Portman says directing Cannes debut film was a challenge

Natalie Portman played a ballerina in the grip of psychological trauma in “Black Swan”, but the Israeli actress said she had lots of support while directing her first film, about the childhood of Israeli intellectual Amos Oz, shown in Cannes.

Portman both directs and stars in “A Tale of Love and Darkness”, based on Oz's autobiographical novel of the same name focusing on his relationship with his mother Fania, who committed suicide when Oz was 12.

Oz's mother, played by Portman, was a Polish Jewish refugee from a moneyed family who felt lost in the poverty and violence in Jerusalem during the period surrounding the formation of the Israeli state in 1948.

In Portman's movie, she yearns for the forests of her childhood and spins fabulous tales to entertain her son, until despair totally darkens her life

“It's been a really incredible experience,” Portman told Reuters in an interview on Sunday, talking about the making of the film which garnered mixed reviews after its screening out of competition at the Cannes International Film Festival.

“It's been really challenging but I think that every challenge has helped me grow more and luckily I've had many people around me – my family, my friends and my crew who helped me so much throughout that I felt so well supported that it was never an existential crisis during it.”

Trade publication Variety called the result a “drearily empathetic” film that would rely on Portman's star power to sell it, while Britain's Guardian called it “a serious, well-made adaptation” of the book.

Asked why she had wanted to direct a film, she said: “The way to feel alive is to change and to try new things, to stimulate yourself, to be afraid, do things you're afraid of.”

Portman said adapting Oz's novel brought the actress closer to the writer and intellectual, who is one of the darlings of the Israeli left and a longtime supporter of the two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“I've gotten to know him more and more throughout the process. Now I feel like family.

“I've played his mother, in a way, so in a strange way it feels like he's my child and I'm so proud of him,” she said.

Over the past 20 years, Portman has appeared in films such as “v for Vendetta”, “Thor” and “Star Wars”, and won an Academy Award for her role in “Black Swan”.

Damian Szifron: Argentina’s very Jewish Oscar nominee

If Damian Szifron’s “Wild Tales” (“Relatos Salvajes” in Spanish) wins an Academy Award on Feb. 22 – it was nominated last week for Best Foreign Film — it will be Argentina’s third Oscar and the first for a film directed by an Argentine Jew.

The film, which combines humor, suspense and violence, consists of six independent segments, many featuring Jewish characters and details taken from Szifron’s life. The final segment revolves around a Jewish wedding, complete with klezmer music.

The film screened in prominent festivals, included Cannes, and, even before getting the Oscar nomination, broke Argentine box-office records, with more than 3.5 million tickets sold. The movie will be screened at the upcoming Sundance festival and will be released in the United States on Feb. 20. Szifron’s film career started in 2003, with “El Fondo del Mar” (“The Bottom of the Sea”), which starred the Jewish Uruguayan actor Daniel Hendler. Szifron’s second film, “Tiempo de Valientes” (“Time of the Courageous”) is about a Jewish psychologist, Mariano Silverstein.

Szifron, 39, had already established himself as a popular TV writer/director before entering the film world. His series, “Los Simuladores” (“The Pretenders”) in 2002 won the Argentine equivalent of the Emmy, the Martin Fierro award for Best TV Series. And broadcasters in Chile, Spain, Mexico and Russia bought the rights to make their own versions of it.

“The Pretenders” featured numerous Jewish characters based on real people from the small Jewish community center, Bet Am del Oeste” (Bet Am of the West), which serves a middle-class Jewish population in the western section of Greater Buenos Aires. In fact, the fictional characters bear the names of real people from Szifron’s childhood.

Szifron was introduced to film as a child through his father, a movie buff, who would take the young Szifron to as many as three, even five, movies a day. The Szifrons were the first members of Bet Am del Oeste Center to have a VHS video player and hosted groups of children for movie-viewings. In addition, as a teen, Szifron studied film at ORT High School and recorded and edited short films with his friends.

“He is a genius. He recorded and edited our homemade movies in the same camera; he edited during the shoots not in a studio,” his friend Gustavo Brodsky (whose name appears in “The Pretenders”) told JTA.

Perhaps his newfound international film clout will enable Szifron to pursue project he mentioned at a Cannes Festival press conference: a film about how his grandfather escaped the Nazis by jumping from a concentration camp-bound train.

Payne’s ‘Nebraska’ a small-town triumph

Imagine what a movie showcasing an ordinary, lukewarm existence might look like. One without mobs or crooked cops and the only color in the characters’ lives is the blue on their collar. Worse still, life is totally ordinary and you live in Billings, Montana. Your great romantic tragedy is a Billings, Montana girlfriend calling it quits because you’re unsure about a Billings, Montana marriage. She’s pushing 250 lbs. You’re content selling Bose speakers in Billings, Montana to “Ja-neece, not Janice” and your physically and socially mangled father convinced you to drive 850 miles because of a promotional scam. Then you drive back to Billings, Montana.

But Nebraska is welcome proof that not every movie demands glorified escapism found in storied timepieces, fluorescent boxing rings and Ryan Gosling. Grounding films that don’t titillate our grandiose visions of a sexy, high-flying fantasy where we’re permanently 32 and going to dinner parties with 40 of our closest friends, or defending Father’s honor by slaying a Smaug with hellfire swords. What about the simple, the archaic, the white bread? What about the stripped down story of people being people? There is a home for the acoustic version, and as the great sushi maestro Jiro says, “There is purity in simplicity.”

Illuminating the subtle details of human framework is a tough skill to hone and a tougher one to sell. Even with his stellar resume, Alexander Payne had some trouble getting the measly $13 million to fund Nebraska, an unassuming movie with immense gratification. Pitching a screenplay about a washed-up alcoholic Korean War vet driving from Montana to Nebraska wouldn’t exactly scream goldmine, and adding his black and white plans for the film certainly didn’t help. But Payne had long wanted to make a black and white movie; in fact he says most of the movies he watches are in black and white. “Chroma” as he calls it, allowed Nebraska’s colors of human honesty to shine through without the distraction of a color scheme pulling from the more subtle senses. Employing non-actors as well as actors for added authenticity, they shot the route – from Billings to Lincoln – in less than six weeks.

Nebraska is a film that appreciates the subdued spots in life, the no-glitz all-salt moments. It’s a place in our hearts everyone knows, whether it’s visiting a great uncle with hearing problems and a 1960 RCA TV or remembering how your grammy pronounced “fooleeshness.” There are only more of those moments to come as the years go by, and a reminder to celebrate the tender silences of egg salad and Miracle Whip sandwiches is appreciated. Nebraska brings us home. It’s also relentlessly funny.

Woody Grant (Bruce Dern), an 80-something malcontent with a passion for trucks, sauce and brevity, is hell-bent on getting to Lincoln, Nebraska to cash in a notice for a $1 million sweepstakes prize he received in the mail. “We are now authorized to pay one million dollars to Woodrow T. Grant, Billings, Montana,” he reads with stubborn pride to his youngest son David (Will Forte). He keeps the winning letter in his front shirt pocket at all times, bearing his dentures to anyone who tries talking him down from his pre-hatched million dollar throne. But his wife (June Squibb) and eldest son (Bob Odenkirk) aren’t interested in entertaining Woody’s naïve delusions (“They can’t print it if it isn’t true!”), so nourishing his father’s wide-eyed hopes of a new truck and new air compressor with cash to spare falls on David’s hesitant shoulders. An impromptu visit to Hawthorne along the way, his parents’ hometown, paves the way for father and son to reconnect … kind of.

