PJFF Opening Night: “One Week and a Day”

On opening night, PJFF is delighted to present “One Week and a Day,” a 2016 Israeli drama depicting a day in the life of a middle-aged couple who begin their lives over again after sitting shiva for their 25-year-old son, Ronnie. This droll yet extraordinarily moving film is directed by newcomer Asaph Polonsky.

Getting stoned and playing air guitar with your next-door neighbors’ twenty-something son are two activities not commonly associated with the Jewish mourning period. Yet for Eyal and Vicky, anything goes. As nothing makes sense after the death of one’s own child, Eyal finds himself grasping for whatever will distract him from returning to the real world, while Vicky remains focused on the path set before her: getting in her morning jog, making sure her students take their pop quiz, and showing up to a long scheduled dental appointment.

Without resorting to sentimentality or melodrama, Polonsky expertly crafts a tender and honest portrait of what it means to navigate the absurdity of life after death. “One Week and a Day” is a stellar debut from a promising new talent. The film has screened in the 2016 International Critics’ Week at Cannes Film Festival, the Karlovy Vary Film Festival, and the Jerusalem Film Festival, garnering glowing reviews from critics and filmgoers alike.

Buy tickets for this film here.

Guest Speaker: Isaac Zablocki, director of film programs at JCC Manhattan and director of the Israel Film Center

Special Event: Film followed by private reception for PJFF sponsors and supporters and for All-Access Festival and Big Nights pass holders

Sponsors: Glenmede and Harris & Debra Devor

Gratz Night at the Movies in Jenkintown: “Denial”

“Denial” is the recently released film starring Rachel Weisz, Timothy Spall and Tom Wilkinson. It is the story of the trial of Emory University professor Deborah Lipstadt, who was sued for libel by British historian David Irving for having labeled him a Holocaust denier.

Admission to the movie at a reduced rate is available at the Hiway Theater at the 7:30 p.m. showing on Tuesday, November 1, for friends of Gratz College. Mention Gratz and you will be admitted at the member rate of $6 per person. First-come, first-served general admission seating. No reserved seats.

Deborah Lipstadt herself will be appearing at Gratz College on November 13 for the Tuzman Memorial Holocaust Teach-In.

For more information about the movie or the Holocaust Teach-In, contact Mindy Blechman, 215-635-7300, x154.

Gratz Night at the Movies in Bryn Mawr: Denial

Reduced price showing of the movie Denial for friends of Gratz. “Denial” is the story of the trial of Deborah Lipstadt, who was sued for libel by British historian David Irving for having labeled him a Holocaust denier.

First-come, first served general admission seating. No reserved seats.

Deborah Lipstadt herself will be appearing at Gratz College on November 13 for the Tuzman Memorial Holocaust Teach-In.

For more information about the movie or the Holocaust Teach-In, contact Mindy Blechman, 215-635-7300, x154.

HaShoah Book: “Fever at Dawn”

In the new book, Fever at Dawn, a fictionalized account of his parents’ courtship, the Hungarian film director Péter Gárdos writes that after surviving the worst of the Nazi death camps, Lili Reich wanted to convert out of Judaism (as if it would have mattered to the Nazis). Her suitor, Miklós Gárdos, was an atheist anyway, so he sought out a Catholic priest in a remote little church to do so. They had started out as pen pals, after Miklós sought out all the Hungarian women recuperating in Sweden, under age 30.

Rabbi Emil Kronheim heard about their intent, through the letters of Lili’s friend, and he arrived to stop them with a creative offer: he would marry them under a chuppah in a synagogue in Stockholm. He’ll foot the bill for the ceremony, the clothes, and a reception for their friends. He even promised the Red Cross would be obligated to provide them with a room of their own afterwards. They accepted.

I believe the facts are all true, but the conversations are re-created from their diaries. A delightful story and an unique take on the Holocaust memoirs.

A Hunger for Learning

Refugee Kids: One Small School Takes On the World Trailer from Renee Silverman on Vimeo.

