Von Trier questioned over Cannes ‘Hitler speech’


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Saturday the 6th

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

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

Monday the 8th

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

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

Wednesday the 10th

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

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

Thursday the 11th

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

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

Friday the 12th

Box-office politics




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7 Days in The Arts


Saturday, June 3

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

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

Sunday, June 4

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

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

Monday, June 5

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

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

Tuesday, June 6

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

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

 

Wednesday, June 7

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

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

Thursday, June 8

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

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

Friday, June 9

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

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

7 Days in The Arts


Saturday, April 15

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

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

Sunday, April 16

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

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

Monday, April 17

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

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Tuesday, April 18

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

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

Wednesday, April 19

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

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

 

Thursday, April 20

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

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

 

Friday, April 21

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

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7 Days In Arts


Saturday

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

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

Sunday

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

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

Monday

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

Tuesday

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

Wednesday

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

Thursday

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

Friday

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

The ‘Kid’s’ Staying Power


Every day during the summer of 1942, 12-year-old Robert Evans set out with a copy of Radio Registry under his arm and hit every audition room in New York.

"I [made] up one story after another about my brilliant career," the legendary producer recalls in "The Kid Stays in the Picture," a juicy new documentary based on his 1994 tell-all memoir. After months of rejection, he capitalized on his uncanny knack for accents and landed a gig that appalled some members of his Jewish family: playing a Nazi concentration camp colonel on "Radio Mystery Theater."

"[There] I was, a 12-year-old Jewish kid … labeled the top Nazi in town," he says with a laugh.

It’s the kind of outrageous chutzpah hijinks one would expect of Evans, whose roller coaster of a life is chronicled like a Hollywood epic in "Kid." The doc recounts his discovery as an actor by silent movie star Norma Shearer, his ascension to Paramount production chief in his 30s, his penchant for bedding actresses such as Ava Gardner and Raquel Welch and greenlighting such hits as "Love Story" and "The Godfather." It also describes how Evans — perhaps the last great producer of the pre-Jerry Bruckheimer era — was busted for cocaine and linked to the notorious Cotton Club murder case in the 1980s (he was never indicted). And how his very public fall from grace bankrupted him and made him a pariah, though he’s since reclaimed the spotlight with his memoir and the documentary, directed by Oscar nominees Brett Morgen and Nanette Burstein.

"I’ve been from royalty to infamy and back again," the 72-year-old says in his famous purr-growl while reclining on his fur-covered bed at his Woodland Drive mansion.

Morgen agrees: "Bob’s life is like a movie. He’s also a tragic figure in the sense that he almost lost everything because of his transgressions." Morgen, 32, who attended Jewish studies classes at Amherst, adds that the producer "in a way reminds me of King David. Just as David had his love for Bathsheba, which was his big transgression, Bob had his addiction to excess and to cocaine."

Even the way the producer (ne Shapera) became Robert Evans sounds like a scene from a Hollywood melodrama. Evans says it happened late one night in 1942 when his dentist father, Archie, tearfully asked young Bob and his brother, Charles, to adopt Archie’s dying mother’s maiden name. "It was a means of exacting revenge against [Archie’s] father, a gambler who would step out for a newspaper and return home, broke, three weeks later," the producer says.

Cut to 1956, when the strikingly handsome Evans — then a millionaire partner in Charles’ clothing firm, Evan-Picone — caught Shearer’s eye while sunning himself by the pool of the Beverly Hills Hotel. Shearer said his confident manner reminded her of her late husband, the Jewish movie mogul Irving Thalberg, and would Evans like to play him in the James Cagney flick, "Man of a Thousand Faces"?

Evans did, and some months later — in a completely unrelated incident — he was "discovered" by mega-producer Darryl Zanuck while dancing the tango with a countess at a posh supper club. Zanuck decided to cast him as Ava Gardner’s Latin lover in the 1957 film version of Ernest Hemingway’s "The Sun Also Rises" — but the author (and Evans’ co-stars) disagreed. "Everyone on the set knew [Hemingway’s] thoughts about how this Jewboy would ruin the film," Evans says. "But he couldn’t convince Zanuck."

Instead, the stogie-smoking Zanuck observed Evans’ bullfighter shtick, put a bullhorn to his lips and proclaimed, "The kid stays in the picture. And anybody who doesn’t like it can quit."