A known Payne mantra is that 90 percent of directing is casting, and that percentage really held up its end of the deal. What Forte and Dern lack in on-screen chemistry is made up in the fluidity of and devotion to their performance. It’s not easy for actors to downplay their acting, but you won’t find grand demonstrations of dramatic emotions or outrageous situational gimmicks in Nebraska because they aren’t called for. We’re undersold, which is what closes the deal. Forte drops a couple gleefully sarcastic one-liners to curb tension, but for the most part MacGruber keeps the funny business to a minimum. The revered Stacy Keach as Woody’s boyhood frenemy doles out his usual powerhouse prominence, and Dern won the Best Actor award at Cannes for his role. Squibb as Woody’s harping wife Kate, the self-described “only sane one in this family,” delivers a hoot of a performance, combining endearment and raunch with minimal effort.

One scene, however, garnering a fair amount of attention has her visiting family headstones at a cemetery with Woody and David, gossiping about the late loved ones’ more regrettable qualities. All light and harmless until, while standing over the headstone of a man she claims (as she often does), wanted to get in her knickers, she pulls up her skirt and hollers about what might have been.

All right, I get it. How fun, how silly coming from a cute old woman. And had intuitive subtlety not reigned supreme in Nebraska, the gratuitousness of the scene might not have bothered me. But looking at that scene, then looking at the sensitive acting and directing footwork of David with his dad at the car lot, for example, I felt the chumminess didn’t quite belong. It’s morsels like the disarming “C’mon, have a beer with your old man. Be somebody!” and the damaged “I was there” after Woody is asked about a family loss that epitomize the integrity of Nebraska. It shows a trust in the audience that far too few movies do. The spectacularly candid scene in Hawthorne with the extended family men watching football, humming lazily about the ’79 Buick a brother used to own is another one of many that celebrates the honesty in mundanity.

“Those cars never stop running … what happened to it?”

“Stopped runnin’.”

“Yeah … They’ll do that.”

I’ll just say it, this is one of my favorite movies in a long time. There’s an almost therapeutic quality to it – watching the pair drive down long stretches of black and white road, not saying much; listening to gray-haired Hawthornians talk foot afflictions and court-ordered community service; reveling in Woody’s laughably indignant nature brought on by decades of drinking. (Fortunately he’s not drinking anymore, though. Beer ain’t drinkin’.)

Its patience is calming, and its heart is pure. Amid the Secret Ron Burgundy of Wall Street Hustle, don’t let this one get away.

$1.3 million reward offered for information in Leviev jewelry heist

An insurance company is offering a $1.3 million reward for clues leading to the recovery of stolen diamonds and jewels owned by Israeli billionaire Lev Leviev.

The $136 million in jewelry was stolen July 28 from a resort in Cannes, France, where it was part of an exhibition on the Leviev diamond house.

“A reward of up to 1,000,000 euros pro rata is offered to the first person who provides information which leads to recovery of the goods,” SW Associates, a Paris-based loss adjuster and risk manager working for Lloyd’s of London, said in a statement issued Tuesday.

The statement, with photographs of some of the stolen goods — two diamond rings, a brooch and a necklace — will be published in the French newspapers Le Parisien and Nice-Matin, and the International Herald Tribune, Reuters reported.

A masked gunman stole the diamonds and jewels from an exhibition at the Carlton Hotel. The thief threatened the exhibition staff and visitors, filled a briefcase with the jewels and fled in an operation that lasted about a minute, police told the AP.

Private security guards had protected the exhibit.

The French hotel’s display about the Leviev diamond house had been scheduled to run through August.

Von Trier questioned over Cannes ‘Hitler speech’

Director Lars von Trier was questioned by Danish police for saying at the Cannes Film Festival that he had sympathy for Hitler.

Inciting racial hatred and justification of war crimes is illegal under French law.

Von Trier said Wednesday in a statement released by his publicists that he was questioned. He added,  “Due to these serious accusations, I have realized that I do not possess the skills to express myself unequivocally and I have therefore decided from this day forth to refrain from all public statements and interviews.”

The Danish director had said during a news conference at Cannes in May that “I really wanted to be a Jew, and then I found out that I was really a Nazi because, you know, my family was German, which also gave me some pleasure.

“What can I say? I understand Hitler, but I think he did some wrong things, yes, absolutely. But I can see him sitting in his bunker in the end. He’s not what you would call a good guy, but I understand much about him and I sympathize with him a little bit. But come on, I’m not for the Second World War, and I’m not against Jews. I am very much for Jews. No, not too much, because Israel is a pain in the ass.”

Von Trier was declared a persona non grata and removed from the festival.

“Holocaust survivors were offended by Von Trier’s vile and insensitive remarks but do not believe he harbors pro-Nazi sympathies that merit criminal prosecution,” Elan Steinberg, vice president of the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants, said in a statement Wednesday.

“He is guilty of bad taste in the quest for cheap self-promotion, and for this he should be condemned and exposed. His lack of concern for the traumatized victims of Nazi brutality is disgraceful.

“Nevertheless,” Steinberg said, “his behavior is more childish than criminal. He should grow up.”

Not Mel Gibson

Will the real anti-Semite please stand up?

Is it: a) Mel Gibson; b) Oliver Stone; c) John Galliano; d) Charlie Sheen; e) Lars von Trier — or (f) all of the above?

Trying to determine the worst offender may seem a Sisyphean task considering the past year’s almost farcical uptick in anti-Semitic rants. It’s like separating your least favorite jelly beans from an overstuffed crate. But to their credit as artists, this bunch has at least provided Jew-hating vitriol so colorful and diverse, no one will get bored with the same bean (OK, Mel, you get to be the exception). 

There isn’t anything new about anti-Semitism in Hollywood — the very idea of the entertainment industry is a recurring theme in the “Jewish-cabal-runs-the-world” plot, but the past year has provided such a diverse array of offensive things to say about Jews, the verbal wreckage is worth sifting through. Not all anti-Semites are created equal.

To recap: Last fall, Stone blamed Jewish media domination for a misunderstood view of Hitler: “Hitler did far more damage to the Russians than the Jewish people”; earlier this spring, Galliano called a woman in a Parisian restaurant a “dirty Jew face” and on another occasion was caught on video verbally assaulting guests at a neighboring table: “I love Hitler. People like you would be dead today. Your mothers, your forefathers, would all be f———gassed”; and then that mad hatter Charlie Sheen degraded his sitcom boss Chuck Lorre, calling him a “clown,” a “turd,” a “contaminated little maggot” and — worst of all — by his Hebrew name, Chaim Levine.

Maybe jelly beans are too kind a metaphor. None of those diatribes is particularly sweet; all are distasteful. But there is a difference between saying something stupid and naive and saying something hateful.

Now I’m going to say something that may sound stupid and naive: Lars von Trier is not an anti-Semite.

Last week, the Danish director disrupted the revelry on the Cote d’Azur with a very bizarre ramble at the Cannes Film Festival. During a press conference for his latest film, the apocalyptic “Melancholia,” which was in competition for the top prize (it didn’t win, but star Kirsten Dunst got an acting nod), von Trier was asked about his German roots and about an interview he once gave citing his “admiration for the Nazi aesthetic.”