On Tuesday night, I attended a viewing of the documentary film Refugee Kids, about an American program set up for refugee children.  Run by the International Rescue Committee (founded by Albert Einstein to rescue Jewish refugees), the Refugee Youth Summer Academy transforms 120 kids speaking 26 languages from the world’s hot spots – Iraq, Egypt, West Africa, Tibet, Burma and Bhutan – from tongue-tied newcomers into confident, savvy New Yorkers over the course of a six-week program.

There is Helen, a 16-year-old Burmese refugee, who effortlessly translated from English to Burmese to Chin to Thai to Nepali.  There is Tek Nath, who in his first six months in America, did more than most adults: he leased the family apartment, translated for the surgeons operating on his brother’s heart, applied for the family’s green cards, opened bank accounts, and tutored both parents and younger siblings in English – and all the while maintaining straight A’s in his school work.  Tek Nath is a 17-year-old who had spent his entire life in a rural Nepalese refugee camp where he had virtually no English instruction.

George from Liberia had lost both parents at a very early age and was raised in Staten Island where he was confronted with the brutality of gang violence and yet still emerged as a student mentor, exhibiting leadership skills.  There are also the siblings who faced long separations from their families: Rigzin and Tashi from Tibet who are reunited with their parents in Brooklyn after eight years spent at the Dalai Lama’s refugee school in India; and Ida and Jennifer from Togo who were raised by their aunt and encountered an unforeseen family tragedy — fire and death of a young sister– upon their arrival in the Bronx.

The directors, Renee Silverman and Peter Miller, added to their footage with interviews in the children’s homes and in their communities.  The children narrated their often harrowing back stories in hand-drawn pictures, which were animated by the talented Brian O’ConnellLiz Swados, the beloved composer, recorded an original score before her untimely death.  Editor Aaron Vega wove the many stories together into a cogent, short film as his last project before winning a seat as American state legislator in the Massachusetts House of Representatives.

Refugee Kids is the second film by Silverman and Miller, following their teen Holocaust theater story, Sosua: Make a Better World.  Miller writes, “It’s something of a miracle that we were able to shoot, edit, and complete Refugee Kids for what might be the lunch budget of normal film, but we were blessed with generous and talented friends.”

The screening at Rodeph Shalom was sponsored by HIAS PA and the American Jewish Committee.  HIAS PA runs a similar summer tutoring program, and it welcomes volunteer tutors and donations of books.

First Israeli to Produce an Oscar-Winning Film Keeps Dreaming

In a year of acclaimed documentary films about the Middle East, Yael Melamede has achieved an unusual distinction: she is the first Israeli in the history of the Academy Awards to produce an Oscar-winning movie: Inocenete. The movie, which won the Oscar for best documentary short last February, is not about the Middle East. Its subject is a homeless teenager from San Diego with an outsize personality and an extraordinary artistic talent.

Melamede said:

We’ve seen such extraordinary work out of Israel in the past few years, films like Footnote, The Gatekeepers and Five Broken Cameras, which attest to the creativity and urgency of artistic voices in the region. I’m honored to be the first Israeli producer of an Oscar-winning movie, but I know I won’t be the last.

More after the jump.
Melamede was born and raised in New York City, and her parents are both Israeli: her mother is a renowned architect who designed Israel’s Supreme Court building, and her father was a businessman and former Israeli Air Force pilot, a veteran of the Six Day War. Melamede has produced both documentaries and independent feature projects, covering an eclectic range of topics.

Like many people from the Middle East, I straddle multiple cultures. Though our work covers varied topics and places, my choices are always informed by who I am and where I’m from.

Inocente began as a project about homeless teens, which Melamede embarked on with the directors Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine. The 40-minute film, which charts Inocente Izucar’s extraordinary life story, aired on MTV, receiving widespread media attention and rave reviews, and was screened to select audiences everywhere from Hollywood to Capitol Hill. Glamour magazine called the film “insanely inspiring.” Another of Inocente’s distinctions is to have been the first Oscar winner financed in part by an online Kickstarter campaign.