Evans recalls: "It was then that I realized I didn’t want to be some actor sh–ing in his pants to get a role, but the guy who gets to say, ‘The kid stays in the picture.’" After finagling a three-picture deal at Fox, he was named head of production at Paramount in 1966.

During his tenure there in the late ’60s and early ’70s, Evans hired the Polish-born Holocaust survivor Roman Polanski to direct the classic films "Rosemary’s Baby" (1968) and "Chinatown" (1974). He resorted to a typically Evans-esque stunt when Polanski wanted to leave the "Chinatown" set to attend a seder in Poland.

"Bob said, ‘Roman, I’ll throw you the best Passover you ever had,’" Morgen says. "He ended up with Kirk Douglas leading the seder with Polanski and Walter Matthau in attendance."

Evans went on to bring the quintessential 1960s Jewish American film to Paramount, though not without his share of tsuris. He wanted a Jewish actress to star in "Goodbye Columbus," based on Philip Roth’s biting novella, and was appalled when filmmakers instead cast Ali MacGraw. "Ali MacGraw, an 18-year-old spoiled Jewish American Princess?" he shouted incredulously at producer Stanley Jaffe on the telephone. "She’s a 28-year-old over-the-hill shiksa." The actresses’ luminous screen test convinced him otherwise, however, and, "I fell in love with her while watching the dailies," Evans recalls. In October 1969, they were married.

But the producer didn’t want to talk about MacGraw — who left him for Steve McQueen three years later — or the Cotton Club case when Morgen and Burstein arrived to film him in early 2000. It didn’t matter that Morgen had studied Evans’ movies as a cinema-obsessed kid (the poster to Evans’ "Popeye" hung over his bed) or that he had attended Crossroads School in Santa Monica with the producer’s son, Josh. ("There were rumors that Josh’s dad was possibly involved in a murder," Morgen recalls.)

Evans, who narrates the film, says, "It’s difficult to make a picture that shows your life, warts and all, and we had very big fights about it."

Not that Evans didn’t try to put on the charm, instructing his butler to prepare caviar omelets for Morgen and Burstein and regaling them with stories beside a vast swimming pool. "We knew that Bob was trying to ‘seduce’ us," says Burstein, 30, who grew up Reform but attended an Orthodox grade school in Buffalo, N.Y. "And we, in turn, were trying to ‘seduce’ him."

Evans is glad they did. During the "Kid screening at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival, he received a 12-minute standing ovation and he’s now back on the Paramount lot, making movies with directors such as Wes Anderson. "I hope the film inspires people to know that when you’re down, it ain’t over," he says, sounding like the chutzpah kid who reinvented himself as the "Jewish Nazi" in 1942. "Sometimes it hurts, but you’ve gotta stay in the picture.

Georgian Life


What is the meaning of courage?

In Hollywood, it is often the brave, handsome soldier who risks his life, or the enterprising businesswoman who succeeds against all odds. The triumph of the individual: that’s the American Way.

But not all cultures glorify that path, and when faced with a character that chooses a different path, we may be hard-pressed to deem that choice "courageous."

But that’s exactly what Israeli writer-director Dover Kosashvili says of Zaza, the main character in his film "Late Marriage," the winner of nine Israeli academy awards and other world festival awards, which will be shown at the Israel film festival here this week.

Zaza (Lior Loui Ashkenazi) is a 31-year-old Tel Avivian bachelor who humors his parents as they fix him up with "suitable" girls. Zaza is handsome, intelligent and successful, so why are they are so worried about him? They’re Georgian.

Sometimes we forget that the term Israelis includes as great a variety of people and cultures as exists in America. There are the oldtimeAshkenazim and the Sephardim, the religious, the secular, the settlers, then there are also the new immigrants: the Ethiopians, the Russians — and each have their own subculture and traditions. In Hebrew and Georgian, "Marriage," Kosashvili’s first feature film, portrays one of those subcultures, the Georgian community — though certainly not at its best.

Zaza’s parents — his mother is actually played by the director’s mother ("I couldn’t find an actress who could do a convincing Georgian accent," he says) — live across the street from their prized son, and ship him on many interviews of other young Georgian woman of good families. (Ashkenazi studied for five months with the director to learn the language.) But Zaza doesn’t take their concerns seriously, because he is in love with Judith, a divorced mother who is more typically "Tel Avivian."

