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.”

Israel’s bad boy of cinema gets L.A. fest


“My country, Israel, is full of contradictions and volcanic eruptions. We fluctuate between extremes. One morning you say peace is at hand and all problems will be resolved. The next day, it’s the apocalypse.”

The thumbnail description comes from Amos Gitai, who, more than any other Israeli filmmaker, has explored the emotional peaks and valleys of his people in more than 40 feature films and documentaries.

A retrospective of seven films, illustrating different stages in Gitai’s 30-year career, will start March 15 at the Skirball Cultural Center, continuing March 16 at the American Cinematheque’s Egyptian Theatre and March 17 on the USC campus.

The organizer and sponsor of the three screenings is the Institut Français, an agency supported by the French government to promote French culture abroad and international cultural exchange.

At first sight, it seems odd that the Gitai fest, supplemented by a richly illustrated booklet in French, English and Spanish, falls under the French aegis, rather than under Israeli or local Jewish auspices.

By way of explanation, French diplomat Mathieu Fournet noted that Gitai spends much of his working life in Paris, and many of his films have been made in France, where he is fervently admired as an international auteur of the first rank.

Fournet heads the Los Angeles Film and Television Department of the French Embassy and is the chief organizer of the Gitai tribute.

If the French and other Europeans love Gitai the cinema artist, Israelis are conflicted, to put it politely, about Gitai, the disturber of the peace.

Though Gitai, now 60, is a Haifa-born sabra whose helicopter was shot down during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, and he barely escaped death, his films upset many of his countrymen.

His first film, the made-for-television documentary “House,” was banned by TV executives for showing, in Gitai’s view, “that Palestinians have the same attachment to the land as Israelis.”

Though all his subsequent movies have been shown in Israeli theaters, they have generally been controversial.

For instance, the autobiographical movie “Kippur,” which portrayed the confusion and brutalities of the 1973 war with unrelenting graphic images, received a mixed reception.

Gitai likes to group his movies into trilogies, examining the same topic from three different perspectives. In his “city trilogy” of Haifa, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, the capital city is represented by “Kadosh” (Holy), set in the ultra-Orthodox Mea Shearim quarter.

Orthodox Jews bitterly attacked the film as presenting a twisted picture of their way of life.

In Europe, Gitai is admired not only for the content of his films, but equally for his cinematic virtuosity and diversity.

“Gitai is now one of the most respected filmmakers in the international arena, who continually explores new narrative methods and styles,” wrote French film historian Jean-Michel Frodon.

Such homages have earned Gitai awards at prestigious film festivals at Cannes and Venice, as well as retrospectives of his works in London, Paris, Berlin, Sao Paulo, Moscow, Tokyo and New York.

By contrast, not once has the Israeli Film and Television Academy, which annually selects the country’s top film to compete for Oscar honors, chosen a Gitai work.

Gitai gave a short laugh when an interviewer asked him if he considered himself, as a filmmaker if not prophet, “not without honor save in his own country.”

“I don’t think this [lack of recognition] is strictly a political matter,” he answered. “Israel has a small film industry, which is very competitive. Maybe there are too many Jews concentrated in a small territory.

“But it is kind of bizarre,” he added, “and there is such a thing as jealousy.”

Gitai is an artistic multitasker, working simultaneously or separately as film director, producer, actor and scriptwriter, as well as author and director of stage plays.

His father, the noted Bauhaus architect Munio Weinraub, was imprisoned and then expelled from Germany by the newly empowered Nazi regime in 1933. He moved to Palestine in 1935 and married native-born Efratia Margalit, a Zionist activist.

Initially, Gitai, born in 1950, followed in his father’s footsteps, earning architecture degrees from the Technion and a doctorate at UC Berkeley. His son, Benjamin, a veteran of the second Lebanon War, is now studying to become an architect himself.

After decades of focusing on his countrymen’s lives and travails, Gitai is now turning his attention to the Diaspora, first examined in his 2008 film, “One Day You Will Understand.”

He is currently working on a movie, “Lullaby to My Father,” exploring the lost European world of his paternal forebears.

“As you get older, you think more about your roots,” Gitai said.


The Los Angeles Gitai retrospective will present the following films:

“Kippur”: Gitai’s experiences during the 1973 war.

“Alila”: The intersecting lives of residents in a run-down Tel Aviv apartment building.

“Kadosh”: Two ultra-Orthodox women question their lifestyles.

“Esther”: The Purim story set in a modern Middle East context.

“Free Zone”: An American woman (Natalie Portman) gets involved in a Jordanian-Israeli money scheme.

“Disengagement”: A Frenchwoman (Juliette Binoche) and her Israeli half-brother are caught up in the Gaza removal of settlers.

“News From Home/News from House”: Last in a trilogy centering on a house in Jerusalem and its Arab and Jewish owners.

Venues, films and dates

Skirball Cultural Center:

“Kippur” on March 15, 8 p.m., features Q&A With Gitai;

“Alila” on March 30, 8 p.m.;

“Kadosh” on April 10, 2 p.m.;

“Esther” on April 21, 8 p.m.;

For advance tickets, phone (877) 722-4849, or visit http://www.skirball.org

American Cinematheque’s Egyptian Theatre:

“Free Zone” and “Disengagement,” March 16 double feature starting at 7:30 p.m. Q&A with Gitai between films, moderated by The Journal’s Tom Tugend; for tickets, visit http://www.fandango.com/egyptiantheatre_aaofx/theaterpage”www.fandango.com/egyptiantheatre_aaofx/theaterpage.

Ray Stark Family Theatre, George Lucas Bldg., USC campus:

March 17; “News From Home/News from House” at 5:30 p.m.; “Disengagement” at 7:30 p.m., followed by Q&A with Gitai, moderated by USC Associate Dean Michael Renov; Admission is free but reservations required through http://cinema.usc.edu/AmosGitai”http://cinema.usc.edu/AmosGitai.

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.

Calendar Girls picks and kicks for March 1 – 7


SAT | MARCH 1

(THEATER)
” target=”_top”>http://www.theoldglobe.org.

(GAMING)
You don’t have to leave Southern California to gamble tonight. Women of Reform Judaism and the Brotherhood of Temple Beth Torah are sponsoring a wild Vegas-style soiree to rival parties on The Strip. Temple Beth Torah Casino Night is a good reason to lose money for a good cause: Anything the house wins through roulette, blackjack and craps goes to support the activities of the synagogue. If you’re feeling extra generous, they’re soliciting the help of volunteers to run the tables, deal cards, bartend and decorate the venue. The bonus is everybody wins when you buy a ticket. 6:30 p.m. $36. Temple Beth Torah, 7620 Foothill Road, Ventura. (805) 647-4181. ” target=”_top”>http://www.jewliciousfestival.com.

(SINGLES)
Rock out with Persian Jewish Singles, dancing the night away with vivacious disc jockey Ariel Rashti serving up the hottest club hits. Take advantage of the decadent wine and martini bar and nibble on kosher hors d’oeuvres while mingling with Jewish professionals ages 20 to 40. Who knows what new face might grab your attention or what familiar face will suddenly hold romantic appeal! 8 p.m.- 1 a.m. Free. Samueli Jewish Campus, 1 Federation Way, Irvine. (949) 435-3484. ” border = 0 vspace = ‘8’ alt=”Matthew Boger, Tim Zaal”>
” target=”_top”>http://museumoftolerance.com
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(MUSIC)
Why let the holidays melt away when you can bring them back to life with joyous songs in “Around the Year in Song and Story: A Musical Tour of the Jewish Calendar.” Join Benny Friedman in concert, sponsored by the Chabad of Conejo, as he revives the musical wonder of holidays like Rosh Hashanah, Chanukah and Passover. Rabbi Moshe D. Bryski will narrate the classical tunes while recounting sacred holiday stories and insights. 7-10 p.m. $18-$25 (general), $180 (concert sponsor, includes recognition in concert program and VIP seating). JCC at Milken, 22622 Vanowen St., West Hills. (818) 991-0991. ” target=”_top”>http://www.bnaihayim.org.

(FILM)
In his film “House of the Generals,” Dan Spigel traces the plight of one family and their struggle to survive against a historical backdrop that claimed the lives of 10 million Jewish Ukrainians. Through revolution, love and war, Spigel’s film bridges the dictatorships of Stalin and Hitler from the Russian Revolution to World War II and the Holocaust, illuminating the tremendous loss of life that permeated the first half of the 20th century. Following the screening, audience members are invited to stay for a special Q-and-A with the filmmaker. 7 p.m. $5. The Workmen’s Circle, 1525 S. Robertson Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 552-2007. ” vspace = ‘8’ alt=”Doron Kornbluth”>
” target=”_top”>http://www.jewishacademy.com
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TUE | MARCH 4

(THEATER)
Redheaded Andrea Sabesin never quite fit in. Growing up, she was the only Jewish student at an Episcopal school, the only non-Orthodox student at a Hebrew day school and one of the only white students at a mostly black school. Exploring this theme of identity, the actress/writer is back in “Girl, Your Hair’s On Fire! Season 2,” a follow-up to her previous well-received one-woman show. Sharing personal anecdotes and insights, Sabesin uses wit and physical comedy (sans the clich�(c)d kvetchy tone) to cover topics such as her Southern Jewish family, being single, and her many stints as a wedding singer. 8 p.m. Through March 11. $15. Acme Comedy Theatre, 135 N. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 822-1146.

‘Yippee’ — Paul Mazursky documents Chasids gone wild


In all his 76 years, filmmaker Paul Mazursky had never seen anything like the 25,000 Chasidim singing, swaying, blowing shofars and dancing around a lake.

“It’s like the old days at the Apollo in Harlem, with the crowd going wild,” the irreverent Mazursky said. “Can you dig it?”

The scene is from his documentary, “Yippee: A Journey to Jewish Joy,” which had its Southland premier this week at the Palm Springs International Film Festival. The film is quite a change of pace for the creator of such quirky social comedies and dramas as “Bob”&”Carol”&”Ted”&”Alice,” “Harry and Tonto,” “Next Stop, Greenwich Village,” “An Unmarried Woman,” “Down and Out in Beverly Hills” and “Enemies: A Love Story.”

Despite his artistic reputation and string of Oscar nominations, Mazursky has found it increasingly difficult to find backing for his iconoclastic movies, which are infused with his wry take on the human condition.

During the past decade, after a quadruple heart bypass operation, Mazursky has gone back to his roots as an actor and comedian, including parts in HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and “The Sopranos,” while looking for the right combination of film and financing.

But last year, he and his two camera crews found themselves in Uman, a Ukrainian town of 80,000, whose population swells every Rosh Hashanah during an invasion of ecstatic Chasidim dressed in white kitels (robes), black suits or streimels (fur hats).

They come to pray at the grave of Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav, the great Chasidic master, disputatious tzadik (learned scholar) and great-grandson of the Baal Shem Tov, founder of the Chasidic movement. Nachman was buried in Uman in 1811 at the age of 38.

What had brought the insistently secular Mazursky to Uman were the urgings of three disparate Angelenos: David Miretsky, his optometrist; Shmuel Levy, a devout Moroccan-born rock musician; and Rabbi Ezriel Tauber.

All three regularly participated in the pilgrimage to Uman, and they promised Mazursky that he would witness an event unlike any he had ever experienced.

Putting up $50,000 of his own money, and with his broken arm in a sling, Mazursky embarked on the adventure with his friends and a six-man crew, including his son-in-law.

During a brief layover in Munich, he warmed up by filming the beer-swilling Oktoberfest, before stopping in Kiev, where his grandfather is buried, and then reaching Uman after a three-hour drive.

In the run-up to the climax of the three-day celebration, Mazursky meets and talks with Chasidim, policemen, scholars and peasants, combining the roles of an innocent abroad, travel guide and self-described “wise guy from Brooklyn.”

Typical is his encounter with two local peasant women selling fruit from a sidewalk cart. They, like all the other Uman natives, know about Rosh Hashanah, which enriches the town by $2 million each year.

Despite the windfall, one woman is not entirely happy.

“Jews are not cultured people,” she complains. The other woman disagrees.

“They are cultured,” she insists, “they are just different.”

Mazursky’s camera lingers on other happenings. There is a rustic folk festival with pretty dancing girls in costumes and later, Vodka Appreciation Day, during which the filmmaker digs into his bottomless reservoir of jokes, many unprintable.

