Tango Shalom is screening in Canada and U.S. in select theaters. Tango Shalom is about Moshe Yehuda, a Hasidic Rabbi and amateur Hora dancer who enters a big televised Tango competition to save his Hebrew school from bankruptcy. There is only one problem: due to his orthodox religious beliefs, he is not allowed to touch a woman! At odds with his wife and the entire Hasidic community in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, Moshe is forced to ask a Catholic priest, a Muslim imam, and a Sikh holy man for advice. Together, they hash out a plan to help Moshe dance toward liberation and freedom in the Tango contest "without sacrificing his sacred beliefs".
The film tests the bonds of family and community, and the bounds of tolerance and faith and demands open mindedness, tolerance and unity between cultures and faiths. Tango Shalom is also an inspiring and joyous celebration of Hasidic Jewish life. An interfaith milestone, this is the first film in history that was a joint collaboration with The Vatican, a Hasidic Synagogue, a Sikh Temple, and a Mosque, which promotes a timeless message of peace, tolerance, and love.
It was our pleasure at the Toronto Film Magazine to interview Gabriel Bologna, Jos Laniado, Renée Taylor, and Lainie Kazan regarding Tango Shalom.
For more information about the screenings of Tango Shalom, please visit tangoshalom.com.
Gabriel Bologna is the director of Tango Shalom. Gabriel Bologna was born on April 1, 1969 in the USA as Gabriel Niccolo Bologna. He is an actor and director, known for Tango Shalom (2021), Love Is All There Is (1996) and Captain EO (1986).
Before Gabriel Bologna’s career as a writer/director, he was an accomplished actor for fifteen years, working with such film directors as Francis Ford Coppola and Mark Rydel. He was discovered by James Burrows while attending New York University Tisch and was flown out to Universal Studios to star in the ABC series, “The Marshall Chronicles”, where he played loveable tough guy, Jonny Parmetko. The New York Times reviewed Gabriel’s role as “a brilliant Fonzi redux specimen”. Though it only ran a season, the show has been immortalized on Wikipedia as being the impetus for Larry David changing the name “The Seinfeld Chronicles” to “Seinfeld” as to not compete with Gabriel’s show which had been launched at the exact same time.
Jos Laniado is the lead actor, screenwriter and one of the producers of Tango Shalom. He is also known for Blue Bloods (2010) and Jessica Jones (2015).
Renée Taylor was born in the Bronx, New York to Frieda (née Silverstein) and Charles Wexler. She worked as a comedian in the early 1960s at the New York City nightclub Bon Soir. Her opening act was a then unknown Barbra Streisand. She earned notice for her portrayal of Eva Braun in Mel Brooks's The Producers (1967), and continued to act in several film, television, and theater productions. However, despite an impressive, 50-year resume, she is better remembered as Sylvia Fine, the overbearing, classic Jewish mother of Fran Drescher's title character in The Nanny (1993).She was also nominated for an Oscar in 1971.
Actress and singer Lainie Kazan first made her mark with her Broadway debut in 1961 with the musical The Happiest Girl in the World. The following year, she appeared in another musical, Bravo Giovanni. She eventually served as Barbra Streisand's understudy for the lead role of Fanny Brice in Funny Girl (1968), and when Streisand was unable to perform, due to a throat condition, Kazan took her place in both a matinee and evening performance for one day of the show's run. Always the tireless entertainer, Kazan has contributed her talents to an endless list of film and television projects roles; perhaps her most talked-about role is of the hilarious mom Maria Portokalos in My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002), and its sequel, My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 (2016).
What was the most fascinating aspect of working on Tango Shalom? Renée Taylor: It was a movie about tolerance.
Lainie Kazan: It’s the first Jewish Orthodox film I worked on and I found it to be very interesting and fascinating, and I really appreciate learning about the culture. Jos Laniado: A painter does his art on his own. He is one artist who picks the different
brushes, colors and supplies, and he times himself to do a work of art. In
Tango Shalom we had over 35 different artists with different talents every day for
25 days of shoot.
Gabriel Bologna: I directed a horror comedy that co-starred Danny Trejo, called, “Boston Girls”, where I put my mother in as a cameo. It was so much fun! But I never had the chance to direct my father in a film. I was so grateful to finally have the opportunity to direct my dad in “Tango Shalom”. I got to see, first hand, his process and collaborate with him in ways I had never experienced before. It really was full circle. I had the greatest father the world has ever known, and yet, when I close my eyes and think about my fondest memories of him, my adventures working on “Tango Shalom” immediately comes to mind. Even though he has passed away, whenever I watch the film again, seeing his amazing performance, I am reliving every single glorious moment fighting in the trenches with him; it is like he is back to life, as if he is immortalized. Last year I saw one of my dad’s films in an outdoor screening in New York City’s Bryant Park; it didn’t have the same effect on me because I wasn’t on the set when my father was shooting it. My dad wasn’t cracking jokes in between takes. “Tango Shalom” is a memento, a scrapbook, a home movie all in one. Ivan Passer, the great Czech New Wave director, once told me, “A film is a living breathing organism”. Now I know what he meant.
Judi Beecher & Jos Laniado in Tango Shalom
What was the inspiration behind the making of Tango Shalom and how did the film go into production?
Jos Laniado: Being observant , I attend services at a Chabad House. During
Purim time, many religious Rabbis have a few drinks and start dancing like I
have never seen before. Being a Tango dancer, I asked myself “What if an
Orthodox Rabbi got a message from the Almighty to enter a Tango dance
contest to save his school from bankruptcy. After raising some funds and
having co-writers like Joseph Bologna and my brother Claudio Laniado, and
having such a talented director and crew who were passionate about this film,
we went into production.
