The New York Jewish Film Festival, a co-production of the Film Society of Lincoln Center and the Jewish Museum, took place in January of this year. Screenings were held primarily at the Walter Reade Theater at Lincoln Center, with some additional screenings at the Jewish Museum. There were eleven feature films, mostly feature films, and fourteen documentaries: twenty-five titles from ten countries, a mix of world premieres, US premieres, and New York premieres. Many of the directors were present in New York. Several titles are already destined for commercial distribution.
Granted, our goal here is to report on documentaries, but some of the feature films that are so rare and unusual deserve recognition here, not just as cultural artifacts, but as works that enter documentary territory. Four films featured by film historian J. Hoberman fromThe people's voice, are early classics from the late Soviet Union:against the father's will(1927.40 minutes, silent) is an adaptation by Scholem Alechemsin the storm, a novel about the failed revolution of 1905, represented by the Hebrew-language Habima Theatre.Suburban area(1930, 60 min, silent) is about a Jewish girl who defies her traditional parents to marry a Ukrainian boy, only to discover vicious anti-Semitism in her new in-laws.Cain and Artem(1929, 85 min., silent), last shown in New York 65 years ago, is an anti-anti-Semitism parable based on a story by Maxim Gorky.fortune seekers(1936, 84 min, audio, Russian with English subtitles) is about a Jewish family emigrating from the European USSR to the remote Asian province of Birobidzhan. Interestingly, the film signals the decline of Jewish themes in Soviet cinema. Finally,the twelve chairs, by Mel Brooks, is his second feature film (USA, 1970, 94 min) and one of the few American films adapted from a Soviet source, a 1928 satirical novel about the half-Jewish team Ilf and Petrov. The always crazy Brooks creates a comedy about the Kulturkampf between Karl and Groucho Marx.
When we turn to our documentaries, this is the first thing we noticeTreyf, about Jewish lesbians, by Alisa Lebow and Cynthia Madansky, was already mentioned here in connection with the Margaret Mead Festival (ID, March 1999). Likewise that of Lisa Lewenza letter without wordsit was mentioned many times, most notably in a review of the 1998 Berlin Film Festival (1D, June 1998).
IDreaders will remember Ira Wohl's moving portrait twenty years ago of his cousin Philly, who was slightly mentally retarded and then fifty;The best boywon an Oscar@ and other awards. Twenty years later, Ira assembled his original crew to filmThe best manwhen Philly turned seventy and received his Bar Mitzvah. The report here (IDMay 1998) at the 7th New York Jewish Festival broke the news that Ira was preparing to shootkeep faith, about the last Orthodox Jewish community in Mississippi. Ira's film is still incomplete but is eagerly awaited. Nonetheless, our review of the new Ira movie has inspired Mike DeWitt to redouble his efforts to complete hisdelta jews(USA, 1998, 64 min.), also with Jews from Mississippi, but with a different focus from Ira, less on religion and more on the economy and culture. Mike found a Jewish community going back three or four generations, originally merchants, eventually landowners on large farms.
Mike DeWitt, now thirty-one, had first gone to Mississippi, fresh out of college, to teach English; He was surprised to see so many storefronts with Jewish names and an imposing synagogue on Greenville's main street. At the Delta Jewish Golf Open, he was dismayed to discover that before the golfers played, a religious ritual was performed to bless the golf balls... no, no kidding. . . Mike swears.
delta jewsThe purpose of is serious: to examine the relations between the small Jewish minority and the great white majority, mainly Protestant, conservative and racist. The Jewish minority has adopted many characteristics, language patterns, social attitudes, and prejudices from their Christian neighbors over the decades, except in relation to their Jewish faith: for the water sources, Delta Jews called these integrationists idealists. “agitators” and “this item”.
But now the Jewish youth of the Delta have become restless, leaning toward northern universities, big-city jobs, and sophisticated cultural lifestyles. Even the sleepy plantation life of venerable Mississippi is about to change. Nothing is forever.delta jewsIt is written by a southern Jew, the playwright Alfred Uhry (drive miss daisy,Ballyhoo last night, etc.)
I later had the opportunity to phone Mike DeWitt and found that no reference was madedelta jewsabout the lynching in the South of Jewish businessman Leo Frank, falsely accused of the rape-murder of a girl. Mike countered that this lynching of a Jew some time ago, in the 1920s, so traumatized Southern Jews, and still resonates with older Jews, that Leo Frank is simply not mentioned among outsiders, perhaps an ominous sign. that assimilation remains partial and conditional.