His favorite joke, told at least three times in the film, goes something like this: Cohen meets Schwartz in New York’s old garment district and Cohen says, “I heard about the fire.” Schwartz puts his fingers to his lips and whispers, “Shhhh, tomorrow.” (The joke dates back to at least the Great Depression, when some storeowners facing bankruptcy would set fire to their shops to collect insurance money.)

The film climaxes on the evening of Rosh Hashanah, when the 25,000 Chasidim throw their sins into the lake and pray, dance and sing through the candle-lit night.

“Madonna and Woody Allen should be here,” Mazursky murmurs.

Before leaving, Mazursky organizes a bull session with Tauber and Dr. Julian Unger, a British neurologist, to explore the meaning of what he has seen.

“We come to Uman because on the day of judgment, Rabbi Nachman will be our lawyer, pleading our case before God,” Tauber explains.

Unger has a darker observation. “You know, 37 years before Rabbi Nachman came to Uman, there was a great pogrom here and thousands of Jews were drowned in the lake.

“When the Nazis came, they again murdered Uman’s Jews,” Unger continued. “It is a great irony that in 2005, we should be dancing in the streets of Uman. We are dancing on the graves of our martyrs.”

Mazursky, the wise guy from Brooklyn, drew his own lessons. “I could never think like a Chasid,” he ruminated during a two-hour interview in his crowded Beverly Hills office.

“I think of life as a cosmic joke, which keeps getting bigger all the time. But I’ve learned tolerance and maybe affection for the Chasidim. They are real people, who can see light in the darkest things,” he said.

The title of the film comes from another Mazursky observation. “It is better to wake up in the morning and instead of kvetching, say ‘Yippee.'”

“Yippee” is available on DVD through the National Center for Jewish Film at Brandeis University and will be included in a retrospective of Mazursky’s works at New York’s Lincoln Center, May 4-10.Paul Mazursky

Get on down to ‘Funkel Town; Middle Eastern humor; Accordians! Accordians! Accordians!


Saturday the 6th

Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts takes you to “funkel town.” It’s Art Garfunkel in concert this evening, singing American tunes from his days with Paul Simon, as well as solo pieces from days since.

8 p.m. $32-$57.50. 12700 Center Court Drive, Cerritos. (562) 467-8818. ‘ TARGET=’_blank’>www.levantinecenter.org.

Monday the 8th

The subjects and media of Susan Soffer Cohn’s art have varied over the course of her career. Focusing in on two of her series is the Pauline and Zena Gatov Gallery at the Alpert JCC. Their first exhibition of the year will present her colorful biblical paintings, with titles like “Miriam Led the Women” and “In the Beginning,” as well as her horse portraits, under the title, “Inspired by New Circles.” The exhibit opens this week, with an artist reception scheduled for Jan. 14.

3601 E. Willow St., Long Beach. (562) 426-7601. ‘ TARGET=’_blank’>www.lmangallery.com.

Wednesday the 10th

The new year means more new art on view — in fact, three times as much at UCLA Hillel’s Dortort Center for Creativity in the Arts. It debuts a trifecta of new exhibitions simultaneously today. “American Jewish Legacy” features a collection of historical documents chronicling the Jewish experience in America, from 1654’s arrival of immigrants to New Amsterdam, through today. Also on view are two divergent photographic exhibitions: “Pure Faith” presents images by Israeli photographer Harel Stanton of religious ceremonies from around the world. “Jewish Musical Icons of the 20th Century” displays the photographs of cellist and photographer Jim Arkatov, who, in the course of his distinguished career in various orchestras, also snapped photos of leading musical icons.

574 Hilgard Ave., Westwood. (310) 208-3081.

Thursday the 11th

The Skirball takes a giant leap in making the accordion cool again with the concert series, “Compressing the World.” Tonight’s third installment features the squeeze box stylings of Rob Curto’s Forró for All. The New York-based band plays northeast Brazilian forró pé de serra dance music, known for its use of accordion, triangle and zabumba drum.

8 p.m. $15-$25. 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (866) 468-3399.

Friday the 12th

I bet you can’t nosh that bagel in Ladino, bubbaleh!


Noshing on a bagel while shlepping his groceries, the klutz fell on his tush.

Need a translation? Probably not.

A majority of Americans not only know exactly what that sentence means — including the four Yiddish words it contains — they’ve even noshed on quite a few bagels themselves.

But can the same be said of five Ladino words? Of Sephardic foods?

Probably not.

Which is precisely why the eighth Los Angeles Sephardic Film Festival is upon us.

Neil Sheff, international chair of the Sephardic Educational Center’s young adult movement and co-founder of the festival, hopes the eight films in this year’s lineup will help “educate those who don’t know about the ‘other’ Jews — the Sephardim.”

Although Sheff — a native Angeleno — spoke Ladino growing up, he admits that he used to be embarrassed “to speak a different language, to eat different foods.”

Sheff’s paternal non-Sephardic family thought there was something wrong with his maternal Sephardic family – after all, what kind of Jews didn’t speak Yiddish?

For the Sephardim themselves, who comprise less than 10 percent of the American Jewish population, Sheff says he hopes the festival will foster a sense of pride in their unique “historical experience, customs, foods, music and language.”

Yet Sheff seeks an array of films representing both the diversity and the commonality of Sephardic Jewry. He says he is especially proud of the “eclectic group of films” being presented this year.

Muslim director Ramin Farahani’s documentary “Jews of Iran” and Carole Basri and Adriana Davis’ “The Last Jews of Baghdad” are two offerings that simultaneously explore unique communities and reflect the common Sephardic historic arc of coexistence, repression and exile.

The feature film, “Until Tomorrow Comes,” on the other hand, tells the story of a Jewish Moroccan woman struggling with her aging mother, her daughter’s marital crisis and her own romantic entanglement — universal dilemmas, universal themes. In this way, Sheff hopes the festival can also “be a bridge to those who don’t know much about Jews, to realize what we have in common, maybe bring us a little closer.”

Sheff’s goals, then, are nothing short of lofty: to engender pride in a particular identity, to educate “others” about a minority, and at the same time to create a bridge between cultures.

All by sitting in a darkened theater and being entertained. What more could we ask?

The eighth Los Angeles Sephardic Film Festival runs Nov. 12 and Nov. 14-19 (at Laemmle’s Music Hall Theatre in Beverly Hills).

For more information visit

Box-office politics




Trailer for ‘Suicide Killers.’ Click on the big arrow to play.

The first person I met at the Liberty Film Festival preview was a riled up Asian American man with a pompadour, who quickly explained to me what was wrong withHollywood: It is a vast liberal conspiracy.

“But the founders of the studios were conservative,” I said, thinking of the Goldwyns, the Warners and the Mayers.

“Yes,” he said. “But their children are communists.”

The Liberty Film Festival, now in its third year, aims to present and promote the work of conservative filmmakers who, according to the organizers, are ignored, persecuted and otherwise absent from “Hollywood.”

I put Hollywood in quotes because its meaning, as the evening at the Luxe Bel Air Hotel wore on, was elusive.

The Festival, said Mike Finch, executive director of the David Horowitz Freedom Center that sponsored the event, “is a voice for sanity. [Hollywood’s] not just for the far left. All these viewpoints deserve to be heard in Hollywood.”

For him, Hollywood seemed to mean Westsiders who work in the entertainment industry and read the Huffington Post.

“It’s really important that we have films going out with the conservative viewpoint,” said actress Govindini Murty, who organized the festival with her husband Jason Apuzzo. “Because Hollywood is making a major effort on the left to undermine the war on terror.”

For her, Hollywood seemed to mean documentary filmmaker Michael Moore. But Moore himself railed against “Hollywood” when Disney refused to release his controversial documentary “Fahrenheit 9/11.”A bit later, Murty referred to “Hollywood’s” love of documentaries “that undermine the military. They are all extremely radical, very anti-Israeli.”

Here she had me stumped. This clearly wasn’t the Hollywood of “Saving Private Ryan” and “The Marine,” which opened this week. And I couldn’t think of any anti-Israel Hollywood films. Which made me think that for Murty, “Hollywood” means anyone who won’t make movies she likes, or, perhaps, that she’s in.

This is the festival’s third year, and it has grown substantially since its founding, last year attracting some 3,500 viewers. This year’s event will be held Nov. 10-12 at the Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood.

About 100 people gathered at last week’s preview to meet the organizers and get a taste of the 28 films on offer.

If the trailers are telling, I suspect there will be a lot of documentaries and some uneven features with a kind of look-ma-I-have-an-Apple quality. There will be some violence — I saw terrorist body parts splattered in something resembling POM — but no sex or nudity. At Liberty, “conservative” means Christian, and Christian means Family Research Council.

The most promising documentary appears to be “Suicide Killers,” by the Algerian-born Israeli filmmaker Pierre Rehov. The Arabic-speaking Rehov infiltrated a terrorist cell to provide a firsthand look at the people who perpetrate such inhuman crimes.

But the night’s preview was less about these movies and more about why “Hollywood” would never want to make them.

It took me a beat — as they say in Hollywood — but eventually I realized where I’d heard that same complaint: from liberals in Hollywood, from Asians in Hollywood and Latinos in Hollywood. From screenwriters and actors and union members and women and newcomers and old-timers in Hollywood.Heck, I’d even heard it from Jews in Hollywood.

Because here’s the truth: Hollywood doesn’t make anybody’s film.

Zillions of people dream of making a movie. But the studios only release a couple of dozen each year.

Chances are excellent your film — whether it’s about a Chinese lesbian dockworker who stands up to a right-wing corporate conspiracy, or about a blogger from Duluth who brings down a left-wing Washington conspiracy — isn’t going to be one of them.

The five top-grossing films of 2005 were “Star Wars-Episode III,” “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” “The War of the Worlds” and “King Kong.” There’s not a political plotline in the bunch — unless you count Narnia’s Christian polemic.

Hollywood’s primary, overriding focus is on making movies that do big box office. That explains how this week, Paramount Studios tapped Oliver Stone, the bane of the Michael Medved School of Wholesome Cinema, and Cyrus Nawasteh, whom Clintonites despise for writing “The Path to 9/11” to make a movie version of “Jawbreaker,” about the CIA in Afghanistan. Ideology, shmideology — go make us a hit.

But none of this realmovietik puts conservative tushies in the Liberty Festival seats, so Murty and the other speakers resort to victimhood and conspiracy. Several speakers referred to left-wing Jewish billionaire investor George Soros’ reported interest in buying the 59-film library of Dreamworks. “Soros has taken over the Democratic Party,” said Finch, “and is now making a major play to take over Hollywood. But [Murty and Apuzzo] are gonna beat George Soros.”

Since when is buying the DVD rights to “Gladiator” “taking over Hollywood”?

All these ill-defined, overheated intimations of evil Hollywood are where the Liberty folks lose me. They begin to join thematic forces with the Internet cuckoos, for whom “Hollywood” means only one thing: the Jews. For centuries Jews were kept outside society’s gates. But in the industry they created and in which they are still heavily represented, Jews are often the gatekeepers. And though the Liberty folks stand with Israel and against anti-Semitism, their antagonism toward an amorphous, conspiratorial “Hollywood” has a discomfiting resonance.

The conservatives at Liberty should ease up on the rhetoric. The twin gods of Hollywood are talent and a track record. If you have those, you’re in, no matter how repellent your ideology, or your actions. Just ask Mel Gibson.

7 Days in the Arts


Saturday, July 1
In time for summertime, the Skirball has rekindled its weekly Café Z live music series. Take advantage today, and head down to groove to Elliott Caine Quintet’s Afro-Cuban jazz beats. According to Caine’s Web site, KCRW’s Bo Leibowitz described him as a “terrific trumpet player, bandleader and composer … deserving of wider recognition.”

Noon-2 p.m. Free. Zeidler’s Café, Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4500.

 

Sunday, July 2
Miami City Ballet whoops it up for its 20th anniversary, with its tour of performances of signature pieces by Jerome Robbins, George Balanchine and Twyla Tharp. Included are Robbins’ classic “Fancy Free,” which was the inspiration for the musical, “On the Town,” and Tharp’s “Nine Sinatra Songs,” accompanied, as you might’ve guessed, by songs by the blue-eyed crooner.

June 30-July 2. $25-$95. Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles. (213) 365-3500

Monday, July 3
Shaken or stirred, the martini is more than a drink today. It is a symbol. Sculptor Thomas Mann asked artists to riff on it, reinterpreting the conical glass’ shape and context. “The Martini Show” premiered in New Orleans as a benefit for Craft Emergency Relief Fund. It runs here at Altered Space Gallery, through July 24.

