“The Fiddler Returns” wins award from Illinois Woman’s Press Association

FF2 Media congratulates Editor-in-Chief Jan Lisa Huttner, who just won a 2nd place certificate in the Photographer/Writer category for her January JUF News feature "The Fiddler Returns."

The Fiddler Returns By Jan Lisa Huttner

The final event in the worldwide celebration of the 50th anniversary of the first Broadway performance of Fiddler on the Roof is immanent. By the time this issue of the JUF News arrives in your mail box, a new revival – the 5th  – will have opened on Broadway. So nu, what’s new?

As I write – on December 6 – opening night – on December 20 – is a couple of weeks away. So no doubt the creative team is still fine-tuning the details. But I was at the first preview performance (on November 20), so there are a few things I can tell you now.

First of all, Fiddler on the Roof is indestructible! There is no way not to fall in love all over again the moment the fiddler begins to play that haunting opening melody on his solo violin. Composer Jerry Bock – who died in 2010 – brought forth these twenty-four pure notes from the depths of our collective experience as Jews, and no matter how many times you hear the wordless “Fiddler’s Theme,” tears will spring to your eyes. (I say this as someone who has now seen over two dozen live performances of Fiddler on the Roof – of every size and scale – in the past decade alone.)

But this Anatevka has an altogether very different feel than the one conjured up on Broadway for the 40th anniversary. In 2004, Tevye and his family lived at the edge of an elegant blue and beige birch forest, with actual musicians in the far right corner of the stage playing their instruments in a permanently star-filled twilight. The resulting air of melancholy has been replaced in 2015 with a robust, earthy look that provides a solid frame for the characters as the plot unfolds. 

Most important, all the “buildings” – like Tevye’s house and Motel’s tailor shop – can be rolled offstage in an instant to make room for dancing. And wow, is there dancing!

Although the headliner is Danny Burstein as Tevye, the real star of this show is Hofesh Shechter. Born in Jerusalem in 1975, Shechter joined the Batsheva Dance Company at age 20 and quickly rose to become one of artistic director Ohad Naharin’s go to choreographers. Those of us who have attended one of Batsheva Dance Company’s many Chicago performances know what to expect. There is nothing “delicate” about the Batsheva Dance Company style. It is ferocious, defiant, and extremely athletic. Although he has clearly “based” his work on Jerome Robbins original choreography, Shechter transforms it into something entirely new. Do men still line up to do “The Bottle Dance” at Tzeitel’s Wedding? Of course. Have they ever done it like this before? Never!

Tony Award-winning director Bartlett Sher’s new revival of Fiddler on the Roof opens December 20 at the Broadway Theatre at 1681 Broadway (between 52nd and 53rd Streets). To order tickets, call the box office at (212) 239-6200, or visit the website: http://fiddlermusical.com/. (But if you are putting together a group, then contact GroupSales@Telecharge.com.)

My complete review will be posted online as soon as the embargo is lifted on December 19. Meanwhile, you can read my review of the 2004 Broadway revival on my website: http://www.films42.com/columns/columns_fiddler.asp.

Additional reviews of multiple Metro Chicago productions can be found on my Blog: http://ff2media.com/secondcitytzivi/?s=fiddler.

My new book Diamond Fiddler: Lectures on Fiddler on the Roof will be published in May, timed to honor Sholem Aleichem’s 100th Yahrzeit.

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BEN-GURION EPILOGUE (2016): Review by Jan Lisa Huttner

After considerable effort director Yariv Mozer and editor Yael Perlov have located both the images and the audio that David Perlov (Yael Perlov's father) captured when he interviewed David Ben-Gurion -- Israel's Founding Father -- at his Negev home in 1968. Yasher Ko'ach! (JLH: 5/5)

Review by FF2 Editor-in-Chief Jan Lisa Huttner

Born in Brazil in 1930, filmmaker David Perlov made aliyah at the age of 28 and became one of the fathers of Israeli cinema. By the time of his death in 2003, he had received a lifetime achievement award from the Israel Film Academy (in 1995) and the Israel Prize (in 1999). Although best known for his documentaries, Perlov also made two feature films, The Ben Gurion Story (a 1969 BioPic) and The Pill (a 1972 drama/fantasy).

To prepare for The Ben Gurion Story, Perlov went to Sde Boker, the Negev desert kibbutz in which David Ben-Gurion -- the first Prime Minister of the State of Israel -- lived from the time of his retirement from politics in 1970 to the time of his death in 1973 (barely two months after the start of the Yom Kippur War).

Eventually, six hours of the footage Perlov shot of Ben-Gurion -- fondly known as BG -- found its way to the Steven Spielberg Jewish Film Archive in Jerusalem... but there was no soundtrack! Eventually, after an unrelenting search by Perlov's daughter Yael, accompanied by Yariv Mozer, the audio portion was subsequently retrieved from the Ben-Gurion Archives in Negev. 

A one-hour compilation of Perlov's footage accompanied by BG's answers -- in English -- to questions posed by Clinton Bailey (an American specialist on the Bedouin) has now been released in the USA by Go2Films with the title Ben Gurion, Epilogue. Yariv Mozer is credited as director and Yael Perlov is credited as editor, but the result makes it clear that they worked together hand-in-glove to combine the interview scenes from 1968 with news clips and additional archival materials about BG.

