A pair of princesses arrive in Los Angeles


Two very different Israeli films about their titular princesses open in Los Angeles on May 27. The first of these, a movie called simply “Princess,” is a dark, somewhat surreal coming-of-age story about child molestation. The other, “Presenting Princess Shaw,” is a documentary that tells a tale of courage, creativity and serendipity surrounding a would-be singer.

As the action begins in “Princess,” it is clear that 12-year-old Adar (Shira Haas) is troubled. She spends most of the day sleeping and rarely attends the school for the gifted in which she is enrolled. Adar lives with her mother, Alma (Keren Mor), and Alma’s boyfriend, Michael (Ori Pfeffer), who are openly physical in front of the young girl. She, in turn, frequently plays games with Michael that become increasingly intimate.  

In a recent interview, writer-director Tali Shalom Ezer described the interaction between the pre-teen and Michael.

“From the beginning, we see that the relationship between Adar and Michael is somewhat undefined. In the doctor-patient game, we see there is something erotic in the way the two relate. Adar has the feeling that their relationship is moving into dangerous territory, but she is ambivalent about it. She is both attracted to this game and her relationship with Michael, but also feels uncomfortable and uncertain about it — she feels that she is betraying her mother, she feels to blame in some way. These contrasting feelings are overwhelming and too much for a 12-year-old girl to carry, and so they distress her.”

Into the mix comes Alan (Adar Zohar-Hanetz), who is almost a mirror image of Adar.  He apparently is homeless, so the family takes him into their apartment. But does he really exist, or does he symbolize another aspect of Adar? “After reading the script, people asked me, ‘Is this boy real or is he fantasy? You need to clarify this.’ But for me it was important to keep Alan as a riddle, as magic, as something that I don’t completely understand. I intentionally left this unclear,” Ezer said. “What I did know, however, was that Alan was essential for my main character, Adar, and to the consolidation of her identity.” 

Ezer added, “As I see it, Alan is the expression of Adar’s inner world — a world that sits somewhere between reality and imagination. Presenting Alan like this was my way of representing the experience of disassociation that Adar is going through. However, I invite audiences to understand this in their own ways.”

The documentary “Presenting Princess Shaw” has a different tone and focuses on Samantha Montgomery, who works as an aide at a senior facility in New Orleans. Her goal is to be a singer, and she uploads video of herself performing her original tunes on YouTube, while also baring her soul and revealing the sexual and physical abuse she endured in her youth.  

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, the musician and composer Ophir Kutiel, known as Kutiman, who has a large following, sees her uploads and is taken with the African-American singer, finding in her an undiscovered talent. He has his own artistic project that he shares on YouTube from his home on an Israeli kibbutz. 

“Kutiman takes segments of musical clips performed by anonymous YouTubers and weaves them into a single, cohesive audiovisual experience,” Israeli director Ido Haar explained in a recent interview.

He continued, “When Kutiman introduced me to the project, I immediately loved the songs and attempted to learn more about the musicians through their YouTube channels, trying to find out who they were. At first, the idea was to do a documentary about several singers and musicians. [But] from the very beginning, Samantha caught my attention. There was something about her. 

“Her unique and touching voice, which exposed a deep, rich, complex and charged inner world, [along with] her honesty, courage and incredible talent stunned me.”

Without her knowledge, Kutiman decides to create a video collage for YouTube featuring Samantha, who calls herself “Princess Shaw,” and Haar asks to film her for a documentary. When she agrees, he starts following her around New Orleans and on her travels to other cities. 

Haar also goes back to Israel to film Kutiman in the process of making the collage. He is able to be on the scene and film her reaction when she first sees herself in Kutiman’s video, which garners a million hits. As a result of Kutiman’s work, Princess Shaw, who had up to then attracted only modest attention, starts to become known around the world. 

Ultimately, Kutiman arranges for her to sing in Tel Aviv at the Habima Theatre, the national theater of Israel. Encouraged by this unexpected turn of events, Samantha continues to fight for her dream.

Haar feels that his documentary examines universal issues. “The main issues I’m exploring are feelings of loneliness, the desire to be heard and recognized, and loved,” he said. “It is a film about long-lasting anonymity in a world that is constantly creating new stars. It is about talent, persistence and the arbitrary connection they have to success, at least as we define it.”

When Holocaust truth is stranger than fiction, do we need fiction?


At the age of 5, Moshe Tirosh’s main concern was keeping his younger sister quiet as they lived in isolation at a subterranean hideout under the feet of Nazi troops stationed at the zoo of occupied Warsaw.

His extraordinary account of surviving the Holocaust came back to me on Sunday, along with other amazing accounts from that period as I exited a screening of “Phoenix,” a new German film about the postwar years.

Set in the bombed-out streets of West Berlin, “Phoenix” tells the astonishing story of a young Jewish singer attempting to reclaim her life and husband after suffering, in a concentration camp, a gunshot wound to the face that rendered her unrecognizable. After successful reconstructive surgery, she locates her non-Jewish husband — who may have betrayed her to the Nazis — and attempts to re-enter his life without revealing her true identity.

Unlike Tirosh’s story, the plot of “Phoenix,” directed and co-authored by Christian Petzold, is fictional. Ignoring the limitations of plastic surgery in general and in the 1940s especially, it compromises its credibility on this and a number of other points to discuss its main theme: the effects of emotional, physical and even social trauma on one’s identity.

The film, which is of course hardly the first fictional film to deal with the Holocaust, conducts that discussion in a subtle, comprehensive and engaging manner, largely thanks to what many film critics have praised as excellent acting by the lead actors: Nina Hoss, Nina Kunzendorf and Ronald Zehrfeld.

But walking out of the film Sunday, my mind wondered back to the story of Tirosh and other eyewitnesses to real-life events during the Holocaust.

People like Johan Van Hulst, the 104-year-old wartime savior of dozens of Jewish children who fixed me a cup of coffee at his Amsterdam home before recounting his actions in fine detail. And my own grandmother, who fell through the Nazi death machine’s cracks thanks to a series of incredible twists of fate.

As these witnesses quickly disappear from our lives, I wonder about the merit of a fictional film about the genocide — itself subject to revisionism — with a plot so extravagant that it rivals the works of Pedro Almodovar and his Spanish stream of fancy.

Obsessed with documenting the Holocaust through testimonies, the journalist in me has reservations about films like “Phoenix” or “Ida,” a Polish, Oscar-winning production, whose fictional plots are almost realistic enough to pass for plausible in the sea of unlikely but authentic survival and rescue stories.

But another part of me is prepared to see slippage in accuracy in Europe’s ongoing debate about the Holocaust, if it comes with the deep reflection and observations about European societies and their Jews demonstrated in films like “Phoenix” and “Ida.”

Jerusalem film school brings shorts to L.A.


A brother-sister filmmaking team from Israel will introduce itself, its unusual alma mater and its Oscar-winning father on the evening of Feb. 5 at the Laemmle Music Hall in Beverly Hills.

Emanuel and Nurith Cohn will present “Little Dictator,” their first production since graduating from the Ma’aleh School of Television, Film & the Arts in Jerusalem.

The central character in the 29-minute short film is Yossi Kleinmann, a history professor and authority on 20th-century dictators who, whatever their crimes, had the charisma to attract fanatical followers.

Kleinmann himself is quite the opposite, a real nebbish who feels, correctly, that he is unappreciated by his students, his three kids and his domineering wife. Indeed, the opening scene shows him speaking to a class in which the few scattered students fall asleep or yawn during his lecture.

Preparing himself for a large family Shabbat dinner celebrating the 90th birthday of his grandmother, a Holocaust survivor, he runs into a self-inflicted glitch. As he shaves off his beard, at the behest of his wife, his mind wanders and he imagines himself as Lenin, Mussolini and Hitler, addressing adoring crowds.

Suddenly he realizes that in removing all his facial hair, he has left behind a small Hitler-like mustache. Because Shabbat has already begun, Kleinmann, as an observant Jew, can’t complete the shaving job and must face his family and guests while resembling the infamous Nazi leader.

As such, his greatest fear is that the evening’s guest of honor, Oma — grandmother — touchingly portrayed by actress Ruth Geller, might have a heart attack on seeing the pseudo-Hitler. On the contrary, however, Oma proves to be the only one who understands and appreciates Yossi, and she helps him assert his manhood by the film’s end.

Nurith Cohn directed the film, and her brother wrote the script and portrays Yossi, and it is amazing how much substance and commentary they squeeze into the short work.

One conversation between Yossi and his grandmother alone reconstructs the struggles German-Jewish immigrants to Palestine and Israel — the so-called Yekkes — had to overcome in integrating into Israeli society.

Last month, “Little Dictator” won the Mayor of Jerusalem Prize for best drama.

In entering the movie business, the Cohn siblings are following in the footsteps of their father, Arthur Cohn, a Swiss citizen and film producer who has won six Oscars for such classics as “The Garden of the Finzi-Continis,” “Black and White in Color” and “The Final Solution.”

Emanuel Cohn grew up in Switzerland, moved to Israel to study in a yeshiva, earned a master’s degree in philosophy at Bar-Ilan University and served in the Israeli army. Asked in a phone interview whether his father influenced his career choice and that of his sister, he said, “My father gave us a completely free choice of what we wanted to do.”

The Ma’aleh film school was founded 25 years ago and “is devoted to exploring the intersection between Judaism and modern life,” Neta Ariel, the school’s director, explained in an email.

Its 100 students include ultra-Orthodox, Modern Orthodox, and secular men and women, with 70 to 80 percent identifying as Orthodox.

“Because of the special character of the students and the environment of the school, the films produced by our students, regardless of subject, are clean in terms of language and visuals,” noted Susan Levin, assistant to the director.

The senior Cohn will also attend the screening in Beverly Hills, billed as “A Salute to Jerusalem,” which will also feature two other short movies. One, “Sister of Mine” by Oshrat Meirovitch, revolves around a young Orthodox woman who faces an arranged marriage with an “inferior” man.

“Wall, Crevice, Tear,” the third film, presents a picture of the Western Wall, but from the perspective of the women’s section.

The film presentations will be followed by a panel discussion with the Cohn siblings and Ariel.

On Feb. 9, Ma’aleh will present two short films, “White Mist” and “Getting Serious,” as part of the San Diego Jewish Film Festival.

Tickets to the event are $75 each, which includes a post-screening reception at the La Gondola restaurant in Beverly Hills. For tickets for the Feb. 5 festival, which starts at 7:30 p.m., call (323) 937-0980 or email tali@eventsenchanted.com. Online reservations may be made by visiting

Calendar Picks and Clicks: Jan 5-11, 2013


SAT JAN 5

B.J. NOVAK: “UNCOLLECTED STORIES”

Writer and actor B.J. Novak (“The Office,” “Inglourious Basterds”) shares original pieces of comedic fiction in advance of an upcoming collection. Co-star, writer and producer of “The Office,” Novak has a sensibility that draws on a range of influences, from “Saturday Night Live” and “Monty Python” to Woody Allen and the notable anthology “The Big Book of Jewish Humor,” which was co-edited by his father. Sat. 10 p.m. $10. Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, 5919 Franklin Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 908-8702. losangeles.ucbtheatre.com.

SUN JAN 6

JNF TRIBUTE TO SOUTHERN ISRAEL

Winner of the Israeli version of “American Idol,” Ethiopian Jewish vocalist Hagit Yaso joins Grammy- and Emmy-winning composer Charles Fox for a free concert in support of Southern Israel. Organized by the Jewish National Fund, the concert features Yaso and Fox collaborating on “Killing Me Softly” as well as Fox performing his own music. Roy Firestone (“L.A. Tonight,” “Good Day L.A.”) serves as master of ceremonies. Sun. 6:30 p.m. Free. Saban Theatre, 8440 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills. (323) 964-1400. jnf.org/laconcert.

TUE JAN 8

“GUT SHABBES VIETNAM”

A young Israeli couple and their baby set out on a one-way ticket to the Far East to encourage and create a Jewish community in Vietnam. Co-directors Ido and Yael Zand’s documentary follows the challenges facing Chabad emissaries Rabbi Menachem and Racheli Hartman as they encounter an eclectic mix of Israeli expats and Jews from the Diaspora. Tue. 6:30-8:30 p.m. Free. UCLA Younes and Soraya Nazarian Center for Israel Studies, 11361 Bunche Hall, Room 135, UCLA, Los Angeles. (310) 825-9646. international.ucla.edu/israel.

WED JAN 9

IRAN, AMERICA, ISRAEL AND THE JEWS

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and 30 Years After hold a discussion with an Islamic affairs analyst from ADL’s Center on Extremism, on “Special Report: What the Iranian Government Is Telling Its Own People About America, Israel and Jews,” an expert breakdown on media within Iran’s borders today. Wed. 7:30 p.m. Free (advance registration required). Anti-Defamation League, 10495 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 446-4229. regions.adl.org/pacific-southwest.

“ISRAEL ELECTIONS 2013″

This 90-minute discussion maps out, clarifies and distinguishes between the platforms for the major political parties and players running in Israel’s general election on Jan. 22. Using advance interactive technologies and the most up-to-date information, experts examine how the leaders of Israel envision the future of the Jewish state. Every participant receives “Israel Seminars’ Guide to the Politically Perplexed 2013.” Wed. 7:30 p.m. Free. Temple Beth Am, 1039 S. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 652-7354, ext. 215. tbala.org/israel.

THU JAN 10

“THE DUDE AND THE ZEN MASTER”

Jeff Bridges’ portrayal of The Dude, the laid-back protagonist in the Coen brothers’ “The Big Lebowski,” is pop-culture gold. In the new book, “The Dude and the Zen Master,” Bridges and Roshi Bernie Glassman offer a glimpse into conversations between student and teacher, a shared philosophy of life and spirituality and everyday wisdom. The result is a dialogue about life, laughter and the movies as well as a reminder of the importance of doing good in a difficult world. Bridges and Glassman appear in person along with the Rev. Danny Fisher, coordinator of the Buddhist chaplaincy department at University of the West. Thu. 7:30 p.m. $25. Japanese American Cultural and Community Center, The Aratani/Japan America Theatre, 244 S. San Pedro St., downtown. (213) 228-7025. lfla.org.

FRI JAN 11

“FREUD’S LAST SESSION”

Starring Tony-, Emmy- and Golden Globe-winner Judd Hirsch (“Taxi”) and Tom Cavanagh (“Ed”), Mark St. Germain’s off-Broadway play imagines a late-in-life meeting between Dr. Sigmund Freud (Hirsch), the Jewish atheist father of psychoanalysis, and the philosophical Christian author-professor C.S. Lewis (Cavanagh). The result is a discourse on life’s big questions just weeks before Freud’s death amid the ominous sounds of World War II. Talkbacks follow performances on Jan. 13 and Jan. 17, featuring Jack Miles, a Pulitzer-winner and professor of English and religious studies at UC Irvine, and Morris Eagle, professor emeritus at the Derner Institute of Advanced Psychological Studies, respectively. Fri. Through Feb. 10. 7:30 p.m. $42-$67. Broad Stage, 1310 11th St., Santa Monica. (310) 434-3200. thebroadstage.com.

“THE QUARTET”

Dustin Hoffman makes his screen directorial debut with this comic film starring Maggie Smith, Michael Gambon and Billy Connolly. Set in a home for retired opera singers, an annual charity concert to celebrate composer Verdi’s birthday is disrupted by the arrival of Jean, an eternal diva and a resident’s ex-wife. As old grudges re-emerge, it becomes apparent that having four of the finest operatic singers under one roof is no guarantee that the show will go on. Opens Friday. bbc.co.uk/bbcfilms/film/quartet

Films of the Holocaust and non-Jews


Two documentary films, each touching the Holocaust era and celebrating the courage and devotion of non-Jews, are screening in Los Angeles.