Zaza’s entire extended family gets involved and forces Zaza to make a choice, one they themselves once had to make, and their fathers before them. But how he chooses isn’t exactly the point; for a foreign audience (and probably most audiences seeing this French-Israeli co-production will be outsiders) it’s the otherworldly values inherent in the relationships in the movie: family loyalty, respect, tradition, community.

Kosashvili, 35, views the world and his film philosophically. "I don’t believe that Zaza even has a choice," he told The Journal in Hebrew from his home in Israel. A Georgian immigrant himself who came to Israel at age 6, Kosashvili says the characters are a composite of his community, though the story is something he heard from a friend. "On the whole, I don’t believe in choice. The freedom to choose is nonexistent in this world," he said. Kosashvili’s worldview is definitely not an American one of manifest destiny.

"Zaza is not seeking the moment when he is supposed to decide. He is searching for the point to which he is suppose to arrive," the director said, noting that his character is not a coward, but one who acts within his own constraints.

But what about love conquering all?

"Zaza is investigating the nature of his great love," Kosashvili explains. "He discovers that his great love is for his parents."

Celebrating Jewish Filmmakers In a BIG Way


Earlier this year, Greg Laemmle wasn’t sure there was going to be another Cinema Judaica: The Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival.

The vice president of Los Angeles’ premiere art house chain founded the festival four years ago, theorizing that if cities like Fresno and Buffalo have a Jewish festival festival, Los Angeles should have one, too. Hollywood is the seat of the film industry, after all.

But six months ago, Laemmle was ready to give up. It wasn’t so much that the festival was losing a lot of money — it wasn’t. The problem was that coordinating the festival was overwhelming Laemmle and his company, “and the turnout didn’t seem to make all the work worthwhile.”

The change came last spring, when producer and publisher Phil Blazer walked into Laemmle’s office above the Royal Theatre in West Los Angeles. Blazer, president of Jewish Life, a not-for-profit organization that underwrites Jewish cultural projects, had a proposal for Laemmle. “He said he shared my feeling that Hollywood should have the best Jewish film festival in the world,” Laemmle recalls. “And he told me he could raise money and arrange publicity to make this a major event.”

The result is the first International Jewish Film Festival and Conference, Nov. 2-18, which is bigger and better than past Jewish film festivals. Blazer secured director Arthur Hiller as the festival chair, and Arthur Cohn, the Oscar-winning producer of the Holocaust classic, “The Garden of the Finzi-Continis” and the lauded “Central Station” as the honorary chair. Blazer is also amassing some $80,000 in funding, which far surpasses Laemmle’s previous budget of $10,000. “I have at least that amount just to rent films,” Laemmle says.

This year’s 50 titles include classics such as “Schindler’s List” and Charlie Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator,” plus more new features and foreign films than ever before. There will be more than half a dozen Los Angeles premieres, including “Kadosh,” the controversial Israeli film about women in ultra-Orthodox Mea Shearim; “Yidl in the Middle,” a documentary about growing up Jewish in Iowa; and “Train of Life,” Radu Mihaileanu’s Sundance-winning Holocaust tragicomedy, the festival’s opening night film at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

The festival’s premiere event will take place Nov. 3, also at the Academy, co-sponsored by State of Israel Bonds Holocaust Division. The event will feature a screening of “Gentleman’s Agreement,” the landmark 1947 film starring Gregory Peck as a Gentile journalist who poses as a Jew to experience bigotry. The film was a seminal screed against anti-Semitism at a time when Hollywood Jews were loathe to address Jewish concerns on camera.

The gala will also feature a screening of “Children of the Night,” Cohn’s documentary about children who died in the Holocaust; and excerpts from “The Last Days,” the Oscar-winning documentary about the Hungarian-Jewish Holocaust. Peck will be honored, as will Renee Firestone, a survivor featured in “The Last Days.” Temple Shalom for the Arts is supporting the event.

On Nov. 4, Joan Micklin Silver will be on hand for a screening of her new romantic comedy, “A Fish in the Bathtub”; she will also appear with Mihaileanu and other filmmakers at a festival conference that “hopefully will inspire young directors to make Jewish films,” Laemmle says.