What most astonished me is how relaxed BG is on camera. He gives direct, straightforward answers Clinton Bailey's questions in perfect English with only a hint of an accent. Whether visiting Albert Einstein at Princeton or sitting next to Ray Charles on a piano bench, BG is equally unpretentious. Although he is the leader of an embattled nation, he still delights in his ability to do headstands on the beach while on vacation.

BG left Poland for Palestine at the age of 20, so he had little formal education, but he read widely his entire life, and his description of reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin at the tender age of 8 years is both deeply moving and highly relevant to understanding the man he would one day become. It was a joy to spend this hour in the company of such a mensch!

© Jan Lisa Huttner (3/15/17) FF2 Media

Top Photo: Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion on the set of the 1968 interview.

Bottom Photo Credit: David Marks.

BONUS: Follow this link to read an appreciation of David Perlov's work by Michael Kustow in The Guardian.

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THE SETTLERS: Review by Jan Lisa Huttner

Although I respect and admire filmmaker Shimon Dotan's scrupulously even-handed documentary on the rise of Israel's Settlement Movement, I must honestly say that no film in recent memory has been more painful to actually watch. I wavered on a rating because what I crave is some way forward... But I realize that it is not Dotan's job to create one ex nihilo.

Dotan set himself the task of showing how we got from "there" to "here." Dayenu! (JLH: 5/5)

Review by FF2 Editor-in-Chief Jan Lisa Huttner

Here is what I have learned about history in my 65 years on Planet Earth: Human memory is very fragile, and people tend to remember what they want to remember -- whether personal or political -- and forget what they want to forget.

I was born in 1951, so, in context, I was born barely three years after the establishment of the State of Israel and I came of age in the shadow of the Holocaust. Filmmaker Shimon Dotan begins his history of the Settlement Movement in 1967, so I have been "present" in some way for everything he describes. Many things I know from the news of the time. Other things I know because of the many, many films I have seen over the years. Most of these films have been documentaries, of course, but the mix also includes excellent feature films such as Joseph Cedar's Campfire (which was misunderstood and poorly received in the USA even though it received 5 Ophir awards from the Israel Film Academy in 2004 including Best Film, Best Director, and Best Screenplay).

So I would not dare to claim that my memory is "better" than anyone else's, but I can say that I have honestly tried to respect that there are extremely different points of view on this tremendously complicated topic, and I do not believe a single one of the people who express such divergent views are either all "right" or all "wrong." Nevertheless, watching through the eyes of a committed Jewish Feminist, some scenes are much harder to watch than others.

Filmmaker Shimon Dotan was born in Romania in 1949 (making him close to me in age) and made aliyah with his family in 1959. He grew up on a moshav in the Negev, served in an elite combat unit, attended film school in Tel Aviv, and then moved to the USA in 1987 (where he has lived ever since). So I presume he is as dismayed by the current impasse as I am, but he is nonetheless fully committed to letting each interview subject fully express his/her own POV. 

Dotan divides The Settlers into nine consecutive chapters. Each chapter begins with a Biblical quote illustrated by David Polonsky (best-known in the USA for his contributions to Waltz With Bashir in 2008). The chapters combine contemporary interviews with historical footage and excellent animated maps which facilitate understanding of specific locations, shifting borders and contested sites.

Speaking personally now, I understand that some people want to remember historical events as divine moments -- moments in which the Hand of God literally determined the outcome. Therefore, knowing that Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook had railed against the 1947 partition of Palestine into Jewish and Arab states in May 1967, I understand that his followers saw the capture of Jerusalem during The 6 Day War (in June 1967) as the fulfillment of biblical prophecy, whereas I -- a high school student and youth group leader in New Jersey at that time -- was consumed with raising funds for the IDF (Israel Defense Forces).

I understand that some people believe that God Himself pushed Egyptian and Syrian forces back during the Yom Kippur War in 1973, whereas I -- a teacher in Ashkelon at that time -- was herding students into bomb shelters with fervent hope that Prime Minister Golda Meir would be able to negotiate a truce with Nixon and Kissinger.

I understand that some people believe that Yigal Amir's plan to assassinate Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995 would not have succeeded, nor would Prime Minister Ariel Sharon have had a stroke in 2006 (less than six months after he orchestrated Israel's unilateral disengagement from the Gaza Strip) unless these events had been God's Will.

I understand, therefore, that some people genuinely believe that the expansion of Jewish settlements on Palestinian land east of the Green Line is a "miracle." But when I hear these people use their beliefs to dismiss the very idea of "democracy," my heart breaks. I doubt that I will live long enough to learn the "end" of this story, but I am filled with foreboding.

© Jan Lisa Huttner (3/15/17) FF2 Media

Images courtesy of Philippe Bellaiche.
Q: Does The Settlers pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test?
No.
Although some women do appear in The Settlers (especially Sarah Nachsman, whose insistence on burying her son in the ancient Jewish cemetery in Hebron has had far-reaching consequences) most women in The Settlers act on the sidelines, giving birth again and again as quickly as possible in order to increase Jewish presence on contested land. As a committed Jewish Feminist, the role of women in religious communities is hard to accept, whatever the religion. Whether or not these women have chosen this life, the implicit use of women as "breeding machines" by both sides in this conflict horrifies me.
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Tzivi’s Cinema Spotlight (Feb ’17): Reviews of FIRE BIRDS and MORGENTHAU

Tzivi reviews Morgenthau and Fire Birds

By Jan Lisa Huttner

Hello, Readers. Did you miss me?