Contemporary art+craft+design, 1221 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice. (310) 452-8121

Tuesday, July 4
What goes great with burgers and dogs? Your radio dial tuned to 89.9 KCRW-FM. Its special Independence Day programming features “a day of music by American artists who embrace the spirit of independence.” The lineup of musical patriots includes Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Roy Orbison, Patti Smith and the Dixie Chicks. The presentations feature music as well as interview clips and other materials.

89.9 KCRW-F, ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>

Wednesday, July 5
Collapsing just moments after a performance of his stirring trio, “In memoriam Dmitri Shostakovich,” at the Jewish Music Commission concert last month, professor Joseph Dorfman was unable to be revived. He died at age 65. In his memory, a concert will be held this evening at Valley Beth Shalom, to benefit the newly founded fund in his name.

7:30 p.m. Free (general), $15 (reserved seats). 15739 Ventura Blvd., Encino. R.S.V.P., (818) 788-6000.

Thursday, July 6
Gay lovers struggle to deal with their oppressive societies against the backdrop of World War II France in the case of “A Love to Hide (Un Amour à Taire),” and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in the case of “Zero Degrees of Separation.” The two films are part of this year’s Outfest 24th Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, which begins today.

Times, prices and screening venues vary by film. Abovementioned films screen at Directors Guild Theatre, 7920 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles.

Friday, July 7
More lovers caught on opposite sides of the political fence emerge in the film, “Only Human.” Opening today, the Spanish production tells the farcical tale of Jewish Leni, who brings home her boyfriend, Rafi, to meet the folks. But madness ensues when they find out Rafi is Palestinian.

Laemmle Town Center 5, Encino. (818) 981-9811. Laemmle One Colorado, Pasadena. (626) 744-1244. www.laemmle.com” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>

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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7 Days in The Arts


Saturday, June 3

Left-leaning readers will appreciate tonight’s show featuring political commentary. “Laughing Liberally” is in town for just one night, after a successful February debut at New York City’s Town Hall. Attend to hear comedians/commentators Will Durst, Jim David, Marc Maron, Dean Obeidallah, Rick Overton and Katie Halper skewer Bush and roast the White House.

8:30 p.m. $25-$43. Wadsworth Theatre (on the VA grounds), Building 226, 11301 Wilshire Blvd., Brentwood. (213) 365-3500. ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>

Sunday, June 4

The South Robertson Neighborhoods Council puts on its annual block party “It’s a SoRo World” this weekend.
The free festival will include vendor and food booths representing area businesses, including Nathan’s kosher hot dogs, a block-long kids fun zone and an environmental pavilion.

11 a.m.-4 p.m. South Robertson Boulevard, between Beverlywood Street and Cattaraugus Avenue. ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>

Monday, June 5

“Reel Talk With Stephen Farber,” the preview film screening and conversation series hosted by Movieline’s film critic, returns for another 10-evening series, beginning tonight. Head to the Wadsworth Theatre for a screening of “Who Killed the Electric Car?” the documentary by Chris Paine recently shown at Sundance and Tribeca film fests. Farber will converse with Paine and exec producer Dean Devlin following the movie.

7 p.m. Mondays, June 5-Aug. 14. $20 (individual screenings), $150 (series). Wadsworth Theatre (on the VA grounds), Building 226, 11301 Wilshire Blvd., Brentwood. (213) 365-3500. ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>

Tuesday, June 6

Writers Bloc’s concept of featuring one renowned author interviewing another has made for unique literary evenings, offering something more than the usual book reading and signing. This evening, their duo will be modern master John Updike, interviewed by L.A.-centric satirical writer Bruce Wagner.

$20. Writers Guild Theater, 135 S. Doheny Drive, Beverly Hills. (310) 335-0917. ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>

 

Wednesday, June 7

Don’t call the late Claire Falkenstein’s pieces “sculpture.” She preferred “structures,” OK? The acclaimed artist’s works included gates designed for Peggy Guggenheim’s estate in Venice, Italy, in 1961,and many of her large-scale pieces can still be viewed in touring our fair city. Easier still, Louis Stern Fine Arts presents one in a series of exhibitions displaying works from Falkenstein’s estate. “Claire Falkenstein: Structure and Flow, Works from 1950-1980” is on view through Aug. 26.

Free. 9002 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood. (310) 276-0147. ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>

Thursday, June 8

They call it California’s Shangri-La; classical music lovers call it home this weekend. It’s Ojai Valley, and today through Sunday, it presents the annual Ojai Music Festival, now in its 60th year. Hear the music of contemporary composer Osvaldo Golijov performed by various vocalists and musicians over the course of the four days, attend lectures and take in the beauty of the lush surroundings.

June 8-11. Single tickets on sale. (805) 646-2094.  

Friday, June 9

The Contemporary Crafts Market offers decorative, functional and wearable art at all price points this weekend at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. More than 250 artisans will show their stuff — including glassware, jewelry, ceramics, watercolors, wood furniture and plenty more.

10 a.m.-6 p.m. (June 9-11). Free (children 12 and under), $6 (adults). 1855 Main St., Santa Monica. (310) 285-3655. ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>

7 Days in The Arts


Saturday, May 20

High school teacher Eddie Friedman has made it his mission to take students on the March of the Living, as a way of teaching them about the Holocaust. Over the years, he accumulated a collection of photographs depicting the experience. UCLA Hillel’s Dortort Center for Creativity in the Arts has mounted an exhibit of his work, titled, “From Destruction to Rebirth: A Photographic Journey by Eddie Friedman.” It is on view through June 29.

10 a.m.-4 p.m. (Mon.-Fri.). Free. 574 Hilgard Ave., Westwood. (310) 208-3081.

Sunday, May 21

We’re not sure what Thai massage has to do with celebrating your Jewishness, but don’t let that stop you from attending today’s Santa Barbara Jewish Festival. Event organizers also have plenty of traditional activities and entertainment, including musical performances by the Moshav Band and Kings on Holiday, kosher food vendors, children’s carnival rides and Israeli dancing.

11 a.m.-5 p.m. Oak Park, 300 W. Alamar Ave., Santa Barbara. (805) 898-2511. ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>

Monday, May 22

Opening this week, the thriller film, “Hate Crime,” tells the story of Robbie Levinson (Seth Peterson), a young, gay CPA targeted for harassment by his new next-door neighbor. When Robbie’s lover is brutally murdered, he becomes a suspect, and must investigate the case himself to be exonerated.

Laemmle Sunset Five, 8000 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 848-3500. ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>

Tuesday, May 23

It’s a CBS kind of night, over at the JFS gala. The Jewish Family Service annual fundraising dinner honors three community leaders this year, among them, CBS exec Deborah Barak. And keeping the evening all in the CBS family, this year’s masters of ceremonies are actors Rob Morrow and David Krumholtz, of the series “Numb3rs.”

5:30 p.m. Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel, Beverly Hills. R.S.V.P., (323) 761-8800, ext. 1220.

Wednesday, May 24

Opening this week is another exhibit that challenges us not only to never forget, but also to act. “Rwanda/After, Darfur/Now: Photographs by Michal Ronnen Safdie” presents some 40 black and white and color images taken in 2002 post-genocide Rwanda and in a 2004 Chadian Bahai refugee camp, where exiles of the Darfurian genocide take shelter. The exhibition is presented by the Skirball Cultural Center, with a number of related programs scheduled during its run.

$6-$8 (general), Free (members, students and children under 12). 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4500.

Thursday, May 25

We’d hoped “paloozas” would die with the ’90s, but here’s one worth checking out, despite the hackneyed name. “Identi-palooza” is a five-week comedy series at the Skirball, in which top comedians and writers present their unique points of view. It begins tonight with Beth Lapides, Kevin Rooney, Cindy Chupack, Rob Cohen and Stephen Glass commenting on “The Ish Factor.”

Ages 21+. 8 p.m. $8-$15. 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (866) 468-3399.

Friday, May 26

When Mark Goffman’s grandfather’s wife of 50 years passed away, he suffered a heart attack, a stroke and then fell into a coma. As he lay in the hospital bed, he was visited by the cellist in his quartet, who came to say a private goodbye, and confessed her love for him, which she had kept secret all the years he’d been married. He awoke within minutes of her visit, and married her soon after. The story inspired Goffman, a television writer and producer, to write a play incorporating his grandfather’s story, as well as his own stories of dating and falling in love. “Me Too” runs through June 25.

8 p.m. (Thurs-Sat.), 7 p.m. (Sun.). $23-$28. Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. R.S.V.P., (323) 960-7745. ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>

7 Days in The Arts


Saturday, April 15

The bread don’t rise, but spirits may. Two events tonight focus on Passover through music and comedy. Celebrate Chol Hamoed Pesach at Stephen S. Wise Temple with this evening’s “Let My People Sing” series event, “Tears, Laughter and Spirit.” Comedian Joel Chasnoff performs with The Lost Boys of Sudan Choir and Dream Freedom Performers of Milken Community High School. Or visit the Workmen’s Circle for “Music, Mayses … and Matse?!” a concert of Yiddish and klezmer tunes performed by renown musicians Yale Strom on violin, Mark Dresser on contrabass and singer Elizabeth Schwartz.

Stephen S. Wise: 7:30 p.m. Dessert and coffee follow. Donation. 15500 Stephen S. Wise Drive, Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (310) 476-8561. ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>

Sunday, April 16

Ladies only, you are cordially invited to a special screening of “Together as One,” a multicamera video produced by Kol Neshama, an L.A. arts program for Orthodox girls and women. The film about positive attitude and watching what you say has a “Wizard of Oz”-ian spin, when the snide-mouthed protagonist, Bracha, ends up in The Land of Emes (Truth). There are elaborately choreographed musical numbers featuring now-Orthodox professional performers, along with local school girls. The video may only be viewed in today’s and tomorrow’s screenings.

April 16 and 17, 3 p.m. and 7 p.m., Upstairs@ Kehilas Yaakov, 7211 Beverly Blvd. (877) 637-4262.

Monday, April 17

Director Nicole Holofcener’s film about the midlife struggles of four female friends — and their uneasy relationships with money and each other-comes to theaters this week. Jennifer Aniston, Catherine Keener, Joan Cusack and Frances McDormand star in the comedy/drama “Friends With Money,” which was the opening night film at the Sundance Film Festival.

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Tuesday, April 18

Head to LACMA West for art that makes you go, “hmmmm….” Their new LACMALab installation, “Consider this…” features the work of six varied artists that all invite viewers to “examine the cultural and social landscape: who are we and what do we want to be?”

Through Jan. 15, 2007. Free (children 17 and under), $5-$9 (general). 6067 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. www.lacma.org

Wednesday, April 19

Pay homage to legends of different sorts at tonight’s American Cinematheque screening of “The Night of the Hunter.” This is the kickoff event for their new screening series of devoted film critic “Kevin Thomas’ Favorite Films.” The monthly event will feature 10 of Thomas’ favorites, including “Sunset Boulevard” and “A Star is Born.” Tonight also serves as a tribute to Thomas’ friend, actress Shelley Winters, who starred in “Hunter.”

7:30 p.m. $6-$9. 1328 Montana Ave., Santa Monica. www.americancinematheque.com.

 

Thursday, April 20

The circle of life takes an unconventional turn or two in Michelle Kholos’ new play “Two Parents, Two Weddings, Two Years.” The story follows Sidney, a grown woman with a boyfriend and a career, who must reconcile herself with the fact that her divorced parents are both, separately, getting remarried, while she struggles to hang on to her significant other, and her brother tries to romance his soon-to-be sister-in-law. Wacky Jewish family drama ensues….

8 p.m. (Fri. and Sat.), 3 p.m. (Sun.), through May 14. $25. The Hollywood Court Theatre, Hollywood United Methodist Church, 6817 Franklin Ave., Hollywood. (323) 692-8200.

 

Friday, April 21

A woman dressed in a white gown and veil stands at a border crossing between the Golan Heights and Syria. She is “The Syrian Bride,” the titular character in a new film by Eran Riklis, and her story is based on a real incident Riklis witnessed and filmed for his 1999 documentary, “Borders.” The bride’s story is a complicated one, of people’s lives caught between the politics and bureaucracies of border countries. The film played at this year’s Israel Film Festival in Los Angeles, and is released theatrically today.

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Vintage Israeli posters, MethodFest, ‘Bush Is Bad’


Saturday the 31st

Theater with a historical lesson comes to The Other Space at Santa Monica Playhouse, with the guest production of “Black and Bluestein.” The dramedy written by Jerry Mayer takes place in early ’60s St. Louis, and tells the story of Jewish homeowner Jeff Bluestein and the issues he faces while deliberating whether to sell his home — in a largely white Jewish neighborhood — to a black family.