“I thought I was a Jew for a long time and was very happy being a Jew,” von Trier told a conference room full of international reporters. “And then I found out I was really a Nazi, because my family was German, which also gave me some pleasure. So I’m kind of … yep … what can I say? I understand Hitler. But I think he did some wrong things, yes, absolutely. … He’s not what you would call ‘a good guy,’ but I understand much about him, and I sympathize with him a little. I’m not against Jews — no. … I am of course very much for Jews — no, not too much, because the Israelis are a pain in the ass. …”

Finally realizing he had buried himself deep in the jelly bean jar and consequently mortified his cast, who flanked him on both sides, the bumbling von Trier wondered: “How can I get out of this sentence?”

Uh, too late.

Von Trier’s flippant ramble instantly made headlines, hijacking the spotlight from his film (and all other films), and within 24 hours, the festival officially banned the director, declaring him persona non grata. He immediately recanted: “If I have hurt someone by the words I said at the press conference, I sincerely apologize. I am not anti-Semitic or racially prejudiced in any way, nor am I a Nazi.” And later, for good measure, he added, “I’m known for provocations, but I like provocations when they have a purpose, and this had no purpose whatsoever. Because I’m not Mel Gibson. I’m definitely not Mel Gibson.”

As an artist, von Trier is certainly iconoclastic, known for edgy and visually evocative films. The Bjork-headlining musical “Dancer in the Dark,” about a blind woman who escapes despair by daydreaming elaborate musical numbers, won him the Palme d’Or in 2000, Cannes’ top prize. His 2009 entry, the uber-raunchy “Antichrist,” generated heat for its portrayal of female genital mutilation and lots of gratuitous sex. For his next project, von Trier has promised … porn.

The zany director isn’t always so sane. After his banishment, von Trier declared himself “proud” to be cast out and invited anyone who was displeased with him to hit him — the caveat was that he might “enjoy it.”

Even the Anti-Defamation League’s Abe Foxman seemed somewhat puzzled by von Trier, calling his comments “insensitive” while calling attention to his frailties.

“He seems to be struggling with some personal ghosts,” Foxman said in a statement. “I don’t know what to make of it, except that what we’re seeing recently is, when somebody has a personal problem or is under intense pressure, it bursts out in an anti-Semitic fashion.” (Hear that, Charlie Sheen?)

The Hollywood reporter Mike Fleming was less charitable. “If there was a festival prize for Biggest Douchebag, von Trier wins, hands down,” he wrote on the entertainment blog Deadline.com.

I can think of a few Yiddish words that might fit, too. One rhymes with “buck.”

But unlike his anti-Semitic-spewing brethren, von Trier’s prattle was not hostile; he used no slang nor slurs, nor threatening language.

In fact, if the vulgar von Trier committed any offense, it was in downplaying the Dictator of Mass Destruction. It’s fine to feel you “understand Hitler” as a man, or as a character — von Trier is, after all, a filmmaker — but to say that the engineer of the greatest mass murder in recent history did “some wrong things” and is “not what you would call ‘a good guy’ ” is wildly misguided. That kind of talk blunts the man’s accomplishments — Hitler would find it insulting.

Foxman got it right when he spoke of personal ghosts. It seems von Trier is unlikely to be a danger to Jewish welfare, but he is a danger to himself.

“I got carried away,” he told The New York Times last Friday, from a hotel five miles north of Cannes. “I feel this obligation, which is completely stupid and very unprofessional, to kind of entertain the crowd a little bit.”

If further proof is needed that von Trier has peculiar ideas about entertainment, watch his movies. Much of his subject matter could only emerge from a dark and tormented mind. The “Melancholia” director is truly melancholy.

“I had actually been drinking quite a lot, but now I’m sober,” he told Times reporter Dennis Lim. “I would suggest to everybody, don’t stop drinking. If I had been [drinking], I would be almost asleep at the press conference and would not have said those stupid things.”

Israeli director Cedars awarded at Cannes

Israeli director Joseph Cedars won the best screenplay award at the Cannes film festival for his movie “Footnote.”

The director, whose film “Beaufort” was nominated for an Oscar in 2007, had already left Cannes on Sunday and was called back to receive his prize. He did not return in time to personally accept the award.

“Footnote” centers on a father and son who are rival Talmudic scholars. It will open throughout Israel on June 2 and will be distributed in the United States by Sony.

Cannes faced controversy after Danish director Lars von Trier was expelled from the festival following statements expressing sympathy for Hitler and Nazis. His film, “Melancholia,” had been favored to win the Palme d’Or prize for best picture. Kirsten Dunst won the Best Actress Award for her part in the film; it did not win any other prizes.

Israeli film ‘Waltz With Bashir’ has an anti-war beat

“Waltz With Bashir” is a startling hybrid of a movie vehicle which came from behind to become Israel’s entry for Oscar honors, announced last month, and may well pull another surprise when the Academy Award for best foreign-language film is announced.

The oddly titled film combines state-of-the-art animation, an anti-war documentary theme and a psychoanalytic approach to recover the memory of a traumatized Israeli soldier.

The mixture may sound odd, but it comes together as an integrated and haunting autobiographical movie, which will be screened for the first time locally on Nov. 1 at the American Film Institute Fest 2008.

Ari Folman, the film’s writer, director and producer, is also its central character as a 20-year-old infantryman, whose unit spearheaded the Israeli advance into Lebanon in June 1982 with the announced goal of stopping incursions and rocket attacks on northern Galilee towns by the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Going beyond the original Israeli plan to establish a 25-mile buffer zone in southern Lebanon, Folman’s Golani Brigade is ordered to the outskirts of Beirut, awaiting orders to take the city.

In confusing night actions and bitter street fighting, the young soldiers encounter fear and death. Their sometime allies are the Christian Phalangist militia, led by the young, charismatic Bashir Gemayel. (The film takes its title from a scene in which an Israeli soldier, dodging bullets while crossing a Beirut street, goes through strange, waltz-like motions, while huge posters of Gemayel look down.)

When Gemayel is killed in an explosion, the revered leader’s militia takes over the Sabra and Shatila Palestinian refugee camps on the outskirts of Beirut, while Israeli soldiers, including Folman, are positioned around the camps’ perimeters.

The trailer

After three nights of killings, shell-shocked civilians stumble out of the camps, leaving behind murdered corpses, whose estimated numbers range from 700 to 3,000.

The years pass, and one day Folman meets a former army buddy who talks about a strange, recurring dream, rooted in his battlefield experiences, and Folman realizes that he remembers nothing of his own actions in the war.

He decides to seek out six veterans from his old unit, a TV journalist who covered the war, and an expert on post-traumatic stress disorder, to help him restore old memories.

To create his script, Folman said in an interview that he recorded the witnesses’ stories on video and cut the recollections down to 90 minutes. Next, his team created a storyboard and 2,300 illustrations, which were turned into animation through a combination of Flash, classical animation and 3D.

Speaking by phone from his Haifa home, Folman said that his production costs were $2 million, mostly underwritten by Israeli, French and German film funds. When he exhausted the grants, he mortgaged his home and took out a large loan.

During the four years that went into the making of “Waltz,” the psychological and financial strains were unrelenting, Folman recalled, not made easier by the birth of his three children during that period.

Folman said that there was never any question in his mind that the film would be animated, noting, “If you look at all the elements, the dreams, the hallucinations, the surrealism of war itself, that’s the only way I could make it work.”