The first is about Leopold Engleitner, bright-eyed and lucid at 107, who spent 11 years in and out of prisons and Nazi concentration camps, and, after a flight from Vienna to Los Angeles, is ready for his personal appearance tour.

He is the central figure in “Ladder in the Lions’ Den,” a tribute to the man and to the steadfastness of thousands of Jehovah’s Witnesses during the Hitler regime.

Engleitner, born in 1905, was an Austrian peasant farmer in a small village near Salzburg when he joined a Jehovah’s Witness study group. He soon became a full member, accepting the movement’s belief in complete separation from secular governments, including refusal to salute the flag or serve in the army of any nation. 

He got his first taste of prison in 1934, under the authoritarian regime of Austrian Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss, and when the German troops marched in in 1938, Engleitner’s fate was sealed. He wouldn’t raise his right arm in the Hitler salute, and after refusing army service was shipped off to Buchenwald as the first in a series of concentration camps. 

There, some 400 Jehovah’s Witnesses were kept in separate barracks from Jewish prisoners, with whom, according to Engleitner, the Witnesses shared some of their food.

From time to time, the Nazis, badly in need of manpower, offered Engleitner his freedom if he would sign a document affirming his loyalty to the Third Reich.

His courageous refusal to do so is followed in the film by the tactless insertion of a Jewish inmate, who affirms, “I would have signed anything to get out.” This statement, just a few seconds long, is one of the few allusions to the extermination of the Jews. That omission may be hard to swallow, but seems pardonable given how many books and films have recorded the Jewish holocaust, and how few the fate of other groups.

All in all, according to the film’s postscript, there were 20,000 Witnesses in Germany and Austria before Hitler came to power, of whom 9,270 were imprisoned, 1,130 died and 310 were executed.

When Engleitner finally returned to his village, he was scorned by most of his neighbors as a coward for his refusal to serve in the army, and as a likely criminal given his imprisonment in concentration camps.

His story might have died with him, but for a chance meeting with Bernhard Rammerstorfer, a fellow Witness and later the executive producer and co-director of the film. Rammerstorfer persuaded the centenarian to tell of his experiences in a book titled “Unbroken Will,” (a title more apt than the movie’s) and then created the 39-minute documentary. 

Credits include co-producer A. Ferenc Gutai, actors portraying Engleitner and others as young men, and Frederic Fuss, an Angeleno, as the English-language narrator. There are some rough edges to the documentary, pointing to a slim budget and the inexperience of the filmmakers, but it is a story well worth telling.

As Fuss noted in an interview, “The film shows the difference that one man can make.”

“Ladder in the Lions’ Den” will screen daily Nov. 9-15 at 12:30 p.m. at Laemmle’s Town Center in Encino, with Engleitner scheduled to be in attendance.

 

A second film centers on Gyongyi Mago, a Catholic high school teacher in the Hungarian town of Kalocsa, who, through sheer conviction and persistence, wills her largely indifferent community to resurrect and honor the memory of its murdered and exiled Jewish citizens.

Her story and that of an extinguished but once content and assimilated Jewish community, are documented by veteran Los Angeles filmmaker Gabor Kalman in the full-length feature “There Was Once…”

Kalman is both the creator of and a participant in the film, which is told with affection but not sentimentality, while also warning that the anti-Semitism and fascism pervading much of Hungarian society in the 1930s and ’40s remains a constant today.

Born in Kalocsa 78 years ago, Kalman received an e-mail from Mago in 2008 asking for his help in her research on the once 600-strong Jewish community in his birthplace. The effervescent teacher had found Kalman’s name on the “Jaross List,” compiled by a local official who conscientiously put down the names of all Jewish residents slated for extermination.

Kalman was so impressed by Mago’s project and dedication that he flew to Hungary, rounded up a camera crew and started interviewing elderly Christian residents who still remembered their former Jewish neighbors. He followed up by talking to a handful of the town’s Jewish survivors and their descendants now living in Canada, the United States and Israel.

The camera follows Mago as she exhorts and mobilizes her high school class to bear witness to the lives and fate of the town’s Jews, scours church archives for the history of the first Jews to settle in Kalocsa, and explains to those who wonder why a Catholic should care about dead Jews, “I have always felt for those who were humiliated.”

She then persuades the powerful local archbishop and the town’s mayor to back her plan to put on a commemorative ceremony in 2009, exactly 65 years to the day that the Holocaust caught up with Hungary’s Jews.

The ceremony, attended by seven survivors and their children and grandchildren, is the moving highlight of the film. In stark contrast are scenes of Hungarian Nazis in uniform, demonstrating a few blocks away.

The film is marked by thorough research, moments of high drama, and innovative cinematography and graphics. For example, in one Jewish grade school picture, five survivors are highlighted, while the 10 victims remain in dark shadows.

Kalman and his parents survived the war, largely in hiding. Gabor participated in the abortive 1956 Hungarian Revolution against the Soviet occupiers, and then immigrated to the United States.

After graduation from UC Berkeley and Stanford, Kalman established himself as an award-winning documentary filmmaker and teacher at USC, Occidental College and currently at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. 

“There Was Once…” will screen as part of the local Hungarian Film Festival on Nov. 19 at 7 p.m. at Laemmle’s NoHo 7 Theatre in North Hollywood.

Tickets are $6 per person and can be purchased in advance by phoning Laemmle Theatres at (310) 478-3836 or the Hungarian Film Festival at (818) 564-4228. 


For more information about “Ladder in the Lions’ Den,” visit unbrokenwill.com.

For more information about “There Was Once…,” visit  therewasoncefilm.com.

Calendar Picks and Clicks: Oct. 20-26, 2012


SAT OCT 20

“Six Million and One”

When Israeli documentary filmmaker David Fisher discovers the memoir of his late father, a Holocaust survivor who was interned in Gusen and Gunskirchen, Austria, Fisher decides to retrace his father’s footsteps. Realizing it’s unbearable to be alone in the wake of his father’s survival story, David convinces his sister and two of his brothers to join him on what becomes an eloquent, intense and surprisingly humorous quest to uncover their father’s past, a journey filled with joking, kibitzing and quarreling between siblings seeking meaning in their personal and family history. Sat. Various times. $11 (general), $8 (children under 12, seniors). Laemmle’s Town Center, 17200 Ventura Blvd., Encino. (310) 478-3836. laemmle.com.

 

SUN OCT 21

 

The Jewish County Fair

Join musicians, artists, nature lovers and families for this annual celebration of the fall harvest. Set on 220 wooded acres in Malibu, this day of food, fun and unity offers a Jewish twist on the county fair, featuring food trucks with glatt kosher options, carnival games, wine tasting, live music, nature hikes, children’s activities and more. Co-produced by Craig ’N Co. and Shalom Institute as part of the Big Jewish Tent initiative, which aims to build bridges through community events. Sun. Noon-5 p.m. $6 (online), $10 (door), free (children, 3 and under). Shalom Institute, 34342 Mulholland Highway, Malibu. (818) 889-5500. bigjewishtent.com.

 

“Challenges and Choices in the Jewish Media Today”

Presented by the University of Southern California’s Casden Institute for the Study of the Jewish Role in American Life, the 32nd annual Jerome Nemer Lecture examines the role of Jewish media, which serves a community that is more prosperous and powerful than ever before but is also struggling to maintain its Jewishness. Jane Eisner, editor-in-chief of the Forward and the first woman to hold the position at the influential Jewish newsweekly, lectures on this evolution of the Jewish community and the editorial choices it demands. Sarah Benor, associate professor of contemporary Jewish studies at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, adds commentary and reflection on the topic. Sun. 4:30-7 p.m. Free. USC campus, University Park Campus-Davidson Conference Center, Embassy Room. (213) 740-1744. casdeninstitute.usc.edu.

 

MON OCT 22

Harry Shearer

The acclaimed funnyman (“The Simpsons,” “Le Show”) appears in conversation with Grammy Museum executive director Bob Santelli to discuss his versatile career and the making of his latest album, “Can’t Take a Hint.” Shearer also performs selections from his new release, which features musical sketches that pair him with giants of pop, r&b and jazz while tackling issues of the day, including the foibles of celebrity, the Bridge to Nowhere, the cost of war and weather extremes. Mon. 7:30 p.m. $20. Grammy Museum, 800 W. Olympic Blvd., downtown. (213) 765-6800. grammymuseum.org.

 

TUES OCT 23

Rami and the Piano

Called Israel’s Elton John and Billy Joel, chart-topping Israeli pop singer Rami Kleinstein performs at American Jewish University as part of his U.S. concert tour. The intimate show will feature a selection of original pieces, including songs about political unrest and love, and covers of American classics. Proceeds benefit educational programs at Keshet Chaim, a nonprofit organization dedicated to celebrating Israeli culture and Judaism throughout the world. Tue. 8 p.m. $50 (advance), $60 (door), $100 (VIP, includes post-concert reception with Kleinstein). American Jewish University, 15600 Mulholland Drive, Los Angeles. (818) 986-7332. kcdancers.org.

 

WED OCT 24

“It’s All for the Breast”

As part of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the National Council of Jewish Women/Los Angeles, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and the City of West Hollywood hold an educational community program that provides breast cancer awareness information for women and men. A panel discussion features breast cancer experts, including breast surgeons Drs. Alice Chung and Jerrold Steiner, radiologist Dr. Steve Frankel, plastic and reconstructive surgeon Dr. Betty Kim, and oncologist Dr. Monica Mita. Moderated by Heidi Shink, the City of West Hollywood’s commissioner for human services. Wed. Noon-2 p.m. Free. NCJW/LA Council House, 543 N. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 852-8503. ncjwla.org.

 

THU OCT 25

“Triple Art Opening”

A reception at the Dortort Center for Creativity in the Arts at UCLA Hillel celebrates the opening of three art exhibitions, and a musical tribute in memory of late reporter and musician Daniel Pearl takes place as part of Daniel Pearl World Music Days. Presented in conjunction with the Fowler Museum at UCLA’s “Light and Shadows” exhibition, “What Remains: The Iranian Jewish Experience” includes sculptures, photography and a video installation; “Where the Past Meets the Future” features an installation of 140 wooden boxes that depict the history of Poland and its Jews; and “Frozen Music” presents Gil Garcetti’s black-and-white photographic study of Walt Disney Concert Hall. Thu. 7-9 p.m. (opening reception). Through Dec. 14. Free. Hillel at UCLA, 574 Hilgard Ave., Los Angeles. (310) 203-3081, ext. 108. ucla.hillel.org.

Calendar Picks and Clicks: Sep. 1-7, 2012


SAT | SEPT 1

NEIL COMESS-DANIELS
A folksy singer-songwriter (and rabbi of congregation Beth Shir Shalom), Daniels appears live at the Skirball to perform children’s music that carries a universal message. Come dance and sing along in Skirball’s scenic outdoor amphitheater. All ages welcome (children must be accompanied by an adult). Sat. Performances at noon and 2 p.m. Free (included with museum admission). Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4500. skirball.org.


SUN | SEPT 2

“THE BIG PICTURE: PARAMOUNT’S 100TH ANNIVERSARY”
Television icon Jason Alexander (“Seinfeld”) hosts tonight’s nostalgic celebration at the Hollywood Bowl, which honors Hollywood’s oldest major studio. Led by conductor and acclaimed film composer David Newman (“Anastasia,” “Ice Age”), the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra performs scores from Paramount’s rich history, including “Wings,” the first Academy Award winner for best picture, “The Godfather” trilogy, “Titanic,” action-thriller “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol” and many others. Special guests include Emmy-winning television composer Michael Giacchino (“Lost”); film composer and Grammy-winning musician Lalo Schifrin and Oscar-nominated film composer Alan Silvestri (“Forrest Gump”). Sun. 7:30 p.m. $11-$160. Hollywood Bowl, 2301 N. Highland Ave., Hollywood. (323) 850-2000. hollywoodbowl.com.

SUMMER SOIREE CARNIVAL
Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Lisa Loeb performs during Adat Ari El Early Childhood Center’s end-of-summer carnival. Set on the CBS lot that was home to shows such as “Seinfeld” and “Gilligan’s Island,” this daylong family event includes rides, entertainment, pop-up retail shops (SOTO, Little Rockstar Salon, Tough Cookies) and food trucks (Canter’s Deli, the All American Softy Truck and more). Proceeds benefit the Adat Ari El Early Childhood Center. Sun. 10 a.m.-3 p.m. $36 (adults), $18 (children), free (children under 1). CBS Radford Lot, 4024 Radford Ave., Studio City. (818) 766-9426. adatariel.org.

MARK ROTHKO
Discuss the ideas behind artis Rothko’s large-scale pictures and the techniques used to apply various colors that appear to float on the canvas. Then paint a picture with a guest artist, using Rothko’s techniques and your own. This participatory hands-on workshop, part of MOCA’s Sunday Studio, has been designed in collaboration with Center Theatre Group’s “Red,” a play that spotlights the legendary artist Rothko before his death in 1970. Sun. 1 p.m. Free. Museum of Contemporary Art, 250 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles. (213) 621-1745. moca.org.


WED | SEPT 5

“FREEDOM SONG”
Produced by Beit T’Shuvah, a Jewish residential rehab facility in Culver City, this Passover-themed musical features alumni and residents of Beit T’Shuvah who use the Passover story as a lens through which to view their own journeys. The staging juxtaposes a 12-step meeting with a family seder. The music, a mash-up of original theater tunes, Jewish liturgy and forceful pop, with interludes of rap, plays as a constant underscore for dialogue that weaves itself into the music. Wed. 7 p.m. $50. Skirball Cultural Center, Magnin Auditorium, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 204-5200. beittshuvah.org.


FRI | SEPT 7

“RESISTING THE PATH TO GENOCIDE”
This USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education holds a two-day workshop that examines what enables people to resist racist ideologies, state discrimination practices or active participation in mass atrocities. Fri. Through Sept. 8. 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. (Friday), 10 a.m.-12:30 p.m. (Saturday). Free. Friday: University of Southern California, University Park Campus, 850 W. 37th St., Los Angeles.  Saturday: Villa Aurora, 520 Paseo Miramar, Pacific Palisades. (213) 740-6001. dornsife.usc.edu/vhi.

“BLINKY AND ME”
The life of Australian animator Yoram Gross — from his childhood in Nazi-occupied Poland to Australia, where he created the popular animated series “Blinky Bill” — comes to life in director Tomasz Magierski’s documentary. At 85, Gross continues to create with youthful enthusiasm. The film follows Gross as he journeys back to Poland, accompanied by his teenage grandchildren, to revisit his past. Magierski participates in a Q-and-A after the 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. screenings on Sept. 7-10. Fri. Various times. Laemmle’s Playhouse 7, 673 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena. (310) 478-3836. laemmle.com.

“NATALIE PORTMAN: THE MUSICAL”
A celebrity narrator guides us through the life of Natalie Portman — and what may or may not have happened — stopping along the way at all her major movies (“Black Swan,” “Garden State,” “Star Wars”) and life events in this sketch comedy musical. Fri. Through Sept. 30. 8 p.m. $18. Chromolume Theatre at the Attic, 5429 W. Washington Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 510-2688. chromolume-theatre.com/natport.html.

Calendar Picks and Clicks: Aug. 25-31, 2012


SUN | AUG 26

“CHAILIGHTS”
The Los Angeles Jewish Symphony celebrates its 18th, or Chai, anniversary at the Ford Amphitheatre. The event features the orchestral ensemble performing fiery Spanish sonorities, dark laments, riotous folk and much more. The Aug. 26 concert marks the U.S. premier of “Klezmopolitan Suite” by Niki Reiser, a former member of the klezmer group Kol Simcha, and selections favored by the symphony’s founder and conductor, Noreen Green, spotlighting concertmaster Mark Kashper, cellist Barry Gold and clarinetist Zinovy Goro. Special performers include Sam Glaser accompanied by the newly formed Jewish Community Children’s Choir. Sun. 7:30 p.m. $25-$36 (general), $12 (full-time students, children 12 and under). Ford Theatres, 2580 Cahuenga Blvd. East, Hollywood. (323) 461-3673. fordtheatres.org or lajewishsymphony.com.

