Feminists In Focus

Film News and Reviews

Feminists In Focus

June 25, 2012 by

Feminists in Focus: Faigele Film Festival Kvels Over ‘DevOUT’

Thank God the Jews don’t have a pope.

While the Vatican is denouncing Sister Margaret Farley’s “Just Love: a Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics” with its defense of same-sex marriage, the JCC in Manhattan is celebrating all things LGBTQ-Jew with its month-long Gay Paree. The June festivities started with the Seventh Annual Faigele Film Festival (a one-night stand of two films). Not just a JCC thing, Conservative Judaism promulgated wording for same-sex marriage ceremonies – and divorces – in time for June weddings and Gay Pride Day.

But in Orthodox communities don’t expect any openly passionate same-sex hand holding on either side of the mechitzah.

Quick cut to the Faigele Film Festival’s screening of “DevOUT,” the 37-minute video where lesbian Orthodox Jews explain why they want to be true to both their faith and their sexuality. Proof that sisterhood is powerful, the video was made by two straight women, neither of them Jewish. One Christian, one Muslim, Diana Neille from South Africa and Sana Gulzar from Pakistan won the trust of the women involved to produce the video as their 2011 Columbia Journalism School master’s project. They were quick studies. The soundtrack includes sinuously sensual klezmer music from New York’s Isle of Klezbos sextet.

Tags:

  • 1 Comment
  •  

Feminists In Focus

February 10, 2012 by

Feminists in Focus: Yes, There’s Room for More Films on the Holocaust

Three Promises

(The New York Jewish Film Festival, presented by The Jewish Museum and the Film Society of Lincoln Center, ended Jan. 26. Look for these films at other festivals and, hopefully, in commercial distribution.)

“Three Promises”

Charm is not a word usually associated with Holocaust remembrances, but take a look at “Three Promises,” the Serbian short with English subtitles that had its world premiere at the New York Jewish Film Festival. It tells the story of Serbian Jewry through beautifully animated collages of black and white photographs from one family’s album. The album survived the Nazis. Most of the family, like almost all of Belgrade’s 10,000 Jews, did not.

The album brings them back to life. It’s a valentine to the past, combined with the horrors.

Almost overloaded with Belgrade’s Sephardic Jewish history, the script by Edward Serotta tells the love story that triggered “Three Promises”: the promise a wife made to her husband to protect their daughters, the promise a priest made to this woman to hide the girls, and the promise one of the daughters made to herself that the priest would be recognized as a Righteous Gentile.

The love story is extraordinary. A Slovene Catholic woman visiting relatives in Belgrade falls in love with a man who is Jewish and crippled. She embraces not only him but his family and his religion. Years later, thanks to a Slovene priest in Belgrade, their two daughters survive to tell the tale.

  • No Comments
  •  

Feminists In Focus

February 6, 2012 by

Feminists in Focus: In Darkness on the Shortlist

In Darkness, a film by Polish director Agnieszka Holland (Europa, Europa), is based on the true story of Leopold Socha (Robert Wieckiewicz), a Catholic sewer worker and petty thief who, though not especially fond of Jews, is willing to court danger in 1943 Nazi-occupied Lvov in order to make some easy cash, and hides a group of Jews underground for over a year.

Jolanta Dylewska’s startlingly beautiful color cinematography lends a heartbreaking immediacy and vividness to all the lives depicted, and the film’s photographic feat creates a powerful contrast between the above ground light and the underground darkness, conveying more than a metaphorical moral gravitas. Shot in Polish, Ukrainian, Russian, German, Yiddish and even a little Hebrew–all with English subtitles–the film feels thankfully un-Hollywood, and it depicts a humanity replete with kindness and selfishness, cruelty and courage,fortitude and desperation, hope and goodness, with the Jewish characters, too, shown in all their human frailty.

There were moments in the film when I wanted to cover my eyes, like one of the characters who covered her own eyes and her daughter’s, but however troubling and terror-filled, this compelling film tells an important story we may never understand, but ignore at our peril. As the director noted, it continues to echo in different places in the world, from Rwanda to Bosnia.

Tags:

  • No Comments
  •  

Feminists In Focus

February 1, 2012 by

Reporting back from the New York Jewish Film Festival: But would you go there? ‘Welcome to Kutsher’s: The Last Catskills Resort’

(The New York Jewish Film Festival, presented by The Jewish Museum and the Film Society of Lincoln Center,ended Jan. 26. Look for these films at other festivals and, hopefully, in commercial distribution.)

What does it say about the state of American Judaism that the New York Jewish Film Festival’s final offering was the documentary “Welcome to Kutsher’s: The Last Catskills Resort”? Sad to say, we are talking the resort of last resort.

The Kutsher’s story testifies to the drive and determination that made Kutsher’s a  piece of Jewish Americana for more than a century. This is the tale of three generations of Kutshers who oversaw the rise and watched the demise of the resort formula they perfected. Three meals a day – all the kosher food you could eat; free, top-flight entertainment; fun for the whole family; and the Kutsher niche – famous athletes on staff.