Only in the last 50 seconds of the 87-minute film does Folman switch to newsreel footage to show the bloody toll of the Phalangists’ massacre.

“I didn’t want the people in the audience to come out feeling that they had seen a film with some really cool animation and great music,” Folman explained.

The film is infused with Folman’s conviction that war is senseless and his visceral dislike of Israel’s leadership during the Lebanon War, particularly of Ariel Sharon, then minister of defense.

So intense is Folman’s feeling that he sees his film as a kind of legacy for his young sons, so when the time comes, “They will make the right decision, meaning not to take part in any war, whatsoever.”

On questioning, he qualified the statement by saying that it referred to Israel’s two Lebanon wars and America’s invasion of Iraq, but not to such “defensive” battles as the Six-Day and Yom Kippur wars.

“Waltz With Bashir” won high praise at the Cannes, Toronto and New York film festivals, and, perhaps more surprisingly, in its home country.

The Israeli government’s film fund subsidized the movie, there was no criticism from the political right, and only some on the left objected that the film’s anti-war message wasn’t strong enough.

“Israelis are very tolerant toward their artists,” Folman said.

AFI will screen “Waltz With Bashir” on Nov. 1 at 3:45 p.m. and again Nov. 7 at 7 p.m., both at the Arclight Theatre in Hollywood. The film will be released in general theaters on Dec. 25.

Other titles at the AFI Fest (Oct. 30 – Nov. 9) on Jewish themes or by Jewish filmmakers include “Acne,” “Adam Resurrected,” “Defiance” and “Of All the Things.”

For ticket and other information, visit http://www.afi.com/afifest or phone (886) AFI-FEST.

Israeli films take a lead role at Cannes

Against a backdrop of threatening skies, clearly not a metaphor for the future of Israel’s film industry, two Israeli feature films premiered on May 15, opening day of the 61st Cannes Film Festival. And a short by Israeli student filmmaker Elad Keidan took first prize in the Cinefondation, a competition supporting new talent.

The highly anticipated “Waltz With Bashir,” by established documentarian but first-time Cannes invitee Ari Folman, made its international debut as one of 22 films in the official competition, alongside features by Clint Eastwood, the Dardenne brothers and Steven Soderbergh.

Four years in the making, with 2,300 original illustrations transformed into a combination of Flash, classic and 3-D animation, the anti-war film, “Waltz,” chronicles Folman’s very personal experiences as a young Israeli soldier during the 1982 Lebanon War. He excavated his own traumatic but buried memories by questioning nine fellow soldiers about their recollections, specifically those recollections surrounding the massacre at the Sabra and Satila Palestinian refugee camps.

“Coming to think about it, it’s all about memory, it’s about lost memory, it’s about repression, it’s about where do our memories go when we repress them. Do they still live in us?” Folman said at a Cannes press conference following the premier.

On the same day, “Shiva,” by the well-known brother and sister filmmaking team, Shlomi and Ronit Elkabetz, was selected to open the parallel and prestigious International Critics’ Week festival, running May 15 through May 23.

A French-Israeli co-production, also known as “Les Sept Jours,” this is the second film written and directed by the Elkabetz siblings, with the role of Vivianne acted by Ronit Elkabetz. The film follows the large, extended Ohaion family as they mourn the sudden death of Maurice — husband, son, brother and father — by sitting shiva according to the cloistered and regimented Moroccan tradition.

The film takes place against the backdrop of the 1991 Gulf War. In fact, hearing the familiar siren, the family dons gas masks while reciting the Mourner’s Kaddish at the cemetery. Then, confined to Maurice’s house for the full seven days — with all the mourners sleeping on the floor in one room every night — the family soon becomes consumed by internecine feuds, affairs and business failures.

Second in a trilogy, the film continues to follow the relationship of Vivianne and Eliyau, now estranged 10 years after “To Take a Wife,” their first film. According to Shlomi Elkabetz, their third film is tentatively planned take place a decade later, at the end of last century. However, when asked during a Cannes press conference if the couple will be divorced, he replied, “We can’t speak about that.”

But both siblings did speak enthusiastically about the current strengths of the Israeli cinema in general, believing that it is moving forward in a constant direction.

“We don’t need to imitate American films or European films,” Ronit Elkabetz said in French, through a translator. “We are faithful to our own psyche and this will strengthen progressively.”

Katriel Schory, executive director the Israel Film Fund and, among other duties, responsible for promoting Israeli films outside the country, cites “Waltz With Bashir” and “Shiva” as continued proof of Israel’s formidable reputation in the international film scene. In fact, he said that a fierce battle for “Waltz With Bashir” was waged between executives of the Berlinale (Berlin International Film Festival) and Cannes.

Last year, Eran Kolirin’s film, “The Band’s Visit,” which stars Ronit Elkabetz and which debuted in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard category, won the Coup de Coeur Award and continues to sell tickets briskly worldwide. Additionally, Etgar Keret and Shira Geffen’s film, “Jellyfish,” premiering in the International Critics’ Week festival, garnered the Camera d’Or Award.

“There is something in the stories, something in the talent and many people and many producers would like to be associated with the talent coming out of Israel,” Schory said, adding that Israeli films sold about 2.9 million tickets worldwide in 2007.

But the presence of these Israeli full-length features and established filmmakers at Cannes is only half the story.

Two student films were selected to appear as part of the Cinefondation, which solicits nominations from film schools across the world, motivating and supporting the upcoming generation of filmmakers. This year 17 films were chosen from more than 1,200 submissions.

Student filmmaker Keidan traveled to Cannes for the May 21 Cinefondation premier of his 36-minute film, “Anthem,” which he wrote and directed as his graduation project for Jerusalem’s Sam Spiegel Film and Television School, and which is the first Israeli film to take top prize in this competition, established in 1998.

“Anthem,” known as “Himnon” in Hebrew, is the story of a middle-aged character, Amnon, who goes to the store to buy milk before Shabbat falls on Jerusalem’s Katamon neighborhood. Then, from this small episode, everything goes wrong, until “it ends with a Shabbat element,” Keidan said, not revealing the details.

Keidan describes Amnon as an aging beatnik who lets life happen to him. “The film is an Israeli low-budget ‘Big Lebowski,'” he said.

A believer in independent films, Keidan would like to create more of them, both short ones, which he compares to poetry, and eventually an independent feature. And while he is currently restricted to low-budget films, he said he is influenced by Samuel Beckett and Billy Wilder, among other filmmakers, as well as by Iranian art films.

Winning first place is a “life-changer,” Keidan said. It guarantees distribution and exposure for “Anthem,” as well as a showing of his first feature film at the Cannes Festival.

“I have many, many ideas,” he said. “It’s like having many crying babies on your shoulder and deciding which one to soothe first.”

Keidan hopes that being in Cannes has helped him meet people and get his name around. Imitating his film, which he describes as serious but with humor, he said, “I hope to become the sole friend of Steven Spielberg.”

“Silence,” written and directed by Hadar Morag, 25, a fourth-year student at Tel Aviv University’s film and television department, was also chosen to premier in the Cinefondation’s competition, on May 23.

Next Year in Cannes

It’s a tough thing trying to arrange a Shabbat dinner at the Cannes Film Festival.

My friend, Scott Einbinder, had gotten the idea two years ago, during my first trip to the festival. At first, I was hesitant. I was focused on business, a filmmaker obsessed with my career. Plus, I was perfectly happy to twiddle my thumbs alone in my hotel room all Shabbat.