“JEWISH ART IN ELUL AND THE NEW YEAR”
The lead-up to the High Holy Days has inspired this exhibition featuring work incorporating found art, calligraphy, micrography, expressionism and more. Participating artists include Rae Antonoff, Aharon Aba Ben Avraham, Barbara Mendes, Freda Nessim, Yoram Partush, Sarah Devora Podolski and Rae Shagalov. Light refreshments, kosher wine and a chance to meet the artists highlight today’s opening reception. Through Oct. 12. Sun. Opening reception: 3-7 p.m. Gallery hours: Noon-7 p.m. (Sunday-Thursday). Free. Barbara Mendes Gallery, 2701 S. Robertson Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 558-3215. barbaramendes.org.

“ROXY ROTHAFEL: AMERICAN SHOWMAN”
Samuel “Roxy” Rothafel — film exhibitor, radio broadcaster, theater manager and war propagandist — helped movies become the dominant form of mass entertainment between 1908 and 1935. UCSB film and media studies professor Ross Melnick, author of “American Showman: Samuel ‘Roxy’ Rothafel and the Birth of the Entertainment Industry,” discusses Rothafel’s multifaceted career and his contributions to American popular culture. A book signing and a film screening follow. Sun. 3 p.m. $11 (general), $9 (seniors, students), $7 (American Cinematheque members). Egyptian Theatre, 6712 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. (323) 461-2020. americancinemathequecalendar.com.

TUE | AUG 28

“JUST 45 MINUTES FROM BROADWAY”
The Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival and The Jewish Journal present this exclusive sneak preview of writer-director Henry Jaglom’s family drama. Actress Pandora Isaacs (Tanna Frederick), stinging from a romantic breakup, retreats to the safety of her stage-actor parents’ country house, where her non-theatrical sister (Julie Davis) and her sister’s non-Jewish fiancé (Judd Nelson) are also arriving for the family’s yearly Passover seder. Journal Arts & Entertainment Editor Naomi Pfefferman moderates a post-screening Q-and-A with Jaglom, Frederick and Nelson. Tue. 7:30 p.m. $11. Laemmle’s Music Hall 3, 9036 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills. (213) 368-1661 or 800-838-3006. lajfilmfest.org.

“FAMILIES AND CYBERBULLYING: UNDERSTANDING AND ADDRESSING CYBERBULLYING”
A 90-minute training for adult family members and middle school and high school youth examines how to empower students and families to respond to cyberbullying and how to foster a culture of e-safety and moral action on issues related to online social cruelty. Adults and youth participate separately but reconvene for a community closing. Part of the BJE, Anti-Defamation League and the Board of Rabbis of Southern California campaign, “Click Responsibly: A Jewish Response to Cyberbulling,” an effort to increase awareness of positive online behavior. Tue. 7-9 p.m. Free. Valley Beth Shalom, 15739 Ventura Blvd., Encino. (310) 446-4233. clickresponsibly.org.

THU | AUG 30

KOL SEPHARDIC CHOIR
Known for Ladino and Sephardic liturgical music in Hebrew with Sephardic melodies, the Southern California musical ensemble performs an “Evening of Sephardic Music” alongside flamenco dancers. Thu. 6:45 p.m. Free. Los Angeles Public Library’s Robertson Branch, 1719 S. Robertson Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 557-1096. lapl.org.

FRI | AUG 31

“LIFE IS STRANGE”
Highlighting Yiddish culture and portraying a universal experience of carefree childhood, director Isaac Hertz’s documentary evokes the vibrant life of Jewish families in pre-war Europe through the childhood memories of Holocaust survivors. Started as an attempt by two friends to trace a family history, the project grew to a feature-length story of 25 people around the world and includes interviews with Shimon Peres, president of the State of Israel; Walter Kohn, Nobel laureate in chemistry; Robert Aumann, Nobel laureate in economics; and children’s book author Uri Orlev. Fri. Various times. $11 (general), $8 (children under 12, seniors). Laemmle’s Music Hall 3, 9036 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills. Laemmle’s Town Center 5, 17200 Ventura Blvd., Encino. (310) 478-3836. laemmle.com.

Calendar Picks and Clicks: Apr. 27-May 3, 2012


SUN | APRIL 29

CELEBRATE ISRAEL
Mizrahi pop star Eyal Golan, “The Voice” contestant Monique Benabou and Craig Taubman are the featured performers at today’s 64th Independence Day Festival, which includes a Salute to Israel Walk and Ride and an art installation competition. For additional information, see the story on Page 16. Sun. 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Online presale: $15 (adults), $9 (children), $10.75 (per person, family of four), $9.80 (per person, family of five). Door (does not include family package): $19 (adults), $12 (children). Cheviot Hills Park, Cheviot Hills Recreation Center, 2551 Motor Ave., Los Angeles. celebrateisraelfestival.com.

CHARLES FOX: “KILLING ME SOFTLY”
Don’t miss this afternoon of music and storytelling with the Grammy- and Emmy-winning composer who collaborated with icons Fred Astaire, Roberta Flack, Barry Manilow and Tito Puente. Fox performs his hit songs and signs copies of his 2011 memoir, “Killing Me Softly: My Life in Music.” Sun. 4 p.m. $10. American Jewish University, 15600 Mulholland Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 476-9777. ajula.edu.

MON | APRIL 30

TANLINES
The musical duo of Brooklyn hipsters Jesse Cohen and Eric Emm combines dance-pop and rock, tropical percussion, huge choruses and lyrics about Gen Y identity crises perfectly appropriate for an Echo Park crowd. Rewards and Gothic Tropic also perform. Mon. 8:30 p.m. $10 (advance), $12 (doors). The Echo, 1822 W. Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles. (213) 413-8200. attheecho.com.

CONGRESSIONAL DEBATE
For West San Fernando Valley residents who are still unsure about who to vote for in the congressional race for the newly drawn 30th District, perhaps tonight’s debate between Democratic candidates Rep. Brad Sherman and Rep. Howard Berman and Republican challengers Mark Reed and Susan Shelley will help. CSUN alumnus and KFI AM 640’s Bill Handel, CSUN business law lecturer Michael Sidley and a CSUN student representative moderate. Mon. 6-7:30 p.m. Free (limit two tickets per person). Valley Performing Arts Center, 18111 Nordhoff St., Los Angeles. (818) 677-8800. valleyperformingartscenter.org.

TUE | MAY 1

“A FEAST OF MYSTICAL JEWISH AND SUFI POETRY”
World musician Yuval Ron shares the hidden connection between Sufi master poet, Rumi, and the Jewish teacher, Yehuda Halevi in a concert-lecture. With singer Maya Haddi and percussionist Jamie Papish. Hosted by Rabbi Ed Feinstein. No fee. All are welcome. Bring timbrels. Tue. 7:30 p.m. Free. Valley Beth Shalom, 15739 Ventura Blvd., Encino. (818) 788-6000. Vbs.org.

THU | MAY 3

LOS ANGELES JEWISH FILM FESTIVAL
Of the more than 25 dramas, documentaries, comedies and shorts at 13 venues from Pasadena to Beverly Hills, highlights at the seventh annual festival include tonight’s star-studded celebration and gala reception with a premiere viewing of documentary “Tony Curtis: Driven to Stardom”; Penelope Ann Miller, co-star of “The Artist,” hosting a viewing of the Michael Curtiz silent classic “The Moon of Israel” (May 6); “Wunderkinder,” the Holocaust drama from the producers of “Europa Europa” (May 5-6); the Los Angeles premiere of “Follow Me: The Yoni Netanyahu Story” (May 9), with Consul General of Israel David Siegel and Israeli government officials attending; and “Dorfman,” the closing-night film by director Bradley Leung and writer Wendy Kout, starring Elliott Gould (May 10). A program of The Jewish Journal. Thu. Through May 10. Various times. $40 (opening gala), $6-$12 (films), $12-$15 (closing night). Various locations. (800) 838-3006. lajfilmfest.org.

“THE ART OF POP CULTURE”
The works of nearly 50 pop culture artists, including Domingo Zapata, Burton Morris and John Baldessari, are featured in the Zimmer Children’s Museum’s new show-and-tell art exhibition, opening today. On May 6, children make pop art, snack on doughnut pops and popcorn, and rock out at a poppin’ bubble wrap dance party during “Show-and-Tell Family Day: A Poppin’ Party!” Thu. Through June 8. 6-9 p.m. (opening reception). Free. Zimmer Children’s Museum, 6505 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 761-8984. zimmermuseum.org/showandtell.html.

U.S.A.-ISRAEL BIOMED TECH

CONFERENCE
The American Israeli Medical Association brings the biomedical technology industry of Israel to the American business community. Carla Mann Woods, CEO of Mann Healthcare Partners, delivers the keynote address, “Medical Devices in the 21st Century: Innovation, Challenges and Regulations.” Thu. 5-10 p.m. $80 (includes dinner and parking). Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (888) 991-1212. aima4u.com.

FRI | MAY 4
BIG SUNDAY WEEKEND
America’s largest community service festival, which started in 1999 at Temple Israel of Hollywood, attracts nearly 50,000 people from every neighborhood, race, religion, ethnicity and socioeconomic group to 500 projects in communities all over Southern California, San Diego and San Francisco. Volunteer projects include such activities as planting gardens at schools, fixing up homeless shelters and sprucing up dog parks. Big Sunday Weekend also features concerts, book fairs and blood drives. Fri. Through May 6. Various times. Free. Various locations. (323) 549-9944. bigsunday.org.

West Bank shorts added to L.A. Israel Film Festival


In a small Israeli jail cell, a 17-year-old settler hears the air raid siren that signals the beginning of the Sabbath. From her pocket, she pulls out two travel-friendly candles. When the last of the matches in her small box breaks, her cellmate, a vegan left-wing activist who was on the other side of that morning’s protest, hands the young religious girl her lighter.

The settler hesitates for a moment; the lighter is emblazoned with the Palestinian national flag. Finally, she takes it and lights the Shabbat candles.

This only-in-the-movies moment is part of a student short, titled “Chaotic,” that will be shown at an event affiliated with this year’s Israel Film Festival, which began in Los Angeles on March 15. But what is perhaps most unusual about this and two other short films to be shown on March 25 in Beverly Hills is that they were made by students in a film and television program at Ariel University Center (AUC), the largest public college in the West Bank.

“Coming with films from Ariel is a little surprise, because of the traditional thinking of film and television as a left-wing industry,” said Eyal Boers, a documentary filmmaker who is the head of the nearly five-year-old television and film track at AUC’s School of Communication.

That the Israeli film industry leans left — and has a particular problem with Ariel, a city-sized settlement located deep in the West Bank — is more than just perception.
In 2010, when a group of 36 Israeli actors announced that they would boycott the Ariel Regional Center for the Performing Arts, which opened later that year, dozens of artists, including some of the best-known Israeli film directors, signed on to support them.

Ariel has been a flashpoint of contention since shortly after it was established in 1978, but the settlement’s size (population 20,000) and location (more than 10 miles east of the pre-1967 borders of Israel) have recently made it the focus of particular attention for those on the left and right.

So while Peter Beinart, in a recent New York Times op-ed piece urging Zionist Jews to boycott settlements, singled out Ariel as an obstacle to achieving a peaceful two-state solution to the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) became a patron of the Israel Film Festival this year for the express purpose of showcasing the work of AUC students in Los Angeles.

“Ariel is actually a consensus city in Judea and Samaria,” said Orit Arfa, executive director of the ZOA’s Western region, using the biblical terms for the West Bank preferred by those wishing to emphasize its Jewish roots. “I don’t believe any prime minister has ever put Ariel on the table as an area to be ceded in any peace negotiation.”

ZOA and American Friends of Ariel, an organization that supports the development of Ariel and is also a patron of this year’s Israel Film Festival, are screening the three films by students in the AUC’s film and television track at a midday event they are calling “The Ariel Breakfast Club.”

After watching nine of the best films from the program’s students, “We chose these three films because they have the same theme,” Arfa said, “young people of different backgrounds coming together and working out their differences.”
To an extent, anyway. While one of the shorts — a romantic comedy that pairs a spoiled rich boy from Tel Aviv with a young, studious and feisty Ethiopian immigrant — ends as happily as any film coming out of Hollywood, the protagonists of the other films are left with more questions than answers.

Yael Gruber, who wrote and directed “Chaotic,” said she was interested in how young people on the political fringes in Israel live out their ideologies in parallel, albeit opposing ways.

“It was amazing to see how someone from the far-left fringe of the political map and someone from its rightmost edge speak about almost the same things,” Gruber wrote in an e-mail. “The establishment, the country — they sometimes even use the same phrases.”

Gruber, 27, is a religious mother of two who grew up and lives in a settlement near Ariel, and she describes herself as on the right politically, but Boers said that students in the AUC’s film and television track are a diverse bunch. The film and television track now even has a few Arab students, Boers said, and is drawing students from around the country.

“Application specifications become more and more difficult every year, and that’s in our interest,” he said.

Attracting faculty to work in Ariel is another matter, though.

“One of the main difficulties I face is attracting teachers, lecturers, directors to become a part of the track or collaborate with us,” Boers said. Of those he approaches about the possibility of coming to teach his students, three out of four turn Boers down right away.

Avi Zimmerman, executive director of American Friends of Ariel, would prefer to focus on those individuals and groups who have come to Ariel, despite the unwillingness of some in the theater community and film industry to perform or work there.

“All of the leading theaters in Israel perform in Ariel consistently,” Zimmerman wrote in an e-mail, noting that pop star Eyal Golan, who will be performing in Los Angeles in April, waived his fee when he played the opening concert at Ariel’s new cultural center.

Boers is expected to travel to Los Angeles for the March 25 screening of the AUC students’ shorts, and he said he hopes people who come to see them also pay attention to the films as films.
“I hope it’s not going to be too political,” Boers said. “But I’m an Israeli — I’m very realistic.

For your consideration


While missiles are raining down on the Jews of southern Israel, do you know what’s raining down on the Jews of Southern California? Screeners.

That’s right: It’s pre-Academy Award season in Hollywood, a time when everyone involved in the movie business receives free DVD copies of all the Oscar contenders. That way, they can be informed voters in the democracy that is Hollywood.

For those of us not actually in the Industry, there is still a good chance we can borrow some of these screeners — after all, some of our best friends are Jewish.

So while the residents of Sderot have to decide whether a trip to the market for a carton of milk is worth risking their lives, the Jews of Hollywood have to wonder whether “Slumdog Millionaire” will play better on their flat-screen or at the Laemmle.

No one said life is fair.

Complete Gaza CoverageBut the crop of movies out this year actually do shed light on how we react to what’s happening 7,500 miles away in Israel and Gaza.

A remarkable number of this year’s movies traffic in Jewish victimhood. “The Reader,” “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas” and “Adam Resurrected” are adapted from books about the Holocaust. “Valkyrie,” in which Tom Cruise doesn’t save the world, features glimpses of Hitler’s Jewish victims, as does “Good,” starring Viggo Mortensen as an unwitting Nazi collaborator.

Two movies attempt to turn our stereotype of ourselves on its head by portraying Jews fighting back. “Defiance” shows how a relative few of Hitler’s victims mounted an armed resistance, and the upcoming Hannah Senesh documentary, “Blessed Is the Match,” eulogizes another martyr. But these are Jews-as-victims stories, as well — one man or woman’s courage notwithstanding, in the end, we mostly die.

What is going on here? Hollywood and the movies still cling to the image of the Jew-as-victim, while in the world beyond Blu-ray the reality is much more … complicated.