There was plenty of room for strong women in the Kutsher family. In 1907, Louis and Max Kutsher and Max’s wife, Rebecca, had saved enough money as tailors on the Lower East Side to buy farmland in Sullivan County in upstate New York. Like other Jewish farmers, they took in boarders from the Lower East Side. When guests turned out to be more profitable than chickens and cows, the Jewish resort business was born, responding to working-class Jews finally able to afford vacations but barred from gentile-only resorts.

Tags:

  • No Comments
  •  

Feminists In Focus

January 30, 2012 by

Reporting back from the New York Jewish Film Festival: Recreating the Past – Incessant Visions: Letters From an Architect

(The New York Jewish Film Festival, presented by The Jewish Museum and the Film Society of Lincoln Center, at www.thejewishmuseum.org/nyjff2012, concluded Jan. 26. Look for these films at other festivals and, hopefully, in commercial distribution.)

Tiny sketches sent by a young Jewish architect from the German-Russian front in World War I to woo a beautiful 16-year-old cellist in Berlin paid off.

Erich Mendelsohn, a visionary architect whose curvaceous organic sketches could have grown into Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim Museum, won the hand of Louise Maas. Growing up in a wealthy German Jewish merchant family and studying cello at the Royal Conservatory in Berlin, she defied  her father. At 21, she married the poor Jewish architect from East Prussia.

But it worked. Thanks to his talent and her connections, Mendelsohn became the most sought after architect in Berlin – until commissions dried up and they fled the Nazis.

His monumental works have mostly vanished from the earth – bombed by Allied forces – but Erich Mendelsohn and his beloved Louise are brought back to life in Israeli filmmaker Duki Dror’s “Incessant Visions: Letters From an Architect.”

Tags:

  • No Comments
  •  

Feminists In Focus

January 24, 2012 by

Feminists in Focus: Reporting back from the New York Jewish Film Festival Mission Accomplished for ‘Bottle in the Gaza Sea’

(Check the calendar for the festival, presented by The Jewish Museum and the Film Society of Lincoln Center, at www.thejewishmuseum.org/nyjff2012, through Jan. 26. For the Brooklyn Israel Film Festival Jan. 26-29, go to http://kanestreet.org/iff/.)

What a coup for the most political film at this year’s NY Jewish Film Festival – “A Bottle in the Gaza Sea” — to make its world premiere at the festival. And how encouraging to see that fresh and touching ground remains to communicate the message that the bloodshed between Israelis and Palestinians is too inhuman to continue.

Tal, a teen whose family has moved from France to Jerusalem, slips a message into a bottle saying that she refuses to accept that only hatred can exist between Israelis and Palestinians. She gets her brother to throw the bottle into the ocean while he’s on army duty near Gaza. An e-mail response to “bottleaccess” eventually comes from “Gazaman.”

The resulting e-mails  become poignant when terrorist attacks in Jerusalem are met with Israeli air strikes in Gaza.

The film is based on the award-winning novel of the same name by French writer Valérie Zenatti, who spent her teen years in Israel. (Her earlier book, “When I Was a Soldier,” about her life in the Israeli army, was reviewed in Lilith.)

Tags:

  • No Comments
  •  

Feminists In Focus

January 20, 2012 by

Feminists in Focus: Reporting back from the New York Jewish Film Festival Peeling Away the Layers of ‘Restoration’

(Check the calendar for the New York Jewish Film Festival, presented by The Jewish Museum and the Film Society of Lincoln Center, at www.thejewishmuseum.org/nyjff2012. The festival runs through Jan. 26.)

Finely crafted is the operative phrase for “Restoration.”  The 2010 Israeli film (English subtitles) directed by Joseph Madmony tells the tale of Fidelman, an aging restorer of antique furniture stubbornly trying to hang onto his business. Starring Sasson Gabai (“The Band’s Visit”), “Restoration” unfolds with exquisite twists and turns that won it the Dramatic Screenwriting Award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and several prizes at the Jerusalem Film Festival. (Madmony collaborated with Erez Kav-El on the script.)

Set in a timeless corner of Tel Aviv, it takes cell phones and a digital camera with video option to make clear we’re in the present.

Enter Anton (Henry David), the mysterious drifter who becomes Fidelman’s assistant. Add  Fidelman’s estranged son, Noah (Nevo Kimchi), and his very pregnant wife, Hava (Sarah Adler). And there’s the impact beyond the grave of his freshly deceased partner, Malamud, who managed the shop’s finances.

Tags:

  • No Comments
  •  

Feminists In Focus

January 20, 2012 by

Feminists in Focus: 21st Annual NY Jewish Film Festival Opens With ‘Flood’

You can’t accuse the New York Jewish Film Festival of being a front for Zionist propaganda, especially with the festival opener “Mabul” (The Flood).