Einbinder, who is less observant, had to convince me, a “Young Israel” Jew, that this was a good idea. What better way to escape the madness and deal-making of the festival, he argued, than by joining together with friends for a Shabbat Friday night dinner?

I stayed skeptical. Would people be willing to spend $90 to attend a dinner without music, when they could instead be dancing it up with Paris Hilton at the MTV party?

We sent out e-mails, hired a five-star party planner and lo and behold, 42 people showed up. Einbinder flew in Rabbi Mendel Schwartz and his wife, Esther, of the Chai Center for spiritual leadership, and we invited the local Chabad rabbi to welcome the crowd. Steve Kaplan, our co-host, arranged free use of a magnificent villa, and our inaugural event was a great success.

This year, we wanted to do it bigger and better. Our goal was to double the number of guests. The rabbis joined as hosts, as did Hollywood heavyweights Craig Emanuel and Joan Hyler.

Unfortunately, the villa was not available. Rumor had it that Lenny Kravitz was staying there, and although Jewish, Shabbat dinner was not on his itinerary. Our party planner spent several months trying to find an alternate venue and eventually found a quaint, beachfront restaurant a few minutes walk from the hustle and bustle of the festival. The Chabad rabbi worked his kosher magic, and we hired one of the best chefs in town.

The response was great, everything was set and we were on our way to Cannes — then the bad news came. The restaurant bailed. Seems it wasn’t thrilled with the sweetheart deal we had negotiated and was talking to another party with a fatter wallet. Welcome to Cannes.

Our dream dinner was turning into a disaster. Fortunately, Einbinder was already in Cannes. Along with the Chabad rabbi — who no doubt threatened the wrath of God — they convinced the restaurant owner to honor the negotiated price. We were back in production.

Cannes is hard to describe. Its beauty is unparalleled, its ambiance is magical, full of romance and excitement. Most of all, people who travel there have a sense of jubilation.

We spent Friday recruiting a few more guests to the Shabbat dinner. I bumped into veteran producer Arthur Cohn, who unfortunately couldn’t make the walk to the restaurant but was so excited, he wrote a check for two seats just so he could somehow participate.

On my way to the dinner, I pulled aside two eager, young British paparazzi who were hanging out in front of the Carlton Hotel. I told them that although Tom Hanks and Penelope Cruz would not be attending, our Shabbat dinner was a unique party not to be missed. For a nominal fee and the promise of delicious kosher food and wine, they agreed to shoot the event until sundown.

As the sun started to set, guests trickled into the party. Twilight in Cannes is always beautiful, the calm waters adding to the tranquility of the Shabbat. About 15 guests huddled for a quick prayer service, while others circled the hors d’oéuvres and posed for photos. Shabbat candles were lit and Kiddush recited. Then it was off to the requisite buffet.

More than 80 studio executives, producers, directors, lawyers, agents, distributors and rabbis all enjoyed a Shabbat dinner together in the south of France. For some, Shabbat was a new experience. For others, a weekly ritual. Still for others, it was simply another networking event.

But amid all the business talk, I couldn’t help but notice that this Shabbat experience was transforming business acquaintances into friends, strangers into family — from all over the globe, Jew or non-Jew, Reform or Orthodox, Sephardic or Ashkenazi, it didn’t matter. In a town that evokes images of Bridget Bardot in a bikini and Pamela Anderson in “Barb Wire” leather, we were infusing Cannes with Kiddush, conversation and tranquility — the very essence of Shabbat.

After a few short speeches and probably a few too many l’chaims, the delicious dinner was over. Everyone was happy and vowing to bring more friends next year. One woman came up to me and proclaimed that she would return to Cannes next year “if only to experience such a Shabbat again.”

One guest was so moved that he said he was making plans to throw his son a bar mitzvah party so he can share with him the experience of his Jewish tradition.

The next few days were very gratifying for all of us. We were the talk of Cannes. As we walked the Croisette, familiar Hollywood faces stopped us and promised they’d come next year

I even found myself next to Paris Hilton at a party. She’d heard all about the dinner. “I’ll attend if I have a Jewish boyfriend next year,” she told me.

I’m available!

I got into the movie business because I thought movies could change the world. I’m not sure if my movies will ever change the world, but I know that our Shabbat dinner certainly affected a few people.

There may be a lot of stress and aggravation in planning a Shabbat dinner in Cannes, but I know it was biggest Kiddush Hashem, sanctification of God’s name, I had ever been involved with. Next year, we plan to have an even more spectacular event. Who knows? Maybe Lenny Kravitz will sing with us.

Max Gottlieb is a film producer living in Los Angeles. If you would like to be placed on the invitation list, e-mail snowmax@comcast.net.

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Israelis Do the Riviera

Amid the celebrities and paparazzi crowding the Cannes Film Festival last week, Katriel Schory roamed the bustling boulevard Croisette like a proud parent.

“Israeli cinema has never had such a presence here,” Schory, director of the Israel Film Fund, said via the cell phone that seems attached to his ear.

Yes, Moshe Mizrahi was nominated for the top prize with his 1972 romantic drama, “I Love You, Rosa,” and Amos Gitai competed five times with his edgy, political films, winning a 2000 award for “Kippur.”

“But I’ve attended this festival for 30 years, and we have a higher profile now than ever,” Schory said. “We’re receiving unprecedented recognition in multiple sections of Cannes.”

The evidence may not appear earth-shattering by Hollywood or Cannes standards. By the time the 12-day extravaganza ends on May 28, almost 1,500 movies from more than 90 countries will have screened in the world’s largest international film festival and market. Yet, for the small but growing Israeli film industry, the progress is dramatic, Schory said. The festival will showcase 15 movies — up from nine in 2005 — some during the first-ever Israel film day, he added.

Two Israeli students, selected by a jury that includes American director Tim Burton, will vie against 15 peers in Cannes’ student competition, perhaps the most prestigious of its kind in the world.

Meanwhile, 40-something auteur Dover Kosashvili (“Late Marriage”), was bustling to meetings with more than 60 financiers — part of a 2006 festival program to help 18 promising directors complete new projects.

On the ground floor of the Palais des Festivals, visitors were streaming to Israel’s official booth, according to Schory: “People are asking, ‘What’s cooking?’ ‘What are the new titles?’ It’s completely different than even several years ago, when once in a while someone used to stop by.”

Schory said he is being wooed by leaders of other international film festivals, who previously ignored him.

“I used to have to beg them to take our movies,” he recalls. “But this year, the Locarno people insisted that I come to their party and that they want a closer relationship with us. And just a couple hours ago, the woman who schedules the Venice festival came up to me and said she wanted to talk as soon as possible about the latest crop of Israeli films.”

Schory’s Israel Film Fund finances up to 70 percent of all Israeli films with his annual budget of $7 million. He has theories about why Israeli cinema is generating interest at home and abroad.

Back in the 1980s, he said, homegrown cinema revolved around the Middle East conflict, a subject too specific to generate foreign sales. Even Israelis were sick of the topic from the news. In the 1990s, filmmakers focused on what Schory calls “navel-gazing” — movies so tediously personal they bored everyone. (Not to mention that the production values and storylines needed work, critics have said.)

In 1998, less than 1 percent of Israelis bothered to see Israeli films: “Our industry was practically dead,” Schory said.

Then came a new crop of artists armed with superior technical skills they had learned at Israel’s blossoming film schools or by working in the country’s bourgeoning TV industry.