Through April 29. $22-$25. 1211 4th St., Santa Monica. (323) 960-4418. ” target=”_blank”>www.methodfest.com.

Monday the 2nd

Another independent film worth your attention is Russell Brown’s “Race You to the Bottom,” which opens this week. The film focuses on the relationship between two friends, Maggie and Nathan. Maggie is straight, and Nathan identifies as gay, and both of them are involved with other people. Despite all of this, however, the two are also in the midst of a passionate affair and decide to take a romantic road trip to Napa together.
Special screenings: Sat., March 31, 7:30 p.m. Post-screening Q-and-A with Russell Brown.

Sun., April 1, 7:30 p.m. 2-for-1 “Girls Grab Your Best Gay/Gays Grab Your Best Girl” promotion. The Regent Showcase Theatre, 614 N. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles. ” target=”_blank”>www.georgebillis.com.

Wednesday the 4th

AFI goes behind the music at the Arclight in their sixth-annual Music Documentary Series. Tonight’s opening night features the 1982 classic “Pink Floyd: The Wall.” Subsequent Wednesdays will screen “Buena Vista Social Club,” “Punk Rock Eats its Own: A Film About Face to Face,” “Shut Up and Sing,” “Rock the Bells” and “Last Days of Left Eye.” Post screening Q-and-A’s with filmmakers are also planned.

Through May 9. 8 p.m. $10-$11 (per screening). 6360 W. Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 464-4226. ” target=”_blank”>www.skirball.org.

Friday the 6th

Following a successful 15-month run in New York, “Bush Is Bad” makes its West Coast debut this evening. Those making up that 30-something percent approval rating will want to ignore this suggestion; others, however, may welcome a show with a bit of comic relief, described as “the hysterical love-child of ‘Forbidden Broadway’ and ‘The Daily Show.'”

Through May 20. $35. NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood. (818) 508-7101.

Spectator – Assimilation and a Blonde Doll


Filmmaker Tiffany Shlain laughs when asked where she gets her finely honed sense of ironic humor. It comes with being Jewish, she explains — a group whose number constitutes just one-quarter of 1 percent of the human race and thus makes getting along with others paramount.

“You got to keep them laughing, or else they’ll kill you,” she says by phone from her San Francisco home. “Jews are always making fun of themselves — it’s a strategy, I think.”

Her new short film is a funny, often self-deprecating and dazzlingly collage-style documentary called “The Tribe: An Unorthodox, Unauthorized History of the Jewish People and the Barbie Doll … in About 15 Minutes.” Co-written with her Jewish husband, UC Berkeley robotics professor Ken Goldberg, and narrated by Peter Coyote, the film, an official selection at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, screens on March 30 at the Egyptian Theater — followed by a discussion with Shlain and Goldberg.

Shlain grew up culturally Jewish in the Bay Area and was interested in learning about her grandfather’s origins in Odessa, Ukraine. With time, she became increasingly concerned with her Jewish heritage. She and her husband, for instance, named their daughter “Odessa.”

The film’s specific origins began when Shlain learned that the creator of the “WASPy-looking” Barbie Doll was a Jewish woman, Ruth Handler.

“I thought that was one of the great ironies of popular culture,” she said.

Subsequently, when Shlain noticed that Handler’s 2002 obituaries didn’t mention her religion, she got peeved.

“I thought that’s the lead part of the story,” she said. “Then it hit me that Barbie would be the perfect metaphor for exploring assimilation. It’s a complicated subject, but she’s a funny way in. People have strong feelings about Barbie.”

Using archival footage, animated graphics, Barbie dioramas, direct-camera addresses and even a spoken-word “slam poetry” performance, the film seriously explores Judaism even while irreverently spoofing its intentions.

This is the eighth film for the 35-year-old Shlain, who also works with computers and who founded the Webbie Awards honoring Internet achievements. Her last short, “Life, Liberty & the Pursuit of Happiness,” was about the erosion of reproductive rights.

“I’m very interested in taking difficult subjects and infusing them with humor,” she said. “I think with complicated issues, you have to use humor to open people up to talking about them.”

“The Tribe” has its Los Angeles premiere at 8 p.m. on March 30 at the Egyptian Theater, presented by the American Cinematheque, 6712 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. $9. Tickets can be purchased at fandango.com. For more information, visit

Leonard Cohen Film Toasts Songwriter


“He’s the man who comes down from the mountaintop with tablets of stone,” says U2’s guitarist, The Edge, in “Leonard Cohen I’m Your Man,” a documentary on Cohen, one of the greatest living songwriters, that is screening at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

Comments on Cohen’s many biblical references in his songs and his almost mystical authority are sprinkled through out the film, which is slated for a May theatrical release from Lionsgate, even as the many interviewees also point out that Cohen can also be droll and erotic in his work.

The film’s director, Australian-born and L.A.-based Lian Lunson, expanded upon The Edge’s comments in a telephone interview:

“I think with great writers like Leonard Cohen, the gift they have has so much weight behind it, that even if the lyric isn’t religious, it takes on a religious aspect because of the great amount of contemplation that has gone into it.”

The film interweaves interviews with various subjects with a wry, introspective 71-year-old Cohen — his face creased and hair gray but both his mind and his wardrobe sharp. Interspersed, too, are performances at the “Came So Far for Beauty” concert tribute to Cohen at the Sydney Opera House.

At that show, produced by American Hal Willner (who also produced UCLA Live’s Randy Newman tribute), such musicians as the McGarrigle Sisters, Rufus Wainwright, Beth Orton, Nick Cave, Linda Thompson and Antony (of Antony & the Johnsons) perform versions of songs from throughout Cohen’s career. Eventually, late in the film, Cohen sings — in his gravely rumble of a voice — “Tower of Song,” in a surprising special performance staged just for the film by Lunson, a longtime music video director.

As Cohen and others recall, his youthful influences included the Jewish liturgy he heard in synagogue. Cohen was born in 1934 in Montreal to an influential English-speaking family. His father was a clothing manufacturer, his paternal grandfather helped lead numerous Jewish civic and religious institutions and his maternal grandfather was a rabbi and Talmudic scholar.

Cohen became first an accomplished poet and then, starting with 1967’s “Songs of Leonard Cohen” (which contained the oft-recorded “Suzanne”) a singer-songwriter. According to Ira Nader’s Cohen biography, “Various Positions,” Cohen’s Judaism has influenced his songs greatly — “Who By Fire” is based on the melody of a Yom Kippur prayer, “Mi Bamayim, Mi Ba Esh,” and “If It Be Your Will” is derived from a “Kol Nidre” phrase.

Cohen talks movingly in the film about how his father’s death — when he was just 9 — galvanized in him a compassionate but unsentimentally mature view about the limitations of life on earth.

“It was in the realm of things that couldn’t be disputed or even judged,” he tells Lunson.

And he explains he’s been searching for other such things to give his life structure and discipline — truth — ever since. He describes himself as drawn to “the military and the monastery.”

While remaining Jewish, he has pursued an interest in Zen Buddhism for some 30 years at the Mt. Baldy Zen Center with a Japanese master, Joshu Sasaki Roshi.

“He was someone who deeply didn’t care about who I was, and the less I cared about who I was the better I felt,” Cohen tells Lunson.

Speaking quietly but unguardedly, Cohen appears amused when discussing his lifelong dislike for blue jeans, his following among young “punksters” and his regrets about once revealing that “Chelsea Hotel” was written about a sexual encounter with Janis Joplin. “She wouldn’t have minded, but my mother would have minded,” he says of his indiscretion.

“Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man” was produced by Mel Gibson’s Icon Productions, which arranged distribution with Lionsgate. Lunson and Gibson are longtime friends, and she helped him put together the album, “Songs Inspired by ‘The Passion of the Christ,'” which included Cohen’s “By the Rivers Dark.”

“I took the idea of the film to Mel because he’s a huge Leonard Cohen fan, always has been, and he said, ‘Let me put it out there and see,'” Lunson said. “He loves Leonard Cohen.”

 

7 Days in The Arts


Saturday, January 21

Laugh it up at Hillel at Pierce and Valley colleges’ annual Comedy Nite this evening. Nationally known stand-up comedians keep the people happy and entertained, with the help of silent auction and raffle. Actor Tom Bosley, a.k.a. “Happy Days'” beloved Mr. C., will be honored as a positive Jewish role model, thanks to both his professional achievements and his commitment to the community. The event helps support Hillel programming.

7 p.m. (auction), 8 p.m. (show). $30-$35. Pierce College Main Theater, Performing Arts Building, 6201 Winnetka Ave., Woodland Hills. (818) 887-5901.

Sunday, January 22

Babs fans be warned. No icon — not Streisand, not Patinkin — will be spared at this evening’s musical parody show, “Forbidden Broadway.” The performance troupe is well-known for lovingly mocking productions of the Great White Way, and tonight will be no different, save for the Jewish twist they’ve added just for their University of Judaism audience.

7:30 p.m. $40. 15600 Mulholland Drive, Bel Air. R.S.V.P., (310) 440-1246.

Monday, January 23

It is our duty to inform you of the latest Albert Brooks film, “Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World.” Brooks plays himself in the semi-autobiographical story about a comedian chosen for a special government assignment to travel to India and Pakistan to learn what makes Muslims laugh. However, it must also be said that if you are looking for comedy, we’re not sure that this film is where you’ll find it.

Opens Jan. 20. ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>

Tuesday, January 24

Local author makes good. Writer M. L. Malcolm signs her debut novel, “Silent Lies,” this evening at Barnes and Noble, Encino. Meet her, and pick up her story about a poor Jewish Hungarian boy with a knack for languages whose adventures take him from post-World War I Hungary to Shanghai.

7:30 p.m. Free. 16461 Ventura Blvd., Encino.

Wednesday, January 25

Collectors and wannabes hobnob with high art society at tonight’s opening night gala for the Los Angeles Art Show. Pay the big money to take it in tonight, or significantly less to wait till tomorrow (through Sunday). Featured artists include plenty of big hitters like Ansel Adams and Roy Lichtenstein, and the show also serves as centerpiece to Art Week Plus, a grouping of art shows and events around Los Angeles from Jan. 19-29.

$150 (gala), $9-$18 (general admission). Barker Hangar at Santa Monica Airport, 3021 Airport Ave., Santa Monica. ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>


Thursday, January 26

Thursday becomes eclectic. Tonight at UCLA’s Royce Hall, “UCLA Live” presents Israeli folk/rock/world beat songstress Chava Alberstein in concert with Parisian modern gypsy-klezmer octet Les Yeux Noirs. And the beat goes on….

8 p.m. $22–$38. UCLA Royce Hall, Westwood. ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>

Friday, January 27

A “Black and Yiddish Film Festival” comes to the Skirball this week, the first program of its kind to be developed. Focusing on a shared moment in history, the 1930s-1950s, in which black and Yiddish Americans both experienced a creative renaissance in film, the fest will screen three Yiddish and five black movies of the era. Playing tonight is a double feature of “Lang Ist Der Veg (Long Is the Road)” and “Song of Freedom.”

$5-$8. 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (866) 468-3399.

‘Thin’ Exposes Hefty Secrets and Lies


Alisa, a 30-year-old Jewish divorcee, consumed 200 calories most days. But every few weeks, she repeatedly binged on gargantuan amounts of junk food, then purged by vomiting, swallowing diuretics and Ipecac. After several days, the mother of two usually landed in the hospital.

“I remember at one point thinking … ‘This is the one thing I want so badly, to be thin. So if it takes dying to get there, so be it,'” she says.

Alisa is one of several severely ill eating disorder patients profiled in “Thin,” the film debut of renowned photojournalist Lauren Greenfield. The raw documentary also profiles Polly, who slit her wrists after eating two slices of pizza; Brittany, a goth teenager determined to lose 40 pounds, and Shelly, who was force fed through a surgically implanted stomach tube for five years. Handheld cameras follow their rocky physical and emotional journeys at the Renfrew residential treatment center in south Florida.

The movie joins an expanding body of work on female dietary obsessions, including the PBS documentary, “Dying to be Thin”; Eve Ensler’s play, “The Good Body,” and Greenfield’s own 2002 book and exhibit, “Girl Culture.”