(Check the calendar for the festival, presented by The Jewish Museum and the Film Society of Lincoln Center, at www.thejewishmuseum.org/nyjff2012. The festival runs through Jan. 26.)

The Israeli-Canadian-French co-production, in Hebrew with English subtitles, could well be a film for the Manhattan JCC’s Other Israel film festival, with tales of the unhappy side of the Jewish State. There’s Yoni, the young bar mitzvah boy, earning money doing homework for the school bullies; his non-functioning pot-smoking crop pilot father; his gorgeous mom – a Mediterranean beauty – sweetly running a nursery school but screwing one of her young charges’ parents; and, if that weren’t enough, Tomer, the older brother, autistic to the point of needing constant care, back with the non-functional family when his institution goes bankrupt.

Welcome to life in the modern Jewish State. Who knew that an Israeli institution caring for the severely disabled could go bust. What a touch that the film’s one handsome Zionist-dream male is a philanderer. And that male-female roles remain entrenched unto the next generation, with the bar mitzvah boy berating his stressed-out mom for not taking adequate care of his disabled brother.

Tags:

  • No Comments
  •  

Feminists In Focus

November 15, 2011 by

Feminists in Focus: Dolphin Boy

I am an Israeli film junkie. Even though I visit my beloved other country often, I also depend on and delight in getting extra fixes of Israel vicariously through its films.

When Meir Fenigstein’s Israel film festival comes to New York, for 25 years already, I am there. Each year, no matter how late the schedule is published, the theater always fills up. My theory is that we are a traumatized people, Israelis, and Jews, and that any time someone is retelling our story with imagination and courage, giving us a new narrative of familiar and often painful experiences, we want to hear and see what they have to say. We show up.

On Thursday night I wouldn’t have missed the opening of the 5th annual Other Israel Film Festival. This festival of films by and about Israel’s minority communities and especially the Arab citizens of Israel, is always provocative, sobering, bittersweetly entertaining–and if sometimes disheartening in its exposure of deeply felt injustices–always hope-inspiring because of the very fact of the festival’s existence.

The opening film this year, “Dolphin Boy,” a feature length documentary, is narrated in English (with subtitles for the Hebrew and Arabic) by an Israeli Jewish psychiatrist telling the story of his patient, a 17-year-old Palestinian Israeli young man, who is brought to him after a traumatic beating at the hands of other young men from his village avenging what they misconstrued as an “honor” violation. The film covers a period of four years of healing, and is a story about vulnerability and love, about relationships, between doctor and patient, father and son, boy and dolphins.  This documentary like the arenas it portrays, medical treatment and nature, transcends politics.

Tags:

  • 1 Comment
  •  

Feminists In Focus

April 5, 2011 by

Feminists in Focus: Divorce, Deadbeat husbands and DVDs

Literally, “agunot” are women whose husbands have disappeared and it is unknown if they are still alive.  This leaves the women in a form of limbo, since it is unclear if they are widows.  In these cases, who can determine if they are able to remarry?

In contemporary usage, the term “agunot” has also come to include women who are unable to obtain a Jewish divorce or “get.” According to Jewish law, based on the Book of Deuteronomy, a woman cannot initiate a divorce; it must be granted to her by her husband.  “Agunot” are hostages, chained to deadbeat husbands who are refusing to grant them a writ of divorce.

In the modern state of Israel, matters of personal status such as marriage and divorce are controlled by the ultra-Orthodox rabbinate which deals with divorce in an archaic manner.  Some claim that the rabbinate is not interested in whether or not the husband is justified in withholding his agreement, since they do not interfere or compel these men to behave honorably.   As a result and not surprisingly, men within Israeli society have learned how to exploit this advantage in the rabbinic courts.  Some men are manipulative and cruel and withhold the divorce in an attempt at vengeance.  Others do it for financial gain.  Even if the man has moved on and already lives with another woman, he might not be interested in providing his wife with the same degree of independence.  In fact, some men actually require that the woman denies her right to communal property, child support and alimony payments in return for his agreement to the divorce, thus actually forcing the wife to “buy” her divorce.

Recently, a new and informative documentary has been produced on the subject, called Women Unchained by Beverly Siegel and Leta Lenik.  The women in this film live in both Israel and North America and are plagued by the blackmail being legitimized by the rabbinical courts. The film talks about the toll that is being exacted – the stress, money, turmoil, and emotional pain.  An in-depth look at a complex subject, the film even presents the point of view of American law – a wife-beater should be brought up on criminal charges if he demands that his wife drop charges against him in exchange for a get, or if exorbitant amounts of money are demanded in exchange for a get. These are both illegal acts and criminal proceedings should be initiated.  The film also provides a creative legal solution to the problem — people are beginning to use pre-nuptial agreements to stipulate how much money the husband must pay during the period of separation until a get is given. (more…)

Tags:

  • 3 Comments
  •