“My Architect,” Melamede’s first foray into documentaries, was nominated for an Academy Award in 2004. It tells the story of the famous but elusive architect Louis Kahn through the eyes of his son Nathaniel. In addition to designing some projects in Israel, Kahn designed two buildings at Yale University, where Melamede was herself an architecture student; it was the perfect vehicle for Melamede’s transition from architect to filmmaker. In 2003, Melamede and Eva Kolodner founded Salty Features, with the goal of making “salty” films — films that were neither “sweet,” nor “sour.”

Among Melamede’s current projects is a reality television series entitled “Bad Habits,” being developed with Morgan Spurlock and inspired by the work of Dan Ariely, an acclaimed Israeli-American behavioral economist and bestselling author. Ariely’s work is also the impetus for Melamede’s directorial debut that’s currently in production: a feature documentary entitled Slippery Slopes.

During the next year, Melamede hopes to film in Israel her passion project: the adaptation of Amy Wilentz’s best-selling novel Martyrs’ Crossing, which delves into the harrowing personal struggles that result from the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

A friend and colleague recently told me that I seem to be drawn to stories about people doing the impossible. I had never thought about it that way but it’s true. I am a fervent idealist and realist and a lot of that comes from my particular Israeli background.  I dream of being back in the running for an Academy Award, perhaps with a film from Israel.

UN-Supported Schools Preach “Armed Struggle” against Israel

— by Dave Bedein

Inside the UNRWA classroom, produced on location in the UNRWA refugee camps, represents the first time that the Center for Near East Policy Research crews gained direct access to teachers, principals and pupils in the UNRWA classrooms in Nablus, Jerusalem and Gaza.

In this film, UNRWA teachers and students speak openly about what they are taught in UNRWA schools — to devote their lives to the “Right of Return” to villages lost in 1948 (within the Green Line — not in the West Bank and Gaza) through the “armed struggle.”


The Gatekeepers: Israel’s Nominee for the Oscar

— by Steve Sheffy

You should see The Gatekeepers, which is nominated for a Best Documentary Feature Academy Award in the Ceremony today, while it’s still in the theaters, and urge everyone you know to see it. If you’re looking for a feel-good movie this isn’t it. If you’re looking for an intelligent, honest examination of what is going on in Israel, this is a must-see.

The Shin Bet (Shabak) is Israel’s internal security agency. The Gatekeepers features all six living former heads of the Shin Bet: Avraham Shalom, Yaakov Peri, Carmi Gillon, Ami Ayalon, Avi Dichter, and Yuval Diskin.

More after the jump.
The Wall Street Journal writes:

The Israeli journalist Dror Moreh has hit a documentarian’s trifecta with The Gatekeepers. It’s an exemplary piece of enterprise journalism, a vivid history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and a polemic that’s all the more remarkable for the shared experience of the polemicists. They are six former heads of the Shin Bet, Israel’s secretive internal-security service, and, to a man, they deplore most of the political leaders who have shaped their nation’s turbulent history — not for being too weak, as one might expect to hear from these toughest of professional hard-liners, but for being too rigid, hypocritical or indifferent to negotiate with their Arab enemies.

Yet, as the New York Times notes:

While it is true that Mr. Peri and his colleagues generally favor the curtailment of Jewish settlements on the West Bank and a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, they are hardly doves or bleeding hearts. And their shared professional ethos of ruthless, unsentimental pragmatism is precisely what gives such force to their worries about the current state of Israeli politics.

The Times concludes:

It is guaranteed to trouble any one, left, right, center or head in the sand, with confidence or certainly in his or her own opinions. If you need reassurance or grounds for optimism about the Middle East, you will not find it here. What you will find is rare, welcome and almost unbearable clarity.

When people tell me that I should see a movie and decide for myself whether it is good or bad, fair or unbalanced, I usually take a pass. I haven’t got much time to waste on movies that might not be good or that advance a political agenda I may or not agree with. I’d rather read. But this movie is just too important not to see.