“These directors are focusing on intimate dramas dealing with universal, day to day problems — family and social issues that are part of the life of every human being,” Schory said.

Kosashvili’s 2001 drama, “Late Marriage,” about a man torn between his lover and his immigrant family, was the first such film to “pull us out of our slump,” Schory recalls. It didn’t hurt, either, that the Los Angeles Times called “Marriage’s” hottest sex scene “the longest and most erotic, tender and passionate ever to occur in a serious film.”

The drama not only drew some 300,000 Israeli viewers, compared to around 15,000 for previous films; it also earned a slot in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard competition.

Also in 2001, France signed a co-production agreement with Israel that to date has generated 15 films, including Eran Riklis’ searing and highly acclaimed “The Syrian Bride.” Three years later, American distributors bought 9 of the 20 films produced in 2004, said Meir Fenigstein of the Israel Film Festival.

And Israeli movies sold 2.5 million tickets abroad — 1 million of them in France — the following year.

Many of the new directors depict unflinching critiques of Israeli society, a trend now reflected at Cannes. Yaniv Berman’s 30-minute student short, “Even Kids Started Small,” for example, dissects violence at public schools (see sidebar). Yuval Shafferman’s “Things Behind the Sun” depicts a family paralyzed by secrets.

Kosashvili’s new project, “Kishta,” is another kind of domestic drama, an erotic love triangle set in the third century. Cannes officials are providing invaluable help to the director and his producers as they hustle to raise the additional $3 million they’ll need to shoot the $4 million drama.

“The festival has set up meetings with bigwigs we would not have been able to get on our own,” producer Edgard Tenenbaum said by cell phone between appointments. “It’s also great because we don’t have to fly around the world to pitch.”

All this despite ongoing resentment toward Israel due to the Palestinian conflict — especially in European nations such as France. Schory believes this is one

case where art — and cash — transcend politics.

“No one invests in movies for philanthropic reasons or for any special affection for the Jewish state,” he said. “They invest because they’ve seen Israeli movies sell tickets, and they believe they can recoup their money.”

Not that politics are completely absent from the festival; they never are, he adds. Schory cites a panel discussion he just attended in which a Tunisian producer grilled him about the status of Israeli Arab directors.

Palestinian filmmaker Elia Suleiman, of the controversial suicide bombing saga, “Paradise Now,” is a judge in the top competition this year.

“That won’t affect us, because Israeli films aren’t participating,” Schory said. “But I don’t think Suleiman could be objective about an Israeli film.”

Even so, he adds, Jewish and Arab filmmakers are at least talking to each other, if only to lament the obstacles to co-production.

“At the end of the day, film is a universal language,” Schory said.

And with that, he headed off to meetings at the end of his day.


School Violence Goes Extreme

A teacher’s severed head drawn on a classroom blackboard, a student methodically emptying the shelves of the school library onto the floor, school phone lines that suddenly go dead — these and other unsettling signs appear early on in Yaniv Berman’s 2005 film “Even Kids Started Small,” which depicts the nightmarish takeover of a suburban junior high by the pupils.

On May 26, the 30-minute film will be screened at the Cannes film festival’s Cinefondation competition, together with 14 other international student films.

“Even Kids Started Small” was Berman’s graduation project for his master’s in fine arts, which he recently received from Tel Aviv University’s department of film and television. The film transpires over the course of one school day, during which the pupils turn a well-kept middle-class school into an inferno in which every teacher is suddenly in danger. As a clock on the film screen ticks away the hours, the teachers are subjected to gratuitous and shocking violence that not all of them manage to survive. The film’s title pays homage to German director Werner Herzog’s 1970 film, “Even Dwarfs Started Small,” in which a group of dwarfs takes over the institution in which they live.

Berman said he made the film as a commentary on the current state of the Israeli education system — in which violence among students and between students and teachers has reached unprecedented extremes according to a 2006 Education Ministry study. The study, which the Jerusalem Post reported on in February, said that almost half of all students describe their schools as violent; about one-third say they have felt unsafe at school and more than 15 percent of students have threatened teachers.

Katriel Schory of the Israel Film Fund said the movie reflects escalating crime in Israeli society, triggered by the decline of the welfare system, increased poverty and a clash of immigrant cultures, among other factors.

“The situation is creating a lot of unrest in the country and filmmakers are tackling these issues,” he said.

In contrast to the accepted conventions of the horror film genre, Berman’s fictional film — which was shot on location at a Ra’anana school — is eerily silent and illuminated by a bright, sinister light. During one scene, one of the pupils locks the principal in her office and threatens her with a knife.

“On the day the movie was about to be screened for the first time, I heard about a real pupil who locked his principal in the school basement,” Berman said. “This is a film which is by extension about an entire culture falling apart. Yet after speaking to numerous teachers who told me about their real-life teaching experiences I felt like my film actually wasn’t shocking enough.”

Berman said his film was intended as a wake-up call to the education system.

“The system’s lack of determination endows kids and their parents with a tremendous amount of power,” he said. “Yet this is a very radical film which really leaves no place for hope. It talks about the need for such an extreme overhaul of the system that chances are will never take place.”

While making “Even Kids Started Small” Berman also worked on a documentary about Israeli soldiers serving in the West Bank.

To some degree, he said, the school film is also about “a kind of occupation in which the occupiers wield violent force and treat an entire population in an irresponsible manner.”

In contrast to some viewers who laughed at certain absurd moments during the film, Berman said, none of the teachers he showed it to found it funny: “They were very frightened by it, especially those who have experienced a lot of violence from their students.”

Berman also said he believed it was important for the country’s education system to become aware of his film.

“I made it in order to give them the strength to take steps that must be taken to curb the violence, ” he said.

Naomi Pfefferman contributed to this article.



The Smart Card

The idea that in medieval Europe, among Christians, the smartest people generally practiced celibacy, while, among Jews, the scholars and rabbis had big families, had occurred to me some time ago (“Are Jews Smarter?” June 10).

Another possible reason for Jewish intellectual achievement could be that with the rise of rabbinic Judaism and synagogues in the Talmudic period, Jewish men at least were required to learn to read in order to recite the Torah. This requirement for study and learning probably spilled over into the pursuit of secular learning.

In order to test the idea of smart genes connected with Tay-Sachs disease, a study of Sephardic Jews should be made to see if they, too, have a history of intellectual achievement and success. I have only anecdotal data.

For example, a good friend of mine is a Sephardic Jew from Peru. His father’s success story parallels that of many Ashkenazim: He was born in Constantinople and moved to Peru where he started a fabric store in Lima and became wealthy. He sent his children to American colleges, where I met his son. In the Turkish empire, Jews held prominent positions in the court of the sultan, due to their ability. Bernard Baruch had a Sephardic background. In England there were prominent Sephardic families: the D’Avigdors, Montagus and Desola-Pools.

Therefore, it would be good if a study could be made to show whether Sephardim have a high intelligence level without the benefit of Tay-Sachs. By the way, I am not Sephardic, myself — solamente en mi Corazon [only in my heart].

Marshall Giller

Reel Was Real

Several weeks ago, an old college classmate on the East Coast posted a rave review touting the cultural diversity lessons of “Crash” on the alumna message boards (“Reel Life,” June 10). Against our better judgment, my husband and I went to see the movie. Since then, I have been trying to write her to tell of the negative feelings that “Crash” evoked in me. I also felt that I needed to describe and defend my “L.A.” to her.

