documentary film

‘Sweet’ Spots At Other Israel Festival

A documentary about Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish and a dark comedy about the candy business on tap.

10/28/2014
Special To The Jewish Week
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Contemplating the eighth edition of the Other Israel Film Festival, which opens Nov. 6, it occurs to me that the event, which underwent a subtle shift in focus a few years ago, has become a richer, more interesting program as a result. While the festival originally sought to showcase films by or about the segments of the Israeli population that were neither Jews nor Palestinians (and hence shunted to the margins of our perception of the country), it now presents the reality of “otherness” in Israeli society.

Scenes from the offbeat dark comedy “Sweets,” about an Arab Christian candy entrepreneur. Courtesy of Other Israel Film Festival

A Filmmaker Shaped By War

New film documents life and work of Samuel Fuller, who helped liberate the camps.

07/29/2014
Special To The Jewish Week
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Samuel Fuller held the distinction of being the only Hollywood filmmaker/GI who participated in the liberation of a Nazi concentration camp at the end of World War II. Already in his early 30s, Fuller (whose family name was changed from Rabinowitz before he was born) had logged several screenwriting credits before he volunteered in the wake of Pearl Harbor; his mother would send him a 16mm movie camera while he was overseas with the 1st U.S. Infantry, and with it he shot footage of his buddies, of the brutal combat he endured over the course of four years and, inevitably, of the camp at Falkenau.

Samuel Fuller on the set, in a scene from “A Fuller Life.”  Courtesy of MoMA.

His History, Her Story, Their Movie

As Yom HaShoah approaches, Jews all over the world wrestle with how best to remember, retrieve and relay. Gyongji Mago, the catalyst for Gabor Kalman’s documentary “There was Once” has much to teach us. A high school teacher fascinated by local history, she came to realize that many of her students had no idea that Jews had ever lived in Kolocsa, a small town in southern Hungary. A Catholic, she too had had limited exposure to Jews.

Gabor Kalman

The Dance Of Coexistence

Teaching ballroom dancing (and perhaps larger lessons) to Israeli Jewish and Arab pre-teens in Jaffa.

04/08/2014
Special To The Jewish Week

There is very little that a couple can do together in public that is more intimate than ballroom dancing. Even in its most chaste form, it requires two people to place one hand in the other’s hand, and one hand on the partner’s shoulder or waist. To do it really successfully, they have to look into one another’s eyes, and, in a sense, think as one.

Pierre Dulaine, instructs his young charges in “Dancing in Jaffa.”  IFC Films

Feminist Seder Pioneer Esther Bronner Is Subject Of New Documentary

03/18/2014
Culture Editor
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At the feminist seders led by novelist E.M. Broner, the women would go around and introduce themselves matrilineally, naming as many ancestors as they knew. Broner wanted to be sure that they remembered the generations of women who spent the seder in the kitchen, preparing and serving, leaving the telling of the Passover story to the men.

Esther Broner, second from left, pioneered the first feminist seder in 1976. Joan Roth

‘Natan’ Recounts Lost Piece Of French Film History

Irish documentary tells little-known story of producer and studio head targeted first by the Nazis, then by an American film professor.

01/15/2014
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How many times can you murder a man? The Nazis, aided by the French government, killed Bernard Natan in Auschwitz in 1943. It took an American professor of film studies to kill him the second time by impugning his legacy as a film producer and studio head.

Bernard Natan in scene from David Cairns and Paul Duane’s “Natan.” Photo courtesy Paul Duane

Unorthodox: A New Film Explores Gap Year Journeys

The gap year in Israel is a phenomenon that has sprung up in recent decades in most Modern Orthodox communities. The idea is simple: 18-year old boys and girls who have just graduated high school spend a year of intensive study in yeshiva or seminary in Israel before they return to attend college. It is intended to be a year of reflection and growth, and it is not uncommon for many participants to return more religiously connected and observant than when they left.

Deep prayer, and light. Nadja Oertelt and Anna Wexler

‘Unorthodox’ Filmmaking

Documentaries about rebellious Modern Orthodox teens and downtown photographer Saul Leiter are part of DOC-NYC festival.

11/12/2013
Special To The Jewish Week
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Arthur Hertzberg once said that for Judaism to survive in the 21st century it had to be more than just “anti-anti-Semitism and ‘hooray for Israel.’” You could say the same about Jewish documentary films. Regular readers of these pages know that the bulk of non-fiction film with Jewish themes focus their attention on the Shoah and the Jewish state.

Lens on downtown Manhattan: Saul Leiter, right, with filmmaker Tomas Leach. Tomas Leach

Making Art Against The Odds

Surviving as artists and Jews in the Soviet Union, in ‘Ilya and Emilia Kabakov: Enter Here.’

11/12/2013
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Midway through Amei Wallach’s sparkling new documentary “Ilya and Emilia Kabakov: Enter Here,” an art historian is explaining the workings of one of Ilya’s museum installations. The center of the room is filled with large tables, forcing museumgoers to walk close to the walls on which various paintings are hung. “The center is already occupied, and you are forced into the margins,” the interviewee says.

Emilia and Ilya Kabakov in scene from a new documentary about the artists’ lives and works. Jacques De Melo/Gert Liter

Comedy U.

New documentary tells the story of the Catskills hotels and the comics who ‘went to school’ there.

07/23/2013
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The evocative term “baggy-pants comic” has its roots in burlesque, but you could apply it with some justice to the new documentary film “When Comedy Went to School,” which opens on July 31 in New York City and Aug. 2 on Long Island. The film, directed by Mevlut Akkaya and Ron Frank, tells the story of the Catskills hotels as a training ground for stand-up comedians and, like the burlesque funny man’s trousers, it’s rather shapeless. But, like the guy inside the trousers, it is also very funny.

Mountains men: “When Comedy Went to School” narrator Robert Klein, above. Left, Mort Sahl.
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