Other festival films will explore gay-Jewish themes (see sidebar), such as Jean-Jacques Zilbermann’s French hit comedy, “Man is a Woman,” which explores the relationship between a gay man and a Jewish heterosexual woman; and “Aimee & Jaguar,” about a lesbian affair between a Jew and a German during World War II.

If there is a theme that dominates the festival, it is the Holocaust, Laemmle says; more than half the films touch upon the Shoah. It is, apparently, still the defining Jewish experience for many non-Israeli filmmakers. The recent films, however, do not confront the enormity of the Holocaust: “We’re not seeing ‘Shoah’ or ‘Night and Fog,’ but very specific, personal stories,” Laemmle says. In the documentary “Nothing’s Changed,” a survivor returns to the Ukraine; “Tak For Alt: Survival of a Human Spirit” profiles survivor and Civil Rights Activist Judy Meisel; and “Train of Life” (see review) is Mihaileanu’s ode to his father’s Romanian shtetl. &’009;

“Train of Life,” he told The Journal, actually began with what the villagers called the Train of Death, a cattle car that drove in circles until its passengers died of thirst.

Mihaileanu remembered the ghost train at a Paris dinner party several years ago, when a historian described Russian villagers who supposedly evaded the Nazis by “deporting” themselves on a fake train. The director immediately realized the story could be told in a tragicomic way, a return to the Jewish tradition of utilizing humor to endure suffering. And he knew the film could help connect him to the shtetl world he never knew.

His father served as the consultant on the set, where he ecstatically helped recreate a fairy tale version of his shtetl. The elder Mihaileanu will be at hand when “Train of Life” premieres at the Academy next week. “It’s my Hollywood dream, and my father has to be there,” the director says.

The new International Jewish Film Festival is Laemmle’s Hollywood dream. “My hope is that it can do for Jewish film what Sundance has done to promote the growth of independent film around the world,” he says.

For general festival information, call (818) 786-4000. Tickets for the Academy events and invitations to the filmmakers’ conference (you must have an invitation) are available at (818) 786-4000. For State of Israel Bonds Nov. 3 pre-gala reception and event, call (323) 939-3000 and ask for Brigitte Medvin.

Most festival screenings will take place at Laemmle’s Music Hall in Beverly Hills and Laemmle’s Town Center in Encino. Tickets (excluding the special events) are $8, $4.50 (for a package of four) and $5 for senior citizens.

Community Briefs


While cities such as Detroit and St. Louis were holding major Jewish book festivals year after year, drawing celebrity authors such as Saul Bellow and Philip Roth, observers here asked, Why isn’t there a Jewish book festival in Los Angeles?

Seville Porush and her colleagues at the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles decided to change all that last year, and proceeded to create a book festival from scratch.

They formed a committee, polled existing festival directors and decided what they didn’t want in a book fair. “Many festivals emphasized selling books, while we wanted to emphasize transmitting Jewish culture,” Porush says. She was rewarded when more than 5,000 participants turned out to last year’s fair.

This year, “People of the Book: The Jewish Book Festival” is back, Nov. 14-22, bigger and better than before. Porush and the JCCs have put together a veritable literary feast.

You can catch Rich Cohen talking about his book, “Tough Jews,” which outlines the personalities and bloody deeds of criminals such as Meyer Lansky.

You can hear Thomas Cahill speaking of his tome, “The Gifts of the Jews”; Rabbi Naomi Levy on “To Begin Again,” her book about faith and loss; and Rochelle Krich on her Orthodox potboiler, “Fertile Ground,” a tale of murder inside a posh Brentwood fertility clinic.

Also among the some 40 speakers will be talk-show host Dr. Laura Schlessinger and Rabbi Stewart Vogel, co-authors of “The Ten Commandments: The Significance of God’s Laws in Everyday Life.”

There will be a family storytelling day at My Jewish Discovery Place Children’s Museum and even a screening of an “X Files” episode involving a golem, with author Howard Gordon on hand for the Q and A.

One hub of the festival will be the Bernard Milken Jewish Community Campus in West Hills, where the lobby is being transformed into a bookstore, with hundreds of titles provided by Barnes & Noble. Watercolor landscapes of the Galilee and the Negev, Dorothy Rice’s travelogue of her trip to Israel (the artist will be on hand for a book signing Nov. 15), will be on display in the boardroom. Also on Nov. 15, the West Valley JCC will house CyberFest, featuring a wide range of computer hardware and software and Judaic Internet web sites. A multicultural day will spotlight authors who have been published in Hebrew, Russian, Farsi and Spanish.

