Opens tomorrow (5/6/16) in NYC. Review coming soon!
A struggling Jewish baker tries to keep his family business afloat and hires a young African Muslim boy, whose pot-dealing side business starts causing bakery sales to skyrocket. Against this backdrop, a moving story about releasing prejudices and accepting differences is created through the collaboration of filmmakers and actors. (EML: 4/5)
Review by FF2 Associate Eliana M. Levenson
“Nat” (Jonathan Pryce) is a Jewish baker, struggling to keep his small family-owned bakery in operation amidst the introduction of a larger, commercial kosher bakery to the community. When his apprentice quits unexpectedly to join the better paying commercial operation, Nat is left to run the bakery all on his own as he attempts to find a replacement. “Joanna” (Pauline Collins), a widow and benefactor of the bakery, shows clear interest in helping Nat, both professionally and personally, but Nat is too wrapped up in his own life to notice. Still distraught over the death of his wife two years earlier, Nat is blind to Joanna’s need for companionship as well.
Meanwhile, the teenage “Ayyash” (Jerome Holder), flees a nightclub with two of his friends, losing his pants and cellphone in the process. As an African Muslim immigrant, Ayyash and his mother are living in poverty, waiting for his father’s arrival. Ayyash wants to do whatever it takes to escape his situation, and has made connections with a pot dealer but needs a cover job before the dealer will let him into the business. When Ayyash’s mother tries his cellphone and the police answer instead, it is the last straw. She drags Ayyash to Nat’s bakery, where she works as the cleaning lady, and demands that he take the apprentice job. Neither Nat nor Ayyash are thrilled by the idea, both harboring prejudices about the other as a Jew and a Muslim, but Nat has no other options and Ayyash needs a cover job anyway.
The two begin working together, demonstrating a fair number of religious similarities, such as morning prayer, though neither wants to admit it. With his new job, Ayyash doesn’t have enough free time to deal, so one of his friends suggests that he should deal out of the bakery. Ayyash does, at first just adding baggies of pot with regular orders, but eventually adding the cannabis directly into the dough.
Suddenly, sales start to soar, and Nat takes Ayyash under his wing, assuming that Ayyash must be a gifted baker to be bringing in so much new business. Despite prejudices in the Jewish community, Nat even allows Ayyash and his mother to move in with him when the two are kicked out of their home.
But, can the bakery continue to thrive under these auspicious circumstances, or will it all come burning down?
Dough is at its core a story of colliding worlds, demonstrating the differences and similarities between old and young, Jews and Muslims, natives and immigrants. Director John Goldschmidt interweaves the two narratives masterfully, crosscutting between their similar religious rituals, their shared poverty, their mutual desire for connection and belonging. Co-writers, Jez Freeman and Jonathan Benson create well rounded, realistic characters, giving fresh life to this somewhat trivial and silly overarching plot.
Though the backdrop of pot-dealing from a bakery doesn’t seem like the setup for a heartfelt drama, the filmmakers achieve depth of emotion and a powerful message about letting go of our prejudices. In a climate in which Judaism and Islam are perceived as uncompromising and diametrically opposed, Dough is able to demonstrate, through strong character work and smart storytelling, how similar the two faiths are, without making it feel like it’s lecturing you. Both men use their religion to help them through hard times and both faiths are shown to be positive influences on their lives, allowing them to be better people.
Top Photo: Nat finally lets go and is able to enjoy a dance with Joanna.
Middle Photo: Nat teaches Ayyash how to roll challah dough.
Bottom Photo: Joanna shows her interest in Nat on one of his many tea visits, though Nat seems oblivious to her intentions.
Photo Credits: Menemsha Films
Hannah Arendt is best-known today for Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, her coverage of the trial of Adolph Eichmann. Arendt was in Jerusalem on April 11, 1961 (the day the trial began) because she had arranged to cover it for The New Yorker magazine. The result was a highly controversial series of articles in The New Yorker,which were later republished in book form by Viking Press in 1963.
One result of this close association between the names Hannah Arendt and Adolph Eichmann is that we are inclined to think of Arendt now as a "Holocaust survivor." But as Ushpiz makes clear, Arendt was already safe in America by 1941, long before the infamous Wannsee Conference (on January 20, 1942) during which those at the table—including Eichmann—planned the details of what they hoped would be "the final solution" to the "Jewish problem."