My first post for Tzivi’s Cinema Spotlight was way back in August 2011, and in all the intervening years, month after month, I have always found something worth recommending. But in December 2016, I had nothing. And I had nothing last month either. All of the attention has shifted to Oscar candidates, and there are no films with Jewish content in contention this year… absolutely none. I don’t know what that says about the state of the world, but luckily Chicago cinephiles have stepping in to fill the gap.

On Sunday (February 12), you can choose between two wonderful films or see both! The first is the documentary Morgenthau, screening in the afternoon at Spertus Institute in the South Loop. The second is Fire Birds, a Black Comedy from Israel, screening in the evening at Moadon Kol Chasash on Clybourn (just north of Fullerton).

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The subject of Morgenthau is the deep humanitarian commitment of Henry Morgenthau Senior (best-known today as the U.S. Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire during the Armenian Genocide), his son Henry Morgenthau Junior (best-known today as the U.S. Secretary of Treasury under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt during the Holocaust), and his grandson Robert M. Morgenthau (best-known for his thirty year tenure as District Attorney of New York County and personified today on television in Law and Order’s beloved character Adam Schiff).

In 1866, ten year old Henry Morgenthau Senior and his family arrived in New York. Although his father, Lazarus Morgenthau, had been well-off in Germany, Lazarus was never able to make a go of it in America. Henry Morgenthau Senior, on the other hand, made so much money as a real estate investor that he was able to help fund Woodrow Wilson’s Presidential campaign.

When Wilson became President in 1912, Henry Senior lobbied for a position on the cabinet, but Wilson offered him the position of ambassador to the Ottoman Empire instead. His friend Rabbi Stephen Wise encouraged him to take the position, so he did. Thus he found himself in the eye of the storm once the Turkish government began to systematically deport members of the Armenian community. Unable to convince Wilson to intervene, Henry Senior resigned in 1916 and turned his attention to relief efforts, using his considerable connections to raise awareness as well as cash. He continued to work with war-related charities after the war, and in 1919 he headed a fact-finding mission on behalf of the United States government to investigate reports of mistreatment of Poland’s Jewish community.

All this time, Henry Morgenthau Junior (born in 1891), was coming of age in New York as the scion of a wealthy and politically connected family. In 1913, he met Franklin Roosevelt, an update New York neighbor with common interests, and the two became close lifelong friends. In 1934, President Roosevelt appointed Morgenthau to the post of Secretary of the Treasury (the position to which his father had aspired at the start of the Wilson Administration). This appointment made Henry Junior a key player in The New Deal, and also put him in a position to receive first-hand information about German atrocities during the Holocaust. He made enemies (especially within the U.S. State Department) because he was vocal, and after Roosevelt died in 1945, he resigned and spent the remainder of his life working for various Jewish philanthropies (some specifically targeted to Israelis).

While Henry Junior was fighting inside the government, his son Robert (born in 1919) was fighting on the high seas, mostly aboard destroyers. He saw combat action in both the Mediterranean and Pacific theaters, returning home at the end of the war with the final rank of Lieutenant Commander. Just as his father had done, Robert also made a good friend in another wealthy and politically connected family, and in 1961, President Kennedy appointed him U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. He served in this position until President Nixon booted him out in 1969 (although he took time off to run against Nelson Rockefeller for Governor of New York in 1962). In 1974, he was elected to the office of District Attorney of New York County. In 2009, he announced that he would not seek re-election. At the end of that year, he was replaced by Cyrus Vance, Jr, who had served had Assistant District Attorney and had run with Robert’s endorsement.

Now more than ever, we need positive stories of public service and Morgenthau is exemplary. Director Max Lewkowicz and his writers Henry Feingold, Sam Roberts, and Valerie Thomas have done a masterful job of narrative compression, keeping each of personality and timeframe distinct. I guarantee you will come away from this film filled with renewed optimism and hope for the future. And unlike me, sitting here in Brooklyn, if you see Morgenthau at Spertus, you can also participate in the post-screening Q&A to be conducted by Dr. Tony Michels, the George L. Mosse Professor of American Jewish History at University of Wisconsin, Madison. Send me your notes!

Fire Birds is a totally different kind of film, but equally wonderful. Fire Birds opens with a jazzy upbeat rendition of the beloved Yiddish tune “Oyfn Pripetshik.” You may not recognize the name of this song, but I guarantee you have already heard it. It is the background music that plays on the Schindler’s List soundtrack when Oscar Schindler is watching the little girl in the red coat flee from the Nazis. I am sure this was intentional on the part of director Amir Wolf, because Fire Birds is a Black Comedy about “the world’s most exclusive club.”

Wolf and his two co-screenwriters Orly Robenshtein Katcap and Itzhak Wolf, also juggle complex timeframes. In the present tense, a detective named “Amnon” (Amnon Wolf) is ordered to investigate the death of an old man found dumped in the Yarkon River. The body had an Auschwitz tattoo, and Amnon, the son of two Survivors, does not want this assignment, but he is on probation, so he has no choice.

Amnon’s investigation is cross cut with the story of how “Amikam” (Oded Teomi) spends his final days. I don’t want to give too much away, so suffice it to say that Amikam (assuming that really is his name) runs afoul of two widows: a famous actress named “Zissy” and a retired surgeon named “Olga” (Gila Almagor).

