It is often said that everyone in New York, no matter what your religion or ethnicity, is just a little bit Jewish. The Jewish influence in culture, art, politics and in every stratum of society gives all New Yorkers a kind of common bond that no other group quite inspires. If you can recite the lines from a Woody Allen film, if you cannot imagine breakfast without a bagel, if you find yourself uttering the words “oy vey” with a heartfelt sigh, you are Jewish, if you are a Catholic priest, a Hindu taxi driver or a Moslem shopkeeper. So, boychicks, have I got a festival for you…
The 19th New York Jewish Film Festival, an annual showcase of films presented by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and the Jewish Museum that begins this week, is one tasty corned beef sandwich. A mix of dramas, documentaries and films that explore cultural issues, the Festival is among the most popular events presented each winter, almost as nourishing as a bowl of that Jewish penicillin, matzoh ball soup.
The series opens with SAVIORS IN THE NIGHT, a German/French co-production by director Ludi Boeken, that offers yet another tale of courage and the vagaries of fate that are inherent to dramas focused on the Holocaust, in particular the role of “good Germans” who risked their lives to save their Jewish neighbors. Based on the memoir of Marga Spiegel, this powerful drama portrays how courageous German farmers in Westphalia risked their lives to hide a Jewish family.
The Jewish experience during World War II as expressed in both documentaries and dramatic fiction is a major theme of this year’s event, as it has been in the past. The Holocaust and its aftermath continues to provide filmmakers with a harrowing and dramatic theme, as evidenced by the successes of Quentin Tarantino’s INGLORIOUS BASTERDS, the partisan drama DEFIANCE and other films released in cinemas this past year.
New films from Israel are another major theme, with a mix of dramas and documentaries that continue to feed the acclaimed Israeli film industry. Among the highlights is the New York Premiere of AJAMI, the winner of five “Ophirs”, the Israeli Film Academy Awards, including Best Picture. In a rare co-direction by a Palestinian and an Israeli, this feature film is set in multi-ethnic Jaffa, where lives become tragically entangled.
For those who missed it at the Sundance Film Festival last year, the claymation feature MARY AND MAX by Adam Elliott is a delight. This Australian film centers on around Mary Dinkle, a chubby, lonely 8-year-old girl and Max Horovitz, a 44-year-old, Jewish New Yorker with Asperger’s syndrome. Voice talents include Philip Seymour Hoffman, Eric Bana, Toni Colette and Barry “Dame Edna” Humphries.
If you like your gay dramas peopled with Hasidic Jews, then the confessional drama EYES WIDE OPEN is right up your alley. Director Haim Tabachman lifts the veil of silence in this intense drama about the budding physical relationship between a married butcher and a young drifter, both members of the religious Hasidic sect. To say that this film breaks barriers is an understatement, but its sense of humanity communicates a longing for connection and intimacy that make it universal.
Another eye opener is the documentary THE JAZZ BARONESS, the true life story of Baroness Pannonica “Nica” Rothschild de Konigswarter of the famous Jewish banking dynasty, who leaves behind her family and creates a new one among celebrated jazz musicians in postwar New York. She goes on to become Thelonious Monk’s close friend and muse, a patron saint for the bebop world. Documentary filmmaker Hannah Rothschild, of the same family dynasty, delves into her great aunt’s biography, Monk’s troubled mental health, and the pair’s unusual relationship and affair.
The Festival runs through January 28 at the Walter Reade Theater, the flagship of the Film Society of Lincoln Center. Many screenings are already sold out. For a complete list of films, visit: www.filmlinc.com or http://www.thejewishmuseum.org/exhibitions/nyjff2010