In fact, Arendt learned about the true horrors of the Holocaust second and third hand (like most Americans did). So even though it is probably unconscious, we are wrong to make the assumption that the course of either her life or her work were directly determined by the Holocaust.
To the contrary, what Ushpiz shows is that the formative experience of Arendt’s own life was not annihilation, but exile and displacement, what Arendt herself called "statelessness." No doubt Ushpiz, who is Israeli, felt this acutely when she began to do her research for this film five years ago. But surely even she is somewhat dismayed to see how au courant this makes Arendt’s work. As new waves of refugees settle in camps all around the borders of Israel and flood ever further into Europe, perhaps Arendt’s work is even more relevant today—in 2016—than ever before.
The centerpiece of Vita Activa: The Spirit of Hannah Arendt is a long interview she did on German television in 1964. As abhorrent as much of the content is, listen carefully and her conclusions about Adolph Eichmann are chillingly prescient. "I really thought Adolph Eichmann was a clown and I laughed out loud when I read the transcript..." He was "intelligent but dumb…" "Evil is thought-defying. Clichés are its comfort."
Wrapped around this interview are a birth-to-death biography with excerpts from her mother Martha’s diary ("Hannah turned four in October… She has an intellectual side to her, loves books."), followed by extensive quotes from many letters read by actress Alison Darcy.
(Hannah Arendt was a prodigious letter-writer who maintained innumerable relationships with many people across the twin distances of miles and years.)
There are also long passages from several of her books, most especially The Origins of Totalitarianism (published in English by Schocken Books in 1951).
"The Rights of Man, after all, had been defined as ‘inalienable’ because they were supposed to be independent of all governments; but it turned out that the moment human beings lacked their own government and had to fall back upon their minimum rights, no authority was left to protect them and no institution was willing to guarantee them…
With the emergence of the minorities of Eastern and Southern Europe and with the stateless people driven into Central and Western Europe, a complete new element of disintegration was introduced into post-WWI Europe. Denationalization became a powerful weapon of totalitarian politics... Those whom the persecutor had singled out as scum of the earth—Jews, Trotskyites, etc.—were received as scum of the earth everywhere."
This is what Hannah Arendt knew firsthand, and articulating the condition of statelessness—as well as its dire legal, moral and political consequences—is her true legacy.
Almost a half century after her death in 1975 (at the age of 69), it is still difficult to stick a label on her. Was Arendt a philosopher? Was she a political theorist? Was she a public intellectual? Ushpiz includes some interviews with prominent talking heads in Israel and the USA to debate all of this, but the fact is Arendt is difficult to label precisely because she refused to be labeled.
As Ushpiz makes clear in the course of her film, Arendt was committed to a life spent in essential dialogue with herself, so she defined herself more through the act of thinking in itself than in the results of any particular thoughts articulated at any specific points in time. This makes Ushpiz’s film dense and draining, but I urge you to stick with it. Ushpiz certainly convinced me, thereby making my own emotional investment in this difficult subject matter well worth the effort.
In the Q and A I attended the night Vita Activaopened at the Film Forum in Manhattan, Ushpiz said: "Thinking independently, and deeply, and provocatively… is the only way to fight our conditioned state."
Vita Activa: The Spirit of Hannah Arendt is currently playing at the Gene Siskel Film Center on State and Randolph. For times and tickets, visit their website.
For more photos from Vita Activa as well as more quotes from the April 6, 2016 Q and A at the Film Forum, visit my blog.
Read my review of Hannah Arendt (Margarethe von Trotta's 2012 BioPic)
Photos: Hannah Arendt, subject of Ada Ushpiz’s documentary Vita Activa: The Spirit of Hannah Arendt. Courtesy of Zeitgeist Films. Note that I have converted photos from black & white to sepia to make them easier to see online.
Posted on 4/25/16 on JUF Online.
Celebrate Mother’s Day with the Rabinowitz Family!