Gabriel Bologna: Jos Laniado, the star of the film, came up with the original idea. In real life he is an observant Jew, and also a tango dancer. Honestly, he is almost like the character in the film. Pious, many children, and blushes when he overhears a curse word. And just like his character, he’s got a great sense of humor. In real life he too teaches at an Orthodox Jewish school (although, unlike his character who is a Rabbinical teacher, in his daily life, he teaches physical education). When did you start working in media and filmmaking and what was the first project you worked on? Renée Taylor: Over 60 years ago I started working in movies called B movies at that time. Lainie Kazan: I started working on film in a serious way in 1981 and it was with Francis Coppola who was my director in a movie called "One From The Heart". It was hard and although it wasn't a big success it was an extraordinary experience.
Jos Laniado: I was getting a lot of parts as a lover, criminal, butler, and dancer. So I
decided that the only way I will be able to play the protagonist is if I produced
my own movie.
Gabriel Bologna: My big break was being cast as a series regular in the ABC series, “The Marshall Chronicles”. Even though it only ran a season, it’s claim to fame was that it was the reason that the new show “Seinfeld” changed from “The Seinfeld Chronicles” as to not be confused with my show which too aired the exact same year. While shooting, I was most intrigued with television legend, Jim Burrows, who directed my show. That was the first time I said to myself, “I want to direct!”. What is the most challenging thing about making independent films like Tango Shalom? Lainie Kazan: Raising the money. Jos Laniado: Oy Vey! We went through so many obstacles from pre-production to post-
production, but the Almighty was able to rescue us each time.
Gabriel Bologna: Parking in NYC!
Does the language of cinema stand out more than the arts to you? Why? Jos Laniado: The visual language of Cinema is so unlimited. One shot can tell an entire
story or just a piece of it Gabriel Bologna: Cinema is a literal medium. On the stage, you truly can suspend disbelief, because, in order to fully appreciate it, you are forced to. The lights, the sets, exits and entrances, the curtain, and the very stage itself leaves you with no choice but to suspend all disbelief. The language of film, on the other hand, is entirely visual. It is truly beyond the suspension of disbelief, because it is a simulacrum; it is visceral, emotive, an all-in dive into a world unto it’s own, a world that you are forced to take at face value. And for me, that is what sets apart cinema as the piece de resistance of modern entertainment.
How can cinema and films such as Tango Shalom change the world and have an impact on society? Jos Laniado: Cinema can be a powerful tool for societal change.
In these times of uncertainty, pandemic, and chaos, a movie like Tango
Shalom can hopefully inspire people to find more efficient and peaceful ways of co-existing.
Gabriel Bologna: Paul Gauguin once said, “Art is either plagiarism or revolution”. Cinema is no exception to this rule. In my mind, cinema is either part of the problem, or the solution to it.
How did you get involved with the making of Tango Shalom and what was your first reaction to the themes that were involved in the film?
Jos Laniado: My brother Claudio and I formed a film company called Convivencia Forever Films. La Convivencia was an era just before 1492 when the Muslims, Christians, and
Jews worked together in peace and harmony. We decided to make film projects which can
open doors of dialogue, enlarge the doors of dialogue, raise the level of human consciousness, and hopefully impact a beneficial social change. Thus, Tango Shalom was born.
Gabriel Bologna: My director of photography, Massimo Zeri, gave me the Laniado’s script, and I fell in love with it. I told them I would direct it if they let my father do the rewrite because I knew he would give it that one-two punch of touching and hilarious. They agreed, and my dad knocked it out of the park.
Tell us about the most interesting experience you had on the set of Tango Shalom in production. Renée Taylor: Being directed by my son Gabriel Bologna. Lainie Kazan: I thought that the costumes were one of the most interesting aspects of the film. There were dresses and clothes to cover the body that were so extraordinarily designed. I learned so much about the culture through the costumes. Jos Laniado: The most interesting experience was shooting the film in amazing locations such as in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, at the Chabad Lubavitch World Headquarters, and at several other religious locations, and learning how people at these locations were willing to be part of Tango Shalom.
In the process of getting these locations we were already immersed in connecting with people of different religions who otherwise we might have never met,
or learned from each other. It was an opportunity to dialogue and connect.
Gabriel Bologna: It was truly extraordinary, everyday we all immersed ourselves in a different religion. On and off the camera, we got to see how so many different peoples and cultures expressed themselves and prayed. Their customs, their beliefs, their prayers, and vestments. A pilgrimage. It was like doing a walkabout around the world. Without ever leaving Brooklyn and Queens!
What is your next film project and what are you currently working on now? Renée Taylor: I am doing my play "My Life On A Diet" again in the fall . I did it for a year cross country. I am also writing a play about Mae West , and a book about my husband Joe Bologna , " If you ever leave me …I am going with you". Lainie Kazan: We are doing My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3 in the summer all things being considered during the pandemic.
Jos Laniado: Untitled film about Peace, and religious tolerance.
Gabriel Bologna: I’ve got a lot of irons in the fire. All of them are projects that shoot in Europe.
Tango Shalom was recently selected in a few film festivals and was even awarded. What is next for Tango Shalom and who is your targeted audience?
Jos Laniado: Moshe represents a man who really struggles with his community and family.
In that struggle there is an inherent Universal message to a Universal World.
Gabriel Bologna: It’s about time Borscht-belt humor goes mainstream!
Trailer of Tango Shalom: