Shalom Life | March 08, 2014

Kevin Asch: A Director on a 'Roll'

Kevin Asch's first feature film, "Holy Rollers," nabbed him a Grand Jury prize nomination at one of the largest film festivals in the world.

By: Ilan Mester

Published: June 16th, 2010 in Culture » Film » Interviews

It’s a great honour for any director to get their film into the Sundance Film Festival. But to have your first feature film screened at one of the largest festivals in the world and nab a grand Jury Prize nomination is a whole other story -- especially when you’ve dreamed of becoming a director as a kid.

That’s the case with Kevin Asch. At the age of seven, he remembers writing on a card that he wanted to be an “entertainer/ architect.” “If you put the two together, it’s sort of what a director is. You’re creating worlds for the purpose of entertainment,” says Asch.

Four years later, he was introduced to A Clockwork Orange and Taxi. Asch found out what it was to be a director after watching those films and aspired to make his own movies ever since. “I’ve wanted to be a director my whole life and this is my first movie, so I really was looking for any opportunity,” he says.

Asch is the director of Holy Rollers, a movie about a young Hasidic Jew from New York (played by Jesse Eisenberg) who gets involved with drug dealing. When producer Danny Abeckaser brought the idea of Holy Rollers to Asch, he couldn’t stop thinking about the movie. “I couldn’t get that image out of my head of this young Hasidic Jew in a nightclub,” he says. “I just thought instantly, that image sort of explained the whole journey to me. It’s a juxtaposition of those worlds.”

Holy Rollers became a very personal project for the director. “I poured my heart into this movie,” he says. “And it really felt like this film was meant to be my first movie.”

Asch, who is Jewish and was born in New York, grew up watching these independent, character-driven movies during the ‘90s. He spent nearly four years researching the Hasidic community in order to make his own indie film.

“I had so much time and I had wonderful actors and a wonderful writer,” says Asch. “Everybody was just as passionate and pushed the material and the ideas forward. We all did our research together. It was very collaborative.”

When Jesse Eisenberg received the script, he was so caught up in the story that he hopped on the subway and headed to Borough Park, Brooklyn, home to one of the largest Orthodox Jewish communities in the United States.

While the movie is based on a true story, Asch didn’t speak with any of the people involved in the real drug bust. “We didn’t really think it was necessary to talk to any of the real people because I didn’t want to be beholden to anyone’s day-to-day life in this operation...there was just enough information that was public that we used to put together the pieces,” says Asch.

He hopes audiences really connect with the characters and their journeys throughout the film. But ultimately, Asch hopes audiences leave Holy Rollers entertained. “It’s a movie, it’s meant for that,” he laughs.

Asch is already working on two new projects. One is called Grey Neck, which is a coming-of-age story set in the community where he grew up. The other project, King’s Highway, tells the story of a former agent. “I’m full steam ahead -- I’ve got the itch,” says the director. “I just want to get right back into it.”

Holy Rollers hits theatres in Toronto and Montreal on June 18.

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