Follow link to download eVite as a PDF: 16May08eVite
Sunday, May 8, 2016 at 2 PM
Park Slope Jewish Center in Brooklyn
1320 8 Avenue at 14th Street
Program… Treats… Hugs… Free 🙂
Dear Friends/Tayere Khaveyrim: Hodel Loyeff—best-known by her Russian name Olga Rabinowitz—invites you to remember her husband Solomon Rabinowitz—best-known by his pen name Sholem Aleichem—on the occasion of his 100th Yahrzeit.
Question: Is this event suitable for families celebrating Mother’s Day? YES!
Unlike most programs about Sholem Aleichem, this program will focus on women, including his mother Chaya Esther Rabinowitz, his mother-in-law Rukhl Yampolsky Loyeff, and his many daughters (one of whom—Lyala Rabinowitz Kaufman—was the mother of another well-known author named Bel Kaufman).
Readings will come from Nineteen to the Dozen and with biographical material based on My Father, Sholom Aleichem. Madame Sholem Aleichem will be channeled on this occasion by PSJC member Jan Lisa Huttner, the author of Tevye’s Daughters: No Laughing Matter (2014) and Diamond Fiddler: Lectures on Fiddler on the Roof (forthcoming). Jan is an award-winning columnist for Chicago’s JUF News, best-known for her articles, lectures, and posts on Fiddler on the Roof.
Note that our family composite is an imaginative reconstruction. These specific people never appeared in the same room at the same time. It is based on the “Badenheim 1910” photo in Marie Waife-Goldberg’s book My Father, Sholom Aleichem, supplemented by additional photos from the same book. Furthermore, we know of no photos of Chaya Esther Rabinowitz (who died the summer after Solomon’s Bar Mitzvah), so this image above is our interpolation.
Top Row (left): Chaya Esther and Nochem Vevik Rabinowitz.
Top Row (right): Elimelech and Rukhl Yampolsky Loyeff.
Middle Row: Natasha Loyeff Mazor, Tissa Rabinowitz Berkowitz, Lyala Rabinowitz Kaufman, Emma Rabinowitz, and Marusi Rabinowitz (aka Marie Waife-Goldberg).
Bottom Row: Misha Rabinowitz, Solomon Rabinowitz (aka Sholem Aleichem), Olga Loyeff Rabinowitz, and Numa Rabinowitz.
© Jan Lisa Huttner & Sharon Rosenzweig (2016)
Click HERE for directions to PSJC. Remember to exit at the back of the train (from the north-most side).
3/25/16 Update (posted today on JUF Online): Colliding Dreams opens in Metro Chicago today (March 25) at the Music Box Theater on Southport and the Landmark Renaissance Center Cinema in Highland Park. For times and tickets, follow these links to the Music Box website, and the Landmark website.
Review by FF2 Managing Editor Jan Lisa Huttner
Colliding Dreams, a new documentary about the history of the Arab/Israeli Conflict from the Jewish-American point of view, comes to us from two filmmakers with superlative credentials. Joseph Dorman is best-known to us as the director of Sholem Aleichem: Laughing in the Darkness. Oren Rudavsky is the best-known to us as the director of Hiding and Seeking: Faith and Tolerance after the Holocaust. Together they have taken a leap of faith, crafting an epic drama worthy of its subject.
I first saw this film in Director’ Cut form at the 2015 New York Jewish Film Festival. Back then it was called The Zionist Idea, and it was 160 minutes long (2 hours & 40 minutes). That was just fine with me, but clearly too long for some. So Dorman and Rudavsky locked themselves up with their editors to produce this new cut, which is “only” 134 minutes long (2 hours & 14 minutes). However, I am happy to report that Colliding Dreams is not only 26 minutes shorter than The Zionist Idea, it is also tighter and better focused. So all their travails were well worth the effort.
In a Q&A after the screening of Colliding Dreams that I attended at the Lincoln Plaza Cinema in Manhattan on 3/4/16, Dorman said: “Me, Oren, and our two editors, we fought a lot to be truthful to all points of view… But we didn’t make a film about Palestine. We made a film about Zionism from the Jewish point of view, although we did try to capture the Palestinian point of view too.”