Olga and Zissy are also Survivors as were their now dead husbands, so I know this story may sound grim. You will just have to believe me, therefore, when I tell you that some scenes had me belly laughing. In one scene, Amnon takes his young daughter to visit his elderly parents. “Danielle” (Sarit Vino-Elad) is supposed to interview her grandparents to learn more about her family history, but Amnon doesn’t want her to know about any of the “things” he learned as a child. So in answer to the question “Where did you and Zayde meet?” his mother (Alisa Rozen) describes a camp on a chocolate river filled with marzipan. “Every day we had tea with Mister Himmler!” Danielle is entranced and I am literally laughing through my tears.

Fire Birds was nominated for ten Ophir Awards by the Israel Film Academy in 2015, with a well-deserved win for Dvora Keidar in the Best Supporting Actress category. It was also nominated for Best Feature at the 2015 Haifa International Film Festival and the 2015 Montreal World Film Festival. Fire Birds is Amir Wolf’s first film! What will he bring us next?

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To purchase tickets for Morgenthau, visit the Spertus website: http://www.spertus.edu/programs-events/morgenthau

To purchase tickets for Fire Birds, visit the “Israeli Movie Night” page on EventBrite: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/israeli-movie-night-tickets-31453822229

If you are not able to attend the Morgenthau screening, you can watch it on Amazon and iTunes: http://www.doggreenproductions.com/portfolio/morgenthau/

Groups interested in screening Fire Birds can order it from the Israeli Films website: http://www.israelifilms.co.il/Fire-Birds.html

Top Photo: Miriam Zohar as “Zissy Glick.” Courtesy of the Chicago Festival of Israeli Cinema.

Bottom Photo: President John F. Kennedy arrives at LaGuardia Airport on October 11, 1962 on a campaign swing for multiple candidates. JFK’s friend Robert M. Morgenthau (standing to his right) was the Democratic candidate for Governor of New York. Photo courtesy of Dog Green Productions.

Posted on JUF Blogs on 2/9/2017

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FIRE BIRDS: Review by Jan Lisa Huttner

Black Comedy from Israel about a man determined to crash “the world’s most exclusive club” of wealthy Tel Aviv widows who also happen to be Holocaust survivors. Trust me, this is a "laughing thru tears" experience worthy of Sholem Aleichem with finely-drawn characters and an infectious "tickle the ribs" plot. (JLH: 4/5)

Review by FF2 Media Editor-in-Chief Jan Lisa Huttner

Fire Birds opens with a jazzy upbeat rendition of the beloved Yiddish tune “Oyfn Pripetshik.” You may not recognize the name of this song, but I guarantee you have already heard it. It is the background music that plays on the Schindler’s List soundtrack when Oscar Schindler is watching the little girl in the red coat flee from the Nazis. I am sure this was intentional on the part of director Amir Wolf, because Fire Birds is a Black Comedy about “the world’s most exclusive club.” 

Wolf and his two co-screenwriters Orly Robenshtein Katcap and Itzhak Wolf, also juggle complex timeframes. In the present tense, a detective named “Amnon” (Amnon Wolf) is ordered to investigate the death of an old man found dumped in the Yarkon River. The body had an Auschwitz tattoo, and Amnon, the son of two Survivors, does not want this assignment, but he is on probation, so he has no choice.

Amnon’s investigation is cross cut with the story of how “Amikam” (Oded Teomi) spends his final days. I don’t want to give too much away, so suffice it to say that Amikam (assuming that really is his name) runs afoul of two widows: a famous actress named “Zissy” and a retired surgeon named “Olga” (Gila Almagor).

Olga and Zissy are also Survivors as were their now dead husbands, so I know this story may sound grim. You will just have to believe me, therefore, when I tell you that some scenes had me belly laughing. In one scene, Amnon takes his young daughter to visit his elderly parents. “Danielle” (Sarit Vino-Elad) is supposed to interview her grandparents to learn more about her family history, but Amnon doesn’t want her to know about any of the “things” he learned as a child. So in answer to the question “Where did you and Zayde meet?” his mother (Alisa Rozen) describes a camp on a chocolate river filled with marzipan. “Every day we had tea with Mister Himmler!” Danielle is entranced and I am literally laughing through my tears. 

Fire Birds was nominated for ten Ophir Awards by the Israel Film Academy in 2015, with a well-deserved win for Dvora Keidar in the Best Supporting Actress category. It was also nominated for Best Feature at the 2015 Haifa International Film Festival and the 2015 Montreal World Film Festival. Fire Birds is Amir Wolf’s first film! What will he bring us next?

© Jan Lisa Huttner (2/17) FF2 Media

Groups interested in screening Fire Birds can order it from the Israeli Films website: http://www.israelifilms.co.il/Fire-Birds.html

Top Photo: Gila Almagor as "Olga."

Middle Photo: “Amnon” (Amnon Wolf) surprises his estranged wife "Irit" (Mali Levi) at a Karaoke bar. She is out her friends in a Karaoke bar and slightly drunk; he is mesmerized and desperate for a reunion.

Bottom Photo: Dvora Keidar (left) as “Martirio Halperin” with Miriam Zohar as “Zissy Glick.” Oded Teomi play "Amikam" (the pick-up artist).