There is a yawning gap between how we portray ourselves for the world to see and the reality of the Jew in the world. That gap helps explain why we are so shocked when news reports stress the charnel-house effects of Israeli bombs. Yes, many of these reports are biased, but yes, that havoc is what Jews too can wreak.

It’s clear from my stack of screeners that we Jews prefer to see ourselves as victimized, rather than as all the other adjectives that might apply to Jews since the end of World War II: assimilated, accepted, beloved, cool, aggressive, conflicted, popular, cruel, humane, brilliant, powerful.

I’d add “funny,” but we were always funny.

Movies mirror our heroic selves — and clearly we Jews are most comfortable seeing ourselves as heroic sufferers. No people has been persecuted like us, our stories keep telling us, and that’s the story we keep telling others.

Meanwhile, the roles Jews inhabit have become far more varied and morally complex.

Consider Gaza.

The narrative we are hearing from our leaders thus far could fit comfortably on one of those DVDs: Israel is a victim of Hamas; Israel is just trying to survive.

But of course we live in a more complex world than that, a world that, to my mind, demands we at least wrestle with some murky questions, both practical and moral (and I tend to believe the moral path is, in almost all cases, the most practical).

Some practical questions are: How will Israel’s short-term military success advance its long-term interests? How does it help Israel’s cause to leave Gaza in ruins, Hamas’ fighting force intact, a new generation of Gazan youth terrified and angry at Israel? If Hamas is not destroyed — and it looks like it won’t be — how long before it cashes some more Iranian checks, regroups and rearms?

And if some of Israel’s politicians and supporters aren’t willing to make concessions to more moderate Palestinians like Mahmoud Abbas, why risk Israeli soldiers’ lives trying to dethrone Hamas and put people like Abbas back in power?

Some moral questions are: If it is OK for Israel, in the name of survival, to kill 40 innocent children, is it acceptable for it to kill 400 children? What about 40,000? Where exactly is that line?

For that matter, if it is OK to kill innocent Palestinians because Hamas hides among them, would it be all right to kill innocent Catholics, or Evangelicals, or Jews, if Hamas hid among them?

Make no mistake: Hamas is intransigent, fanatic and violent. As long as it retains power in Gaza, those who want peace for Israel and justice for the Palestinians will be frustrated.

But where Jews have power, they also have the ability to react wisely — and it is wise to be asking these sorts of questions; there is no shame or weakness in it. Just don’t try to make a movie out of it.

Survey: Fewer Americans think Jews control Hollywood


Forget Spielberg. Forget the Weinsteins. Forget “Seinfeld.”

The majority of Americans no longer believe that Jews control Hollywood. This is the news from a new poll released by the Anti-Defamation League that also suggests there remains a widespread conviction that there is an organized campaign by Hollywood and the national media to undermine religious values.

In the October 2008 survey of 1,000 American adults, “American Attitudes on Religion, Moral Values and Hollywood,” conducted by the Marttila Communications Group, 63 percent of Americans said they do not believe that the movie and television industries are “pretty much run by Jews.” This finding contradicts not only the prevailing myth, but also a 1964 survey in which half of the respondents agreed that Jews controlled Hollywood. It seems the era depicted in Neil Gabler’s book, “An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood,” is over.

“It’s interesting that it’s fallen that much; it’s a mark of the decline of anti-Semitism in this country,” said Jonathan Sarna, professor of American Jewish history at Brandeis University. However, Sarna was quick to point out that the statistics may not be entirely reliable. Telephone polls, he said, tend to skew older because they are the ones who are at home to answer calls, and because the prohibition against cold-calling cellphones precludes most younger perspectives.

Sixty-one percent of those polled said they believe religious values are under attack, and 63 percent said religion as a whole is losing its influence on American life.

Fifty-nine percent of respondents do not believe Hollywood shares the religious and moral values of most Americans. Of those, 70 percent identify themselves as religious Americans who attend religious institutions one or more times each week. Conservative Protestants agreed with this statement most strongly (68 percent), followed by traditional Catholics (60 percent) and moderate Catholics (55 percent).

Forty-three percent of respondents said they believe there is an organized campaign by the national media to “weaken the influence of religious values”; 62 percent of that group said they attend religious institutions one or more times per week. Among them, those who identified themselves as traditional Catholics agree most strongly (65 percent), followed by Protestants (56 percent) and liberal Catholics (41 percent). However, 59 percent of non-affiliated people surveyed disagree with this statement.

The idea that certain forms of entertainment are antithetical to religious values predates Hollywood. In early American history, Protestant groups were deeply opposed to theater. When motion picture “talkies” were introduced to America in the 1930s, the Production Code (also known as the Hays Code) was quickly created, establishing explicit censorship guidelines for the film industry.

“Ambivalence towards entertainment is a bit like ambivalence towards sex,” Sarna said. “And they’re related; things that give one joy are often deemed to be suspect, and I think we’re seeing that.”

The poll also revealed some support for censorship. While a clear majority does not think books containing dangerous ideas should be banned from public school libraries, 38 percent support censoring books.

The study’s data indicates that people who attend religious institutions regularly are decidedly more conservative in their cultural views. They are also more likely to vote Republican. While the majority-vs.- minority groupings do not surprise Sarna, he is skeptical of the poll’s numerical conclusions.

“If 43 percent of Americans decided not to go to the movies, the movie industry wouldn’t be the size it is in this country,” he said.

In a statement accompanying the poll’s release, ADL director Abe Foxman said, “The belief that religion is under attack underlies the drive to incorporate more religion into American public life.”

Yet, Sarna countered that if the majority of Americans really believed religion was under attack, Sen. John McCain and Gov. Sarah Palin would have won the election.

“The very fact that Obama’s ticket won — and won big — reminds us that there are all sorts of other issues that are important. Nobody voted for Obama because they thought he would inject more religion into public life,” Sarna said.

Q&A with Yair Hochner — founder of Tel Aviv’s first gay and lesbian film festival


Yair Hochner’s “Antarctica” – which opens Nov.14 at the Regent Showcase – begins with multi-screen images of one-night stands in the nocturnal life of hunky gay businessman Boaz (Ofer Regirer). The sexually graphic montage introduces some of the main characters of the romantic dramedy, which revolves around an interconnected group of queer friends in Tel Aviv. There is Omer (Tomer Ilan), a shy librarian who’s about to turn 30 but hasn’t found love or meaning in his life; Omer’s slutty friend, Micki; a marriage-shy lesbian; and a mom played by Israel’s reigning drag queen, Noam Huberman (a less campy version of the mama portrayed by the late Divine in John Waters’ “Hairspray”), among others. Before the 33-year-old Hochner made “Antarctica,” he shot his award-winning “Good Boys,” for $500; and founded Tel Aviv’s first gay and lesbian film festival. Along with fellow Israeli director Eytan Fox (“The Bubble”), he is fast emerging on the international scene as one of Israel’s premiere (and most daring) queer filmmakers.

JJ: How did you come up with the idea for “Antarctica?”
YH: In 1999, during my last year at Camera-Obscura art school in Tel Aviv, I was inspired by one of my favorite films of the year, Michael Winterbottom’s ‘Wonderland,’ which deals with the solitude of bachelorhood in the big city. I initially wrote my movie as a romantic comedy about a bunch of straight female characters, but when I came out of the closet and moved in with my partner, I decided to change it to a group of young, hot, lesbians and gay men in Tel Aviv with an ensemble cast that reflects familiar archetypes we all know in the queer community: the confused youngster who’s unclear about his life; the stud who only has one-night stands with a different guy every night; the mature lesbian who wants to have a baby and create a family; the shy boy who prefers reading books to going out on the town and thus will never meet anyone. We even meet a Jewish mother (Huberman, aka stage name Miss Laila Carry), who constantly nudges her kids at their jobs. She wants grandchildren, she match-makes, and behind everyone’s backs she…well, you’ll have to watch the film to find out.

JJ: “Antarctica” is deliberately apolitical, but – as the L.A. Weekly noted — “There is a subversive politicking in its insistence on portraying gay life as is, promiscuity and all. Which may be why the only Israeli theater that would show this lovingly goofy tribute to John Waters is a cinematheque. “What happened?
YH: Israeli distributors can be very hypocritical, because they show graphic sex scenes involving straight Israelis – “Late Marriage” had a 20-minute sex scene with erections – and “Antarctica” I think is less graphic. Of course, Israeli commercial distributors almost never screen any LGBT movies. So I took my film to Tel Aviv’s cinemateque, where it’s been screening for four months straight since August. Since then it’s been in 12 countries, everywhere from the Venice film festival to Sao Paolo, where it was the opening night at the gay and lesbian film festival last week. The audience was packed with 800 people; [viewers] came from as far away as Rio to see the movie. I was shocked, but everyone was laughing and crying – I never imagined that in a different culture, in a very different context, it would feel the same as it does at home.

JJ: There have been some Israeli films, like Eytan Fox’s “The Bubble,” a gay love story between an Israeli and a Palestinian – that have received support from the Israeli film establishment.
YH: Yes but those kinds of movies are very mainstream in a way – “The Bubble” involves the Middle East conflict, while others may deal in part with the Holocaust, which are all subjects that Israelis like to watch. My movie is purely about gay and lesbian love stories in Tel Aviv. I didn’t deal with Holocaust memories or Palestinians – which I think is boring to see so many times. I tried to get away from this. I just wanted to make a regular movie about regular people and their romantic lives.

JJ: Here in California gay marriage was struck down by our Proposition 8 this month. The lesbians in “Antarctica” discuss marriage, but same-sex marriage has never been legal in Israel.
YH: In the movie it’s obvious they can’t marry, but that’s not the issue. The ability to marry or not is not the problem, the issue (which is the subject of the movie) is, ‘How open are we to other people around us?”

JJ: Why did you choose to cast a drag queen in a woman’s role?
YH: I wanted to make a totally queer film without any straight actors, and Noam is a great icon in Tel Aviv, he has his own show. I’m a great fan of John Waters and Divine, but I told Noam I wanted to do something that was not necessarily camp, and that was more realistic. I told him, ‘Just act like an old Jewish woman and don’t be too extreme.’ I know many viewers are surprised when they see him because suddenly he jumps into the frame and it changes the vibe of the movie. The movie starts out very sexy, then becomes very realistic and dark, and then romantic and a bit campy. It’s like three films on one ticket.

JJ: Why did you title the film ‘Antarctica?”
YH: It has to do with transformation. The characters start out with very frozen hearts; they need to open themselves up to get warmer experiences in their lives. In Tel Aviv, like big cities such as London or New York, many people feel isolated, so they’re have online dates and one-night stands and they feel alone, and they’re waiting for that light to arrive to give us the opportunity to be open, to love.

JJ: Have you seen straight people in the audience as well?
YH: Absolutely. I think Israelis are tired of all the war movies and Lebanon movies and family dramas that we’ve seen in recent year. They just want to see something different – and they’re looking for something that will tell them something about their own lives.

To see a trailer of “Antarctica” visit http://www.antarctica-themovie.com/videofinal.html.

Calendar Girls Picks and Clicks Nov. 8 – 14: Healing Havdalah, comedy, films


SAT | NOVEMBER 8

(HAVDALAH)
Joe the Plummer. Tina Fey. Yes We Can. Terrorist ties. Maverick. Hockey mom. It’s time to put the contentiousness of Election 2008 behind us. Republicans or Democrats, we are all Jews. To reunite the community, LimmudLA is hosting a “Healing Havdalah,” where cheering and jeering, political debates and heated ” target=”_blank”>http://www.limmudla.org.

(COMEDY)
Beth Lapides is 100 percent happy — 88 percent of the time. But Lapides will certainly be making everyone around her cheerful when she performs her “evolutionary entertainment.” Lapides, a comedian and creator-host of “Un-Cabaret,” has appeared on “Sex and the City,” “The Today Show” and “All Things Considered,” among other programs. During the 1992 presidential election, she tried to make First Lady an elected office and received as many electoral votes as Ross Perot. Sat. 8:30 p.m. $15-$20. Highways Performance Space, 1651 18th St., Santa Monica. (310) 315-1459. ” border = 0 vspace = ‘8’ hspace = ‘8’ align = ‘left’>Forgotten Jews of South America,” about South Americans who long to affirm their long-hidden Jewish faith, will also be featured during the fest. Rabbi Daniel Bouskila will be honored with the Maimonides Leadership Award for his years of service to the Sephardic Educational Center, and “West Wing” and “House” producer Eli Attie will receive the Cinema Sepharad Award. Sun. 4 p.m. $250 (opening gala). Through Nov. 16. $12 (screenings). Paramount Studios, 5555 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles; Majestic Crest Theater, 1262 Westwood Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 601-6302. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.afi.com.

(HOLOCAUST)
In a powerful precursor to the Holocaust, 92 Jews were killed, 25,000 people were arrested and 200 synagogues were destroyed in one night in 1938. That night, remembered today as “The Night of Broken Glass” or Kristallnacht, will be commemorated at Loyola Marymount University when acclaimed photographer, filmmaker and writer Rick Nahmias presents his multimedia exhibit “Last Days of the Four Seasons.” Nahmias, who is best known for chronicling the struggles of California’s agricultural workforce, traces the lives of 100 Polish, Hungarian and Russian Jews who survived the Holocaust and established a refuge in the Catskill Mountains. Professor of Jewish Studies at Cal State Northridge Beth Cohen will deliver a keynote address, “Holocaust Survivors in Postwar America: Facts and Fictions of the Early Years.” Sun. 1 p.m. Free. Loyola Marymount University, 1 LMU Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 338-7850. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.lamuseumoftheholocaust.org.

(ISRAEL)
Not that the subject of Israel is ever out of focus for organizations like StandWithUs and The Jewish Federation of Los Angeles, but the aptly titled “Israel In Focus” conference will give the Jewish state center stage above issues like the new president-elect, the economy and the housing market. Featured experts will include Itamar Marcus of Palestinian Media Watch, who will share some of the latest outrageous videos he has unearthed on Palestinian TV; Roberta Seid, who will demonstrate how StandWithUs rouses college kids with a presentation on Israel 101, history and Zionism; and Micah Halpern, a political and social commentator with the latest developments in the turbulent Middle East political scene. Additional sponsors of this event are Sinai Temple Israel Center and the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles. Sun. 9 a.m.-4 p.m. $75 (includes breakfast, lunch and all sessions). Sinai Temple, 10400 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 836-6140 ext. 0.

(WOMEN’S RETREAT)
Leave your to-do lists at home and spend an entire day focusing on yourself. “A Day for Women” at the Alpert JCC offers a rejuvenating experience of a different sort that doesn’t include massages or spa treatments. The theme is “Small Steps Toward Change” and the activities and discussion groups will center on how to make changes in ourselves as well as the world around us, starting with small efforts. The keynote speaker will be “Hours of Devotion” author Dinah Berland. Your day of spiritual pampering will also include lunch, a creative writing/art workshop and a Women’s Boutique (what’s a women’s day without shopping?). Sun. 10:30 a.m. $36 (young adults 18-28), $52 (AJCC members), $58 (non-members). 3801 E. Willow St., Long Beach. (562) 426-7601 ext. 1067 or elunt@alpertjcc.org. esteingart@jbbbsla.org. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.wbtla.org.

WED | NOVEMBER 12

(COOKING)
You don’t have to be a foodie or even an avid cook to enjoy a presentation by Jayne Cohen. The author of “Jewish Holiday Cooking: A Food Lover’s Treasury of Classics and Improvisations” will join Deb Swartz and Deanna Clark of Old Town Cooking School in Pasadena to discuss Jewish aesthetics, Mark Rothko and Barbie dolls. What do Barbie dolls have to do with cooking? We have no idea, but you can find out during this evening of conversation, demonstrations and tastings with Cohen, where the culinary queen will also tell you how to celebrate Chanukah with a modern twist. Wed. 7-8 p.m. Free. Pasadena Central Library, DRW Auditorium, 285 E. Walnut St., Pasadena. (626) 791-0358. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.southerncalifornia.hadassah.org.

