, but it’s a Jewish film that resonated with the world,” Gabriel said. “That’s to me the thing that we’re most excited about, is that this movie resonates with so many people.”
As the movie was shown at The Heights, residents got to experience the joy of the dance comedy and witness its advocacy for inclusion, tolerance and diversity. A major message the Tango Shalom cast and crew hopes all viewers walk away with after watching the film is understanding that, no matter a person’s background, we are more alike than unalike at the end of the day.
“We’re all connected and the most important thing is for us to accept each other and be kind,” Taylor said of the theme of Tango Shalom. “That’s really what life is about.”
To learn more about Tango Shalom, visit the film’s website here.