Her documentary focuses less on the complex causes of eating disorders than the Herculean task of recovery for patients who use food the way addicts use drugs. Polly, a shy psychiatric nurse, weighs in at 84 pounds, but blissfully talks about the days when she sucked food out of her feeding tube with a syringe. Brittany reminisces about the “chew and spit” game she used to play with her mother: “We’d buy bags and bags of candy and just chew it and spit it out. We just thought of it as a good time.”

During 10 intense weeks at the center, Greenfield learned that while societal pressures often trigger eating disorders, they are actually mental illnesses with grim statistics. Anorexia is the deadliest of all psychiatric disorders, according to the American Journal of Psychiatry, with mortality rates of up to 20 percent. No statistics exist on Jewish women, but experts say they may be particularly vulnerable, in part, due to more zaftig body types and the drive to look all-American (i.e. svelte).

All seriously ill patients are tough to treat: “Secrets and lies are a big part of eating disorders, because you have to hide your habits from friends and family,” Greenfield explains from her Venice, studio. “At Renfrew, women would clandestinely jog in place in the shower, or conceal weights in their clothing to cheat the scale.”

The center’s rules, therefore, are strict. When Polly arrives at the clinic, staff members promptly search her luggage and whisk away “contraband” such as cigarettes and prescription drugs. In another scene, the usually feisty Polly is obliged to eat a cupcake for her birthday, which she consumes slowly and with disgust. Afterward, she cries bitterly.

Alisa also appears pained when required to sketch a silhouette of herself, which she draws as an obese figure — though after a month at Renfrew she is healthily trim, with an uncanny resemblance to Natalie Portman. She traces her eating disorder to age 7, when her pediatrician declared her fat and she was placed on a 1,000 calorie per day diet.

On camera, she does not discuss how her Reform background fueled her disease, but she answered e-mailed questions through Greenfield.

“Alisa believes that Jews are a proud people; they are very concerned about self-image and there is a strong emphasis on education and money,” the director says. “She thinks that makes for more of a need to overachieve and be perfect, which can drive an eating disorder. So her sense is that being Jewish contributed a lot to her [illness].”

The filmmaker, who is also Jewish, relates to her subjects because she was once obsessed with the scale. At 12, she began physically comparing herself to the other girls at Camp JCA Shalom in Malibu and went on to become a chronic teenage dieter. At Harvard University, she “went on a crash diet and lost 26 pounds, in the process gaining so much confidence that I threw myself into my first serious relationship,” she says.

Eventually Greenfield — named one of 25 top photographers by American Photo magazine — dedicated much of her career to chronicling how the Barbie-doll culture scars women. But her 2002 book only touched upon the life-threatening topic of eating disorders, save for several pictures snapped at Renfrew. The artist remained haunted by one of a gaunt patient standing backwards on a scale so as not to see her weight gain.

In June 2004, Greenfield returned to Renfrew with cinematographer Amanda Micheli to further explore the subject, this time in a cinema verite-style film. But she found that earning patients’ trust proved difficult.

After many setbacks, Greenfield won them over by showing she would turn the camera off whenever she was asked to do so. Polly made the request while on a suicide watch, but changed her mind after the director spent the night talking with her. She allowed Greenfield to shoot her purging her breakfast the next morning, an act that is almost always done in secret and is forbidden at the center.

Alisa also purges on camera, but expresses a moment of hope during one group therapy session.

“For a fleeting moment I imagined a better life,” she says. “And maybe — pun intended — I can taste recovery.”

“Thin” will screen at the Sundance festival Jan. 19-29 and on HBO this fall.

 

Spectator – A Three Nyuks Salute


Three Jews are in a room screaming at one another, poking each other in the eyes, hitting each other on the head with objects ranging from frying pans to anvils. It’s either a meeting of the synagogue’s board of trustees or a Three Stooges film festival. Fortunately, this time, it’s the latter, a quick but lethal — and lethally funny — display of Stoogehood by the American Cinematheque as part of its year-end festivities from Dec. 28-Dec.30.

Why the Stooges? Well this is the 70th anniversary of the inestimable trio’s signing by Columbia Pictures, the momentous contract that locked them into the comfortable prison block of the short-films unit at the studio. (Given that the Stooges started with the “Lady With the Lamp” in 1934 and released their first short for Columbia, “Woman Haters,” that year, logic would seem to dictate that this is the 71st anniversary, but logic seldom came onto the horizon where the Stooges are concerned.)

The Stooges would toil long and hard making films that ranged from 15 minutes to the much rarer expansiveness of 20 minutes. By the time the boys had reached the pinnacle of the industry, Jerome and Samuel Howard (better know as Curly and Shemp) had been dead several years, and Moe Howard (ne Horwitz) and Larry Fine (ne Feinberg) were well past their prime. Adding Joe Besser and Joe DeRita (a.k.a. Curly Joe) in succession as third Stooges did nothing to help, and the scripts that the boys were saddled with can best be judged by a trip to Cinematheque for “The Three Stooges Meet Hercules,” a woeful 1962 extravaganza that suffers from too little money, too few gags and too much running time.

The Stooges shorts are sharp, savage, funny and, yes, vulgar. The comedy short never lent itself to great sophistication. When geniuses like Keaton and Chaplin wanted to explore more complex modes of moviemaking and richer thematic relationships, they moved into features.

The Stooges were never so fortunate, but the best of their shorts, like “You Nazty Spy!” is pointed in its satire of Hitler (here played by the oldest Howard brother as Moe Hailstone of Moronica), and goes for his jugular with a gusto that prestige features of the time didn’t dare. Were the Stooges comic geniuses? No, but they had the sterling comic timing of the professional funnyman, hard-won in a thousand tank towns on the vaudeville circuit, and that is more than enough.

The American Cinematheque is showing the Three Stooges in “You Nazty Spy!” before the screening of “The Cocoanuts” on Wednesday,Dec. 28 at 7:30 p.m.; “The Three Stooges Meet Hercules,” preceded by “We Want Our Mummy” will be shown the following night at 7:30 p.m. Finally, on Friday, Dec. 30 at 7:30 p.m., the Cinematheque comemorates “The Three Stooges’ 70th Anniversary with a program of six of their best shorts, “Men in Black,” which merited their only Oscar nominee for best live-action short “Horses’ Collars.” “From Nurse To Worse,” “Squareheads Of The Round Table,” “An Ache in Every Stake” and “In the Sweet Pie and Pie,” which concludes with of the greatest pie-fight sequences ever perpetrated. All programs will be shown at the Aero Theater (1328 Montana Ave. at 14th Street) in Santa Monica. For more information visit http://www.americancinematheque.com/Aero/tickets.htm’Tickets.

George Robinson is film and music critic for Jewish Week. His book, “Essential Torah,” will be published by Shocken Books in fall 2006.

Prickly Fathers, Rebellious Sons


Prickly relationships between fathers and sons, messy divorces and radical personal awakenings. All are subjects tackled by two searing, semiautobiographical films by Jewish directors now playing in Los Angeles. Noah Baumbach’s “The Squid and the Whale” and Ira Sachs’ “Forty Shades of Blue” both won top prizes at this year’s Sundance Film Festival — and both are generating Oscar buzz. They also have another thing in common: Each film reflects the current cultural obsession with the unflinching family memoir.

Baumbach and Sachs, both in their 30s, live blocks from each other in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood in Manhattan. But The Journal caught up with them last week in Los Angeles as they peddled their films to the press. In separate interviews, the directors described how psychotherapy spurred these highly personal, if fictionalized works. They also talked about their real fathers, and how Judaism influences their world view.

The title of Baumbach’s blistering, darkly comic film, “The Squid and the Whale,” alludes to “The Clash of the Titans” diorama at Manhattan’s American Museum of Natural History. But it also becomes a metaphor for the battle between a confused Jewish teenager and his hypercritical, intellectual father, played by Jeff Daniels. Initially, the fictional Walt (Jesse Eisenberg) acts as his father’s disciple, parroting dad’s imperious dismissals of books such as “This Side of Paradise” as “minor’ Fitzgerald.” But after his parents’ divorce, traumatic events sour Walt’s father-worship, allowing the boy to become his own person.

The characters are inspired by Baumbach’s life with his father (and mother), both lauded writers, in Brooklyn in the 1980s. Although his mother is Protestant, young Noah identified as Jewish because he felt a connection to the People of the Book. Family discussions abounded about “major” and “minor” Dickens, metafiction and why one should not bother to read Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road.”

“On the one hand, it was incredibly valuable — and very Jewish — to be introduced to so many classics,” the 35-year-old director said in the lobby of the Le Mondrian hotel. “But on the other, I was rejecting a lot of books I hadn’t even read, like the character of Walt in the movie. I dismissed ‘On the Road,’ as juvenile, when in fact I was a juvenile and probably should have had the experience of reading it.

“I was running around and pretending I was some brilliant person,” he added. “But I wasn’t doing well in school because I wasn’t doing the work. It can be intimidating when you’re assigned to read a classic and you know it’s good for you but [difficult]. You feel like, ‘What’s wrong with me,’ and you bag off of it.”

When his parents divorced, suddenly the family he had viewed as superior collapsed, and he worried the neighbors would discover the Baumbachs weren’t so great.

Young Noah survived and grew up to collaborate with director Wes Anderson and to make three films — including 1995’s art house success, “Kicking and Screaming” — while still in his 20s. Yet he remained dissatisfied with these clever comedies of manners, because he felt he was “writing from the outside in.” It was only psychotherapy and the maturity of reaching age 30 that allowed him to confront rawer subjects.

His thoughts turned to his adolescence, and he initially toyed with writing about two brothers in their 30s who deal retroactively with their parents’ divorce. Then by chance, he saw Louis Malle’s “Murmur of the Heart,” which inspired him to focus on the children’s point of view.

“I went directly to that time in my life and told the story from there,” he said. “By starting from a very real place I was able to fictionalize in a much more effective way.”

Wearing longish, styled hair and a chic suit, Baumbach looks nothing like the scruffy Brooklynites in his film. He speaks softly except when describing the reviews that say “Squid” lambastes his real father, who was keenly aware of the movie project.

“I feel protected by the film because it is a fiction, an artistic achievement,” he said. “If I really was intending to eviscerate my father, I would feel much more vulnerable.”

Even so, actor Daniels noted similarities between Baumbach’s father and his character during a visit to the writer’s Brooklyn home.

“It was his enjoyment of finding a word and using it to describe something that only he would say,” Daniels told The Journal. “He would use terms like, ‘fillet’ of the neighborhood, or how his beard was looking ‘a little feral.’ And then there would be a little flash of the eyes, looking at the person he just said that to, wondering if they’re as impressed with what he just did as he was.”

Actor Eisenberg was more starry-eyed when Baumbach senior visited the set, responding as his character would have to Daniels’ character.

“I felt reverential because I had read one of his books and I had really liked it,” he said.

Baumbach, meanwhile, insists that his father loves the film — and that there is no squid and whale fight here. He said his dad is proud of his achievements. And so is the director.

“I have learned the value of an emotional approach to filmmaking,” he said.

The film “Forty Shades of Blue” arises emotionally out of the 1968 split-up of Ira Sachs’ parents and its aftermath. At age 5, Ira began accompanying his father on his bachelor outings in a Cadillac convertible in the environs of Memphis, Tenn. Sachs senior, a real estate mogul, “was a man about town, and he had lots of women in his life,” the 39-year-old director recalled. Young Ira spent many evenings at bars and parties or riding in the back of the Cadillac with one of his father’s much-younger girlfriends.

“Initially I felt antagonism for these women, because they were so different from me in terms of culture, education and class,” the director said. “But once I got to know them, I saw that they had their own innate intelligence, just a different set of economic possibilities. For many of these women, being with a charismatic, wealthy older man offered financial security, and access to clout and power. I also sensed a repressed anger because there was so much at stake for these women. And I became more sympathetic to the notion of how class effects character.”

The concept eventually led to “Blue,” about a sleek Muscovite (Dina Korzun) who appears to be the vapid trophy girlfriend of a hot-tempered Memphis music producer (Rip Torn). The intimate drama follows the character as she awakens to her own needs, prompted by her affair with her lover’s prodigal son.

“My character is a woman who has illusions and wrong ideas about life, and this love story gives her a reason to wake up and start to ask questions,” actress Korzun said.

On a recent Friday at the Chateau Marmont hotel, the affable Sachs, who was dressed like a preppie, looked around the opulent lobby and noted only white faces in sight. He went on to trace his obsession with character and class not only to the backseat of his father’s Cadillac, but to his Reform temple in Memphis. The synagogue emphasized social action over ritual and empathy for society’s outcasts and have-nots. While he was one of the “haves,” Sachs identified because he, too, felt marginalized as a Southern Jew.