THU | NOVEMBER 13

(BENEFIT READING)
Nanci Neidorf Christopher was in her mid-30s when she felt her biological clock go off. With no knight in shining armor in sight, she decided to adopt. “… And Baby Makes Two — An Adoption Tale” is this Jewish mom’s tumultuous and inspiring story, which enjoyed an extended run at the Santa Monica Playhouse last year. This one-night only performance coincides with National Adoption Month and aims to raise awareness of the oft-misunderstood parenting option. Proceeds from the evening, which includes a live auction and a Sweet Lady Jane cake and champagne reception, will go to the American Liver Foundation, Vista Del Mar Child and Family Services and The Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute. Thu. 8 p.m. $35 (single), $60 (pair), $100 (four tickets). The Other Space at the Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica. (310) 285-2200. ” border = 0 vspace = ‘8’ hspace = ‘8’ align = ‘left’>”Church, State, God and Politics: Past, Present and Future Religion in America,” accompanied by a Shabbat service. Saturday’s services will be followed by a study session led by Waldman and a luncheon. Waldman, with the help of Glendale Mayor John Drayman, will bring the weekend to a close with a lecture and Q-and-A session on Sunday. Fri. 7:30 p.m. Sat. and Sun. 10 a.m. Fri. and Sat. morning Shabbat services, free; $10-$25 for all other events. Temple Sinai of Glendale, 1212 N. Pacific Ave., Glendale. (213) 626-5863; (818) 246-8101. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.temple-sinai.net.

— Lilly Fowler contributed to this article

Calendar Girls picks and clicks for July 5 – 11


SAT | JULY 5

(THEATER)

Only a psychotherapist-cum-theater entertainer could do justice to the zany and improbable Jewish journey spotlighted in the play “Rose.” The one-woman show runs the gamut of 20th-century Jewish geography, “from a Ukrainian shtetl to the Warsaw Ghetto, to Atlantic City and Miami, with side trips to a hippie commune in Connecticut, onboard the ship Exodus, to an Israeli settlement on the West Bank.” Actress Naomi Newman, the aforementioned shrink, is also the co-founder of San Francisco’s Traveling Jewish Theatre and will be bringing Martin Sherman’s script to life. Sat. 8 p.m. Wed.-Sun. Through Aug. 31. $25-$45. Odyssey Theatre Ensemble, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 477-2055. ” border = 0 vspace = ‘8’ hspace = ‘8’ align = ‘left’>burgers and hot dogs (meat and veggie), beer and snacks in a gorgeous Malibu mansion overlooking the coastline and mountains. Teaming up to sponsor this popular annual gathering are two heavy-hitters of the Jewish singles scene — the Chai Center and JConnectLA. Sun. 2-6 p.m. $13 (online), $18 (at the door). Private home, 6288 Porterdale Drive, Malibu. For more information, call (310) 271-8666. ” target=”_blank”>http://clairejamessteinberg.com.

TUE | JULY 8

(DOCUMENTARIES)

Israeli brothers Barak and Tomer Heymann have tackled Israeli-Palestinian relations, homosexuality, Israeli pop music, drugs, flamenco and the world of ” target=”_blank”>http://www.skirball.org.

(ART)

Born in Brooklyn to a working-class Jewish family, artist Al Held soon broke out of that mold. He served in the U.S. Navy during World War II before jetting off to Paris to study fine art. Now he is an internationally renowned artist with a Guggenheim fellowship and a teaching stint at Yale on his resume. The University Art Museum at Cal State Long Beach presents an exhibition of Held’s work, “Al Held: The Evolution of Style,” a comprehensive collection of his expressionist paintings. Expect “hard-edged abstraction,” “two-dimensional picture planes” and “perspectival illusionism” — all of which describe his artistic evolution over a five-decade career. Gallery open noon-5 p.m., Tue.-Sat. Through Aug. 10. $4 (general), free (students). The University Art Museum, CSULB, 1250 Bellflower Blvd., Long Beach. (562) 985-5761. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.genesimmons.com.

WED | JULY 9

(MAGIC)

” border = 0 vspace = ‘8’ hspace = ‘8’ align = ‘left’>Tony and Oscar nominee David Mamet, a seasoned author, essayist, playwright and film director. Don’t miss this chance to catch a master of the art of deception in a rare L.A. visit before he vanishes, taking his act back on the road to wow other magic connoisseurs and curious fans. Wed.-Thu. 8 p.m., Fri. 8:30 p.m., Sat.-Sun. 8 p.m. Through Aug. 26. $75-$250. Geffen Playhouse, Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Los Angeles. (310) 208-5454.

You want a peace of the Zohan?


At age 60, when even the more virile tend to slow down, Israel has replaced Italy as the native habitat of the sex stud.

That’s the uplifting message from “You Don’t Mess With the Zohan,” starring Adam Sandler in the title role of an Israeli super commando-turned-New York hairstylist.

Co-script writer Robert Smigel says, “I wrote the Israeli characters as horn dogs,” roughly translated as really, REALLY horny persons of either gender.

The film’s Zohan Dvir is Israel’s super counter-terrorist agent who can leap tall buildings, swim faster than a motor boat, bend opponents into pretzels, save burning buildings by spraying hummus on the fire and wipe out Hamas with his bare hands.

Zohan is also a great disco dancer, skilled chef, muscle man (shot on Tel Aviv beaches) and a nice Jewish boy who loves his parents.

Yet with all these accomplishments, he harbors a secret dream—to become a hairstylist in Manhattan.

The film opens June 6 in the United States and is scheduled for its Israeli premiere in mid-June. No Arab country has yet bid for the movie.

During a recent news conference, Smigel, four of the actors and director Dennis Dugan assured the media that beneath the fun and games was a loftier message.

“Life would be easier if we all got along,” said Sandler, acknowledging that his was not an entirely original thesis. He noted that as a Jewish child, Israeli soldiers were his heroes.

Dugan said he wanted to explore “the ‘West Side Story’ of life.” Rob Schneider, who plays an aggrieved Palestinian, talked about “peace through laughter.”

The getting-along theme is apparent nearly from the start, as Zohan breaks the news about his career aspirations to his mother, played by the veteran Israeli actress Dina Doron.

“When will we have peace?” Zohan asks plaintively. “How much longer will we have to fight?”

His mother responds, “We’ve been fighting for 2,000 years, so it should be over soon.”

But not before Zohan has to match muscle and wits—sort of – with his nemesis, a wily terrorist who operates under the nom de guerre The Phantom.

The Phantom, played by John Turturro, wears dark shades, a glittering costume and gold teeth. Like Zohan, he speaks in heavily accented English.

Zohan finally breaks in at a Brooklyn salon owned by Dalia, an exquisite Palestinian girl played by French-Moroccan actress Emmanuelle Chriqui.

At a place patronized mainly by elderly ladies, Zohan makes a name for himself by employing the innovative technique of following each haircut with a special client service in the backroom—so vigorously that the whole salon shakes.

Word quickly spreads and soon long queues of mature ladies line up in front of the salon. Business becomes so good that Dalia is able to fend off the evil developer who wants to tear down her place.

The neighborhood is populated mainly by Israeli and Palestinian expatriates engaged in cab driving and various dubious enterprises.

Trouble looms when The Phantom, who now runs a Middle Eastern restaurant, reappears to settle scores with Zohan. However, Jewish and Arab supporters are busy building up their own businesses and are in no mood to resume the old battles.

In the end, the factions join hands against a common enemy. Take a guess what happens with Zohan and Dalia.

The film caricatures both Israelis and Palestinians, with plenty of material to offend both sides, though Arabs absorb slightly more insults.

An advance screening of the film produced some laughter, though less than one might expect given the plot line and the talented cast.

Sandler engendered snickers with the frequent barings of his backside, as well as his energetic servicing of the mother of a hospitable friend and the grandmotherly clients at the salon.

The picture is rated PG-13; perhaps we are fortunate to be spared the R-rated version.

“Zohan” features a cast of 175, including large contingents of Israelis and Palestinians. Refreshingly, actual Israelis and Palestinians portray themselves. Extensive auditions were held in Tel Aviv and among the expat communities in New York and Los Angeles.

One of the plum roles went to Ido Mosseri, 30, a Tel Aviv native who has acted on stage and screen since he was 8. He plays Oori, an Israeli expat in New York who becomes Zohan’s sidekick and introduces him to the ways of the big city.

During an interview following the news conference, Mosseri still couldn’t believe his good luck.

“Some of the best Israeli actors auditioned for the role,” he exulted. “The last four months have been the best of my life. I feel as if I had made the NBA.”

Mosseri, who he says is “half Egyptian, one-quarter Polish and one-quarter Russian,” warmly praised Sandler as a “very giving guy.”

“He hugged me when we first met, and we played basketball together on the set,” Mosseri recalled.

In the film, Mosseri plays a clerk in a Brooklyn electronics store in which the staff’s sales techniques match the store’s official name, Going Out of Business.

Apparently, the “can’t we all get along” theme of the film rubbed off on the cast.

“We Jews and Arabs ate together at the same ‘peace table’ and really became good friends,” Mosseri said. “After the film wrapped, we all went on a ‘creative’ trip to Las Vegas.”


The trailer

Magnificent Seven: The Israeli Film Fest salutes Oscar nominees


This has been a banner year for Israel’s small but increasingly prestigious movie industry, but even in earlier decades, the country’s filmmakers came up with Oscar-worthy presentations.

To mark these achievements, the 23rd Israel Film Festival will screen all seven Academy Award-nominated pictures from Israel during the June 11-26 run.

The nominated films (none has taken home the golden statuette itself, but just wait) also reflect the life and problems during the state’s 60-year existence, often viewed with a critical or ironic eye.

In chronological order, the films are:

“Sallah Shabati” (1965)
The film introduced a young Haim Topol in the title role as an immigrant from North Africa with a large family and his misadventures as he tries to become part of Israeli society. The Ashkenazi Topol, then a young man, plays the middleaged Sephardi so convincingly that even Moroccan Sephardim took him as one of their own.

Written and directed by master satirist Ephraim Kishon, the film spears everything from Israeli party politics and ideological kibbutzniks to religious and ethnic misunderstandings. “Sallah” is arguably Israel’s best, and certainly funniest, film and should not be missed.

“The Policeman” (1971)
In another work by the prolific Kishon, Azulai (Shaike Ophir) is a good-hearted cop so incompetent that he hasn’t received a promotion in 20 years. When he is about to be fired, the Israeli underworld takes matters into its own hands to make sure Azulai keeps his job.

“I Love You Rosa” (1972)
The offbeat love story by director Moshe Mizrahi explores the complications when 11-year-old Nissim tries to uphold the Jewish law under which a brother is obligated to marry the widow left behind by his deceased older brother. Rosa is understandably not enthusiastic, but years later a grown-up Nissim gives it another try. Beautifully photographed in Old Jerusalem.

“The Home on Chelouche Street” (1974)
In a change of pace, Mizrahi goes back to the last days of the British Mandate in Palestine. The film focuses on Sami, recently arrived with his impoverished Sephardi family, who falls in love with an older woman, a Russian immigrant, and joins the anti-British resistance.

“Operation Thunderbolt” (1977)
The film documents one of the most daring operations of the ingenious Israel Defense Forces, when commandos free hijacked Israeli hostages held by Palestinian and German terrorists at Uganda’s Entebbe airport.

“Beyond the Walls” (1984)
A hard-boiled prison drama, with outstanding performances, in which Jewish and Arab factions battle for supremacy, but unite against the brutal Israeli official who runs the maximum-security facility.

“Beaufort” (2007)
The man-at-war drama, directed by American-born Joseph Cedar, broke the long drought for Israeli Oscar nominations. The action centers on the first Lebanon war, when a contingent of Israeli soldiers defend a massive Crusader fortress before the withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000, after an 18-year struggle.

Films: Documentary captures young Orthodox boxer’s journey


Jews get short shrift at Oscar nominations


If, as they say, a “Jewish cabal” runs Hollywood, it sure did a lousy job in promoting its own Jewish-themed films during Tuesday’s Academy Award nominations.

Whereas in past years one could at least count on Steven Spielberg or a Holocaust documentary to provide a snappy lead for a story in the Jewish media, this year the pickings were slim, indeed.

Alan (middle name Wolf) Arkin got an Oscar nomination for his role as Grandpa, the heroin-snorting, womanizing family patriarch in “Little Miss Sunshine.”

The 72-year-old actor, director, author and musician holds the distinction of having been nominated for an Oscar in his very first screen appearance in 1966 in “The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming.”

Two years later he was nominated again for his role in “The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter.”

In a past interview, Arkin observed, “Well, I’ve always been a character actor, I’ve never been a leading man. It gave me an opportunity not to have to take my clothes off all the time.”

Jewish filmmakers dominated the feature-length documentary category, with fare that often tackled controversial social and political issues. The five docs nominated include Davis Guggenheim’s “An Inconvenient Truth,” about global warming, produced by activist Laurie David (wife of Larry); Amy Berg’s “Deliver Us From Evil” about pedophilia charges against the Catholic Church; and “Jesus Camp,” co-directed by Rachel Grady.

Despite a flood of shrewd publicity, “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan” won only one nomination for the faux journalist’s creator Sacha Baron Cohen.

The British comedian was named in the Adapted Screenplay category (who knew there even was a screenplay?), along with his co-writers Anthony Hines, Peter Baynham and Dan Mazer. The largely improvised film had previously qualified as an adapted screenplay for the Writer’s Guild Awards since it was based on the character Cohen featured on HBO’s “Da Ali G Show,” Variety reported.

And finally, there’s the real dark horse nomination of “West Bank Story” in the Short Film-Live Action category.

Director Ari Sandel tags his work as “A little singing, a little dancing, a lot of hummus.”

A review in The Journal two years ago lauded “the very funny film featuring an all-singing, all-dancing cast. In it, the Israeli boy and the Palestinian girl join hands and hearts to settle a bitter rivalry between their families’ competing West Bank falafel stands.”

The 79th annual Academy Awards airs Feb. 25 on ABC.

Briefs: Sacha Borat Cohen scores at Golden Globes; Former Carter Center official at Temple Sinai


‘Borat’s’ Cohen Takes Golden Globe

Sacha Baron Cohen convulsed the Golden Globe audience on Monday evening as he picked up the top award for best actor in a comedy or musical movie, but Cambridge University’s favorite alumnus also showed his serious side.

Addressing all those who still didn’t get the point of “Borat: Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan” (such as the president of Iran), Baron Cohen told Variety and other backstage reporters:

“The movie is mocking Borat’s beliefs. All his beliefs seem laughable — whether he’s homophobic or misogynistic or anti-Semitic, they’re all seen as forms of delusion.

“He doesn’t just think Jews are good with money, he thinks they can change their shape into little insects,” he said. “And the point of that is to show that all prejudice is ridiculous.”

On stage, Baron Cohen verbally reprised the film’s famous nude wrestling match with co-star Kern Davitian.

“I saw some dark parts of America, an ugly side of America,” Baron Cohen deadpanned. “I refer of course to the anus and testicles of my co-star,” pointing to Davitian.

“When I was in that scene and I stared down and saw your two wrinkled golden globes on my chin, I thought to myself, ‘I better win a bloody award for this.'”

“Borat” will gain some momentum from the Golden Globe honors but whether it’s enough to propel him to an Oscar nomination or award is questionable.

Unlike the Golden Globes, which split the movie categories between “comedy or musical” and “drama,” the Academy Awards combine them into a single category.

Baron Cohen would have to beat the entire field of top American and British actors to take the prize.

— Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Former Carter Fellow Addresses Sinai Temple

Dr. Kenneth W. Stein, who broke with Jimmy Carter over “inaccuracies and distortions” in the former president’s book, “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid,” addressed about 600 people at Sinai Temple on Jan. 11. Co-sponsored by Sinai Temple and StandWithUs, the talk was Stein’s first appearance outside of Atlanta since the Emory University scholar resigned his position as Middle East fellow with the university’s Carter Center in December.

Stein’s Sinai Temple address focused on factual misrepresentations in the book dealing with the wording of U.N. Resolution 242, Carter’s Damascus meeting with Syrian President Hafez al-Assad and the Camp David accords. In each instance, Stein said Carter skewed the facts in favor of Israel’s foes.

According to Stein, Carter is “deft, clever and intelligent” but lacking in understanding of the political and social culture of the Middle East. He believes that the “essence of Carter’s anger” with Israel stems from his strained relationship with Prime Minister Menachem Begin whom, Stein said, “never gave Carter a fall-back position” during the Camp David negotiations.

Stein cited Carter’s intelligence and remarkable memory, and said that while not anti-Semitic, the former president believes in the rectitude of his position.

During the question-and-answer session Rabbi David Wolpe asked whether Carter’s dislike of Israel “skewed the acuity of his memory.”

Stein said that Carter “hones in on what he wants to hear and write about. He wants you to conclude that the conflict is Israel’s fault and he believes the end justifies the means.”

On the destructiveness of Carter’s book, Stein said he felt that in the last few years “Israel’s history has been hijacked” and he fears that “American Jews are asleep.” He added that the most important duty American Jews have today is to “teach our history to our children.”

— Peter L. Rothholz, Contributing Writer

L.A. Maccabi, Milken JCC Honor Longtime Organizer

If the Maccabi Games are the Jewish Olympics, then Dr. Jerry Bobrow is the Los Angeles team captain. For the past 18 years, Bobrow has served as chairman of the Los Angeles JCC Maccabi Organizing Committee, leading thousands of young L.A. Jews in a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Maccabi Team Los Angeles and the New JCC at Milken will honor Bobrow at The Night of Maccabi Champions on Jan. 20 at the Universal Hilton, where more than 400 people will gather to celebrate his commitment and contribution to the games.

“He has involved and engaged thousands of Jewish families and their teenagers and helped them to develop strong Jewish identities,” said Michael Jeser, assistant executive director at the JCC at Milken.

Born in Rome to Holocaust survivors, Bobrow moved to California at a young age. He became a track and field star at Fontana High School, a baseball star at Whittier College and pitched semipro baseball for nine seasons. He went on to coach youth and high school baseball for more than 40 years and is now a member of the Southern California Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.

“I’ve always been a passionate sports fan and athlete, and the Maccabi Games are the perfect connection between sports and the community. I love to get Jewish athletes more involved and help bring them into the Jewish community and the Jewish community centers,” said Bobrow, who has been a board member of the Jewish Centers Association since the early 1980s.

The North American Maccabi games began in 1982. Today more than 6,000 Jewish athletes, ages 13-16, participate in the annual summer games. Under Bobrow’s leadership, the Los Angeles delegation has grown to more than 200, the maximum number allowed.

For Bobrow, the games are not just an athletic event, but a place for Jewish youth to make friends for life. “They get to know other kids, and they just make this special connection, which I think is tremendously important,” said Bobrow, who calls the delegation “Team Los Angeles.” “We’re bound as a delegation, to get to know each other, to raise social awareness, and to get kids more involved.”

— Carin Davis, Contributing Writer

‘Zorro’s Bar Mitzvah’ documents the real rite of passage


In the new Austrian film, “Zorro’s Bar Mitzvah,” Jewish party documenter Andre describes the addictive nature of his video extravaganzas.

“There are people in Israel with relatives who collect my films, not just of their family, any family,” he explains from his audiovisual studio, which looks sufficiently equipped for a Disney production.

“I know two or three women, it tends to be women, they play these films all day at home when they’re ironing, just have them playing in the background,” says Andre, a middle-age Viennese Jew.

He philosophizes that perhaps it is his destiny to endlessly attend bar and bat mitzvah parties because he never got to have one.

Hard to imagine collecting bar mitzvah videos?

After seeing “Zorro,” you might be tempted to play it again and again like Andre’s Israeli fans, just to catch the nuance of what the four families in the film have to say about Jewishness, adulthood, identity, gender, schmaltz and, yes, the masked hero Zorro.

This masterful cinematic documentary of three recent Viennese bar mitzvahs and one bat mitzvah is the work of Austrian Jewish filmmaker Ruth Beckermann, whose documentaries about World War II and Jewish memory have earned her critical acclaim.

Zorro opened at an Austrian film festival at Lincoln Center in New York in early December and at art film houses in Vienna. The 90-minute film, in German with English subtitles, is making the round of festivals. The U.S. distributor is First Run/Icarus Films.

The film’s title is inspired by the video clip Andre is shooting for a Georgian-Viennese family. The clip will be the centerpiece of their extravagant bar mitzvah party.

Sharon, the handsome bar mitzvah, who looks more like 19 than 12, is to play Zorro, and Andre sets up a shoot replete with horses, stuntmen, makeup artists, costumes and sword fighting in front of a baroque Austrian estate.

Never far from the scene is Sharon’s sexy mother, whose perfect French manicured nails, showy outfits and willingness to spend vast sums on a party that resembles the Academy Awards seem to fascinate Beckermann.

The lavishness, however, is undercut by the sincerity of mother and son.

Sharon’s mother is only doing what her extended family expects — they want a party appropriate for the son that her own father circumcised.

Far from being spoiled, Sharon is dutiful, respectful and performs his Torah portion with finesse.

Then in the film’s most hilarious moment, after a downcast Sharon tells Andre he only wanted to play the man in black because of a scene from “The Legend of Zorro” that “my mother won’t allow” — where Antonio Banderas as Zorro startles and then embraces a half-naked Catherine Zeta-Jones — the audience is treated to that scene.

When Sharon finally speaks on camera about the meaning of his bar mitzvah, it’s clear that dancers imported from Israel and a stage encircled by torches are not an inappropriate tribute for what he feels is the most important day of his life.

The greatest contrast to the cleavage and booty shaking at the Georgian party is the bar mitzvah of Moishe, whose family is from a Chasidic branch of Judaism. Watching Moishe pray and recite Torah at such a high level surely makes this the most distilled passage into Jewish adulthood in “Zorro.”

Among the film’s most compelling scenes is the presentation of a prayer book to Moishe by young boys in traditional black-and-white Chasidic dress with side curls. They sing “Yam Mama Mama” with the passion of a professional choir.

Beckermann makes a point of showing how female friends and relatives, including Moishe’s mother, can only view the proceedings by peering through gaps in a row of bushes set up as a gender barrier in the party room.

The other b’nai mitzvah are full of family drama.

We meet the mother of young Sophie praying behind the curtain that separates women from men at an Orthodox service. She pokes out her head as Austria’s chief rabbi, Paul Chaim Eisenberg, says a prayer on her behalf.

The mother, Nana, has survived the Asian tsunami while on vacation and clearly is still shaken by the experience. Going ahead with Sophie’s bat mitzvah after such a trauma is clearly not easy.

The energetic and loving Sophie, meanwhile, who mostly speaks English during the film with a strong American accent — her father is an American — is a typical 12-year-old girl focused on her dress and the seating arrangement at her party.

What might puzzle some American viewers is that Sophie’s bat mitzvah service does not include the Torah or Haftarah readings that girls often perform in Conservative or Reform ceremonies. Instead, she descends temporarily from the women’s gallery at Vienna’s Great Synagogue, offers a short speech of thanks from the bimah and then recites the “Shema.” In Europe, most synagogues function according to Orthodox principles, even when their members are largely secular.

One of Sophie’s American relatives peevishly complains about women having to sit upstairs during the service, but the mood is lightened when Sophie’s grandfather jokes that while the women are busy talking upstairs, the men do business downstairs.

As a Hungarian Jew who came of age in the spring of 1945, Sophie’s grandfather, Hans, never had the chance for a bar mitzvah because “conditions were such that it was impossible to hold one,” he recalls.

The same is true for the Iraq-born grandfather of Tom, whose Iraqi-Israeli-Viennese mother organizes Tom’s bar mitzvah at the Western Wall. At his farm in Israel, Tom’s grandfather relates that his family had no money when he turned 13, and bar mitzvahs were uncommon at the kibbutz where he was sent to live. He went to the Western Wall for the first time after fighting in the Six-Day War and “that was my bar mitzvah.”

One of the more ardent bar mitzvah supporters in the film is Tom’s Christian father, named Christian.

‘The Good Shepherd’: I was a young man for the CIA


Eric Roth’s impressive resume as a Hollywood screenwriter includes an Oscar (for adapting “Forrest Gump”) and a string of reality-based screenplays about the difficulties important people face choosing between realpolitik and personal morality.

These include shared credits on 1999’s “The Insider,” about a tobacco-company whistleblower and the problems CBS “60 Minutes” had broadcasting his story; 2001’s “Ali,” a biopic about Muhammad Ali; and 2005’s “Munich,” Steven Spielberg’s film about an Israeli hit squad charged with punishing the Arab terrorists who killed 11 athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics. (Both “The Insider” and “Ali” were Michael Mann films.)

And the theme is continued in the new drama “The Good Shepherd,” for which Roth has sole writing credit and on which he has worked for more than a decade. The Robert DeNiro-directed film follows Edward Wilson (Matt Damon) as he moves from college into the shadowy, treacherous world of American espionage during World War II and afterward, at the expense of good relations with his wife (Angelina Jolie).

It also tells the story of the Central Intelligence Agency’s formative years and is loosely based on the career of James Angleton, the late CIA counter-intelligence chief. Roth recalls one early influence was reading Norman Mailer’s “Harlot’s Ghost,” a 1,000-plus-page novel about the CIA published in 1992.

“I was interested in the notion of an organization devoted to secrecy and how that affects people’s lives, particularly their personal lives,” said Roth, via telephone. “And what the burden of carrying around those things is.”

The film includes references to actual Cold War confrontations, such as the overthrow of Guatemala’s leftist president, Jacobo Arbenz, in 1954, intrigue in the Belgian Congo, an effort to enlist the Mafia in overthrowing Cuba’s Fidel Castro and the thwarted 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba.

One intriguing reference in the movie is to a proposed trade between American intelligence agents and the Soviets in occupied post-World War II Berlin. The Russians propose trading Jewish scientists found in Nazi concentration camps for Nazi rocket scientists captured by U.S. troops. Roth said such trading was confirmed to him by the CIA sources he consulted in preparing his screenplay.

Roth, 61, credits his Jewishness with his screenwriting interests. “I think it comes down to my heritage and sense of values as to what is the sense of purpose on this earth,” he said. “I think it’s nice to have some kind of legacy and to do things that are worthwhile. There’s a value to doing something good and to have people thinking about things. I think it comes from the Jewish tradition within me and what my parents handed down to me.”

Born in Brooklyn, his father was a film publicist for United Artists and then, after moving to Los Angeles in Roth’s senior year of high school, taught film at University of Southern California. His mother wrote for radio quiz shows in New York and, in California, was a reader and head of the story department at UA. (Roth also grew up with a brother and sister; he and his wife today have six children and four grandchildren.)

After high school, Roth headed back east to Columbia University to study English. But he returned to study film and folklore at UCLA, where he won the Samuel Goldwyn Screenwriting Award. That led to his first feature film — in Israel.

“The movie was being financed by a group that took Christians to Holy Land tours, and they knew the director, a nice man named Jim Collier, who went on to make a film [“The Hiding Place”] about a Dutch family who hid Jews during World War II, Corrie ten Boom,” Roth said.

“It had two or three titles — one was ‘Catch a Pebble,’ I think. It was released here for like two seconds. The man who made it was a very religious Christian who made documentaries for Billy Graham, and this was a lay project, just a love story.

“It was his story,” Roth explained. “A stewardess was escaping a bad relationship and working for an airline that goes to Israel. She was barely pregnant at the time and decides not to come back to the States. She decides to hide out and get her life together in Israel. She meets an Israeli who takes her to his kibbutz, and they fall in love.”

Roth vividly remembers when the playwright Lanford Wilson, who already had the successful “Balm in Giliad” and was soon to write “The Hot L Baltimore,” was visiting an actor friend during that film’s shoot. “He came over and I remember him helping me write a scene I was having trouble with,” Roth said. “That was a lovely moment.”

From there on, Roth’s career has only gotten better — he wrote screenplays for such movies as “Suspect,” “Memories of Me,” “The Horse Whisperer” and “The Nickel Ride,” besides those previously mentioned. He also shares a screenplay credit (with Brian Helgeland) for one of Hollywood’s great recent stinkers, Kevin Costner’s three-hour-long “The Postman,” from 1997.

“I had written that as a satire for Tom Hanks many years before the movie got made — well before ‘Forrest Gump,'” Roth recalled. “That’s how I met Tom, through ‘The Postman.’ It was not meant to be taken seriously.

“Later, Kevin Costner developed it, and he made a more earnest version,” he continued. “And the guy who rewrote me went on to win an Oscar, Brian Helgeland [‘L.A. Confidential’]. So it goes to show that sometimes things just don’t work.”

“The Good Shepherd” opens Dec. 22.

Tap dancing klezmer, Ed Asner, 147 different films, Melanie Chartoff and Laraine Newman


Saturday the 28th

Hoof it downtown to the George and Skaye Aratani/Japan America Theatre this evening for Rhapsody in Taps’ 25th Anniversary Concert. In addition to repertoire highlights like “Tribute to Gregory Hines,” the program also features the world premiere Klezmer/Tap Project “Laughing With Tears,” choreographed by Linda Sohl-Ellison and performed by composer and clarinetist Leo Chelyapov, violinist Claire Bergen, as well as company musicians and dancers.

7:30 p.m. $24-$40. 244 S. San Pedro St., Los Angeles. (213) 680-3700.

Sunday the 29th

Alexandra More’s fabulous Celebrity Staged Play Readings series is back for another season with this weekend’s “Benya the King,” a comedy inspired by the story of Benya in Isaac Babel’s “Tales of Odessa.” Incomplete without its practically trademark star helming at least one show, the series is kicked off right with the distinguished and faithful Ed Asner playing the lead. A Q-&-A with playwright Richard Schotter follows.

$12-$16. Oct. 28: 7:30 p.m. Valley Cities JCC, 13164 Burbank Blvd., Sherman Oaks. (818) 786-6310. Oct. 29: 2 p.m. Westside JCC, 5870 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 938-2531, ext. 2225.

Monday the 30th

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Anat Klausner stars in “Frozen Days”

There are 147 films being shown at this year’s AFI Fest. How to choose? Consider two of Jewish interest. From Israel comes the low-budget film “Frozen Days” (“Yamim Kfuim”), about a lonely young woman who unintentionally takes on an Internet buddy’s identity while he lies in a coma in the hospital after surviving a suicide bombing. And from Australia, Palestinian-Australian filmmaker Sherine Salama follows “The Last Days of Yasser Arafat.” In September 2003 Salama was working on trying to get an interview with Arafat, but did not succeed in doing so until October 2004. The film shows her work speaking with his aides, lobbying officials and seeking help from her own Palestinian friends, to try to gain access; and documents her interview with the PA leader, which was the last he gave before he died.

Nov. 1-12. $12 (per film). Arclight Cinema Complex and Cinerama Dome, Los Angeles.

Thrown For A Loop


“Avi we’re doing some looping for a movie called, ‘The Mount of Olives.’ It was filmed in Israel and we’re looking for Hebrew and Arabic speakers.”
Being an actor and comic in Los Angeles, you run into some interesting gigs. When my friend, Joey, himself a Christian Arab from Lebanon, called me about this one, I couldn’t resist.