Q: Does Fire Birds pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test?Courtesy of the Chicago Festival of Israeli Cinema.

Absolutely!

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MORGENTHAU: Review by Jan Lisa Huttner

In 1866, German-Jewish businessman Lazarus Morgenthau arrived in the USA, in tow. Alas, Lazarus never found fabled streets paved with gold in New York, but his son Henry (ten years old when he arrived), became extremely wealthy and then used that wealth for great humanitarian purposes. Through the generations, his son Henry  Morgenthau Junior and his grandson Robert Morgentau have followed in his footsteps.

Now more than ever, Americans need positive stories of public service and Morgenthau is exemplary. I guarantee you will come away from this film filled with renewed optimism and hope for the future. (JLH: 5/5)

Review by FF2 Media Editor-in-Chief Jan Lisa Huttner

The subject of Morgenthau is the deep humanitarian commitment of Henry Morgenthau Senior (best-known today as the U.S. Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire during the Armenian Genocide), his son Henry Morgenthau Junior (best-known today as the U.S. Secretary of Treasury under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt during the Holocaust), and his grandson Robert M. Morgenthau (best-known for his thirty year tenure as District Attorney of New York County and personified today on television in Law and Order’s beloved character Adam Schiff).

In 1866, ten year old Henry Morgenthau Senior and his family arrived in New York. Although his father, Lazarus Morgenthau, had been well-off in Germany, Lazarus was never able to make a go of it in America. Henry Morgenthau Senior, on the other hand, made so much money as a real estate investor that he was able to help fund Woodrow Wilson’s Presidential campaign.

When Wilson became President in 1912, Henry Senior lobbied for a position on the cabinet, but Wilson offered him the position of ambassador to the Ottoman Empire instead. His friend Rabbi Stephen Wise encouraged him to take the position, so he did. Thus he found himself in the eye of the storm once the Turkish government began to systematically deport members of the Armenian community. Unable to convince Wilson to intervene, Henry Senior resigned in 1916 and turned his attention to relief efforts, using his considerable connections to raise awareness as well as cash. He continued to work with war-related charities after the war, and in 1919 he headed a fact-finding mission on behalf of the United States government to investigate reports of mistreatment of Poland’s Jewish community. 

All this time, Henry Morgenthau Junior (born in 1891), was coming of age in New York as the scion of a wealthy and politically connected family. In 1913, he met Franklin Roosevelt, an update New York neighbor with common interests, and the two became close lifelong friends. In 1934, President Roosevelt appointed Morgenthau to the post of Secretary of the Treasury (the position to which his father had aspired at the start of the Wilson Administration). This appointment made Henry Junior a key player in The New Deal, and also put him in a position to receive first-hand information about German atrocities during the Holocaust. He made enemies (especially within the U.S. State Department) because he was vocal, and after Roosevelt died in 1945, he resigned and spent the remainder of his life working for various Jewish philanthropies (some specifically targeted to Israelis).

While Henry Junior was fighting inside the government, his son Robert (born in 1919) was fighting on the high seas, mostly aboard destroyers. He saw combat action in both the Mediterranean and Pacific theaters, returning home at the end of the war with the final rank of Lieutenant Commander. Just as his father had done, Robert also made a good friend in another wealthy and politically connected family, and in 1961, President Kennedy appointed him U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. He served in this position until President Nixon booted him out in 1969 (although he took time off to run against Nelson Rockefeller for Governor of New York in 1962). In 1974, he was elected to the office of District Attorney of New York County. In 2009, he announced that he would not seek re-election. At the end of that year, he was replaced by Cyrus Vance, Jr, who had served had Assistant District Attorney and had run with Robert’s endorsement.

Now more than ever, we need positive stories of public service and Morgenthau is exemplary. Director Max Lewkowicz and his writers Henry Feingold, Sam Roberts, and Valerie Thomas have done a masterful job of narrative compression, keeping each of personality and timeframe distinct. I guarantee you will come away from this film filled with renewed optimism and hope for the future.

Click HERE to watch Morgenthau on Amazon and iTunes.

© Jan Lisa Huttner (2/9/2017) FF2 Media

Top Photo: Robert Morgenthau with President Kennedy.

Middle Photo: Henry Junior with with President Roosevelt.

Bottom Photo: Three generations of Morgenthau men.

Photos courtesy of Dog Green Productions.

Q: Does Morgenthau pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test?

No...

But then, a film about three Jewish male giants of the 20th Century isn't exactly expected to... Right? Of course, right 😉

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KEEP QUIET

Directors Sam Blair and Joseph Martin masterfully depict the three year journey of former far-right Hungarian extremist, Csanad Szegedi, as he attempts to reconcile his anti-Semitic past with the discovery that he is not only Jewish, but the grandson of a Holocaust survivor. (EML: 4.5/5)

Review by FF2 Associate Eliana M. Levenson

Keep Quiet begins by introducing the Hungarian political climate in the early 2000s. Impoverished, desperate for change, and with immense distrust of the establishment, the Hungarian public flocked to the far-right extremist parties that promised change. One such party, Jobbik, fueled by the fear of the racist and anti-Semitic, by the desperation of the poor, and the determination of the militant, grew in its popularity and eventually won a place in Hungary’s Parliament. Amongst the heads of this party stood Csanad Szegedi, a man who stood proud behind the values of his party, including blatant anti-Semitism and Holocaust Denial.