“I was popular at my all-boys prep school, but I knew I’d have pennies thrown at me if I walked down a certain hall,” he said. Sachs was also gay and closeted at the time.

Growing up, he strongly identified with a radical Jewish tradition that was based on social dissent. He served as a labor activist at Yale and, after graduation, began making films about people on society’s margins. His acclaimed 1997 movie, “The Delta,” for example, revolved around a half-black, half-Vietnamese gay man in Memphis.

Sachs describes himself as an “utterly Jewish artist,” not only because of his economic perspective but also because of his devotion to “the Jewish discipline” of psychoanalysis: “My film explores, ‘What do you lose in the choices you make and how can you regain what is lost through self-understanding?'”

Nine intensive years on the couch also helped him resolve issues with Sachs senior (bachelor outings included), who now lives in Park City, Utah.

“My father was not volatile like Rip Torn’s character, but he had a similar strength and position and created a shadow I needed to emerge from,” Sachs said.

While his analysis may have helped him create exquisitely nuanced protagonists, some psychiatrists at a New York Psychoanalytic Institute screening were more interested in the director.

“They pointed out,” Sachs said, “that the structure of the story is mythologically Oedipal.”

“Squid and the Whale” opens Friday; “Forty Shades of Blue” is now in theaters.

 

7 Days in The Arts


Saturday, August 6

While we are of the opinion that adult twins who dress alike are about as cheesy or creepy as you can get, we can’t speak for the Rosenblum Twins’ comedic skills. The identically attractive Jewish girls perform their bit, “The Separation Anxiety Tour,” as special guests in tonight’s Masquers Cabaret lineup.

9:30 p.m. $15 (cover, plus two-drink minimum). 8334 W. Third St., Los Angeles. (323) 653-4848.

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Sunday, August 7

Down-home blues and pretty bluegrass are just some of the sounds you’ll hear today at the Skirball’s “American Roots Musical Festival.” Acclaimed blues and gospel performers The Holmes Brothers and zyedeco artist Geno Delafose headline the daylong extravaganza that highlights our musical past.

2-7 p.m. $5-$15 (general), free (children under 12). 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (866) 468-3399.

Monday, August 8

The dirt behind the manicured lawns of fictional suburban town, Agrestic, Calif., is “Weeds,” a new Showtime comedy series. Created and executive produced by Jenji Kohan (Emmy Award-winner and sister of “Will and Grace” exec producer/creator David Kohan), the show stars Mary-Louise Parker as a different kind of desperate housewife. The widowed mother of two turns to selling pot to pay the bills after her husband’s sudden death. Elizabeth Perkins and Kevin Nealon also star. The show premieres this week.

10 p.m. ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>

Tuesday, August 9

Cuz you can’t get enough industry talk in this city, head downtown tonight to partake in yet another conversation on the state of Hollywood through Zócalo at California Plaza. Robert J. Dowling, 15-year Hollywood Reporter editor-in-chief, and L.A. Times columnist Joel Stein discuss both the culture and the business of this business — and, most importantly, TomKat.

7 p.m. Free. 351 S. Olive St., Los Angeles. (213) 403-0416.

Wednesday, August 10

For one heck of a hora film, see Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn in “Wedding Crashers,” about two friends who crash weddings to hook up with women. The opening montage includes the two hamming it up at various ethnic weddings, including a Jewish one.

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Thursday, August 11

The rich diversity of L.A.’s religious community is on display in photographer Robert Berger’s latest book, “Sacred Spaces: Historical Houses of Worship in the City of Angels.” The book’s title and contents also make up the Skirball Cultural Center’s new exhibition of Images representing L.A.’s religious sanctuaries of past and present. It opens today.

Runs through Nov. 27. Free. 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4500.

Friday, August 12

For escapist humor don’t look to Theatre 40’s latest production. Jules Feiffer’s biting black comedy, “Little Murders,” will offer you humor all right, but there will be no escape. Set in an urban, violent Manhattan, the play centers on one family coping with the usual American family dysfunction, complete with overbearing mother, passive father and sexually confused son. It plays through Sept. 3.

8 p.m. (Thurs.-Sat.), 2 p.m. (Sat., Aug. 13, 20, 27 and Sept. 3; Sun., Aug. 7). $18-$20. Reuben Cordova Theatre, 241 Moreno Drive, Beverly Hills High Campus. R.S.V.P., (310) 364-0535.

The Tao of Woody


 

First came God. Then came Godot. Then came Woody Allen. Actually, none of them ever showed up — not in the play “Waiting for Godot” or the newly acclaimed short feature film parodying it, “Waiting for Woody Allen.” In the 16-minute feature, two Chasidim — Mendel and Yossel — sit in Central Park waiting for the venerable filmmaker to show up and give their lives meaning. In the meantime, against this autumn backdrop of one day, they argue in their Yiddish-tinged accents about whether they should give up religion or they should wait for Woody, nu?

While “The Great One” might never make an appearance in this droll existentialist film, recent events may prove that there is a God: “Waiting for Woody Allen,” garnered its director, Michael Rainin, a $1-million budget to direct a film.

Beginning this year, the L.A. International Short Film Festival, which took place Sept. 7-13, chose four directors out of the 500 filmmakers for its Discovering New Artists Award. The winner, Rainin, will direct a feature-length film with talent attached.

“It’s my dream come true,” the 29-year-old director said about his first film. Rainin decided to make a short film about a year and a half ago, when he moved to Los Angeles, following a six-year stint in New York as a writer and a producer.

“Instead of spending $40,000 to go to film school, I decided to spend the money to make a film,” he said.

He scoured Craig’s List for a script (hey, those actually get made!) and was struck by Jonathan Brown and Daniel Wechler’s “Waiting for Woody Allen.”

“I grew up with the Jewish humor of my grandfather and father my whole life,” Rainin said of his father’s Russian Jewish family. “And he turned me on to Woody Allen’s film at a young age.”

Now, the production designer’s prize is to direct to direct “Learning to Fly,” a romantic comedy which has not yet been cast but is set to start filming in March. And then what?

“I want to make films,” Rainin said. “I want to make interesting and profound films for the rest of my life — hopefully this is just the beginning.”

From Woody’s lips to God’s ears.

For more information, visit www.waitingforwoodyallen.com.

Latkes Lose Again


by Sarah Price Brown, Contributing Writer

The Chanukah stamp has a new look for the first time since the United States and Israel jointly issued the stamp in 1996. The U.S. Postal Service dedicated the new design Oct. 15 in New York. It will be available in post offices starting Saturday, Oct. 16.

The stamp, part of a holiday series, has for years featured a menorah of brightly colored candles. The new design displays a dreidel from Jerusalem in front of letters spelling “Hanukkah.”

Ethel Kessler, the stamp art director, said using a dreidel was not her first choice.

“A dreidel is playful and fun, but I was looking for something more serious,” she said. She visited the Jewish Museum of New York and the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles in search of ideas.

Kessler saw a menorah at the Skirball that had candleholders in the shape of the Statue of Liberty. She liked the symbol, which she thought represented religious freedom. But the intricate menorah was not right for the small stamp.

Kessler considered depicting an ancient menorah to show how long Jews have been celebrating the holiday. But she wondered whether the meaning would come across.

Then, the art director had the idea to show an old manuscript. But that would work for Purim, not Chanukah, she decided.

“I kept coming back to the joy of the holiday,” Kessler said. It was the dreidel that best captured the playful spirit of the celebration.

The winning dreidel belongs to a rabbi’s collection. It has a “quality of craft that’s interesting,” she said.

Kessler also liked that it depicts Jerusalem.

She added text behind the image to make the stamp “contemporary and understandable to a wide audience.”

Sixty million copies have been printed, according to Frances Frazier, a Postal Service official involved in publicizing the stamp.

For more information, visit www.usps.gov.

Short Films, Big Messages


In Sidney Lumet’s searing short film, “The Rachel Aria,” a fanatical Jew tears a Torah scroll while making a horrific vow: He’s decided to let himself and his adopted child be boiled alive rather than convert to Christianity; he won’t save her by revealing she’s actually the daughter of the cardinal, his arch-nemesis.

For the filmmakers, the short — based on the 1835 opera, “La Juive” — is as much about terrorism as anti-Semitism.

“We talked a lot about suicide bombers,” producer Paula Heil Fisher said. “We talked about how a person can be driven to choose revenge over family.”

“Rachel” premieres this week at the 10th annual Palm Springs International Festival of Short Films, the largest event of its kind in North America. It’s one of six shorts on a Jewish program that, like some festival fare, exhibits a kind of Sept. 11 hangover.

“Strangers,” by Guy Nattiv and Erez Tadmor, revolves around a Jew and an Arab who band together to escape skinheads on the subway. “Old Country,” by Mark Adam and Allen Kaeja, explores a community traumatized by the brutality of war.

Like all successful shorts, the Jewish films are concise but powerful; Lumet, for one, “gives just the necessary information while delivering emotional depth,” the festival’s Helen du Toit said.

In a spare 10 minutes, the protagonist, Eleazar, displays the level of angst one sees in Lumet’s Oscar-winning feature, “The Pawnbroker,” about a Holocaust survivor also embittered by loss.

“It’s intensely psychological storytelling,” du Toit said.

But the focus is political, too. Eleazar (tenor Neil Shicoff) “speaks of intolerance and prejudice and fanaticism that’s so contemporary I can turn the TV on now and see it on CNN,” Shicoff told Newsday.

Which is why his character commits such an unspeakable act in the film.

“He tears the Torah, which is an unbelievable sin beyond anything you can imagine — beyond murder,” Lumet said.

The Jewish short film program screens Sept. 1 at thefestival, which runs from Aug. 31-Sept. 6. For information, visit www.psfilmfest.org .

Israel’s Sundance Pics Garner Praise


These are hard times and good times for Israel’s movie industry. Major international films crews have all but abandoned the Jewish State as an on-site location since Brad Pitt and Robert Redford scuttled plans some three years ago to shoot “Spy Game” around Haifa and switched to Morocco instead.

The intifada has also scared off Hollywood celebrities (with very few exceptions), who used to pop up at Israeli film festivals and award ceremonies.

In their isolation, however, Israeli producers and directors have come up with a number of films that have garnered acclaim and awards at film festivals in the United States, Europe, Japan and Argentina.

There is some hope that “Nina’s Tragedies” can extend the streak at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, during the Jan. 15-25 event.

Two other Israeli films will be screened at Sundance, and at least two more at the affiliated SchmoozeDance, the Jewish festival, on Jan. 16.

“Nina’s Tragedies,” subtitled “A Very Sad Comedy,” is directed and written by Savi Gabizon (“Lovesick on Nana Street”) and won 11 Israeli Academy Awards. It is Israel’s entry for foreign-language film Oscar honors and is given a slim outside chance to qualify as one of the five finalists for the big prize.

With its multitude of characters and subplots, it’s not an easy movie to summarize.

Basically, it revolves around the real and fantasy lives of Nadav (Aviv Elkabeth), a nerdy-looking 13-year-old, whose sexual awakening is stimulated by peeping through windows, but whose overriding obsession is on his beautiful aunt Nina (Ayelet July Zorer).

When Nina’s husband Haimon (Yoram Hatav) is killed on reserve army duty, Nadav’s highest hopes are fulfilled when he is asked to move in with the aunt to help out the disconsolate widow.

However, his elation is short-lived as handsome and sensitive photographer Avinoam (Alan Aboutbul) wins Nina’s affection and bedspace. Nina has some additional problems, when she spots her late husband, or his doppelganger, walking stark naked down the city streets.

Meanwhile, back at Nadav’s home, his fashion designer mother has kicked her increasingly religious husband out of the apartment. He joins a Chabad-like group, whose members dance in the streets to reclaim secular Jews for the faith.

There are more characters, including an adult peeping tom and his kooky Russian girlfriend, but despite it all, Nadav survives and even grows up a bit by learning about the nature of love, sexuality and family.

Both the acting and direction are well-above average, but what strikes the Diaspora viewer is the yuppyish tone and setting of the film. Just about everybody seems to live in an elegantly furnished apartment, wear stylish clothes, patronize upscale cafes and never worry about money.

Surely, Israelis are entitled to some escapist fare in these times, but it is odd how many Israeli movies fall into the same category.

As Hannah Brown writes in her Jerusalem Post review of recent Israeli movies, they “are set in a bizarre vacuum, a kind of ghost landscape, in which there are no wars, no Palestinians, no hourly news broadcasts or newspapers, no political discussions, no army service.”