But this relatively straightforward statement belies the complexity of their endeavor. There is no one “Jewish point of view,” nor is there one “Palestinian point of view.” So the attempt to “be truthful to all points of view” really means focusing on the differences within each group, in hopes of finding points on the continuum where most people find themselves closer to the midpoint than to either of the poles.
The filmmakers give this their all. Quoting Dorman in the Q&A again: “We have no ‘political message’ per se. We—Joe and Oren—believe in a Two-State Solution. A Jewish State must be democratic. So both attacks on Israel and self-righteous support for Israel are both wrong-headed… There will always be at least two narratives.”
These twin narratives are presented chronologically—with voiceover by Michael Douglas—in five sections:
- The Jewish Dilemma
- One Land/Two Peoples
- Another Zionism
- The Zionist Dilemma
The timespan is more than a century, from 1882 to the day before yesterday. Every major milestone and movement is described, with abundant historical footage prompting cheers and tears. The long list of speakers include the famous and the infamous. (Which talking head should get which label will depend, of course, on your own point of view.) There are many politicians and religious leaders as well as artists and intellectuals. There are also citizen voices, people in the flow of daily life who are interviewed on the sidewalks of Tel Aviv and Ramallah.
This is a complex, demanding film, and I will not attempt to summarize further. All I can really do is urge you to see it for yourself, your children, and Jews everywhere.
© Jan Lisa Huttner (3/5/16) FF2 Media with rating = 4.5/5
Click HERE to read my review of Joe Dorman's film Sholem Aleichem: Laughing in the Darkness.
Note that in this review--for the JUF News--I expressed concern about Dorman's very male-oriented POV: "almost all of the 'talking heads' Dorman interviews are men." So I am delighted to report that Colliding Dreams is extremely well-balanced. Many prominent women--including Hanah Ashrawi, Geula Cohen, Ruth Gavison, Anita Shapira, Yuli Tamir--are given ample time to speak on camera, and women are included in the sidewalk interviews as well. Thank You, Joe!
Colliding Dreams also contains many revealing personal moments with playwright Motti Lerner, who is well-known in Metro Chicago. Here is what I wrote--also for the JUF News--about a lecture Lerner gave at Knox College in 2006, and here is my post about a production of Lerner's play Hard Love at the Victory Gardens. I also saw Silk Road Rising productions of Lerner's plays Pangs of the Messiah and Paulus in Chicago before my move to Brooklyn in 2012.
Click HERE to read my review of Oren Rudavsky's film Hiding and Seeking: Faith and Tolerance after the Holocaust.
TWO CENTS FROM FF2 ASSOCIATE ELIANA LEVENSON
Though I grew up incredibly culturally Jewish, I spent most of my life with what can nicely be called an apathetic view of Israel. Often times it felt like too taboo of a subject, too controversial, to bring up in conversation. And to be honest, defending Israel's right to exist as a Jew meant being written off as too biased before people even really listened to what you had to say. So, I wasn't the advocate for Israel that I needed to be. I allowed myself to fall prey to the silence of the controversy, afraid to look deeper into the conflict for the fear that I may discover that the Jews were the enemy and that I was going to find myself rooting against my own people. Then, I visited the homeland, my homeland, and as a person who is not a fan of traveling to new places, there was something so familiar, so comfortable, a sense of returning.
Suddenly, I found myself wanting to find a way to explain my love for Israel, its importance to me as a Jew, its place in my culture and my history. I found myself wanting to shout every time a western publication used a clearly biased, click-baiting headline encouraging a skewed perspective of the violence that plagues Israel's existence. But how would I prove my position without being told that I was just thinking of the conflict as a Jew? How could I prove to those that couldn't possibly understand the significance of a Jewish state, what that means, what that feels like to a group who exists elsewhere only as a minority, in the face of insurmountable "evidence" that the Jews were the aggressors and not, at the very least, equal victims?
This is why Colliding Dreams matters so much to me. In a sea of sensationalism, this film truly works to create an honest portrait of the conflict, not only its current status, but its complex history. Though not necessarily unbiased, the film does attempt to demonstrate the intricacies that have led to two peoples, each with a deep history, each with a strong sense of nationalism, each seeking and needing a place to call their own, to have settled on the same plot of land. Through its integration of history and modern perspectives, the film succeeds where the media has failed, it creates a conversation.