Looping is plugging in background sound for movies after they are shot so they sound more realistic. I had done some looping sessions before, but they were all in English. While this movie was also in English, there were plenty of scenes with Hebrew and Arabic in them. My Hebrew is far from perfect, but I can still pull off the Israeli accent so I was pretty sure I could do the job.

I got to the soundstage early in the morning, and the first person I met was a really nice guy named Sayid from Egypt. He was an accomplished actor, and I even recognized him from the movie, “The Insider,” with Al Pacino.

As everyone else arrived for the looping and we filled out paperwork, we began schmoozing a little. (I’m guessing the Arabs would use a different word to describe it.) There were people from Egypt, Sudan, a really sweet girl from Iraq, a Druze from Lebanon whose family lived in Haifa, and four other Israelis beside me. There were Christians, Muslims, and Jews with all different levels of religious observance. I myself had to leave a little early because the session was on Friday, as I observe Shabbat.

The first few scenes were harmless enough — we covered small background conversations, mostly in Hebrew. I immediately noticed that while we were all very friendly with one another, when it came to where we all sat, all the Israelis were on one side, and the Arabs on another. I didn’t read too much into it and figured it was just out of convenience as most scenes were in either one language or another.

“OK guys, I need all five Hebrew speakers. This is right after a bus bombing, and I need as much sound as possible. You’ll notice paramedics, victims, etc.”
All five of us approached the microphone. We watched the scene with no sound and it was pretty gory. There was blood everywhere. We each decided who we would cover on the screen and got started. When the cue came, we all immediately started screaming our parts. You heard shouts in Hebrew of “My leg, my leg!” “I’m bleeding help me!” “Where’s my father!” “Out of the way, move, move!”

The one Hebrew-speaking woman was doing a great job crying in agony. When the sound cue was over we all stopped, and Joey chimed in, “I don’t know what you guys were saying but … man. Really intense guys.”

I looked over toward the Arab speakers, and I noticed them all staring back and forth at each other. The Iraqi girl named Yasmin Hannaney, who couldn’t have been nicer, finally just looked at us all and said, “Wow guys.”

I could tell they were affected by it, but oddly enough we sort of weren’t. It just seemed like we were almost too used to seeing it.

Shortly after there was a scene at a gravesite where Kaddish was being said. Two women displayed prominently in the shot were answering “amen,” and they needed to be dubbed. The only two female voices we had were Yasmin and the other Israeli woman. Yasmin smiled as she asked us, “How do I say it, aymen or amen?” As we told her the right way she just smiled and thanked us.

The next few scenes shifted to shots of Palestinians at various rallies, and Joey asked if he could get as many guys up as possible: “OK guys, we need a lot of volume to cover the chanting. Sayid, why don’t you lead.”

I suddenly found myself, along with all the other Israeli men, chanting “Allah Akbar,” and various other chants about God’s glory in Arabic. I couldn’t help but grin as I was doing it. Here I was, an Israeli-born Jew raised in a hugely Zionistic family, chanting at a Palestinian rally. I’d even spent the last three years leading a group of comics to Israel to perform to help support the state. I was at least hoping I would get a good joke out of all of this.

I’m not sure how I would have felt had I had to do some scenes where the chants were “Death to Israel” or something similar. Luckily it never came up. The time just seemed to fly by. Before I knew it I had to leave, and Joey told me it was fine. He completely understood, as opposed to most Jews I deal with in Hollywood who seem to always give me problems over my observance.

I felt badly that I had to sneak out so quickly, not having said goodbye to everyone, but I’ve kept in contact with some of the people from the session. Yasmin and I have e-mailed back and forth, and she’s started an organization dealing with making films in the Middle East.

I was honored when she asked me if I wanted to be involved and immediately accepted. I invited her and some of the other guys to some of my upcoming shows.

It seems ironic that if you want to make a movie about Arabs and Jews fighting with each other, the only way you can make it work is if you have them getting along.

‘Superman’ Director Lives Out His Dream


“Whether you’re an immigrant or you’re born in the heartland, at some point we all feel like an alien.”

Those are not the words of an immigration rights attorney but rather of filmmaker Bryan Singer, whose last three films, the first two editions of “X-Men” and the upcoming “Superman Returns,” which opens on June 28 nationwide, all present parables on the current state of xenophobia pervading this country.

Of the famed Man of Steel, first introduced to comic book readers in the 1930s, Singer said, “He’s kind of the ultimate immigrant. He comes from a foreign place, adapts to the value system and has a special relationship with his heritage.”

Singer sees Superman, created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster — two Jews who were sons of immigrants — as a Judeo-Christian hero, part Moses, part Jesus. Like Moses, Superman is the boy dispatched down the metaphoric river to be discovered in the cornfields, if not the reeds, of the Midwest. Like Jesus, he has a kind of doubling with his father, voiced in the new film as in the 1978 “Superman” by the late Marlon Brando, who says, “The son becomes the father, and the father becomes the son.”

If Superman first entered popular culture when the Nazis were beginning to assert their power in Germany, he “never cleared up the problems in Europe,” Singer said. “He handled small problems; he served by example.”

Over the decades, however, through numerous incarnations in comic strips, animated shorts, television shows and films, Superman began tackling worldwide catastrophes, as he does in Singer’s new film, though he does not rescue Jews per se.

That does not mean that Superman lacks a Jewish pedigree.

As Michael Chabon suggested in his novel, “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay,” Siegel and Shuster, in conceptualizing Superman, may very well have been inspired by the Golem, a mythic figure in Jewish folklore, who could be built from mud and clay, according to strict rabbinic instructions, and could vanquish all evil.

Yet “Superman Returns” never implies that its protagonist, played by Brandon Routh, is of any ethnicity other than Kryptonian. If he resembles any mythological creatures, they would seem to be Greek ones. Like Atlas, Superman lifts, if not the entire planet, a huge nefarious landmass, which he hurls into space. He also catches the ornamental globe that sits atop the Daily Planet Building, a structure modeled after the art deco former home of the New York Daily News. Of course, Superman’s strength is matched by his speed as he flies through the sky like Hermes, easing a plane carrying Lois Lane, played by Kate Bosworth, into an emergency landing on a ball field.

Superman may have been in drydock for five years, as we are told in the film, but unlike Roger Clemens, he doesn’t get the benefit of a trip to the minors. He must perform at a big league level from the start, although we do see flashbacks to his youth, when he runs through the cornfields and learns how to fly, a nice touch since Superman did not fly in his early comic strips.

The 40-year-old Singer calls “Superman Returns” a “dream project” and said “it was a fantasy of mine to have Kryptonian blood,” not surprising for a man who in the 1970s loved watching reruns of the “Superman” TV show starring George Reeves. But Singer did not read the comics as a child. To this day, he suffers from dyslexia, which still impedes his efforts at reading. He likes to read short stories, but he did not even know about the “X-Men” until he was assigned to direct the first movie of that franchise.

While “X-Men” and “X2,” which came out in 2000 and 2003, respectively, predate the current illegal immigration crisis, they, like all of Singer’s films, deal with the human capacity for evil and for persecuting outsiders, whoever they may be.

Like Superman, the mutants in the “X-Men” movies are not simply stand-ins for illegal immigrants. They are heroic, if in some cases demonic, fantasies of the other — the outsider in all of us.

As a gay, adopted, agnostic Jew, Singer has always been drawn to the otherness of these superheroes, though he chuckles when asked about a recent Los Angeles Times article that highlighted Superman’s gay appeal. “If you look at my career,” he said, “I’ve probably never made a more heterosexual movie before.”

None of his previous studio movies may have had an explicit gay theme to them, but “The Usual Suspects,” his 1995 breakthrough film, which received much buzz for its plot twists, subversion of the noir genre and brilliant ensemble cast, may be best remembered for the Oscar-winning performance of Kevin Spacey, essaying Verbal Kint, a criminal mastermind of dubious sexuality.

Singer followed that with 1998’s “Apt Pupil,” in which Brad Renfro plays a high school student obsessed with the Holocaust and with a former Nazi living in his neighborhood. The film featured some baroque horror touches, such as when Ian McKellen’s Nazi tries to stuff a cat in an oven, and Singer even framed a few longing looks between the 16-year-old boy and his Nazi mentor, cut next to a shot of the boy’s indifferent response to the sexual advances of his girlfriend.

Then came “X-Men” and “X2,” McCarthyite allegories that among other provocations featured McKellen, the Nazi in “Apt Pupil,” as a Holocaust survivor, who like Darth Vader has turned to the dark side.

“X2,” in particular, showed us non-Geneva-friendly torture taking place in prison cells that but for their high-tech gadgetry might remind one of Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo. There are also congressional and presidential calls for mandatory mutant registration, prescient in the wake of today’s immigration legislation proposals, and, of course, a teenage son coming out to his parents that he is a mutant, prompting the altogether familiar reply from his mother, “Can’t you just not be a mutant?”

While Singer wants as broad an audience as possible to enjoy the film, he particularly wants “older people and women to have an emotional experience,” he said. Unlike his past films, “Superman Returns” is, Singer said, “a romantic picture.”

It is also a film with a long and troubled past. Over the last decade, numerous actors and directors were attached to the film, whose budget, like its superhero, seemed to know no bounds. None of that history worried Singer, who got a chance to reshape the storyline and, indeed, has a story credit on the film. It also helped that he used some of his regular repertory of actors, such as Spacey, playing yet another notable villain: Lex Luthor.

Singer’s first real understanding of evil came when, as a boy of 9 or 10, he dressed up as a Nazi one day while playing a World War II game with his German neighbors in Princeton Junction, N.J. He came home wearing a swastika.

Singer’s mother admonished him, but it wasn’t until a few years later, when his junior high school teacher, Miss Fiscarelli, taught an entire unit in social studies on the Holocaust, that he gained a greater understanding as to why his mother had been so troubled. That class changed Singer’s “whole perception of what people are capable of anywhere,” he said.

“Superman Returns” is not directly about Nazis, and its diabolical antagonist is more over-the-top than menacing, yet Singer does not discount the possibility of future genocides.

“The German culture [at the time of the Holocaust] was extremely artistic, extremely sophisticated and extremely advanced,” he said, proving that “anywhere, any place, any century, it’s possible, and any person is capable of it.”

“Superman Returns” opens nationwide on June 28.

 

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

Video Bares Artist’s Obsession, Views


“I have a warped idea about my worth, my abilities as an artist, my intelligence,” Jessica Shokrian says in her video installation at the Skirball Cultural Center. “For much of my life, I’ve been extremely concerned with how I look and how I think I look to other people. It’s definitely been a sad obsession.”

A Persian Jew who lives in Los Angeles, Shokrian’s confession appears in her 12-minute video triptych, “Six Years, Twelve Minutes and Two Seconds” in the exhibition, “The Jewish Identity Project: New American Photographs,” opening March 24.

On the central monitor, her pale face blurs and her speech wavers in and out of synch, reflecting her distorted self-image. On another TV, family rituals often drown out her wispy voice. On the third, her elderly Persian aunt makes a lonely pilgrimage to an ethnic food market.

“Jessica’s work delves into all the ways one can experience exile, whether from one’s country, one’s family or from oneself,” says Tal Gozani, the Skirball’s associate curator. “There is something so sad but also brutally honest about her work.”

At a visit to Shokrian’s downtown loft recently, the 42-year-old photographer and video artist appears as fragile and thoughtful as she does in her triptych. While twisting her fingers through her frayed, black sweater sleeves, she says she identifies with her aunt, because she, too, has felt lost, between cultures, cut off from her family’s homeland and from her family.

They are conservative Persian Jews based in Beverly Hills; she is a single mother who lives downtown and is divorced from the Belgian non-Jew she “wasn’t supposed to marry in the first place,” she says. Her family’s disapproval has not always been tacit, she adds, and while she is drawn to their ancient culture, she has been torn between her desire to connect with them and her opposing desire to live her own life as a contemporary artist.

The loft’s decor reflects this tension: Persian rugs lie beneath luminous moody photographs and a self-portrait in which Shokrian looks backward, her expression anxious, while stepping through a doorway.

This self-portrait could be a metaphor for her life journey. Shokrian’s father grew up in Tehran; her mother, raised in a secular Christian farming family in Central California, converted after meeting him at Cal State Sacramento. As a girl, the artist says, she felt “invisible, ignored” and less accepted than her Persian cousins because she was a hybrid who did not speak Farsi.

She says the culture’s strict mores also made her an outcast at school.

“I wasn’t allowed to wear jeans, to talk to boys, to attend sleepovers,” she recalls.

When she gained a little weight, some relatives warned that she might become too heavy to attract a proper husband. As is the custom in traditional Persian homes, the expectation was that she would remain a virgin and live at home until she married a Persian Jew.

Her longing for a valued role within the family led her to pick up a 35-mm Nikon camera in high school to become the official family photographer and to be the quintessential “good girl,” she continues. But when her parents refused to allow her to go away to college, “I lost it and rebelled,” she says.

In her early 20s, she disappeared for days while dating a bohemian artist some 15 years her senior. As she spiraled deeper into depression, she began drinking, doing drugs and trying “pretty much everything,” she says.

Psychotherapy and AA meetings helped her get sober. But when she wed her now ex-husband at 25, her father refused to speak to her for close to a year.

She moved back home, six years later, soon after the birth of her son. But this time, her parents were so concerned about her depression that they urged her to attend Art Center College of Design in Pasadena.

Her photographs began appearing in galleries and anthologies, such as Houman Sarshar’s “Esther’s Children: A Portrait of Iranian Jews” and Linda Sunshine’s “Our Grandmothers: Loving Portraits by Seventy-Four Granddaughters.” Accompanying her essay about grandma is a shadowy portrait of Shokrian and her baby that looks like a melancholy Madonna and child.

Even more personal work followed in 2002, after the artist again moved out of her parents’ home, this time with a boyfriend who left when her family protested the relationship. Feeling vulnerable and exposed, Shokrian shot a series of nude self-portraits — enlarged Polaroids that were recently displayed at the Farmani Gallery (she was aghast to learn the space was across the street from her uncle’s office) and are now at the Bedlam Warehouse.

During that frightening period in 2002, Shokrian believes the “Jewish Identity Project” commission helped save her life. The show’s organizer, Susan Chevlowe, then a curator at the Jewish Museum in Manhattan, had seen a 1998 film Shokrian had made about her aunt while still a student. Chevlowe was impressed that the film’s slow pace poetically transformed the widow’s bus ride into “a metaphor of the displacement and longing experienced by an immigrant living between cultures,” she wrote in her catalog essay. The film ultimately became part of Shokrian’s video installation, combined with other footage to express her mixed feelings about her family. The triptych is named for the time she spent on all components of the piece (six years) and the length of the final product (12 minutes and two seconds).

In one lovingly shot sequence, Shokrian’s relatives spontaneously trill, expressing religious rapture as her father donates a Torah to his synagogue. At her sister’s engagement party, voices interrupt dreamy images of sultry dancers, jeering, “Face the reality of your life Jessica and stop hiding behind that damn camera.” The artist slows these female voices down to a creepy baritone to emphasize the cringe-factor.

Chevlowe believes the piece — like many other recent video installations — dissects “the boundaries between what’s personal and real and what’s imagined.”

The work has been cathartic for Shokrian, who believes her “sad obsession” is fading, in part, because of her status as an emerging Los Angeles artist. She says she now has a close relationship with her father, who appreciates her triptych as a sign of respect for his family.

“In spite of the alienation I’ve experienced, I’ve managed to find the beauty and a kind of connection through the spirituality of my family and their community,” she says. “If I haven’t been able to be the perfect Persian daughter, I feel like this was the next best thing I could do. And I think my relatives recognize this is an offering and a way of showing that I really love them, even though my life now is so much about my work.”

For information about the Skirball show, March 24 through Sept. 3, call (310) 440-4500. For information about Shokrian’s photos at the Bedlam Warehouse, 1275 E. Sixth St., Los Angeles (the red door east of Alameda), call (213) 924-9000.

