January, 2011

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“Crime After Crime” with Joshua Safran

Monday, January 31st, 2011

Justice, injustice.

Crime after Crime  is a profoundly moving documentary film on the legal battle to free Debbie Peagler, a woman imprisoned in California for over a quarter century due to her connection to the murder of the man who abused her for several years.

She finds her only hope for freedom when two rookie attorneys – one of them an Orthodox Jew named Joshua Safran – with no backgrounds in criminal law step forward to take her case. Debbie should have been in prison for a maximum of six years, instead she was serving a life sentence.

During the Q&A after the screening, Safran described how he told his friend and filmmaker Yoav Potash about Debbie and her story. He said he thought the legal process to free her would only take a few months and when Potash met Debbie for the first time he immediately wanted to make the film.

In the end, the whole process took over six years. In the meantime, Safran was laid-off from his law firm because he was doing “too much pro bono work.” At the end of the Q&A, Safran said that Debbie kept telling everybody not to forget her sisters – most women behind bars are survivors of domestic violence – and that she got to see the film before she died of cancer 10 months after her release.

To support the film please visit: http://crimeaftercrime.com/

Aaron Galliner, 2011 Blogger and Festival Volunteer

Related Links:
New York Jewish Film Festival Schedule 

“36 Righteous Men”

Friday, January 28th, 2011

A religious roadtrip through Eastern Europe. 

Daniel Burman (Waiting for the Messiah, NYJFF 2002; Lost Embrace, NYJFF 2005; Empty Nest, NYJFF 2009) returns to the NYJFF having made his first documentary, 36 Righteous Men/Los  36 Justos. Camera in hand, Burman joins a group of Orthodox Jews on their annual pilgrimage to the tombs of Tzaddikim (righteous men) in Russia, Ukraine and Poland, culminating at the tomb of the 17th-century spiritual leader, the Baal Shem Tov. To incorporate his fellow travelers’ views, the director occasionally handed over the camera to one of them. “I found it very interesting what people would focus on who have never filmed before,” he explained during the Q&A.

Intrigued by the Jewish mystical belief in 36 hidden Tzaddikim who are always on this earth yet must remain anonymous, Burman takes the audience on an intimate journey across 2,500 miles and into his own identity as a Jew. Although he didn’t undergo a “transcendental change,” he said during the post-screening Q&A, the trip did change his prejudices about Orthodox Jews and this kind of pilgrimage.

After both screenings Burman was asked whether women played any significant roles on his journey or as Tzaddikim. “This question comes up after every screening of the film,” Burman said smiling, adding that, “women are a great subject.” He explained that although righteous women existed, he didn’t want to specifically look for them out of political correctness. “It seemed more honest to me to tell the story the way I experienced it,” he said.

Aaron Galliner, 2011 Blogger and Festival Volunteer

Related Links:
New York Jewish Film Festival Schedule   
IMDB: Daniel Burman

Eva Hesse: Abstract Expressionist Painter

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011

Earlier this month we marked the anniversary of the birth of Eva Hesse (January 11, 1936 – May 29, 1970). One of the great artists of the 1960s, Hesse’s major sculptural works stand out as singular achievements of that era. At once drawing on Minimalist strategies of repetition and seriality, and pushing nontraditional materials toward new modes of expression, Hesse created an art that evoked emotion, absence, and contingency. Here at The Jewish Museum, Hesse’s sculpture has been included in three group exhibitions in the late 1960s, and was the subject of a solo exhibition here in 2006.

Most recently, an example of Hesse’s early career as a painter, can be seen in Shifting the Gaze: Painting and Feminism, on view through January 30. This exhibition, drawn primarily from the Museum’s collection, explores the widespread influence of feminist practice on the styles and methods of painting from the 1960s to the present. Shifting the Gaze is organized into six sections – self-expression, the body, decoration, politics, writing, and satire – with Hesse’s Untitled (1963-1964) featured under the theme of self-expression. Each brushstroke and paint mark seen in this section affirms the presence of women painters, even though their accomplishments were minimized by male artists and critics. Women artists, facing stereotypes of feminine passivity and struggling against gallery quotas, nevertheless asserted themselves in abstract painting and sculpture. In the 1960s and 1970s, Eva Hesse, Judy Chicago, and Miriam Schapiro broke through professional and social impediments by reinventing abstraction as a vehicle for feminism. Whether it was theories of essential female art forms or the need to express personal subjectivity, these artists transformed the mainstream while creating women-centered art and institutions. Click to continue »

Being Different: “As Lillith”

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011

When filmmaker Eytan Harris heard the story, he began shooting As Lilith that same day. His riveting documentary takes the viewer through the aftermath of a teenage girl’s suicide. Her strong-willed mother, Lilith, wishes to cremate the body, but Israel’s emergency service, ZAKA, does everything it can to prevent it .

As the family grieves and tries to come to terms with their profound loss, they find themselves on the defensive for being different while also trying to explain the circumstances of the young girl’s death. During the Q&A after the screening, Harris described how he himself found it difficult to accept Lillith’s way of grieving and coping with her situation when he first started filming . It was only later in the process that he began to accept that she was different from others, while still not fully understanding her.