David - Tales of Honor and Shame, by Taru Makela (Finland, 1998, 94 min.), tells a strange story about Jewish soldiers, Finnish citizens by birth, who from 1942 joined the German Nazis in the war against the Soviet Union. Finland, with a small population and a long border with the Soviets, had been at war with them in 1939-40, which ended in a draw except for some Finnish land grants on the southern border. The film uses rare images. Interviews with Finnish war veterans, audio recordings of confidential meetings of senior Finnish military officers, and photographic documentation.
But wait a minute: why would a Jew, in this case a Finnish Jew, fight alongside the Nazis as a comrade against the Soviet Union? A Jew explains: "Well, we think that if Hitler wins, they will take the Jews and the Gypsies. But if Stalin wins, they will take the whole group." During the war, all European nations allied to or occupied by Hitler had to hand over their Jews to slave labor and/or extermination. Except Finland. In March 1942, Heinrich Himmler came to Finland to investigate "the Jewish question" after becoming convinced of the efficacy of the Sobibor, Treblinka and Maidanek death camps. Apparently in vain. Jewish Finns of Finland, or Finnish Jews, were forced to obey their government's orders and serve in the military against the Soviet Union, even if it meant being brothers in arms with the Germans, as a consequence of their dual identity as Finns and Jews. Some resistance arose in the form of a field synagogue built on the Karelian front, one kilometer from the German command post. The Germans awarded three Jewish Finns the Iron Cross for their heroism in the fight against the Soviets. But they refuse the medals.
Vilna, by Harvey Wong (USA, 1998, 3 min), is an elegiac greeting to the former Jewish ghetto of Vilnius, Lithuania, the camera pans through deserted streets, a visual metaphor for the loss felt by a young woman.
A trip to Malin, by Arkady Kogan (Russia, 1997, 20 min), narrates the return of the director with his wife and son to a small town in the Ukraine to visit his widowed mother. "Don't forget us," he pleads. Proud to show her lively grandchildren her home, she takes them to the local cemetery. They do not recognize the Star of David on the tombstones of his ancestors.
My mother's first Olympics, by Ron Carmally (Israel, 1998, 64 min.), portrays Kitty, Israel's blind bowling champion and member of the National Paralympics. Kitty is not one to feel sorry for herself. Ron accompanied his energetic mother to the 1996 Atlanta Games, a test of will and skill for international competitors. An inspiring film, yes, but without sentimentality.
Another film without sentimentality,Andres Lebenby Brad Lichtenstein (USA, 1998, 62 min.) traces the timeline of André Steiner, now 90, a successful Atlanta-based Jewish architect who was educated at the renowned Bauhaus and rescued thousands of Slovak Jews from the United States during World War II Holocaust. As? By designing labor camps of value to the Nazi war effort. Using old archival material, photos, oral and written testimony, Steiner traces how he used bribery, persuasion, trickery, even charm, whatever it took to arrange work for imprisoned Jews to save them from the gas chambers. . Now, more than half a century later, he reluctantly returns to Slovakia and the Czech Republic for the first time, to relive the Holocaust experience with his two adult American children, events that perhaps left him permanently withdrawn and embittered. A true tough guy, Steiner has survived a lot, but at a price: he is still haunted by the ambiguities of his wartime collaboration with the Nazis, with some shady dealings, the arbitvalence of good and evil.
Andres Lebenposits the value of "zachor", which means total self-confrontation, embracing one's own experience of the Holocaust, even terror. "Zachor" offers an opportunity for healing and renewal for those who can delve into their war past. Is not easy. Steiner was forced to make excruciating decisions: he could not save them all and with great difficulty saved 7,000. Many survivors tell their stories, confess their suffering, but André can't, he doesn't want to. Thus, his repressed memory denies him full knowledge of himself, of the moral complexities of his warfare, of his Jewish identity, of a relationship with his children who see him as cold and distant. The film suggests that André, belatedly, could lead a different life through self-knowledge and full acceptance of himself.
Andres Lebenit uses, better than most, a common tool for documentaries trying to explore the Holocaust and other events of World War II fifty or sixty years later. The means is to face the places, events and people from the subject's past and let the questions arise: What documentation has been lost, suppressed, distorted, destroyed? What memories are repressed as unspeakable? What memories have been clarified and reviewed with exonerations and self-excuses? But these questions become answers, or at least the beginning of a search for answers, if not solutions.
