The Columbus Jewish Film Festival will run from Sunday through Nov. 17.
As an Otterbein University psychology professor, a clinical psychologist and a novelist, Noam Shpancer boasts an eclectic resume.
Yet the longtime academic sees plenty of overlaps between his professions.
“In both therapy and fiction writing, you are working with words,” Shpancer, 60, said recently by email from Rehovot, Israel, where he was traveling. “You are looking for genuine expression, for deep emotional truths and for the rich narrative.”
Shpancer, whose novels include “The Good Psychologist” (2010) and “The Measure of Mercy” (2011), recently took on another job title: screenwriter.
On Tuesday, as part of the Columbus Jewish Film Festival, the Israeli feature film “The Other Story,” which Shpancer co-wrote with director Avi Nesher, will be shown.
At the forefront of the family drama is the relationship between Anat (Joy Rieger) and Shachar (Nathan Goshen), a young couple who have set aside the self-indulgence of youth to commit themselves to the principles of orthodox Judaism. Featured in a large supporting cast of characters are Anat’s secular-minded, divorced parents, Tali (Maya Dagan) and Yonatan (Yuval Segal), a psychologist.
Festival director Emily Schuss said that booking Nesher’s latest film was an easy call.
“He is one of Israel’s top, most famous directors,” Schuss said. “We’ve shown almost all of his films when they come out, and he came here for our 10th anniversary.”
An unexpected surprise came when the festival learned that the film was co-written by a central Ohio resident.
The involvement of Shpancer, Schuss said, “solidified pretty much that we were going to show it.”
After spending his youth on a kibbutz near Jerusalem, Shpancer relocated to the U.S. in 1985. After earning degrees from the University of Houston and Purdue University, he joined the Otterbein faculty in 1999.
Concurrent with his psychology career, Shpancer began finding work as a writer. While still in his 20s, he began contributing to a magazine in Israel, penning everything from short stories to opinion pieces before turning to long-form fiction.
“Writing and doing therapy both require some ability to think with clarity, listen with intent and integrate multiple, and sometimes conflicting, perspectives or storylines,” he said.
After the publication of “The Good Psychologist,” Nesser reached out to Shpancer, inviting the writer to collaborate on a screenplay.
During a seven-year span, the two first worked on a different version of the story for an American producer; eventually, the film was rewritten to be made entirely in Israel with dialogue in Hebrew.
“Israeli cinema — and life, as it were — is centered on families, and so we rewrote the story as an ensemble piece,” Shpancer said. “The first story — of the divorced psychologist whose daughter is marrying an orthodox man — is roughly based on events and relationships in my own life.”
Shpancer took a pair of academic sabbaticals to work one-on-one with Nesser; they also collaborated online via Skype.
“I got to spend many hours doing collaborative creative work,” Shpancer said. “I got to learn from a master writer.”
The results have garnered mixed but sympathetic reviews in the U.S. In the Los Angeles Times, critic Kenneth Turan wrote that the movie “offers convincing acting, a focus on women’s issues and a willingness to connect with problem areas that are currently roiling Israeli politics.”
For his part, Shpancer considers his brush with moviemaking to be an unexpected, but welcome, career detour.
“It’s always a surprise when your creative work ends up being of half-decent quality and finds an audience,” he said. “I’m always grateful and surprised when something like that happens.”