Perhaps the key component to this conversation is the slight disconnect between the talking head interviews and those done on the street. The film is primarily filled with the articulate commentary of educated elites from both sides. These people speak with clear authority, well structured and well thought out arguments. They know their history and their passion stems from, at least what appears to be, a nuanced and educated understanding of the conflict. Though they don’t necessarily arrive at the same conclusions, there is a sense of their opinions being based in a deeper knowledge of each side and an attempt to find a reasonable and, if possible, fair solution. In contrast, the on the street interviews take the temperature of the average Israeli and Palestinian, illuminating a personal passion that oftentimes seems to overpower an educated position. By using both of these interviewing styles, the film creates this conversation between the elitist concepts of fairness, sharing, and morality and the personal emotions that drive the current citizens of this conflict.
Colliding Dreams is a must-see for those that seek to find more than the headlines and the bloody photographs. At its core, Colliding Dreams wants to educate, wants to create a climate for true conversation and hopefully inspire those who see it to look deeper into the sources of the conflict, rather than focusing on the seeming endlessness of the current violence.
© Eliana M. Levenson FF2 Media (3/28/16)
Top Photo: IDF soldiers remove a protester during the evacuation of an Israeli settlement.
Middle Photo: A group of young "illegal" immigrants on board the Hagana ship "Jewish State" arrive in the port of Haifa.
(JLH Note: I took the liberty of converting this photo from black & white to sepia so that the wonderful expressions on these precious faces would show better online.)
Bottom Photo: Three Arab women at home in Israel.
Photo Credits: Courtesy of the Colliding Dreams website. See more on the "Gallery" page.
NYC SHOUT-OUT: Carvalho's Journey is playing at the Center for Jewish History on March 15 as part of the 2016 Sephardic Film Festival. Filmmaker Steve Rivo will be onsite for a post-screening Q&A. To order tickets, visit the CJH website. (Presented by the American Sephardi Federation & co-sponsored by the American Jewish Historical Society.)
This fascinating documentary from the "Who Knew" genre will screen at Spertus Institute in Chicago on Sunday February 14th.
Carvalho's Journey interweaves three powerful stories. First and foremost, Carvalho's Journey is a BioDoc about Solomon Nunes Carvalho, an artist born into a distinguished Charleston Sephardic family in 1815. Second, it tells an arduous tale of survival in the Early West. Third, Carvalho's Journey is also an insightful description of the transition from daguerreotype to modern photography. And with all this, there is even a romance? Yes! (JLH: 4/5)
Review by FF2 Managing Editor Jan Lisa Huttner
Have you made plans for Valentine’s Day yet? If not, then I suggest you go straight to the Spertus Institute website and order tickets for their screening of Carvalho's Journey.
Although the Spertus description doesn’t mention this angle, I am here to tell you that Carvalho's Journey, in addition to all its other virtues, may well be one of the greatest love stories in Jewish American history.
This wonderful new documentary—newly released by the National Center for Jewish Film at Brandeis University—interweaves three powerful stories. First and foremost, Carvalho's Journey is a BioDoc about Solomon Nunes Carvalho (pronounced Kar-Vay-Oh), an artist born into a distinguished Charleston, SC Sephardic family in 1815. Second, it tells an arduous tale of survival in the Early West that captures almost everything seen onscreen in The Revenant except the bear. Third, Carvalho's Journey is also an insightful description of the transition from daguerreotype to modern photography with moving details about how ordinary people felt when they saw fixed images of themselves and their loved ones for the very first time. And with all this, there is even a romance? Yes!
Our guide is Robert Shlaer, a professional daguerreotypist who has devoted himself to reproducing original images captured by Solomon Nunes Carvalho on John C. Fremont’s fifth and final expedition across the Rocky Mountains. Fremont had two reasons for taking a daguerreotypist west with him. The overt purpose was to document a winter route for the transcontinental railroad along the 38th parallel. The covert purpose was to create heroic images for Fremont’s presidential campaign. Yup! Way back in 1853, the man who was to become the first Republican Presidential Candidate in American history was looking for new ways to market himself to the public. As a result, this was the first of the great expeditions to be fully documented by a photographer.