My struggle has ended. A few moments ago, I e-mailed your editorial “Reel Life” to her.

One of the reasons I have loved living in L.A. for the past 35 years is the cultural diversity that the city offers. Your “snapshots” are indeed reflective of the truth of Los Angeles, where we value differences for the positive outcomes and growth that are provided by a diverse population.

Your editorial is beautifully written and was the perfect answer I needed.

Sonya Baum
Marina del Rey

Left Out of Cannes

I am writing in response to the article, “Project Shabbat a ‘Go’ in Cannes,” written by Carole Raphaelle Davis (May 27).

My first question for Davis is, “Were we at the same Shabbat dinner?” As an attendee of the event, I found the article to be too disingenuous. The false impression she presented was that this was just another schmooze fest. When in reality our hosts, with limited resources, succeed in creating an oasis of Jewish spirituality in Cannes.

Davis begins her article quite correctly in describing the 24/7 deal hustling that occurs in Cannes. The film festival is a marketplace where people spend time, energy, and money in order to secure a deal so they can return and repeat the cycle the following year. Scott Einbinder and Steven Kaplan diverted much personal energy to coordinate what turned out to be a beautiful community-building event. Do you know how hard it is to find a kosher caterer in Cannes?

Davis stated that Rabbi Mendel Schwartz flew in for the dinner. She failed to mention that Einbinder sponsored the trip.

I wish Davis had referenced my conversation with Schwartz about the beauty of creating a community and acknowledging, through ritual, how blessed we are.

Also she could have mentioned that a Jewish woman from New Orleans had her first experience of a formal Kiddush. She had such a meaningful experience and wanted to kiss the rabbi, but then understood that it would be improper (so she kissed the person next to him).

Instead, Davis chose to misquote a joke I made about the nature of Einbinder’s film, “Velvet Side of Hell.” This quote angered me because it slanderously portrayed Einbinder’s professionalism as a filmmaker.

Yes, people did talk business during Shabbat, but it was not the primary focus of the dinner. I trust God will forgive some unconscious transgressions. I don’t know why Davis considered that the “business chatter was predictably ridiculous.”

Quite frankly I would prefer to work with people who make the moral choice to take time out for a Shabbat dinner then some other Cannes event.

Yet the fact that 40-plus people choose to celebrate Shabbat instead of going to a premiere or other event (and there were many alternatives to choose from) was lost in her narrow vision.

Too bad Davis had not been with us after the “party” as we were carrying the leftovers home, looking for a cab, when behind us we saw the silhouettes of the three rabbis walking down the hill from the villa. We saw that as a sign and decided instead to walk back three kilometers home. The rabbis joined us, and when we got to the Croisette (the center of Cannes) the three rabbis and Einbinder started dancing in street celebrating the Shabbat. That alone is very newsworthy!

Perhaps if Davis were not preoccupied with her “handsome Corsican” friend, who gave her a ride to the party, she would not have missed the true meaning and beauty of the evening. Note that I was one of several non-Jews in attendance and the event helped deepen my appreciation of Judaism.

Peter M. Graham II
120 dB Films

Iraq vs. Israel

Regarding David Finnigan’s interview with me in his article on Jews who’ve been to Iraq since the U.S. invasion (“Professor Sees Iraq War as a ‘Disaster,'” May 27), I wish to make an important clarification to the quotation from me at the end of the piece.

In the midst of a discussion of the boycott call against Israeli academics, I am quoted as saying: “How can someone sitting in America or the U.K. call for divestment from Israel, when the occupation of Iraq has killed far more Iraqis and done far more damage to that society in two years than Israel has done to Palestinian society in more than a century? Or China: How horrific the occupation and the genocide of Tibet has been. Sudan?”

What I believe I said in that conversation — or certainly intended to say, and I think was clear from our longer conversation — was “How can someone sitting in America or the UK call only for divestment from Israel….”

The point being that focusing only on Israel when other countries engage in similar or even more extreme violations of human, political and civil rights is intellectually, morally and strategically shortsighted.

This is very different from arguing, as the quote suggests, that Israel should not face sanctions as long as other countries engage in even graver rights violations. Rather, one standard should be applied to every country, including our own, if real peace and justice are ever to be achieved in any country.

Mark LeVine
UC Irvine
Department of History

Don’t Knock Nixon

Once again your “rag” printed an outrageous piece of trash about “Deep Throat,” intimating that President Richard Nixon was an anti-Semite (“Deep Throat: Not a Jew,” June 3).

Just the opposite is true. I knew President Nixon and if you could read Golda Meir’s biography you may learn something. Don’t you just wish that someone would investigate something just as vile against President Bush? I bet you do!

Diane Jacobs
Los Angeles

Harburg’s Heritage

A recent letter by Jacqueline Bassan makes the ridiculous claim that lyricist E. Y. Harburg was not Jewish (“Letters,” May 27).

I direct the writer’s attention to two books that abundantly state otherwise. The first is a memoir by Harburg himself, in the collection “Creators and Disturbers” (Columbia University Press, 1982). The other is by his son, Ernie, in collaboration with Harold Meyerson, in “Who Put the Rainbow in the Wizard of Oz?” (University of Michigan Press, 1993).

Jack Gottlieb
“Funny, It Doesn’t Sound Jewish”

More Than ‘Special’

I am writing this because I was not satisfied with how we were portrayed in your 2005 graduation article (“A Special School?” June 10).

We at Ohr Haemet appreciate that Julie Gruenbaum Fax took the time to interview two of our students. While we are indeed a special school, there is far more about our school that makes it special besides not only measuring a student’s success based on which Ivy League they got into.

We are a college preparatory, WASC accredited school. We offer honors and AP courses. Our classes are small, our teachers are available to our students. Our students go to the UCs, the Cal States and other private universities like USC. Our students are taught the beauty of our Torah with such warmth and love that they usually make the choice to observe Shabbat, kashrut and family purity (when they marry).

Who comes to our school? Girls who want individualized attention in the classroom, girls who want to focus on what it means to be a good Jew and a good person. We focus holistically on each student so they can leave our school feeling confident both academically and spiritually.

Our students become nurses, doctors, lawyers, teachers, pharmacists, writers and social workers. They have made very conscious choices in their education and careers so they can also marry and raise a family. They leave Ohr Haemet with their priorities straight. We are proud of every girl’s accomplishments.

We measure our success by helping and encouraging every girl to use her potential to succeed. We are a viable option for the secular and Jewish education for many high school girls in Los Angeles.

Batsheva Isaac
General Studies Principal
Ohr Haemet Institute

Look for Local Brains

After reading Professor Aaron Ciechanover article (“Is an Israel Brain Drain Nigh?” June 10), I find it sad that Israel can’t tap the resourses in Southern California of laid-off and unemployed engineers and technicians who would be willing to work as well as teach and train to increase Israel’s technical brain power.

Steven Winnick
via e-mail




Location, location, location is the secret to many people’s success. But for Meir Fenigstein, founder of the Israel Film Festival, timing is the key. That’s why he’s moved the Los Angeles portion of his 21st annual Israel Film Festival from spring to late fall, where approximately 40 features, documentaries, television shows and student shorts will screen Dec. 1 to 11.

The first step, Fenigstein said, was moving the New York branch of the event to late October and early November, following important international festivals in cities such as Toronto, Cannes, Venice, Montreal and Manhattan.

