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How Filming ‘Guns & Moses’ Brought Two Sisters Closer to Judaism

Mila and Juju Brener learned Orthodox rituals and lifestyles while working on the movie.
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June 12, 2024
Mila and Juju Brener (photo: Katerina Hung Photography)

In Salvador Litvak’s new movie, “Guns & Moses, Mila Brener, 19, and Juju Brener, 12, play the daughters of Rabbi Mo Zaltzman (Mark Feuerstein). The Zaltzmans live in a small, quiet town where a neo-Nazi teen is accused of murder. The rabbi steps in to prove the boy’s innocence and confronts a far more sinister villain. The film also stars Christopher Lloyd, Dermot Mulroney, Neal McDonough, and Alona Tal.

The film will premiere on June 19th at the Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival and will be followed by a Q&A with the director, Feuerstein, actor Michael B. Silver, and the Brener sisters.

“This is the first time we are playing sisters and also Jewish characters,” Mila said. “And not only are that, but they are Orthodox. We didn’t know much about this world, so we watched a couple of documentaries and read a lot online to understand what it’s like. Why do girls cover their bodies? Why our mom in the film, portrayed by Alona Tal, wears a wig? It removed a lot of stereotypes for us.”

The Brener sisters were born in Los Angeles to actress/producer Shirly Brener and artist Bruce Rubenstein. They started acting and modeling at a young age. Previously, Juju played the young character of Sarah Jessica Parker in “Hocus Pocus 2,” and Mila had guest roles in the TV series “Mom and “Ray Donovan.”

“We grew up in a non-Orthodox household. Although our parents are both Jewish and celebrate the high holidays, we didn’t know much about the Orthodox lifestyle. We are so grateful to be cast in these roles because it has taught us so much about Judaism and brought us closer to being Jewish,” Mila said.

Filming took place in Santa Clarita and coincided with Hanukkah 2022. One of the sisters’ favorite memories was celebrating the holiday on set. “Sal, the director, is religious and lit the candles with us and everyone on set, including the non-Jewish crew members. He told us tales about Hanukkah,” Juju said. “He was not only a director but a teacher. He explained why each tradition is practiced. It was very educational.”

Mila plays Esti, the eldest daughter. Talking about their character, she said Esti “is very strong and brave, acting like the brain of the family. She handles all the technical aspects, is very intelligent and tech-savvy. I related to her a lot.”

“I played the younger sister who basically always follows her older sister and likes to do what she’s doing, just like in real life,” Juju added.

Director Litvak, known as “The Accidental Talmudist” and is co-editor of The Journal’s “Table for Five,” grew up with two Holocaust survivors, including his grandmother Magda who was pregnant with his mother during the war, said he couldn’t imagine that the film he made before the war in Israel would be so relevant just a few months after production. “We conceived ‘Guns & Moses in the wake of the synagogue shooting in Poway, California. We knew antisemitic attacks would always be relevant, but we never imagined that the most deadly attacks since the Holocaust would occur on Oct. 7, during the post-production of our film.”

We conceived ‘Guns & Moses’ in the wake of the synagogue shooting in Poway, California. We knew antisemitic attacks would always be relevant, but we never imagined that the most deadly attacks since the Holocaust would occur on Oct. 7, during the post-production of our film.” – Salvador Litvak

One of Mila’s favorite memories of shooting “Guns & Moses was meeting actor Christopher Lloyd (“Back to the Future”). “It was an honor meeting him. He is such an iconic person. We had a scene together, and while we were waiting for them to set the shot, it was super cold. We were freezing. I was with my mom, and I told her, ‘It’s cold AF.’ Christopher looked puzzled and asked me, ‘What does ‘AF’ mean?’ I whispered in his ear, and his face brightened. He smiled and said, ‘I like that. I’m going to use it.’ So now I can say I taught Lloyd a bit of Gen Z slang.”

Mila with Christopher Lloyd

Mila, who was accepted to Loyola Marymount University, said she never experienced or witnessed antisemitism until Oct. 7. “Unfortunately, I know of many friends at U.S. campuses who were segregated just because they are Jewish. They were told they couldn’t be in certain parts of the campus or couldn’t walk freely, and these are universities they were accepted to and paid for. It’s unimaginable.”

Although it’s the first time the two have played sisters, they have collaborated before on different projects. Previously, Mila directed a six-minute short starring Juju, “Not My Circus,” and recently, they worked on a music video for Juju’s single ‘Buzzin,’ which was released on all music platforms and became popular on TikTok. The music video was shot around Los Angeles and features a hybrid reality versus fantasy narrative and was done in collaboration with YMI Jeans.

“It was really fun to film, although a bit challenging,” Juju said. “There were times when people walked into the frame, and we needed to reshoot the scene.”

“People kept asking, ‘Who is that?’” Mila, who directed the video along with Antonio Chavez Trejo, said. “The vibe of the video was ‘follow your dreams and live your best life’. We shot in the most iconic locations in L.A. such as Santa Monica Pier, Hollywood Boulevard and the view of downtown. We were surrounded by people and tourists who tried to touch a piece of the glamour of the city and it was a great opportunity to showcase all the places our city is famous for.”

The sisters hope to collaborate more in the future, both in film, TV and music videos.

“Guns & Moses” will have its North American premiere at the Saban Theater on June 19 at 7pm, followed by a Q&A with Sal Litvak, Mila & Juju Brener and other guests.

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