All six living former heads of the Shin Bet: No one can question their love of Israel, their devotion to Israel, or their knowledge. Something is not true simply because these six say it’s true. But it’s hard to imagine any other six people whose views we should take at least as seriously. You might not agree with them, but you can’t say the views they express are not pro-Israel. And yes, the film does accurately present their points of view: Carmi Gillon, one of the six, says:

The importance for me is the message the film gives to the Israeli public. The message is that occupation is bad for the future of Israeli society from all aspects — humanistic, economic, moral, etc. I can assure you that all six former heads and some 95% of my colleagues and workers from the Shin Bet from over three decades all agree with the overall conclusions of the film.

The movie is impossible to summarize and packs a lot of information into 95 minutes. Three of many key points are:

  1. Israel should talk with anyone about peace.
  2. The occupation is bad for Israel and will get worse for Israel the longer it continues.
  3. The only reason the Palestinian Authority cooperates with Israel on security matters is that they hope the result will be a state of their own. In other words, they are not cooperating to help Israel but to help themselves, and they may stop cooperating if they lose hope.

It occurred to me while listening to these former heads of the Shin Bet that if Chuck Hagel had said to the Senate Armed Services Committee what these six men say in this film, there’s no way he would be confirmed. Then on Friday I read this review, which lists the same quotes that struck me while watching the film.

If you want to cling to your illusions, I can recommend several supposedly pro-Israel groups right here (and I do mean “right”) who regularly feature speakers and programs designed to describe the world as we’d like it to be, not as it is. For them, Israel is the Israel that never was, the Israel of Paul Newman and Exodus, an Israel that doesn’t have to choose between retaining the West Bank and remaining a democracy because demographic facts to them are just myths. But we can’t effectively advocate for Israel if we divorce ourselves from reality. See The Gatekeepers and decide for yourself.

Martin Ben Moreh of the Reut Institute recommends “strongly that every Israeli and every Jew should see this film regardless of what their particular political views are.”

Let’s hope The Gatekeepers wins an Oscar tonight.

The Israeli Right’s Evolution: From Jabotinsky to Begin to Netanyahu

— by the staff of the Children of Jewish Holocaust Survivors

Children of Jewish Holocaust Survivors presented an evening devoted to exploring the historical roots of the Israeli right, from Vladimir Jabotinsky to Menachem Begin to Benjamin Netanyahu, and a discussion of its current relevance to what is happening in Israel today.  Rick Richman, the editor of Jewish Current Issues, was one of the presenters.  Steven M. Goldberg, the National Vice Chairman of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), spoke as well.  Professor Louis Gordon,  whose work has appeared in the Forward, the Jerusalem Post, the Jerusalem Report, and numerous other publications, shared additional insights.

More after the jump.

Vladimir Jabotinsky was a journalist, essayist, translator, author, novelist, orator, military leader, and head of the Revisionist Zionist movement, which attempted to return Zionism in the 1920s and 1930s to its Herzlian roots. Menachem Begin was one his principal followers, the head of Jabotinsky’s youth movement in Poland and later the leader of its military wing, the Irgun. Benjamin Netanyahu’s father was Jabotinsky’s personal secretary, and Prime Minister Netanyahu has frequently cited Jabotinsky as an influence on him in considering the current threats against Israel.

Understanding the current status of the right in Israel requires an understanding of the connections – and also the differences — between these three historic figures. It may also provide some insights into the approach of the current Israeli government as it faces a continuing existential threat.  

The evening concluded with an excerpt from the documentary film, Flames of Revolt: The Story of the IRGUN, which includes rare footage of those who participated in the events leading up to the re-creation of the modern State of Israel.

Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival Distills Vodka, IDF and more!

— by Donna Katz

Five Philadelphia Premiere Screenings will highlight the best of independent Jewish Documentary Cinema today. The Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival continues its 32nd Season with its acclaimed Documentaries & Dialogue Series, screening documentary films from the UK, Israel, Austria, Germany, and the United States. Opening Night will feature How To Re-Establish A Vodka Empire at The Prince Music Theater, with the remaining documentaries screening four consecutive Monday nights at The Gershman Y.

Click links below for movie trailers and more information.