Harris stressed that everything he filmed really happened spontaneously in front of the camera. “People see different things in this film. Some like her, some hate her—I think, that is the interesting thing about the story.”

Aaron Galliner, 2011 Blogger and Festival Volunteer

Related Links:
New York Jewish Film Festival Schedule

The “Socalled” Movie

Tuesday, January 25th, 2011

“Frankly there’s nothing so unusual about being a Jewish Cowboy”   - Socalled

When  watching the The “Socalled” Movie, the first thought to cross your mind may well be— what a likeable guy! Documentarian Garry Beitel, who was a guest at  the NYJFF in 2003 with his film My Dear Clara, returned with this portrait of the artistically fearless klezmer hip-hop artist Socalled, aka Josh Dolgin —pianist, singer, arranger, rapper, producer and composer (and also a magician, filmmaker and visual artist).

But it’s not just klezmer that Socalled plays – it’s clever klezmer. He’s blasting through boundaries that separate music styles from different cultures, eras and generations. He lets them meet, harmonize and befriend each other. Socalled is not out  to be political – but he does hide subtle messages in his music, sending  them out through the musicians he works with such as the jazz and funk trombonist Fred Wesley and the clarinetist David Krakauer, among others. “Its not political, its not religious, its just music. … the politics are that people should get along with each other,” he says in the film.

Shot in Socalled’s Montreal neighborhood, where Hasidic Jews and hipsters crowd the sidewalks, and in New York, France and Ukraine, The “Socalled” Movie is a multifaceted depiction of inspiration, collaboration and transformation. In making this film Garry Beitel explained during the Q&A that he tried to “bring the forgotten music, in a different and contemporary form, to the audience.”

Socalled has performed all over the world, from Canada, to the U.S., Europe, off the coast of Madagascar, China and at The Jewish Museum in 2008.  He said that sometimes he struggles to focus, yet hard-won intensity is there for all the world to see.  And I believe the work he has done is impressive.

Aaron Galliner, 2011 Blogger and Festival Volunteer

Related Links:
New York Jewish Film Festival Schedule
Socalled’s YouTube Channel
Special Exhibition (2008) - Off the Wall: Artists at Work

“Singing in the Dark”

Monday, January 24th, 2011

The incomparable Moishe Oysher plays Leo, a German concentration camp survivor suffering from traumatic amnesia. He works as a hotel clerk next to a nightclub where he is befriended by comedian Joey Napoleon (played by borscht-belter Joey Adams). Gradually his memory is restored with the help of Napoleon, some gangsters, a psychiatrist and the love of a good woman.

One of the first American-made feature films to dramatize the Holocaust, it tried to cross over to an American audience, but it failed at the box offices in the 1950s. Sharon Rivo, Executive Director of the National Center for Jewish Film where the film was newly restored, explained, “Americans didn’t want to deal with this subject in the movie theaters. People did talk about it but not in a cinematic way.”

This fascinating film was Oysher’s only English-language film, and was shot by Oscar-winning cinematographer Boris Kaufman (On the Waterfront, 12 Angry Men).

Aaron Galliner, 2011 Blogger and Festival Volunteer

Related Links:
New York Jewish Film Festival Schedule
Wikipedia: Moishe Oysher
National Center for Jewish Film

“Jewish Soldiers in Blue and Gray”

Monday, January 24th, 2011

Jews in the Civil War. What?

Very little is known about the role Jews played during the Civil War, but the demand for knowledge is there as seen at Wednesday’s (January 19) sold out screening of Jewish Soldiers in Blue and Gray.  

This fascinating documentary is a first-of-its-kind film that reveals the little-known struggles that faced Jewish Americans both in battle and on the home front during the American Civil War. The Civil War was reported on with great interest in Jewish Communities across Europe, and it falsifies the myth that WWI was the first modern war in which Jews fought against Jews, explained Dr. Jonathan D. Sarna, Professor of American Jewish History at Brandeis University. Featuring the voice of Sam Waterston as Abraham Lincoln, and narrated by Oscar-nominated screenwriter John Milius, the film includes numerous voice-overs with diverse accents, reminding the audience of the diversity of experiences.  Through period photographs, rare documents, letters and artifacts, and exclusive interviews with experts and descendants, the film chronicles the sacrifices that Jews made for their beliefs and how they took up arms to defend their country both in the Union and the Confederacy.

Following the screening was a discussion with filmmaker Jonathan Gruber, Dr. Jonathan D. Sarna, and Robert Marcus, co-producer/co-writer. Gruber discussed the amazing wealth of material in Marcus’ archive, and said he had to remind everyone that they were making a movie not a mini-series.  The film introduces the viewer to a subject about which “a lot more can be said,” explained Marcus, “for example the role Jewish women played in the Civil War as spies, nurses or femmes fatales.”

At the end of the Q&A Jonathan Gruber added that what surprised him the most: “I ask myself, how could they celebrate a Seder in the South? How could they celebrate our ancestors’ freedom from slavery in Egypt when they had slaves working in their own gardens?”