Raised as a nationalist, Szegedi saw no issue with pushing a Hungarian first agenda and saw the Jews as “other” not tied to a national identity. He admits that the formation of the  Hungarian Guard, which claimed to be purely aimed at mobilizing and empowering the people, was also a fear tactic to inspire those unsure of Jobbik to fall into line. A Nazi-adjacent party in the 21st century, Jobbik carried similar sentiments and utilized Hungary’s already anti-Semitic nature to scapegoat the Jews once again. But, when Szegedi is confronted by a political rival about proof of his Jewish heritage, he is forced to confront the possibility that everything he has fought for and stood for with the Jobbik party is not only incorrect, but self-harming.

After confronting his grandmother about her Jewish heritage and learning that she was a survivor of Auschwitz, Szegedi begins a journey to understand his Jewish self and disprove his own anti-Semitic beliefs. Led by Rabbi Boruch Oberlander, Szegedi attempts to understand himself as a Jew and combat his deep rooted feelings of Jewish inferiority and Jewish otherness.

Though Rabbi Oberlander and Szegedi meet with resistance from the Jewish community, they push forward on their journey. Rabbi Oberlander remains committed to Szegedi’s honesty in his transformation and the Jewish concept of “t’shuvah” or taking responsibility for your mistakes in order to find redemption. Over the course of the film, Szegedi struggles to achieve this “t’shuvah” and to truly come to understand, not only what it means to be Jewish, but the damage he had caused to the Jewish people during his time in Jobbik.

As a documentary, Keep Quiet strikes that delicate balance between informative and entertaining, providing the audience with enough information to understand Szegedi’s past and his reformative journey, without making the film feel like a biographical lecture. Perhaps the film’s greatest strength lies in its rawness, and Szegedi’s willingness to interview his own family members about their relationship to their Jewish identity and his involvement in the Jobbik party.

Hearing Szegedi’s grandmother’s assuredness that the Holocaust will happen again, and watching Eva “Bobby” Neumann, another survivor, explain the shame she felt returning and the silence she kept for fifty years because of it, sends chills down the spine. The clarity with which both women speak about their experiences during and following the Holocaust, cut against Szegedi’s disbelief that things could truly have been and continue to be so terrible, allows for a refreshing dialogue about the Jewish experience and those that deny it. In these interactions, Szegedi represents the anti-Semitic arguments and his grandmother and Bobby represent the reality that disproves these supposed anti-Semitic truths.

Overall, Keep Quiet succeeds not only in its storytelling, but in its ability to raise questions to be debated long after the credits have rolled. Through Szegedi, there is the question of redemption, if it can be earned by everyone or if it is even deserved by everyone. Through his grandmother, there is the question of what does it mean to be Jewish and a survivor, and do our survivor’s have a responsibility to remain proud of the heritage, even in the face of horrors, to stand up against anti-Semitism. Whether Szegedi himself is genuine in his desire to reform or not, Keep Quiet transcends his personal journey to force the audience to look at the bigger picture of what it means to be a post-Holocaust Hungarian Jew and the responsibility Jews have to stand proud in order to prevent a second Holocaust.

© Eliana M. Levenson (1/27/16) FF2 Media

Top Photo: A poster for the award-winning documentary, Keep Quiet.

Middle Photo: A close-up of Szegedi, the anti-Semitic right wing fanatic turned Orthodox Jew.

Bottom Photo: Szegedi & Rabbi Oberlander studying together with Szegedi wearing a tallit and tefillin.

Photo Credits: Kino Lorber

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BOY 23

An untold story of WW2, Belisario Franca’s Boy 23 tells the forgotten history of Brazil’s support of Nazism and the horrifying account of one boy’s experience with the racist experiments performed by Nazi sympathizers there. (EML: 3.5/5)

Review by FF2 Associate Eliana M. Levenson

The film begins with a teacher recounting a student’s admission that swastika engraved bricks had been found on a family property. Next, a farmer, recounts his own discovery of similarly engraved bricks and his curiosity to pursue how the bricks had come to be on the property. This leads him to historian, Sidney Aguilar Filho, who tries to piece together the tragic history behind Brazil’s contribution to Nazism.

In his research, Filho discovers a disturbing trend that ties these Nazi branded farms with the transfer of young black boys from surrounding Catholic orphanages. Focusing on this connection, Filho digs deeper into the history of the plantation owners and families that owned the properties discovered to be connected to Nazism. This research leads him to the Rocha Miranda family, an affluent and political family who owned much of the Brazilian countryside at the time.

Using film footage and still photography of the time, Filho explores the society that led to an acceptance and even appreciation of Nazi fascist ideology. Filho discusses Brazil’s sordid past with racism, including its late abolishment of slavery. He acknowledges that the 1920s and 30s were among the most racist in Brazilian history, and that newly freed slaves were still ostracized with no clear social integration plan for this large population of disenfranchised blacks. It is in this climate that eugenics gains popularity as a viable scientific concept.

Through his research, Filho discovers a survivor, Mr. Aloisio Silva, who was transferred from the Romao Duarte Orphanage in Rio De Janeiro to an outlying rural community where he was subjected to eugenic experimentation. With Filho, Mr. Aloisio revisits the orphanage. Though beautiful in architecture, the place clearly holds a darkness that is visible on Mr. Aloisio’s face. As he wanders through the empty halls and rooms, historical footage paints a picture of what the orphanage must have been like during Mr. Aloisio’s stay.

