For a ritual structure intended to evoke fragility and transience, the sukkah enjoys an oddly long life as an object of contemplation and representation.
Two years ago, it was Sukkah City, an architecture competition and public art project in Union Square. It drew an estimated 200,000 viewers to the dozen winning, legally valid but visually untraditional temporary booths built to celebrate the holiday of Sukkot, which ended earlier this week.
Now, it’s a documentary about Sukkah City titled, well, “Sukkah City,” although director Jason Hutt (yes, his real last name) says he is open to suggestions. He hopes to debut it this spring at Jewish and general film festivals.
“By extending an invitation to architects and designers outside of the Jewish community, Sukkah City provided a creative jolt to what has become a very unimaginative, uninspired pop-up box, and for many Jews, an unimportant and unobserved holiday,” said Hutt, 35. He is best known as the director of “Orthodox Stance,” about the boxer Dimitry Salita, an Orthodox Jew and a Ukrainian immigrant trying to balance his boxing career and his religious observance.
Sukkah City’s similarities to public artworks such as Jean-Claude and Christo’s 2005 Central Park installation “The Gates” first caught Hutt’s imagination. He met with Sukkah City’s co-creators — Joshua Foer, the journalist and speaker, and Roger Bennett, a founder of several Jewish organizations including Reboot, which sponsored the project.
They approved his idea for a film and allowed him unfettered access to the process. Nothing was off the record, and Hutt didn’t have to submit any material for approval, he said.
“This is the only behind-the-scenes film,” of Sukkah City, Hutt said.
He filmed the project during the summer and then on the jury day in early August, when such boldfaced names as Michael Arad, designer of the World Trade Center Memorial; Paul Goldberger, architecture critic for The New Yorker and Maira Kalman, an author, artist and designer, gathered to pick the 12 winning sukkahs. Hutt also interviewed every winning architect.
Although he has no formal film training, Hutt learned on the job in Hollywood, where he worked as an assistant to a producer and director Michael Tollin helping to create movies like “Summer Catch,” which featured Freddie Prinze, Jr. and Jessica Biel as an aspiring baseball player and his rich-girl summer crush.
But after just a few years, Hutt wearied of commercial fare. He said goodbye both to Hollywood and to a steady paycheck and headed back east — he’s originally from Potomac, Md. — to film his first project, about a truck-stop community in rural Pennsylvania, and to set up shop in Brooklyn.
“Orthodox Stance” played at numerous festivals, and Hutt sold the film’s rights in the United Kingdom to the BCC. But he pays his bills working as a freelance filmmaker, mostly for nonprofits. He finances his films through fundraising and grants and is actively seeking support to finish “Sukkah City.”
“This was a unique and exciting moment in American Jewish life,” said Hutt, who was raised in the Conservative movement and is now an active member of the Conservative Park Slope Jewish Center. “It’s very infrequent that there’s a public expression of Jewish life other than a Chabad Lubavitch menorah lighting or Salute to Israel parade.”