“We want people to become aware of the wealth of Jewish literature that is out there, and is coming out every day,” Porush says.

For festival tickets and information, call (818) 464-3353. To volunteer, call (818) 587-3277.

A family storyelling day is part of festival events. Last year’s festival attracted more than 5,000 participants. Painting by Max Liebermann, “Portrait of the Artist’s Wife and Granddaughter,” 1926 from “Jewish Art,” 1995.


Schedule of Events

Saturday, Nov. 14

Reception: 7:00 p.m.

Program: 8:00 p.m.

Dvorah Menashe Telushkin

“Master of Dreams: Anecdotes and Tales of Isaac Bashevis Singer”

West Valley JCC

Sunday, Nov. 15

10:00 a.m.

Shira Schmidt

“Old Wine, New Flasks: Reflections on Science and Jewish Tradition”

(slide show)

Valley Cities JCC

10:00 a.m.-noon

Character Breakfast

Lori Hartz

Live storybook characters & storytelling (ages 3 to 8)

West Valley JCC

11:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m.

Cyberfest

Computer hardware, software and Internet demonstrations

West Valley JCC

4:00-6:00 p.m.

Howard Gordon

“The Golem”

Screening and discussion of “X-Files” episode with screenwriter

West Valley JCC

5:00-6:30 p.m.

Pajama party with storyteller Amy Koss

Storytelling (ages 3 to 8)

Hollywood-Los Feliz JCC

6:30-8:00 p.m.

Pajama party and storytelling (ages 3-8)

Bay Cities JCC

7:30 p.m.

Carol Orsborn

“Return From Exile”

Westside JCC

7:30 p.m.

Rich Cohen

“Tough Jews”

Valley Cities JCC

Monday, Nov. 16

1:00 p.m.

Faye Levy

Jewish cooking

North Valley JCC

7:30 p.m.

Joan Nathan

“Jewish Cooking in America”

Stephen S. Wise Temple

Tuesday, Nov. 17

10:00 a.m.-Noon

Jeffrey and Craig Weiss

“I Am My Brother’s Keeper”

West Valley JCC

7:30 p.m.

Rabbis Edward Feinstein, Steven Carr Reuben, Chaim Seidler-Feller, Dr. Elliot Dorff

Moderator: Gladys Sturman

Preserving Judaism in the next millennium

(panel discussion)

Stephen S. Wise Temple

7:30 p.m.

Mystery Night:

Janice Steinberg

“Death in a City of Mystics”

Rochelle Krich

“Fertile Ground”

Temple Emanuel

7:30 p.m.

Jerry Bobrow, Bea Gordon, Bobbi Yanke

Selecting and Preparing for a Career

West Valley JCC

6:30-8:00 p.m.

Phyllis Rose Eisenberg

Bedtime stories for children (ages 6 to 8)

Valley Cities JCC

Wednesday, Nov. 18

1:00 p.m.

Carol Diament

“Jewish Women Living the Challenge”

North Valley JCC

7:30 p.m.

Thomas Cahill

“The Gifts of the Jews”

West Valley JCC

7:45 p.m.

Dr. Paul Krivonos

Are Teens Being Censored by Society?

West Valley JCC

Thursday, Nov. 19

11:30 a.m.-1:00 p.m.

Lunch and Learn program

Dr. Ron Wolfson

“First Fruit: A Whizin Anthology of Jewish Family Education”

Kol Tikvah

7:30 p.m.

Dr. Laura Schlessinger and Rabbi Stewart Vogel

“The Ten Commandments: The Significance of God’s Laws in Everyday Life”

Temple Aliyah&’009;

7:00 p.m.

Janet Bode with Rabbi Edward Feinstein

“Food Fight: A Guide to Eating Disorders for Preteens and Their Families”

West Valley JCC

Friday, Nov. 20

1:00-2:30 p.m.

Rabbi Naomi Levy

“To Begin Again”

West Valley JCC

Saturday, Nov. 21

8:00 p.m.

Jonathan Kirsch

“Moses: A Life”

West Valley JCC

7:00 p.m.