HeJude im Lotto, by Laurel Chiton (USA, 1997, 58 min.), narrates the historic meeting in 1990 when eight Jewish delegates conferred with the Dalai Lama of Tibet. The movie is from the HarperCollins book,The jew in the lotus:The identity of a poet in Buddhist India, by Rodger Kamenetz, now in fourteen hardback and paperback editions, and widely distributed at universities and programs in Jewi Studies. Known for his work on Jewish-Buddhist dialogue, Kamenetz helped organize a national series, Passover Seders for Tibet, and other scholarly events in 1996, including a Seder for Tibet in Washington, D.C., attended by the Dalai Lama. The film emphasizes Kamenetz's work as a former septic who later became deeply involved with Jewish heritage.
Freefall, by Peter Forgács (Hungary, 1996, 15 min.), is the tenth episode of the Hungarian television series Private Hwtgary. Using extraordinary home videos filmed by a young Jewish businessman, György Peto, he offers a rare glimpse into Jewish life from 1938 to 1944, through the war years, when the Holocaust decimated Hungary's once-impressive Jewish population. prosperous and culturally rich. in summary,Freefallit is a nostalgic but tragic document of a vanished people and a vanished time. Rich Peto bought an 8mm camera in 1937 at the age of 30 to film street scenes, family fun and his mistress Eva in the bathtub, things people now point their camcorders at. Producer Forgács primarily uses Peto's material, editing historical scenes to provide national context, including the cruel anti-Jewish laws enacted by the Hungarian Nazi government. When the Germans withdrew on all fronts in the spring of 1944, they and the Hungarian government began raiding and deporting Hungarian Jews to death camps. To accomplish this, the Nazis had to divert soldiers and transportation from the war effort, an example of their priorities. That's where the Peto thing stops.
The man on the wall - A documentary, by Herz Frank, Semyon Vinokur, Jakob Sfirski (Israel, 1998, 58 min.), is a serious and humorous documentary, without commentary, a collage of images and sounds, about the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. The filmmakers evoke memories of Dziga Vertov and Robert Flaherty as precursors of their poetic style.
house of the world, by Esther Podemski (USA/Poland, 1998, 58 min), is a modest but profound documentation of certain Jewish cemeteries -and all Jewish cemeteries- as "houses of remembrance", repositories of Jewish traditions that "never forget", the Hebrew, a word that expresses "cemetery" also means "house of the world", to the extent that a cemetery is the connection between the living and the dead, an expression of continuity that requires devotion and care. The filmmaker and his colleagues visit Jewish cemeteries in Poland, some of which have simply fallen into disrepair over time, others were deliberately destroyed during the war: the huge Jewish cemetery in Lodz, for example, is falling apart, not properly maintained, Like most Jews. from the once-huge Lodz ghettos died in the nearby concentration camp. Featuring a montage of historic footage, amateur snapshots, archival music and new material,house of the worldseeks to convey a sense of the cemetery as an ongoing creative force that expresses and represents an indestructible culture that provides safety for the living.
farewell, by Gregoli Viens (USA 19913. 19 min), portrays Rebecca, born in 1912, a Greek Jew on the island of Rhodes, where the Sephardic community dates back 500 years. Rebecca escaped from the Italian fascists in 1939 when the war started. A born storyteller, a treasure trove of ancient lore, Rebecca now lives in Los Angeles and enchants her daughter and her granddaughter with family stories and old photographs. She also recognizes a painful paradox: her daughter and her granddaughter were born free but have lost all personal knowledge of their family past.—only Rebecca's memory provides the fragile link.
The South: Alice never lived here, directed by Senyora "Sini" Bar David (Israel. 1998, 62 min), is another film by the Sephardic trio starring a grandmother, a daughter and a teenager, although the young woman is not from the same family. It is also a travel film, opening with the Sephardic migration from a small Greek town at the turn of this century to the slums of present-day, once-Arab Jaffa in Israel, now their home but a home of racism, poverty and abandoned hopes. Little known outside of Israel is the tradition of discrimination against black Sephardic Jews, typically poorly educated and "uncultured" Jews who are from the "South," i.e., on the contrary, the "superior" people are the Ashkenazi, the Jews of European descent who control Israel, its economy, and who benefit from a caste system that oppresses and limits Sephardim. Prejudice and discrimination in work, housing and education are widespread, though little recognized or combated outside of Israel.The Southexemplifies this injustice, this division within Israel, in the characters of Ida, 89, from Greece, her daughter Bar David, the filmmaker, and Elinor, 15, who is Sephardic but was somehow accepted to enroll in Ashkenazi High School. school
The film laments that Israel is being weakened by a caste system that actually marginalizes fifty percent of its population, that the country has forgotten the idealistic "socialism" of its origins, and that Israel is building on a social system of " elitism and racism. ." . a bad tactic, a greedy thirst for power."