Carvalho met Fremont—best remembered in American History by his nickname “The Pathfinder”—in New York. Fremont wanted Mathew Brady, already well-known for his book The Gallery of Illustrious Americans (a portrait collection of prominent contemporary figures released in 1850). Brady recommended Carvalho, and even though he had a wife and two children to support, Carvalho signed on immediately.
In retrospect, his eagerness to join Fremont is almost heart-stopping. Not only was Carvalho Jewish, he was devout. Not only was Carvalho a slight man with no prior experience roughing it in the great outdoors, he was an artist/intellectual used to a refined life with all the comforts of home.
Shlaer, who creates a portable dark room in his van, marvels at the sheer technical difficulty of Carvalho’s project. He explains that no one had ever attempted to make daguerreotype plates “on the go” in sub-zero temperatures before. Nevertheless, after only two weeks of preparation, Carvalho boarded a train with twenty cases of luggage on September 5, 1853, and headed off for his meet up with Fremont in St. Louis.
At this point (around the thirty minute mark), filmmaker Steve Rivo switches from Shlaer’s first-person story to third-person narration by actor Michael Stuhlbarg. This is when we learn about Carvalho’s family history, from Portugal to Barbados to Charleston, South Carolina. Those who don’t know much about Sephardic American history will be astonished to learn how prosperous and well-integrated Charleston was in the early 19th Century. Equally surprising is the fact that no one seems to have objected to Solomon’s artistic inclinations. Quite the contrary, after the Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim Synagogue burned down, the community was happy to pay Solomon for his beautiful rendering of the sanctuary (which he did from memory).
Back to St. Louis. Fremont and his men—including Carvalho—headed west across Kansas towards the Rocky Mountains. But they encountered difficulties almost immediately and things went steadily downhill. Now it is one thing to watch Leonardo DiCaprio simulate the experiences of Hugh Glass in The Revenant, but learning how Solomon Nunes Carvalho not only learned to ride a horse, but also summoned the determination to eat that same horse when the time came is nothing short of remarkable.
But we know the details and we believe the details because of the letters Carvalho wrote all along the way to his wife Sarah Miriam Solis. The letters Solomon wrote to Sarah became the core of a book he published in 1856. That same year, Solomon also painted a portrait of Sarah that shows just how much his love for her sustained him in his darkest hours. John C. Fremont ran for President in 1856, but lost to Democrat James Buchanan. Meanwhile Solomon and Sarah were married for forty-nine years. She died in 1894. He died in 1897.
Remember, I promised you a love story… Happy Valentine’s Day!
The Spertus screening of Carvalho's Journey is Sunday, February 14 at 2 PM, and filmmaker Steve Rivo will be onsite for a post-screening Q&A. To order tickets, visit the Spertus Institute website.
Carvalho's Journey is only one of the four programs Spertus is offering in its new Sunday Cinema series this month. To learn more about the other three films, visit my blog.
2/7: Raise the Roof
2/21: Camera Obscura
Top Photo: From Charleston, SC
Bottom Photo: To San Francisco, CA
Q: Does Carvalho's Journey pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test? No
Posted on JUF Online (2/12/16)
Delightfully quirky film about a Brit from Northern Ireland who discovers that his family once owned a now defunct sugar factory in Douboviazovka, Ukraine. And it gets better! Turns out that the family's wealth really came from the vodka distillery next door!
Kudos to Dan Edelstyn and his remarkably patient wife Hillary Powell for their commitment to the dual project: bringing the vodka to new markets in the West and creating such an engaging chronicle of their adventures.
Top Photo: Dan and Hillary in Douboviazovka.
Bottom Photo: Dan's grandmother Maroussia Zorokovich (center) in good times before the Russian Revolution bankrupted her family and forced her to flee.