“All these arenas compete with each other for world premieres, and we aren’t able to compete,” the energetic Fenigstein said.

Instead, Fenigstein hopes that directors accepted elsewhere will subsequently submit to his event, especially if he invites plenty of potential distributors to New York and Los Angeles screenings.

“For me, to get a film after Berlin or Cannes isn’t a downer, it’s prestigious,” he said.

With higher-profile films scheduled and publicity generated by the powerful New York press, Fenigstein hopes for greater buzz (and attendance) when the festival arrives here late this year. (Only a handful of the 2004 Los Angeles screenings sold out, compared to 30 in New York, he said.)

Because December is the month when movies screen here for Oscar consideration, Fenigstein hopes his Los Angeles opening night will annually premiere Israel’s submission to the Academy Awards.

“That could become an icon of the festival and increase our prestige,” he said. “A bigger Hollywood profile is one goal for our next 20 years.”

For information about the festival, which will also run in Miami in January and Chicago at an as yet undermined time next year, call (877) 966-5566 or visit www.israelfilmfestival.com.


A Cannes Boycott?

Jewish ire over a recent spate of anti-Semitic attacks in France may spread to a new battleground — the film industry.

Concerned by the attacks, the American Jewish Congress (AJCongress) is urging Hollywood stars and studios to consider France’s current and past anti-Semitism before attending the upcoming Cannes Film Festival, scheduled to run May 15-26.

The full-page ads, placed in Variety, the Hollywood Reporter and this newspaper, draw parallels between the collaborationist Vichy regime of 1942 and the France of 2002. The ad states, both in 1942 and 2002, "Synagogues and Schools [are] Firebombed" and "Jews [are] Attacked on the Streets," while 1942’s "Chants of ‘Heil Hitler’ and ‘Death to the Jews’ heard on the streets" are replaced in 2002 with "Chants of ‘Vive Bin Laden’ and ‘Death to the Jews’ heard on the streets."

Gary Ratner, executive director of the Pacific Southwest Region of the AJCongress, who placed the ads, told The Journal that he wants Hollywood figures to rethink their plans to go to Cannes or, if they go, to raise the issue of French anti-Semitism with their hosts. Ratner said that since the ads appeared, he has received some 50 supportive phone calls and e-mails, and two or three negative responses.

He also heard reports that some personalities in the entertainment industry were indeed reconsidering plans to go to Cannes. Though he did not mean to equate the Nazi-friendly Vichy regime with today’s France, Ratner noted that anti-Semitic incidents have risen sharply this year.

He also emphasized that he did not call for a boycott of the Cannes festival or tourism to France, although the ad refers readers to the AJCongress’ Web site, www.boycottfrance.com.

An indignant Jean-Luc Sibiude, the recently arrived French consul general in Los Angeles, said he was shocked and outraged by the "sick analogy" between wartime Vichy France and his country today. While he did not contest the sharp rise in anti-Semitic incidents, Sibiude argued that "99 percent" were perpetrated by Arab immigrants from the former French colonies in North Africa, or their descendants, who number around 4 million.

"The anti-Semitic incidents represent almost entirely a spillover from what is happening between the Israelis and the Palestinians," he said.

If there is prejudice in France, it is directed more against Muslim immigrants than Jews, Sibiude maintained, and he urged American Jews to listen to the leaders of French Jewry, who have opposed any economic or tourism boycott of France.

Woody Allen also rejected the ad, telling a press conference in Cannes, "I think any boycott is wrong. Boycotts were exactly what ther Germans were doing against the Jews."

The AJCongress has traditionally been a liberal organization, with emphasis on such issues as civil rights and separation of church and state. However, in recent years, some say the AJCongress leadership has moved to the right, and in 1999, the Los Angeles-based regional chapter split from the national organization, claiming that it had forsaken its founders’ liberalism. Since then, a new regional chapter representing the AJCongress was established — and it was this new chapter that placed the controversial ad.

In another development, the Cannes Film Festival committee chose "Kedema," by Israeli director Amos Gitai, as one of 21 features in competition for top honors.

The Circuit

Challah if You Need Me

Last month The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ ACCESS program along with The Brandeis-Bardin Institute and numerous L.A. area singles organizations co-sponsored the Shabbat at Sunset Communitywide Dinner. The event may have been the follow-up to last year’s successful “Shabbat by the Sea,” but what really made the occasion special was that it heralded the arrival of New York Rabbi David Woznica, who has brought East Coast flair to The Federation fold as the executive vice president of Jewish Affairs. Weaving jokes into his sermon, Woznica –previously of the 92nd Street YMCA in Manhattan, where he facilitated a lecture series graced by Alan Dershowitz and Elie Wiesel — gave the 200 unattached in attendance a heart-to-heart on staying afloat in Bachelorville and Bacheloretteville.

Rodeo Drive

The Concours on Rodeo fundraiser raised $7,000 for The Amie Karen Cancer Fund for Children (AKCF) at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, which treats cancer, leukemia, sickle cell disease and AIDS-related illnesses. AKCF also funds Camp Rainbow, a sleep-away camp for critically ill children and their siblings.

Con at Cannes

The Circuit attended a private screening — cast members and friends only — of “Festival in Cannes,” hosted by Henry Jaglom.

Shot on location during the 1999 Cannes International Film Festival, the film is his most accessible and entertaining movie yet.

“Festival” — starring Greta Scacchi, Ron Silver, Anouk Aimée and Maximilian Schell — uncovers desperation and duplicity in the entertainment industry. Stealing the movie is Zack Norman (born Howard Zuker) as a charming con man who wheels and deals up and down La Croisette. “Festival” marks Jaglom’s fifth collaboration with Norman.”It’s always delicious working with Henry,” Norman said.

A “Festival” highlight: Schell — after a prolonged, enthusiastic reunion with William Shatner (as himself) — walks away asking, “Who was that man I was just hugging?”

“That encounter was real,” Jaglom said. “They had played together in ‘Judgment at Nuremberg.’ Maximilian, in his brilliance, improvised that line.”

“Festival in Cannes” screens Nov 3, 7:30 p.m., AFI Film Institute Festival 2001, Pacific Theatre, 6443 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood.

Affair of the Heart

Philanthropist Marshall Ezralow was honored by The Heart Fund at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Mark Litman, Heart Fund chairman and Dana Carvey, the evening’s host, graced the gala, which took place at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Ezralow, who was elated to be honored, believes now is a paramount time to support research in this area.

“We are three or four years away from solving 90 percent of heart-related problems,” Ezaralow told The Circuit.

Aries Rising

Producer Fred Wolf threw a grand opening reception for his Aries Gallery, at the Fred Wolf Films building in North Hollywood.

Victor Haboush, Robert Reagan, Nola Figen Perla, and Wolf, whose paintings chronicle the lonely life of a cartoony, yellow-colored milquetoast of a man, rang in the NoHo gallery with a show of their works. Perla’s work is based on snapshots of her family, of Ukranian-Jewish heritage.

Exhibit runs through Nov. 30. For information, call (818) 846-0611.

Free For All

Jewish Free Loan Association (JFLA) has been awarded a $100,000 grant by the S. Mark Taper Foundation. The grant will go toward the JFLA’s community-wide, non-sectarian Kopelove Family Short-term Home Healthcare Loan Fund, which makes available interest-free loans of up to $5,000 to patients in need of home healthcare while recovering from illness, injury or surgery. In addition to the grant, the program has received.