Aaron Galliner, 2011 Blogger and Festival Volunteer

Related Links:
New York Jewish Film Festival Schedule
Jewish Soldiers in Blue and Gray website

“8 Stories That Haven’t Changed The World” and “Cabaret Polska”

Friday, January 21st, 2011

From the Polish point of view. 

The seniors interviewed in 8 Stories That Haven’t Changed the World are amazing. Presented by the Polish Jewish Youth Organization, this engaging documentary examines the childhood memories of eight Polish Jews born before WWII. They recall with vivid intensity memories ranging from their first days at school, the first books they read and their first loves.

“The most important criteria was to transmit a positive image,” co-director Jan Špiewak explained – and that is exactly what the two producers did. “How did you find these wonderful people” asked a member of the audience?  “We had a personal connection”, answered co-director Ivo Krankowski pointing at his friend and co-director  Špiewak. “Jan’s mother was the president of the Warsaw Jewish Community.”

Following this 35-minute short was the film, Cabaret Polska, presenting an unusual take on the effects of the 1968 anti-Semitic campaign in Poland. Combining documentary with animation and cabaret performance, the film considers these events and their aftermath through personal memories touching on food, language, politics and song. A troupe of revelers, a puppet of then-Communist leader, Gomułka, and a hungry secret police agent round out the cast of characters.

When co-director Zuzanna Solakiewiczwas was asked why she chose to make this film, she answered: “In those days Jews had to leave the country – [these] people who [considered themselves to be] completely Polish.” Smiling she added: “I am a ‘polnishe shiksa’ and it is part of my history as well.”  “But why the fascination about the Jewish-Polish relationship,” asked a member of the audience.  “Because we have Polish Hering Jewish Style – who else has that,” responded Solakiewicz, explaining the profound and exceptional relationship that is integrated into everyday Polish life.

Aaron Galliner, 2011 Blogger and Festival Volunteer

Related Links:
New York Jewish Film Festival Schedule

Film Fans Seeking “Sixty and the City”

Thursday, January 20th, 2011

All you need is love…  Divorced with two children, five grandchildren, a dog and a cat, and after having been alone for 10 years, documentarian Nili Tal decides at age 60 that she doesn’t want to grow old alone. So Nili starts online dating.

With honesty and an amazing sense of humor, she turns the camera on herself and some of her dates as she searches for romance on the Internet. During the making of Sixty and the City she dated around 70 men, 10 of whom she filmed. At first, she didn’t want to film herself, but then thought since she was in the same situation as her dates, it would only be fair to do so. In making that decision, Nili Tal personalizes the film in a way that requires a lot of self-confidence. Her quest takes her to Israel, Europe, and on a singles’ cruise to the Mexican Riviera.

By chance, while working on a different film,she came up with idea to make this movie, Tal revealed during the post-screening Q&A. It turned out to be  a very personal Q&A – for  both filmmaker and audience . She reports being on a dating-break right now. In answer to whether she would do anything different were she to make the movie again, Nili said simply, “No. I don’t regret anything.” Many audience members offered that they could relate to the film. One participant said that he has been going to movies for over 70 years and that this film was like nothing he had ever seen before.

“I was afraid that nobody would laugh”, said Tal at the end of the Q&A.  Following the screening at the 20th NYJFF we proved her wrong.

Aaron Galliner, 2011 Blogger and Festival Volunteer

Related Links:
New York Jewish Film Festival Schedule
Sixty and the City website

“Romeo and Juliet in Yiddish”

Wednesday, January 19th, 2011

The world’s most famous love story told the Yiddish way.

On Sunday night, when the curtains opened and the first actors appeared on screen, several people in the crowd cheered. Not only were a large number of cast members present, but apparently, they had also brought their fans. Later, when the screen turned black and the credits began to roll, everyone cheered – and they had every reason to do so!

Romeo and Juliet in Yiddish is the story of a middle-aged ER nurse – and bitterly lapsed observant Jew – undertaking a Yiddish translation of Shakespeare’s great classic. Meanwhile, her houseguest, also a Hasidic dropout, is “leaking” Kabbalistic magic, and enchants her studio apartment. In what might be the first Yiddish “mumblecore” film, director Eve Annenberg creates a parallel universe (Williamsburg, Brooklyn), where Romeo and Juliet stem from divergent streams of ultra-orthodox Judaism and speak their lines in street-smart Yiddish.

The compelling love story is beautifully adapted and fully entertaining, while raising questions about love, conflict and ultra-orthodox Judaism. During the Q&A one cast member described how after a screening in London, ultra-orthodox viewers told him they were touched by the film and could relate to it very well.

The cast consists entirely of native Yiddish-speakers whose families are (partly) aware of their roles in the film. As one cast member explained with a sly smile: “The ones that are okay with it know – the others don’t.”

Aaron Galliner, 2011 Blogger and Festival Volunteer

Related Links:
New York Jewish Film Festival Schedule
Facebook: Romeo and Juliet in Yiddish
Trailer: Romeo and Juliet in Yiddish