Mr. Aloisio recalls the day that the Rocha Miranda family arrived to choose the boys. He remembers them throwing handfuls of candy at them, watching them clamor for the sweets, not knowing what price they would pay. They were separated into groups, like animals, as the family took their picks.

What happens next is a harrowing exploration of humanity’s darkness. Isolated and disenfranchised, the boys were trapped in the reality of their experience. Kept as slaves, Mr. Aloisio and the other boys were subjected to harsh working conditions and kept on a strict schedule. As Mr. Aloisio recounts his tale, he informs Filho’s continued research into the truth of Brazil’s relationship to Nazism and eugenics.

Filho’s research leads him to another survivor,  Mr. Argemiro Dos Santos. Filho reflects on how both men seem to look back on their tragic childhood differently. While Mr. Argemiro jokes about the hardships, and prides himself on his ability to persevere and overcome, Mr. Aloisio harbors a deep rooted anger and thirst for vengeance.

Quiet and slow, Franca abandons a traditional talking heads style documentary in favor of a more artistic rendering, utilizing scored black & white recreations, historical footage, and still photography to add drama to the personal accounts. However, despite its attempts to add a narrative element, Boy 23 falls into the classic trap of feeling more like a history lecture than a cinematic venture. While Mr. Aloisio’s personal story is tragic, and his pain palpable in his voice and mannerisms, the film itself is a crawling exploration of Brazil’s racial history.

Overall, Franca’s Boy 23 spends too much time on the history of the society, rather than focusing on Mr. Aloisio’s story and his horrifying fate. While the history is informative and important, the pacing of the documentary makes it difficult for the audience to emotionally invest in Mr. Aloisio’s suffering. The constant cuts of artistic shots, aimed at adding drama to the narrative, result mainly in slowing down the storytelling and pulling the audience out of the story itself. While Boy 23 serves a profound purpose in bringing to light this forgotten story of WW2, it would have been more impactful if Franca had allowed Mr. Aloisio’s story to be at the forefront of the narrative throughout to favor an emotional connection over an educational one.

© Eliana M. Levenson FF2 Media (1/17/16)Top Photo: A poster for Boy 23 by Belisario Franca, featuring Mr. Aloisio.

Middle Photo: A historical photo of a young black “farmworker” leading a swastika branded cow.

Bottom Photo: A still of Mr. Aloisio during an emotional interview.

Photo Credits: Elo Company

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ON THE MAP

copy-of-onthemapposterlargeDani Menkin’s On the Map has all the drama and emotion of the classic sports movie, with the added benefit of the real life accounts of Maccabi Tel Aviv’s struggle to achieve basketball greatness in winning the 1977 European Cup. (EML: 4.5/5)

Review by FF2 Associate Eliana M. Levenson

A ball dribbling. The skid of sneakers. The low rumble of the crowd. The energy builds as captions flash across the screen. The rise of basketball prominence across Europe in the wake of World War II.  A sport dominated by three countries: Italy, Spain, and of course, the Soviet Union. That is until that fateful season in 1977.

Wearing their jerseys, the teammates of that 1977 Maccabi team watch old game tape. Just a group of lifelong friends reliving their glory days, reminiscing about the year that they changed history. It’s in their eyes, even after all these years, that sense of accomplishment, that pride. As the footage cuts between game tape and reaction, the audience is wrapped into the experience, feeling that same heart swelling emotion captured in the faces of the men who made it happen.

Structurally, the film is nothing monumental, it follows a linear timeline from the formation of the team, through the team’s challenges, up until that fateful triumph over the entire European tournament in 1977. The team members, most still living, have the opportunity to share firsthand what it was like playing on the Israeli national team, not just in 1977, but in the years prior, when basketball in Israel wasn’t such a big deal.

Most notably, of course, is Tal Brody, an American Jew who had the opportunity to play in the NBA but decided to forgo the US basketball draft in favor of playing for Israel’s fledgling team. By all accounts, Brody was the lifeblood of Maccabi, and his passion for the game and for Israel was an inspiration for the other American Jews who joined the team.onthemap6

As the film traverses the ups and downs of the 1977 season, it pulls in historical moments that inform and impact the understanding of what the championship win actually meant to this fledgling country. Including examples of the Yom Kippur War and the Munich Olympic games, Dani Menkin ties in the European basketball championship into a greater narrative about the role of Israel and Jews on the world stage.

For Maccabi, winning the European championship was not just an athletic triumph, but a political triumph as well. In a time when many countries still refused to accept or acknowledge Israel’s existence; a time when Jews in Eastern Europe, under Soviet control, still were imprisoned in camps; time when the Soviet team repeatedly refused to even participate in a game against the Israelis, the Maccabi victory was a message that Israel was not going to just disappear.

The famous words of Tal Brody’s (and the origin of the film’s name), the concept of Israel being put “on the map, not just in sport, but in everything” are exactly true. Through masterful storytelling, Menkin is able to clearly demonstrate the impact that Maccabi’s victory had, not only on Israel’s sense of self, but on Israel’s recognition and respect throughout the world. Intertwining the narratives of the basketball season with the greater political landscape, the impact of the victory reverberates through the history.