Edelstyn, who was three when his father died, grew up in a non-Jewish household in Northern Ireland. Before discovering his dead grandmother’s memoir he was only remotely aware of this side of his heritage but the snippets he did hear led to the harbouring of a long-term childhood fantasy of ‘returning’ to reclaim lost riches and set things right. Grandmother Maroussia Zorokovich’s story stands out from the predominant experience of east European Jewery in and around the first World War. Voicing the experiences of a highly educated cosmopolitan Jew it contrasts with the dominant narratives of the Shtetl, and the Jew as the downtrodden victim and represents a rare social strata inhabited by a merchant Jewish family fully integrated with the aristocracy of the day, living in the romantic tradition of 19th century European landed gentry oblivious to the imminent collapse of that world. As an adult, this world discovered through his grandmother’s manuscript acted as a powerful call to action for Dan to enact the long held desire for return. The ensuing adventure explores and reveals the inner feelings connected to this heritage in an open and brutally frank manner.
New documentary from the National Center for Jewish Film in which a dedicated team recreates a Polish synagogue for the new museum in Warsaw.
Heavy on talent and technique, this is a tribute to all the man/woman hours lavished on a true labor of love.
Photo Credits: Courtesy of the National Center for Jewish Film
Review by FF2 Associate Eliana M. Levenson
With a twist on found footage, the Paz brothers’ horror film, Jeruzalem uses the tech of “Smart Glass” as the lens through which the viewer experiences the film.
The film opens with old-fashioned footage of two priests who witness the rising of the dead and the transformation of those dead into winged demon zombies.
Now in the present, “Sarah” (Danielle Jadelyn) receives smart glass as a present from her “Father” (Howard Rypp). She quickly puts them on and starts to mess around with them. The glasses have voice command, facial recognition, and of course, are constantly recording.
Still grieving from her brother’s death, Sarah is leaving for Tel Aviv with her best friend “Rachel” (Yael Grobglas) to party and try and let loose. However, when they meet “Kevin” (Yon Tumarkin), a hot young adventurer, on the plane to Israel, they decide to forgo their original plans and join him at a hostel in the Old City of Jerusalem.
Once in the Old City, the girls are in awe of the maze-like structure of the old buildings, the history and the religious significance of the place. They meet “Omar” (Tom Graziani), a local whose father runs the hostel, and he shows them around the city.
An odd homeless man, “King David” (Itsko Yampulski) tries to warn them all of something evil returning to the city. He insists that they must leave before Yom Kippur, but Omar assures them that the man is just crazy.
Kevin soon reveals that he has also heard these rumors and urges Sarah to leave with him. Sarah tries to convince Rachel that they should head to Tel Aviv—like their original plan—but Rachel refuses to leave.
So, the girls stay put, that is, until all hell breaks loose. Literally. As the quiet streets of the Old City become a warzone full of winged zombies.
While the acting leaves something to be desired, the creativity of the storytelling is evident in every frame of the film. Using Smart Glass allows for a new take on the standard found footage horror and allows for some comedic moments as well. The apps and texting features allow for a juxtaposition of two ideas at one time in a seamless, unobtrusive way.
For instance, texts from Sarah’s father appear on the glass as we watch her hook up with Kevin. However, the Smart Glass also serves practical purposes. First of all, Sarah has use of both of her hands, so she isn’t inhibited in any way as the “cinematographer” and never has to decide between protecting herself or dropping the camera. Secondly, the GPS capabilities help the characters find their way in the maze of the narrow streets of the Old City. And lastly, the facial recognition software allows characters to be easily identified to both other characters and the audience.
Beyond the storytelling method of the film, Jeruzalem also poses an interesting idea on the religious significance of Jerusalem. Opening with a Talmudic quote about the gateways to hell and utilizing the Jewish Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, as the day of Judgment when Hell opens its gates rather than heaven, the film does not shy away from using the religious history of its location.
Middle Photo: Sarah and Rachel pose for a selfie, in a rare moment of seeing both Sarah and her Smart Glass.
Bottom Photo: Two soldiers stare down one of the zombies.
Photo Credits: Epic Pictures Group
First JLH Day at the 2016 New York Jewish Film Festival
Full Title = Art and Heart: The World of Isaiah Sheffer
Sheffer is well-known nationally as the creator and host of NPR's Selected Shorts, but Jewish New York knows him as the impressario of Symphony Space.
Top Photo: Scheffer during a broadcast.
Bottom Photo: Scheffer at a Symphony Space event with NPR's Ira Glass.