documentary film

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
Special To The Jewish Week
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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
Special To The Jewish Week
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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
Special To The Jewish Week
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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.

Are The Igbos Of Nigeria Jewish?

Engaging, if messy, documentary seeks to answer the question.

05/28/2013
Special To The Jewish Week
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“Re-Emerging: The Jews of Nigeria” is one of those peculiar documentary films that makes a sort of nonsense of everything I know about film and art. On the one hand the film, which is produced, written, directed, shot and edited by Jeff L. Lieberman, is a baggy, often shapeless mess, meandering and repetitive, filled with side roads that lead nowhere and a narration that borders on the amateur.

 Rabbi Howard Gorin, right, from Rockville, Md., reads from the Torah to a group of  Nigerian Ibos, in scene from “Re-Emerging:

Tuesday The Rabbi Made Porn

08/21/2012
Special To The Jewish Week

A rabbi and a pornographer walk into a coffee shop. Insert your own crude punch line here.

That’s essentially the plot of “Your Good Friend,” a feature film/mockumentary directed by Matthew Jacobs. The film, which is still on the festival circuit and looking for a distributor, stars and is co-written by Rabbi Lawrence Kushner, a prominent Reform leader and author of over a dozen books on mysticism including the novel, “Kabbalah: a Love Story.”

Matthew Jacobs, left, and Rabbi Lawrence Kushner in “Your Good Friend,” about the friendship between a rabbi and porn maker.
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