Like any great sports movie, On the Map isn’t just about the game. It’s about the spirit. It’s about the inspiration. It’s about the transformation. Tying the 1977 European Cup win into Israel’s improved status in the world, literally putting Israel on the map, Menkin elevates this simple sports story to something greater. Watching the players relive their victory, for a brief moment eliminates the boundary of time and allows the audience to experience the triumph anew all these years later.

© Eliana M. Levenson FF2 Media (11/29/16)

Top Photo: Poster for Dani Menkin’s On the Map documentary.

Middle Photo: Tal Brody being hoisted up after a victory in Tel Aviv.

Bottom Photo: Moshe Dayan shakes hands with Moti Arosti with Aulcie Pery and Miki Berkovich in the background.

Photo Credits: Shmuel Rahmani

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STEFAN ZWEIG: FAREWELL TO EUROPE

Artistry takes priority over substance in Maria Schrader’s biographical film, Stefan Zweig: Farewell to Europe, which follows the life of Austrian-Jewish author Stefan Zweig during his exile from Europe during World War II. (EML: 3/5)

Review by FF2 Associate Eliana M. Levenson

The film opens with a long, still shot of a floral arrangement. As the camera pulls back, maids set an elaborate and decadent table, clearly for some sort of celebration. Waiters enter and line the ornate walls as the doors are opened and guests begin to pour in. It is unclear at first who to focus is on.

Snippets of conversations about nothing in particular alternate coming to the forefront. Finally, we meet “Stefan Zweig” (Josef Hader), an odd man in mannerisms but commanding in presence who is the guest of honor at the party. It becomes clear that Zweig is an author of great renown, visiting Brazil for a literary conference. However, his trip has a more sinister undertone as he has been rescued and now lives in exile from his home country. Zweig is from Austria--now "reunited" with Germany by Hitler--and World War II is in full swing.

Following the celebration, Zweig holds a private interview with selected media sources. One journalist in particular pushes Zweig to denounce Hitler and the Third Reich, but Zweig refuses. While Schrader does a good job of keeping the tension palpable in this scene, it is her protagonist who comes across poorly, the one on the wrong side of history. Though Zweig’s eloquent rebuttal and refusal is poetic, as a Jewish audience member, this scene makes it difficult to side with, care for, and invest in the protagonist through the rest of the film.

The film continues to follow Zweig’s adventures through Brazil with his young wife “Lotte Zweig” (Aenne Schwarz). They travel as tourists--exalted ones--rather than as refugees who are exiled from a home country that would have murdered them alongside their fellow Jews. In fact, despite a brief car ride discussion of getting immigration papers for a friend’s child in Europe, the Zweigs seem unaffected by the goings on in Europe and the weight of their exile is not felt. 

The true meat of the film, comes in the form of Zweig’s ex-wife, “Friderike Zweig” (Barbara Sukowa). Although it takes a beat to realize who she is in relation to Zweig, her impact is by far the most emotional and palpable. Friderike serves as the “old world” force in the film, the character who brings the full impact of what is happening in Europe upon Zweig and forces him to recognize his privilege and influence. She is the one who reads the letters sent to Zweig asking for his help, all the people begging him to use his position to save lives. She is the one who forces Zweig to remember where he came from and reminds him that he has an obligation to help. She is the one who brings the war to the film and adds an emotional beat to an otherwise floundering story.

Though Friderike’s portion of the film takes place in a New York apartment (where she has landed after being rescued from France by Varian Fry), this is the only part that feels like a World War II film and, even more so, a Jewish film. Her discussions on the role of the Jewish community, even simply through the fact that they have the gorgeous safe house as a result of a Jew they’d only briefly met, is a cutting reminder of what is at stake. Not just the human lives, but the culture and community that those lives are a part of. Without Friderike’s character (and Sukowa’s striking portrayal), the film would be almost devoid of any emotional resonance.

Overall, Schrader’s Stefan Zweig: Farewell to Europe seems more focused on creating visual beauty and imagery than telling a compelling story. Throughout the film, the visuals seem to overpower the narrative and seem to serve as an artistic presentation rather than a substantive character exploration. This lack of narrative focus causes the film to drag and makes it difficult to engage fully with the characters. Only exacerbated through the use of a vignette format, the story is hard to follow and the pieces feel haphazardly placed, often ending abruptly and without conclusion.

Schrader succeeds most in the quiet moments where the visuals alone can convey the story, particularly in the final scene, and there is a quiet confidence to her directing. However,  as far as Stefan Zweig: Farewell to Europe’s place in the list of Jewish World War II films, sadly it falls short of truly expressing the seriousness of its own subject matter in favor of artistic visuals.

© Eliana M. Levenson FF2 Media (11/17/16)

Top Photo: Josef Hader as “Stefan Zweig,” a man in exile alone with his thoughts.

Middle Photo: Aenne Schwarz as “Lotte Zweig” making the best of it during a tour a sugarcane field in Brazil.

Bottom Photo: “Friderike Zweig” (Barbara Sukowa) sits across from her ex-husband as he reads one of the many letters from people desperate to leave Europe.

Photo Credits: Maria Schrader

Q: Does Stefan Zweig: Farewell to Europe pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test?

No. The focus is on Zweig. Others in his life, both male and female, have very limited interactions with one another.

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