 

Israeli Producer’s Election-Day Risk


It’s little more than a week to the airdate, March 28, and Ofra Bikel is still putting the final touches on her hourlong documentary, “Israel: The Unexpected Candidate.”

That’s not like Bikel, a meticulous professional, described by critic Howard Rosenberg in the Los Angeles Times as “one of television’s premier documentary filmmakers … whose camera wields the power to mobilize public opinion through exposure.”

“Usually, I take seven to eight months to make a documentary, but in this case I had only six weeks,” Bikel said in an hourlong phone call from Tel Aviv, her speech a medley of Israeli, French and American accents.

One reason for the rush is that PBS wanted to release “Israel: The Unexpected Candidate” on the day of the Israeli elections, March 28.

Another reason was that Bikel (no relation to actor-singer Theodore Bikel) thought this was going to be an easy job.

The film would focus on Ehud Olmert, a close associate and likely successor to the stricken Ariel Sharon as prime minister of Israel.

Bikel is a long-time personal friend of Olmert’s wife, Aliza, knows the family well and had been assured of full cooperation. In addition, Bikel was born in Tel Aviv as a sixth-generation sabra and knows the country like the back of her hand.

“I thought it would be easy,” she said. “But nothing is ever easy in Israel. You learn that over and over again.”

Bikel focused on Olmert both as an individual and as the personification of profound political and ideological shifts in Israel.

“Early in Olmert’s career, no one could have been more right-wing,” Bikel said. “Remember, he voted against the peace treaty with Sadat’s Egypt and against his own party chief, Menachem Begin.”

Today, as acting prime minister and head of the Kadima Party, Olmert is at the center, or left of center, in the political spectrum. He supported Israel’s disengagement from the Gaza Strip and has announced that he will dismantle most West Bank settlements if elected.

Bikel is not certain what caused Olmert’s transformation, but even while on the far right wing he always surrounded himself with friends and family of different viewpoints.

“Most of his personal friends are politically center to left,” Bikel said. “His four children went to progressive schools and are left- wingers.”

Bikel has boundless admiration for Olmert’s wife.

“She is a painter, a sculptor, a playwright and a wonderful, open woman,” Bikel said.

Olmert, 60, and his wife have been married for 35 years and also have four grandchildren.

After years of friendship and many hours of interviewing, how does Bikel view Olmert?

“He is a lawyer with degrees in philosophy and psychology, very intelligent, a warm person, he thinks very fast, a loyal friend and an astute politician,” she summarized.

One criticism of Olmert is that he acts too fast and makes decisions too quickly. “He counts to two, rather than to 10,” Bikel said.

Will Olmert make a good prime minister, if he is elected?

“I think he is up to the job,” Bikel replied. “But being prime minister of Israel is a mad job for normal people.”

Bikel studied in the 1960s at the University of Paris and the High Institute of Political Science in the French capital and then moved to the United States.

“My big ambition was to be a researcher for TIME magazine,” she recalled. “Then I wanted to be a journalist and wear a trenchcoat.”

But the only work she could get was as a production assistant, “the lowest of the low,” at the ABC network, though she soon switched to public television as a producer.

In the late 1970s, she returned to Israel and produced more than 30 films on political, economic and cultural subjects.

Some 25 years ago, she switched jobs and countries again, settled in New York, and started making films for Frontline. As voluble as she is about her professional activities, she is guarded about her personal life and preferred not to discuss her motivations for coming back to the United States.

Bikel came to national attention in the 1990s with the trilogy, “Innocence Lost,” which meticulously detailed charges of sexual abuse at a day care center in a small North Carolina town, and the subsequent trial of seven defendants. As a result of her dogged detective work, the guilty verdict and prison sentence of the seven were reversed and they were set free.

The three films won Bikel a raft of awards, including an Emmy. She scored another Emmy for her “Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill: Public Hearing, Private Pain.” Her most recent production was “The O.J. Verdict,” which aired last October on the 10th anniversary of the O.J. Simpson trial.

Described by The Times as a “petite, blond-frosted, elegant, expensively turned out woman (we’ll call her ‘mature’),” Bikel does not consider herself a political activist or crusader.

“It’s just that injustice drives me nuts,” she said. “I get extremely angry when I see how people without voices are treated in our legal system.”

Despite her decades of experience and success, Bikel is still terrified before every new project.

“I love my job, but I suffer for it,” she said. “I take pressure very badly and I am sure that each new film is going to be my Waterloo.”

Frontline’s “Israel: The Unexpected Candidate” airs at 9 p.m., March 28, on KCET.

 

N for No-Nonsense Natalie


Natalie Portman has probably populated more fanboy fantasies than anyone this side of Jessica Alba.

Besides presiding over the recent “Star Wars” films as Queen Amidala, she plays a bald, beautiful and badass revolutionary in “V For Vendetta,” opening March 17, the latest film from “Matrix” masterminds Andy and Larry Wachowski. As the missing link between the universes of George Lucas and the Wachowski Brothers, Portman holds a unique place in geek-movie history

“Yes, they’re all somehow linked now,” she says. “It’s sort of hard to put a genre label on ‘V For Vendetta,’ but it fits in the action category with ‘Star Wars,’ even though it’s a little bit more provocative. But I will leave it to all the people who love to write essays about this kind of stuff to make ‘Matrix’ and ‘V’ connections and ‘Star Wars’ and ‘V’ connections. There’s certainly plenty to discuss.”

Portman professes much love for Lucas and the “Star Wars” experience, but she also insinuates that the trilogy provided her with a handy way of staying in movies while she was off attending Harvard University.

“I was in school during the year, and then on summer break I would do a

‘Star Wars,'” says the Jerusalem-born actress. “But I’m done with school, done with ‘Star Wars.’ I’ve graduated.”

“V For Vendetta” is a whopper of a graduation present. Adapted by the Wachowskis from a graphic novel by Alan Moore and David Lloyd, the movie is set in a future world squirming under the thumb of a totalitarian chancellor (John Hurt). Homosexuality is illegal; freedom of speech is a memory; and hope is in short supply.

One day, a mysterious figure appears, wearing a mask designed to look like Guy Fawkes, the 17th century Catholic revolutionary who tried to blow up British Parliament in 1605. Calling himself V (Hugo Weaving), the cape-wearing anti-hero is planning a series of terrorist attacks against the repressive British government. Portman plays Evey Hammond, a waif who becomes V’s protégé.

Making a $50 million movie with a terrorist as a hero is a bold movie in post-Sept. 11 America. Portman knew the film would spark controversy but found herself instantly drawn to its provocative, envelope-pushing subject matter.

“Being from Israel was one of the reasons that I wanted to do this movie, because terrorism and violence have been such a daily part of my thought process and conversation ever since I was young,” she says. “One of the books that I read to help me with this role was Menachim Begin’s book about his experiences in a Siberian prison. Eventually he came to lead Israel in the British occupation of Palestine. He was called a terrorist by many people. Israelis have been called terrorists all through history.”

“The movie asks important questions, like, ‘When, if ever, is violence justified?’ And ‘What is the threshold for how pressing a situation can be before we have to revolt?’ One of the great things about the movie is that it leaves those questions open for discussion,” she says.

Portman has always tried to pursue thought-provoking material. She played the title role in a Broadway production of “The Diary of Anne Frank” in 1997, embodied an American stripper living in London for “Closer” (earning a best supporting actress nomination in the process) and starred in the Israeli film “Free Zone,” which premiered at last year’s Cannes Film Fest.

The actress accepted the vanity-destroying role of Evey knowing that one of the requirements was an on-camera trip to the barber.

“It wasn’t traumatic because I was trying to focus on what my character was going through,” says Portman about getting a buzzcut. “We only had one shot to do it. I don’t really have any personal memories of the experience.”

Since shooting the film, Portman’s hair has grown out a few inches. For today’s interview, she’s wearing it spiky and punked-up. Dressed in jeans, an open sweater and the world’s tiniest ballet slippers, Portman looks a good deal younger than her 24 years.

As a former child star who made her film debut in the bullet ballet “The Professional,” Portman is used to suffering for her art, but she drew the line when it came to doing her own stunts. Claiming to be “not in great shape,” she allowed her “Vendetta” double to do all of the tough stuff.

“I would do the end of the stunt,” she says. “Someone else would fall out of the window, and then I would end up there on the ground. That’s movie magic.”

Not everything about “V” has been so easy. In fact, the film has been surrounded by controversy since production got underway last year. Real-life terrorism, the firing of a leading man and the airing of a famous filmmaker’s dirty laundry all figured into the long, arduous process of bringing the graphic novel to the screen.

Originally published in 1981, “V For Vendetta” was written as an indictment of Margaret Thatcher’s conservative politics. A few years later, the rights were scooped up by producer Joel Silver (“Lethal Weapon,” “The Matrix”) who approached the Wachowskis about penning an adaptation. When “The Matrix” trilogy started winding down, the brothers finally decided to revisit the risky material.

Instead of directing the film themselves, the brothers and Silver hired “The Matrix” second unit director James McTiegue to call “action” and “cut.”

The Wachowskis were apparently on the set nearly every single day, which inspired rumors that McTiegue was a mere figurehead and that the brothers were calling the shots themselves.

McTiegue insists that gossip was unfounded.

“The Wachowskis were the producers and they wrote the script,” he notes. “They were a great sounding board but they were the first to tell me that I could take or leave their suggestions.”

The production encountered another problem when the graphic novel’s writer Alan Moore requested that his name be taken off the final film. Stung by the poor adaptation of “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen,” Moore apparently made his decision without ever seeing a frame of “V For Vendetta.”

“I did call Alan and ask him not to have his name removed,” notes David Lloyd, who illustrated the graphic novel. “I wish he hadn’t done it. But he isn’t happy until the movie is a perfect reproduction. Alan has a clear viewpoint of what he represents as a person and an artist. My viewpoint is completely different. I think they’ve done a great job with the film.”

Yet another potentially disastrous turn of events unfolded when the original actor cast as V — “Rome’s” James Purefoy — was fired midway through the film and replaced by “The Matrix’s” Hugo Weaving. Purefoy apparently wasn’t a dynamic enough presence for the filmmakers. Even though Silver confirms that some of Purefoy’s scenes remain in the film, Weaving receives the sole screen credit and also provides V’s voice.

Portman was surprised when the change was made. She enjoyed working with both actors but saves most of her praise for Weaving.

“With an actor like Hugo, your job is so much easier because he has this incredible, very specific character that he creates just through his vocal and physical expressiveness,” she says. “Even though he was wearing a mask, I felt he was there with me all of the time.”

Originally scheduled to be released in November 2005 — to coincide with Guy Fawkes Day — the film was delayed after a July 2005 bombing in a British subway claimed the lives of 52 civilians. Portman believes the intermingling of reel and real events is indicative of just how much “V For Vendetta” has its finger on the pulse of the times.

“Obviously, when you see any act of violence anywhere with casualties, you’re always horrified,” she says of the London tragedy. “I’m optimistic to hope that this movie doesn’t present an exact vision of our future, but obviously there are many elements that resonate with historical events and current events.”

With its depiction of a repressive government without checks and balances, “V For Vendetta” can be read as a commentary on Bush’s America. Does Portman see any parallels?

“I think that there are many people who will take it that way,” she says. “But there are other people I know who are pro-Bush and they’ve seen this as an anti-fascism movie.”

A few weeks before the release of “V For Vendetta,” Rolling Stone magazine published an unflattering story about Larry Wachowski’s increasingly unusual behavior. Apparently, Wachowski left his wife, took up with a dominatrix named Mistress Strix and began cross-dressing. Wachowski, who never consents to interviews, has yet to respond to the claims.

McTiegue also refuses to comment on the chit-chat surrounding the brothers.

“I pay about as much attention to those stories as they deserve, which isn’t much,” McTiegue says. “I don’t comment on people’s personal lives.”

To hear Portman tell it, “V For Vendetta” dovetails nicely with her burgeoning interest in world affairs. Recently, the actress helped promote the efforts of FINCA, an organization devoted to helping establish banks for women in developing nations.

Visiting Uganda, Ecuador and Guatemala with the group has opened Portman’s eyes to the amount of work that needs to be down to help end global poverty.

“I definitely think that maybe someday I’ll be doing other things besides acting,” she says. “But until I do them, I’ve learned not to talk about it. I’ve been interviewed since I was 12 years old and I feel as if I’ve left a trail of unfulfilled dreams behind me.”

After finishing “V For Vendetta,” Portman “took a breather” by contributing supporting performances to Milos Forman’s costume drama “Goya’s Ghost” with Javier Bardem and the kiddie flick “Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium” with Dustin Hoffman.

“I’m just trying to do different things because I feel like if I can keep myself interested then there’s the hope of keeping an audience interested, too.” l

Amy Longsdorf is a freelance writer who can be reached at movieamy@aol.com.

Weisz Gets Gold; ‘Munich’ Out in the Cold


“Munich” and “Paradise Now,” two films subjected to considerable controversy in the American Jewish community and Israel, came up empty-handed at Sunday evening’s Academy Awards ceremonies.

Not at all controversial was the selection of Rachel Weisz as best supporting actress in “The Constant Gardner,” in which she plays a passionate activist fighting an international pharmaceutical company.

Weisz was born in London, after her father and mother came to England as Jewish refugees in the 1930s from Hungary and Austria, respectively. She is seven months pregnant, but in a backstage interview, declined a suggestion that she and her fiancee, director Darren Aronofsky, name the baby Oscar.

Host Jon Stewart left no doubt about his ethnic heritage in his opening monologue. After pointing to Steven Spielberg sitting in the audience, Stewart mentioned the director’s films, “Schindler’s List” and “Munich” and then cracked, “I speak for all Jews when I say I can’t wait for what happens to us next.”

“Munich,” Spielberg’s take on the Israeli hunt for the Palestinian killers of its athletes at the 1972 Olympics, struck out on all of its five nominations, including best picture and best director.

The film has been criticized, particularly in Israel, for allegedly drawing a “moral equivalence” between the terrorists and the pursuing Mossad agents, as well as for historical inaccuracy.

“Paradise Now,” the Palestinian entry in the foreign language film category, has drawn even more heat from a small but vocal Jewish community segment, which charged that the film “humanized” two suicide bombers on a mission to blow up a Tel Aviv bus.

The Israel Project organization denounced “Paradise Now” at a March 3 press conference and presented a petition with 36,000 signatures protesting the nomination to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Critics of the film had the added satisfaction of hearing “Paradise Now” introduced as coming from “The Palestinian Territories,” rather than “Palestine,” as initially listed. The change, which had been sought by Jewish and Israeli spokespersons, came as somewhat of a surprise. Two years ago, the film, “Divine Intervention,” was listed by the academy as originating in “Palestine,” despite the fact that it was not a recognized country.

At the time, the Academy explained that its definitions were “as inclusive as possible,” citing other accepted entries from Hong Kong, Taiwan and Puerto Rico.

“Paradise Now” had been considered the front-runner, but it, as well as the German entry, “Sophie Scholl,” about an anti-Hitler resistance fighter, lost out to the South African entry, “Tsotsi.”

Violinist Itzhak Perlman made a surprise appearance, performing music from five movies nominated for their original scores. Pitting Perlman against the Three 6 Mafia rap group, which won for best original song, Stewart suggested that they engage in a “dreidel-off.”

Stewart, apparently trying to beat previous Oscar host Billy Crystal in theJewish gag category, also took note of presenter Ben Stiller, who appearedonstage in a green head-to-toe unitard to present the award for visualeffects.

“It’s nice to have proof he’s really Jewish,” Stewart observed.

In the documentary short-subject category, the Oscar went to “A Note of Triumph: The Golden Age of Norman Corwin,” celebrating the radio dramas of the 95-year-old Jewish writer, noted for his inspiring radio dramas.