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Native Tucsonan produces soulful entertainment through documentary, film

Filmmaker Judy Ben-Asher and her Truthseeker alter-ego, Jude. (Photo courtesy Judy Ben-Asher)

Documentaries, feature films, and animation in production by native Tucsonan Judy Ben-Asher’s Starry Sky Films focus on her discoveries about health and wellness. “These are all passion projects with the cohesive thread to uplift and educate, resolve misinformation, and find answers,” she says.

The “Truthseeker®” documentary film follows Ben-Asher’s exploration to help her mother, Bryna, conquer cancer. During this journey, and after her mother’s death in 2014, Ben-Asher says her own health tanked. She had her own cancer scare, was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s and Lyme diseases and trauma, possibly from mold exposure. “I took it as a gift,” she says, so she could explore more and meet a lot of “beautiful minds and talent for the film.” She strengthened her focus on integrated nutritional studies, which she feels bridge a crucial health gap. “It takes all of the tools we have to achieve the best health,” she says.

After Ben-Asher graduated from Tucson High Magnet School in 1987, she spent a couple of years doing volunteer stints with the Israeli Defense Forces, repairing tank starters and working in a bakery. “It was a great education on serving people in difficult moments,” she recalls. Returning to Tucson, she studied martial arts at Pima Community College and attended the Desert Institute for the Healing Arts. “I knew I wanted to be an actor and to help people,” she says.

When her sister Susan Ben-Asher Newton, a flight nurse, died in a medical helicopter crash in 1992, “it was a reminder that life is now. You need to love who you’re with, who you are and who you’re around.” She recalls how the Jewish community “just showed up” in a big way, with deep connection, during that time. She is a member at Congregation Anshei Israel and the Tucson Jewish Community Center.

To heal herself, Ben-Asher took her dog and Jeep to Gates Pass, west of Tucson, every evening for sunset. She lay on a big rock, looking up at the sky until it was aglow with stars. “It was my synagogue. It grounded me,” she recalls.

In 1994, she headed to Los Angeles and Playhouse West Acting School & Repertory Theater, a Meisner acting academy founded by Robert Carnegie and Jeff Goldblum. There she studied with the likes of Academy Award nominee James Franco and Golden Globe nominee Scott Caan. She joined the Screen Actors’ Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA), Actor’s Equity Association, and begin acting professionally on screen and stage. She appeared in films, commercials and did voiceover work for about 100 animated projects. She voiced an iron, a star, little boys and girls, and notably, a mollusk on “SpongeBob SquarePants.” She began film directing in 1996.

She worked for 11 years as an actor in “Welcome Home Soldier,” an award-winning stage tribute to Vietnam veterans, about the effects of the Vietnam War and the subsequent homecoming on veterans and their families. It currently is the longest running play in Los Angeles and the longest consecutive-running drama in the country.

Ben-Asher shuttled between Tucson and L.A. when her mother was in cancer treatment. Sensing the relationship between food and health, Ben-Asher completed a program with the Institute of Integrated Nutrition. The more she learned, the more she wanted to share. Rereading Dr. Andrew Weil’s books on integrated medicine, Ben-Asher wanted to make a documentary film to share her learning. “If we don’t start with believing we can have a specific outcome, you can’t get from A to B,” she says. “Otherwise, that takes possibility out of the equation.” She studied the brain and belief change alchemy with local neuro-linguistic programming trainer Terry Hickey, “finding ways to lift self-imposed limitations so we can make changes in our health.”

And that’s how TruthSeeker® came about. “It is a journey, a map, to our best health and what it means to you,” she says, adding that it is targeted across the board, to any audience. Ben-Asher’s animated alter ego, Jude, leads the film’s wide-ranging exploration.

Putting her decades of acting, filmmaking, and direction skills into play, Starry Sky Films was born from those starry skies that grounded Ben-Asher as she healed from her sister’s death. “By the grace of God,” she says, the film company has fiscal sponsors, donors, and investors. Her husband of eight years, Dan Hirshfeld, gave up his day job as an analytical chemist and joined the creative team as CFO and associate producer. Also coming aboard were University of Arizona graduate and cinematographer Roger E. Cohen, and former Pixar animator Tim Crawfurd, who was involved in productions such as “Finding Nemo,” “Up,” “Ratatouille,” “Monsters, Inc.,” “The Incredibles,” “Toy Story 2,” and “A Bug’s Life.”

“There is a lot of film production happening in Tucson,” says Ben-Asher. “We want to start our own studio for soulful entertainment. The team takes its time to make the information clear and well done.”

Truthseeker®Way is a spinoff of the documentary. It offers ways to explore health and well-being improvement, including resources from selected and vetted worldwide providers. “Every person has a unique path to optimal health,” says Ben-Asher. “We may have different needs, financial availability, and access. It is about your own bio-individuality. Learning from others’ experiences can save time, expense, and energy in navigating the overwhelming number of resources in the wellness industry.” The program will share workshops and retreats in the future. “We are taking our time, not rushing to market. We want the documentary to be completed with grace and authenticity,” she says.

Also in production are a documentary film on the life of Ted DeGrazia; a Tucson-based, animated series, “Tobi and the TesserCAT”; and two feature films. For more information on Starry Sky Films, go to www.starryskyfilms.com.

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