An exception is the excellent “Yossi & Jagger,” which was honored at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York. Though the film’s focus is on the understated homosexual relationship between two army officers in combat, “Yossi & Jagger” astutely explore the real problems facing Israel’s younger generation.

Judging by the plot summaries, at least three of the four Israeli films to be shown in Park City also deal with real life in the Jewish State.

“The Garden,” which is having its world premiere at Sundance, tackles the unusual and unexplored problem of gay Palestinian teenagers, rejected by their own families, who cross the Green Line to work as male prostitutes in downtown Tel Aviv, in constant danger of deportation.

“Checkpoint,” also at Sundance, centers on one of the most grating symbols of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the road checkpoints manned by Israeli soldiers to prevent terrorist infiltration.

To the Arab population, the checkpoints are constant and humiliating reminders. The film won a top award at the Amsterdam International Documentary Film Festival.

Set for the SchmoozeDance festival are “Do They Catch Children Too?” and “My Mom, the General.”

The first focuses on Israel’s foreign workers, mainly Asians, and the lives and fears of their children.

Apparently a bit more light-hearted is “My Mom, the General,” in which director Shevi Rosenfeld records the doings of her 59-year-old mother, and grandmother of six, who decides to volunteer for reserve service on the army’s front lines.

For more information about the Sundance Festival, visitwww.sundance.org .

7 Days In Arts


Saturday

Let’s make a deal? Monty’s offering you one you can’t refuse. Continuing today and tomorrow is the 31st annual Merchant of Tennis/Monty Hall/Cedars-Sinai Diabetes Tennis Tournament. You might have missed last night’s cocktail reception, but that’s no reason to skip today’s tournament. Plus, Sunday’s championship finals take place at that earthly Valhalla — the Playboy Mansion.$450 (tournament entry fee). Mountaingate Country Club, 12445 Mountaingate Drive, Los Angeles. $150 (championship). Playboy Mansion, Beverly Hills. (310) 996-1188.

It’s got the trappings of a good murder mystery, but Col. Mustard stays away in Robert E. Sherwood’s “Idiot’s Delight.” Colorful characters go about their business while stranded in a Fascist Italy hotel on the eve of World War II.8 p.m. (Thursday-Saturday), 7 p.m. (Sunday). $20. Runs through Oct. 19. Lillian Theatre, 1078 N. Lillian Way, Hollywood. (323) 960-5521.

Sunday

What with the kids back in school, it’s dawned on youthat you actually miss the little buggers. Indulge this tender moment and takethem with you to Park Labrea’s seventh annual Art in the Park Art Fair andFestival, featuring a children’s “fun field” with art workshops and children’sart display. 11 a.m.- 5 p.m. Free. 6200 W. Third St., Los Angeles. (323)549-5580. www.artinthepark.com .

Jews, Muslims and Christians come together for some interfaith dialogue at the Laemmle Fairfax. The program includes a screening of Ruth Broyde-Sharone’s 18-minute documentary, “God and Allah Need to Talk,” as well as performances by Palestinian violinist Nabil Azzam, Iranian entertainer Mitra Rahbar, Ladino music singer Stefani Valadez and the Yuval Ron Trio with percussionist Jamie Papish.Noon-3 p.m. $10 (suggested minimum donation). 7907 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (310) 837-2294.

Monday

Don’t let the title fool you. Those who love a parade shouldn’t attend Alfred Uhry’s “Parade” expecting baton twirlers atop toilet-papered flatbeds. It’s called irony, people, and Uhry uses it well. His Pulitzer Prize-winning musical tells the tragic tale of Leo Frank, a Brooklyn-born Jew living in Georgia, who was executed for a crime he didn’t commit. The show kicks off the Musical Theatre Guild’s eighth Broadway in Concert season at the Alex Theatre tonight.7:30 p.m. $35. 216 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale. (818) 243-2539. Also Sept. 21, at 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. $38. The Janet and Ray Scherr Forum Theatre, Countrywide Performing Arts Center, Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza. (805) 583-8700.

Tuesday

Short and sweet, “The Ice Cream Man” screens today at the Silver Lake Film Festival. That’s short, as in not feature length, and sweet, as in ice cream. Written and directed by Dylan Rush, the film tells the story of a turf war between ethnically divergent Venice Beach ice cream vendors.11:30 a.m. $10. Vista Theatre, 4473 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood. (866) 468-3399.

Wednesday

With the High Holidays approaching, do you know what you’ll be putting on the table? Perhaps you should let Sur La Table help you out. Chef Judy Bart Kancigor offers a cooking demonstration titled “Not Your Grandma’s Rosh Hashanah Dinner,” based on her cookbook “Melting Pot Memories.” On the menu: Layered Hummus Eggplant, Braised Turkey Breast Pinwheels With Spinach and Exotic Mushroom Stuffing, Southwestern Sweet Potato Tzimmes in Chile Pockets and Cream Puff Taiglach Towers With Honey Almond Caramel Sauce.6:30 p.m. $45. Farmers Market, 6333 W. Third St., Los Angeles. Also tomorrow in Santa Monica. (866) 328-5412.

Thursday

Milla Jovovitch performs punk covers of klezmerfavorites and Adrien Brody ventriloquizes in Greg Pritikin’s new film, “Dummy.”Opening this week, the offbeat romantic comedy about a nebbish who still liveswith mom and dad follows his endeavors in learning the art of ventriloquism andin wooing his unemployment counselor. Some are hailing it “My Big Fat JewishWedding,” while others point to some disappointing clichés. We leave it to youto decide who the dummy is. www.artisanent.com.

Friday

Give peace a chance? Maybe after today’s outing. Currently on display at Jack Rutberg Fine Arts is “Requiem for War: Paintings by Hans Burkhardt.” The works, which span the years 1938-1993, use abstract expressionist symbolism to reflect his responses to the Spanish Civil War, World War II, the Vietnam War, Desert Storm and the conflicts in Latin America and the Middle East.10 a.m.-6 p.m. (Tuesday-Friday), 10 a.m.-5 p.m. (Saturday). Runs through Sept. 30. 357 N. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 938-5222.

7 Days In Arts


Saturday

A documentary about an old-age home. Sound like asnoozefest? Au contraire! More like the IFP’s L.A. Film Fest. By showing thelives of Lucille Alpert, 95, and Irja Lloyd, 81, two spitfire old ladies livingin a politically progressive L.A. retirement home, today’s film screeningchallenges those preconceived notions — about both documentaries and theelderly. Alpert and Lloyd’s incredible friendship and dependence on one anotherin the face of failing mental and physical health becomes the inspirationalfocus of “Sunset Story.” 2:15 p.m. (June 14), 7:30 p.m. (June 20). $10. LaemmleSunset 5, 8000 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood. (866) 345-6337. www.lafilmfest.com

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Sunday

Is klezmer sexy? Probably depends who you ask. But it hasbeen proven, according to a study by University of Chicago’s National OpinionResearch Center, that the annual sexual activity of people who listen to jazzmusic is higher than the national average. Thus accounting for this weekend’spairing of a certain men’s magazine with the popular centerfold and really greatjazz music. The Playboy Jazz Festival offers an impressive lineup today,including Al Jarreau, The Dave Brubeck Quartet and, yes, The New Orleans KlezmerAllstars. You can test out the theory for yourself. We’re sure Hef wouldapprove. 2 p.m.-10:30 p.m. (Sunday), 2:30-11 p.m. (Saturday). $15-$100.Hollywood Bowl, 2301 N. Highland Ave., Hollywood. (310) 449-4070. www.ticketmaster.com

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Monday

Gregg Marx, grandson of Marx Brother Gummo, follows in his famous forefathers’ footsteps by taking the stage. But don’t expect to be rolling on the floor. His chosen media are straight acting — he was a regular on popular soaps “Days of Our Lives” and “As the World Turns — and singing. His new cabaret show, titled “Wet Night … Dry Martini — Love: Shakin’ … Stirred … and on the Rocks,” is more Gershwin than Gummo.8:30 p.m. Mondays, through June 30. $20 (cover, plus $15 food or drink minimum). Feinstein’s at the Cinegrill, Roosevelt Hotel, 7000 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. R.S.V.P., (323) 769-7269.

Tuesday

Got $1,250 to drop? Spend “An Evening with Carl Reiner” courtesy of the Anti-Defamation League. The Emmy and Grammy Award-winning actor, director, writer and producer presents stories from his new book, “My Anecdotal Life,” followed by a book signing and dessert reception tonight. The aforementioned price tag is the minimum donation required to attend said event. But the upshot: It’s a darn worthy cause, and Reiner will have you laughing all the way from the bank.7:30 p.m. R.S.V.P. for location,(310) 446-8000, ext. 263.

Wednesday

Gossipmongers delight this week with a movie Oliver Stone undoubtedly wishes never got made. “Controlled Chaos” is a roman à clef based on Azita Zendel’s experiences as Stone’s personal assistant. Seems scandal coverups don’t just happen in his movies. The film runs this week at Laemmle’s Fairfax 3.June 13-19. $5.50-$8.50. 7907 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 655-4010.

Thursday

Dads not lucky enough to be Mr. Moms can still get some quality time with the kids today. All it’ll take is a little ingenuity (read: “sick day”). For their part, the Skirball has made the theme of their “Toddler Time” class “Father Time” this month. That means the focus is on pops for the 75 minutes of stories, songs, arts and crafts, museum tours and snacks with educator Sharon Tash. Go on, make the call. It is Father’s Day week, after all.10-11:15 a.m. $60-$80 (each monthly series). For ages 2 and 3 with an adult. 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (310) 440-4636.

Friday

At turns dreamy, dramatic and oom-pa-pa laden, theEastside Sinfonietta’s new CD, “Don’t Be Afraid: Music From ‘Happy End,’ ‘ThreePenny Opera,’ and ‘The Hollywood Elegies,'” is a trip back to the ’20s, ’30s and’40s. Weba Garretson lends her rich voice to updated versions of songs by KurtWeill, Bertolt Brecht and Hanns Eisler, including “Moritat (Mac the Knife),” aSeven Days personal favorite. $12. www.trueclassicalcds.com

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The Circuit


Film Fest Fun

The succession of subtitles onscreen was riveting and jarring: “The biggest singer in France is Israeli…. Mike Brant looked relaxed and beautiful, except his head was lying in a pool of blood.”

The text flashed across the screen during a teaser for “Mike Brant: Laisse Moi T’aimer,” an Israeli documentary exploring the stormy, short-lived starburst of Brant, an Israeli singer who didn’t even speak fluent French when he took France by storm with his pop hits in the early 1970s. By 1975, at age 28, he fell to his death from the sixth floor of his Paris apartment building in an apparent suicide.

“Mike Brant,” an Israeli 2003 Cannes entry, was one of more than two-dozen cinematic offerings at the 19th Israel Film Festival, a film anthology spotlighting the latest crop of feature-film fiction and documentaries coming out of Israel.

Erez Laufer, director of “Mike Brant,” was one of the honorees at the opening-night gala, held at the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences in Beverly Hills. Laufer, during his acceptance speech for the Cinematic Award, told the audience that he was pleased to be at Cannes 33 years to the date of Brant’s first performance on a French TV show.

Israeli filmmakers were, naturally, the focus of the fete, but they weren’t the only ones being honored on opening night. The festival also saluted a couple of local yokels who are doing all right for themselves. Richard Riordan, former L.A. mayor and prospective newspaper publisher, introduced Humanitarian Award-recipient Larry King. Marvel Entertainment’s Avi Arad presented the Visionary Award to Laura Ziskin.

Ziskin, who previously had a hand in “Pretty Woman” and “Fight Club,” said, “I work under the motto that movies aren’t made. They’re forced into existence.”

Meir Fenigstein, festival founder and executive director, shared his incredulity over his event reaching the big 19. He spoke highly of the “challenge bringing the unique films and creativity of Israeli filmmakers to the U.S.A.”

“The festival allows us to see Israel without the politics,” said Kobi Oshrat, the Israel Consulate’s cultural attaché. “It shows what Israeli society is all about.”

This year’s festival, which runs through June 8, highlights films like “Slaves of the Lord,” another Cannes entry; and festival opener “All I’ve Got,” a macabre romantic comedy written and directed by Keren Margalit, which was screened at the gala opening and underscored the special “Reflections of Women” category.

