Best in Jewish film

The Cinematheque leads us on a journey from Nazis in Madrid to Hasidim in the Ukraine.

cinematheque 298 (photo credit: )
cinematheque 298
(photo credit: )
The Ninth Jerusalem Jewish Film Festival at the Jerusalem Cinematheque, running from December 1-7, is once again a celebration of the best in Jewish film. With a number of high-profile guests, special events, an especially rich selection of documentaries and more than 60 films, it's a must for film lovers. Expect to be entertained when Paul Mazursky picks up his Life Achievement Award and presents his latest film, a documentary called Yippee: A Journey to Jewish Joy. The film, which is the 75-year-old director's first documentary, looks at Breslav Hasidim making a pilgrimage to their late spiritual leader's grave in the Ukrainian village of Uman every Rosh Hashana. Mazursky, who heard about the Uman event from his Los Angeles-based optometrist (who accompanies him on the journey), uses the trip and the film to examine his own Jewish heritage. Mazursky burst onto the American movie scene with his first film, Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969), which became the most-talked about movie in America thanks to its portrayal of changing morals among the American bourgeoisie and its all-star cast, which included Natalie Wood, Robert Culp, Elliott Gould and Dyan Cannon. The Brooklyn-born director, who started his career as an actor and appeared in such films as Stanely Kubrick's Fear and Desire, and Richard Brooks' Blackboard Jungle, went on to be nominated for five Oscars and direct such films as An Unmarried Woman, Down and Out in Beverly Hills, Moscow on the Hudson, and Enemies: A Love Story. His semi-autobiographical film, Next Stop, Greenwich Village (1976), starring Lenny Baker, Shelley Winters and a very young Christopher Walken, will also be screened as part of the festival. The festival will open with a very unusual collaboration, Etz O Palestine, which features excerpts from hundreds of hours of film shot by one of the pioneers of the Israeli film industry, Nathan Axelrod, that document the building of a Jewish state in Palestine. Yoel Zilberg and Uri Zohar shaped this material into an 80-minute film. Haim Hefer's narration is read by Haim Topol, so the film features work by many legends of the Israeli entertainment industry. The 45th anniversary screening of the film will be held in the presence of Topol, Hefer, Zilberg, Hannah Maron, Danny Schik and Nitza Pashanel. Etz O Palestine will be followed on the opening night by Elie Chouraqui's 2006 film version of the famous Dominique Lapierre and Larry Collins novel, O Jerusalem. French director Chouraqui will be on hand to discuss the film version, which stars J.J. Field, Said Taghmaoui and Daniel Lundh as friends who find themselves on opposite sides when the War of Independence breaks out. Tovah Feldshuh and Ian Holm also star as Golda Meir and David Ben-Gurion. For a week-long festival, there are an enormous number of special events. Among these will be "Cinema as a Site of Memory," a conference marking the 10th anniversary of the Joan Sourasky-Constantiner Holocaust Multimedia Research Center (an event co-sponsored by the Yad Vashem Visual Center) on December 3. A number of historians, including Avner Shalev, Chairman of Yad Vashem, will speak and participate in panel discussions. Director Robert Thalheim will appear at the conference and screen his movie, Along Came the Tourists (pictured on the cover) - about a young German who does his national volunteer service at the site of the Auschwitz concentration camp and examines the ironies and contradictions of a site of mass murder becoming a tourist attraction. Actress Barbara Wysocka, who appears in the film, and Piotr Cywinki, director of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum, will also attend the screening. The premiere screening of the documentary, Refusenik by Laura Bialis, will commemorate 40 years since the beginning of the struggle of Soviet Jews to emigrate to Israel. Bialis conducted hundreds of interviews with key members of the Refusenik movement. One of the most prominent, Natan Sharansky, now chairman of the Public Committee for the 40th Anniversary of the Soviet Jewish Struggle for Freedom, will attend the screening. The festival will include a tribute to the Maale Film School in Jerusalem on the evening of December 2, to mark the school's 18th anniversary. A panel discussion on the topic, Religious Film: Between Faith and Subversion, will include such speakers as Anat Tsuria (director of documentaries on religious issues including Sentenced to Marriage), director and producer Yehuda Groveis and Naphtali Gliksberg (director of the Forum for Documentary Filmmakers). Pazit Lichtman's Willingly will be screened, along with excerpts from films by Maale students. The Israeli Cinema program focuses on documentaries, including Alex Gentlev's Yolki Palki, a look at the fates of the passengers who came to Israel from Russia with the filmmaker in the early Nineties. Rachel Leah Jones' Ashkenaz looks at what it means to be Ashkenazi in today's multicultural world. The Israeli Short Film Competition features movies by students at film schools all over the country, and is dedicated to the memory of Bnaya Zuckerman, a young man killed in a terror bombing near the Cinematheque in 2004. Israeli short films have been winning prizes at nearly every festival in the world over the past few years, so here's your chance to see them before they travel the globe. Even younger filmmakers are showcased in the "I Am You Are" program. Every summer since 1999, a filmmaking workshop has been held at the Jerusalem Cinematheque for Jewish and Arab youths. This year, a similar workshop was held for Israeli and Polish youth in Lodz, Poland. The films by these youngsters will be shown at the festival. The Cinema Jerusalem Project, an ongoing program that promotes the production of films of every genre, features archival segments depicting life in the city on December 2. A wide variety of films are featured, including many on topics that may surprise you. Jason Scott Hutt's Orthodox Stance is a documentary about a newly Orthodox young man named Dmitriy Salita, son of Ukrainian immigrants to the US, who becomes a professional boxer. Ann Carol Grossman and Arnie Reisman's The Powder and the Glory tells the stories of two immigrant women in the US who became queens of the cosmetics industry, Helena Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden. Director Gunter Schwaiger will attend the festival to answer questions about his disturbing film, Hafner's Paradise, about an ex-Nazi who has been living in Madrid for 50 years and still mourns the Third Reich. As the festival's founder and director Lia van Leer says in the festival's opening statement, the aim is "to celebrate what unites the Jewish people - our common history and traditions - and contemplate what divides us, in the hope that we can overcome our barriers and convey the message of tolerance that is at the core of the Jewish tradition." It would seem that the many films in this festival will help achieve that shining goal. For a full schedule and more information, visit