Following the screening of “All I’ve Got,” The Circuit chatted with Ronit Reichman, a Tel Aviv University graduate and the producer of “Under Water,” who is in the process of relocating her Tamuz Productions to Los Angeles, where she will produce a three-part documentary on Islamic terrorism. The Circuit also caught up with Laufer, also a Tel Aviv University alum.

“In France, there’s a big ’70s revival right now, so people were ready for this film,” Laufer said of his Cannes reception. For Laufer, chronicling the life of the late Brant was “a journey to try and piece it together from what people say, from archive footage. You try to find the person.”

Also in attendance: L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky; “Wisdom of the Pretzel” producer Shai Werker-Option; “In the Ninth Month” writer-director Ali Nassar and star Nissrin Faour; “Return From India” producer Evgeny Afineevsky; “Local Hero in Jerusalem Beach” director Natali Eskinazim; David Lipkind, Israel Film Fund executive director; Meital Dohan, star of “God’s Sandbox,” and the film’s producer, Yoav Halevy; and Arthur Hiller, director of the original “The In-Laws,” who — with Arnon Milchan, Mike Medavoy, Michael Fuchs, Peter Chernin, Sumner Redstone, Sherry Lansing, Ron Meyer, Joe Roth, Terry Semel, Haim Saban, Steven Spielberg, Ted Turner and Jack Valenti — comprised the impressive roster of honorary chairs and co-chairs for 2003’s Festival.

For more information on the 19th Israel Film Festival, call (877) 966-5566 or visit www.israelfilmfestival.com .

From Naive Dream to Big Screen


Michael Prywes was 24 when he decided to make a film. After all, he reasoned, he had started the Jewish Theater Ensemble in Chicago, so why not make his own movie? It was, he conceded, "complete chutzpah or a serious lack of understanding of the world."

Prywes’ first feature film, "Returning Mickey Stern," is a "new old comedy," shot on Fire Island with Joseph Bologna and Tom Bosley in leading roles. It opened the Long Island Film Festival at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center in April 2002 and played at the Long Island International Film Expo 2002. The film won awards at two other film festivals: best feature at the Rome Film Festival 2002 and the audience award at a festival in Tiburon, Calif.

Prywes’ audacious decision came shortly after he left Chicago with a degree in creative writing for the media from Northwestern University and went to Los Angeles to break into films. Raised in Old Bethpage and Dix Hills, both in New York state, he had decided that filmmaking would be ideal for combining his desire to be an author with his talent in the visual arts.

A stint in Los Angeles — studying at UCLA and running errands for a few production companies — convinced him to return to New York to make an independent film that he would direct from a script he had written as a thesis project at UCLA. He and his co-producers, Victor Erdos and Jason Akel, were determined to shoot it "come hell or high water, even with relatives playing the roles, if necessary," he said.

When his partners discussed the project on a radio show in Los Angeles, the host of the show said it sounded like something his friend Joe Bologna might like, Prywes said. Bologna, who plays the title role of a mature man who tries to relive his youthful dreams, recommended Bosley for the role of his adult best friend. Renee Taylor, Bologna’s wife, and Connie Stevens took supporting roles. Prywes’ parents, Dr. Arnold and Charlotte Prywes, did get to appear, as a doctor and his nurse. Four members of the younger cast were chosen from the Internet. Prywes, who also designs Web sites, created www.castourmovie.com, inviting the public to choose from among finalists.

Deciding on a location was easy. Prywes and his family have always spent the summer on Fire Island in the New York area. "It’s so cinematic, with a certain innocence that has not gone away," he said. "It has always been a place of magic and romance to me."

The principal photography began in September 2000 and was completed 19 days later, on Prywes’ 26th birthday. "It was the best birthday present anyone could ever hope for," he said. After completing post-production chores, Prywes’ company, 2Life! Films, began the arduous task of showing the film, looking for a distributor and making the rounds of festivals. "We didn’t enter festivals like Sundance or Toronto or even the Hamptons, because they generally go for the more edgy films," Prywes said. "’Returning Mickey Stern’ is the opposite. It’s sweet and funny. Like popular foreign films, like my favorite, ‘Cinema Paradiso.’ In fact, you could say it’s the perfect foreign movie made in America."

"Returning Mickey Stern," about a Jewish teenager who loses his true love, then helps a younger version of himself avoid the same mistake 50 years later, opens today at Loews Beverly Center Cineplex in Los Angeles.

Songs of Power


On a December day in 1993, an anxious Lee Hirsch sat on a747 bound for riot-torn South Africa with $600 and a small video camera.

The 20-year-old filmmaker didn’t know a soul inJohannesburg, but he had two telephone numbers and a mission: To make adocumentary about the protest music that had spurred the anti-apartheidmovement. To buy his ticket, he had sold his car and ignored the StateDepartment official who had called about the travel advisory.

“It was months after [American student] Amy Biehl had beenmurdered in Cape Town, and the plane was empty,” said Hirsch, a politicallyprogressive Jew from Long Island. “I was very scared, and I was prepared toturn around and go home the next day.”

Instead, he struggled for nine years to make “Amandla! ARevolution in Four-Part Harmony,” which won the audience and Freedom ofExpression Awards at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival and opens today in LosAngeles. Named for the Xhosa word for power, the exuberant movie explores the historyof apartheid and the music that helped overturn it. While some of the songshave previously been featured on the soundtracks of fictional films such as”Cry Freedom,” the documentary is the first to explore the phenomenon ofprotest music itself.

For the energetic Hirsch, who punctuates conversation withyouthful invectives such as “awesome,” one inspiration was the Jewish mandateof tikkun olam (repairing the world).

“I learned about it in a college class on the earlyChasidim, the Jewish radicals of their day,” said Hirsch, whose previous filmprofiled his godfather, the Holocaust survivor. “Coming out of the Jewishhistory of oppression, I feel we have the responsibility to stand up and makethe world a better place. In ‘Amandla!’ I wanted to show the power of music toaffect this kind of social and political change.”

Hirsch has been preoccupied with anti-apartheid music sincesuccessfully lobbying his Vermont boarding school to divest its South Africanholdings in the 1980s.

“I’d watch a news broadcast about unrest in a township andrealize that people were singing, because I could hear it under thenewscaster’s voice,” he said. “I started becoming obsessed with the music, andI vowed to learn more.”

Easier said than done. No studies or books existed on thesongs, which were largely undocumented. And the white, Jewish filmmaker didn’tknow any of the black activists or performers. His first break came when hecalled one of his telephone contacts two days after arriving in Johannesburgand reached a Zulu family whose son was prominent in the MK, the military wingof the African National Congress. Before long, he was tagging along tounderground meetings in the townships, which he describes as “row after row ofunpaved streets and garbage burning in overstuffed receptacles.”

“Suddenly, I was in the middle of things,” he said.

By the mid-1990s, Hirsch had partnered with “Amandla!”producer Sherry Simpson, an African American TV music producer based in LosAngeles, and had relocated to Johannesburg to develop the film. Over the nextfive years, he criss-crossed the country with his video camera, filling 12notebooks with research and persuading activists to appear in his film.

Parliament member Thandi Modise described how she sang tocomfort herself when her water broke during a prison beating and she was dumpedin her dank cell to give birth. An ex-death row warden stood in the former”hanging room” at Pretoria Central Prison and recalled leading shackledactivists to the gallows (they sang, too).

At a 1995 rally, Hirsch filmed a beaming President NelsonMandela dancing to a victory song before the country’s first democraticelections. 

He believes he was granted the access because he was aneager American, not a white South African; it didn’t hurt that he was Jewish.”It’s well known that most of the white anti-apartheid activists were Jews,” hesaid by telephone from his publicist’s office in Manhattan. “These people wereloved by the black community as if they were black, as if they were one of theirown.”

For two years, Hirsch lived in the guest bedroom of one suchactivist, Dr. Paul Davis, a “struggle doctor” who cared for detainees when theywere released from prison. Hirsch grew to love the multicultural Shabbatdinners Paul held with his wife, Allison Russell, a chief physician at thelargest black hospital in South Africa. “They were a tremendous inspiration tome,” Hirsch said of the couple. “We talked a lot about tikkun olam and what ourresponsibilities are to the world as Jews.”

Ten years after Hirsch set off on that empty flight forJohannesburg, he still considers directing socially-conscious films to be oneof those responsibilities. “I want to make movies that fuse my activism with alarger audience,” he said.

“Amandla!” opens Feb. 28 at Laemmle Sunset 5, 8000 SunsetBlvd., West Hollywood, (323) 848-3500; and in March in Orange County. 

7 Days In Arts


Saturday

Somehow, USC Hillel and the Casden Institute have tracked down a few Jews in Hollywood. This weekend, the machers gather with Jewish student filmmakers from Los Angeles and New York for USC’s fourth annual Jewish Student Film Festival. Today’s itinerary: An afternoon “Pitch-Off” and “An Evening with Jonathan Kesselman.” From 4-6 p.m., students get to pitch their story ideas to William Morris agent Mark Itkin; creator and writer of “Freaks and Geeks,” Gabe Sachs; and Howard Rodman, chair of the writing department of the USC School of Cinema-Television. At 7:30 p.m., USC alum and writer-director Kesselman (“The Hebrew Hammer”) participates in a Q and A.Feb. 28-March 2. USC, Los Angeles. (213) 747-9135. www.uschillel.org.

Sunday

To coincide with the release of his novel for young readers, “Summerland,” wonder boy Michael Chabon speaks about “childhood, imagination and creativity” at UCLA today. Chabon is best known for his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay” (Picador, 2001). A 20-minute Q and A with the audience and book signing will follow the one-hour talk.8 p.m. $15-$35. UCLA Royce Hall, Westwood. (310) 825-2101.

Monday

Those who missed its one-week coming out party this pastOctober can catch “The Trials of Henry Kissinger” on cable this month. TheSundance Channel airs it today (with eight more March screenings) to launch”DOCday” Mondays, a series which will premiere new documentaries every Monday at9 p.m. Finally, the lowliest of weekdays gets some respect. 9 p.m. SundanceChannel. www.sundancechannel.com .

Tuesday

“Fashion and Transgression” is the titillating theme of the USC Fisher Gallery’s current exhibition. American and European women’s fashions from 1900-1950 are examined, exploring “tensions between personal and social identity, as well as the tensions between the liberation and regulation of the body.” Materials on display include photos by Alfred Steiglitz, Man Ray and Edward Steichen, a rare book by Jean Saudé and prints and drawings by Salvador Dali and Otto Dix, taken from various Los Angeles collections.Noon-5 p.m. (Tuesday-Saturday). Runs through April 12. Free. USC Fisher Gallery, Los Angeles. (213) 740-4561.

Wednesday

Lee Miller defied convention as a fashion model-cum-combat photographer. Far from the typical muse, she inspired the likes of Roland Penrose and Man Ray with her beauty, as well as her artistic talent, evident in her paintings, drawings and photographs. Her art, as well as the art inspired by her, is on display in the Getty’s “Surrealist Muse: Lee Miller, Roland Penrose and Man Ray, 1925-1945.” Included are Holocaust images she captured as a photojournalist during World War II.10 a.m.-6 p.m. (Tuesdays-Thursdays, Sundays), 10 a.m.-9 p.m. (Fridays and Saturdays). Runs though June 15. Free. The Getty Museum, 1200 Getty Center Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 440-7300.

Thursday

Barbara Cook is only giving us a few days to catch the act that earned her a 2002 Tony nomination for Special Theatrical Event on Broadway. She stars in “Mostly Sondheim” at the Ahmanson with Wally Harper on piano and Jon Burr on bass. As you might have gathered, they’ll be doing songs by Sondheim, as well as others, like Harold Arlen, E.Y. Harburg and Irving Berlin.8 p.m. (Thursday, Friday and Saturday), 2 p.m. (Sunday). Runs through March 9. $20-$55. The Ahmanson Theatre at the Music Center, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles. (213) 628-2772.

Friday

Titian meets tango in Ruth Weisberg’s latest exhibition, “Ruth Weisberg: Love, Sacred and Profane.” Her work is often inspired by fine art images, like Titian’s “Amor, Sacro e Profano” and William Blake’s engravings for Dante’s “Inferno.” In this exhibition, she uses both of these works as foundations for depicting the confluence of art history and personal history, as in her Titian-inspired piece, where lovers slow dance in the forefront of the painting.10 a.m.-6 p.m. (Tuesdays-Fridays), 10 a.m.-5 p.m. (Saturdays). Runs through April 30. Jack Rutberg Fine Arts, 357 N. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 938-5222.