Rabbi Harold Schulweis, Florence Weinberger, Malgert Cohen, Sam Applebaum, Richard Grosslight, Sherman Pearl

Poetry readings on the Jewish life cycle

Westside JCC

Sunday, Nov. 22

1:00-4:00 p.m.

Jewish Family Storytelling Festival

Storytelling and related activities

My Jewish Discovery Place

2:00 p.m.

Stan Mack

“The Story of the Jews”

Valley Cities JCC

2:00 p.m.

Multicultural Programs

Nouri Kharrazi (Farsi)

“Tattooed Arms — Punctured Souls”

Dr. Zvia Ambar (Hebrew)

Stress Management

Dr. Andrea Labinger (Spanish)

Translator of “Musicians and Watchmakers” by Alicia Steimberg

Marina Genchikmakher (Russian)

Poetry

West Valley JCC

2:30-3:30 p.m.

Maralyn Soifer

Creative writing and poetry workshop for children (ages 8-11)

Conejo Valley JCC

7:30 p.m.

Dr. Sam Kunin

“Circumcision: Its Place in Judaism Past and Present”

with Rabbi Brad Artson

“It’s A Mitzvah”

Valley Cities JCC

All events are subject to change. For additional information, contact the festival hot line at (818) 464-3353.

Addresses:

Bay Cities JCC: 2601 Santa Monica Blvd., Santa Monica

Conejo Valley JCC: 5004 Lewis Road, Agoura Hills

Hollywood-Los Feliz JCC: 1110 Bates Ave., Los Angeles

Kol Tikvah: 20400 Ventura Blvd., Woodland Hills

My Jewish Discovery Place: 5870 West Olympic Blvd. Los Angeles

North Valley JCC: 16601 Rinaldi St., Granada Hills

Stephen S. Wise Temple: 15500 Stephen S. Wise Dr., Los Angeles

Temple Aliyah: 6025 Valley Circle Blvd., Woodland Hills

Temple Emanuel: 8844 Burton Way, Beverly Hills

Valley Cities JCC: 13164 Burbank Blvd. Sherman Oaks

West Valley JCC: 22622 Vanowen St. West Hills

Westside JCC: 5870 West Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles



Community Briefs


Even for an international film producer and inveterate traveler, Arthur Cohn has covered a lot of territory recently.

During the last week in October, the winner of a record five Oscars and producer of “The Garden of the Finzi-Continis” and “Central Station” was feted in Shanghai at his very own “Arthur Cohn Day” by the Chinese government and film industry.

He used the occasion of a retrospective of his works at the Shanghai International Film Festival to premiere his latest documentary, “Children of the Night.”

Conceived as a cinematic memorial to the 1.3 million Jewish children who perished in the Holocaust — and their rescue from the anonymity of statistics — the film resurrects the faces of its subjects, sometimes at play, more often ragged and starving.

Although the film is only 18-minutes long, Cohn spent three years scouring archives across the world for material, of which only six yielded scraps of usable footage.

For the feature film to follow the documentary at the Shanghai festival, Cohn had originally selected his 1995 movie “Two Bits” with Al Pacino. However, government officials in Beijing insisted on “The Garden of the Finzi-Continis,” the 1971 classic about an aristocratic Italian-Jewish family that is ultimately destroyed by the fascists.

Cohn says that he took the Beijing fiat as a signal that “the theme of the Holocaust has been openly recognized by the Chinese government for the first time.”

His reception in Shanghai was remarkable, as press and public mobbed him like some rock star. More than 130 journalists covered his press conference, during which a giant banner above his head proclaimed “World Famous Producer Arthur Cohn” in Chinese and English.

For the screening itself, Chinese fans fought for tickets to the 2,000-seat theater. When the two films ended, the audience sat, as if stunned, for three-minutes, before quietly leaving.

For most Chinese, it was their initial introduction to a Holocaust theme. Said a young hotel manager, “Six million dead … that’s as if they murdered every bicyclist in this city.”

A reporter for the Shanghai Star perceived that “Cohn seems to cherish a special feeling for the Jews.” Indeed, the producer’s next release will be “One Day in September,” referring to the terrorist attack on Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich.

The production will be a “thriller with documentary footage,” says Cohn, with Michael Douglas in the central role of the commentator.

“One Day in September” will have its world premiere on Jan. 18 in Los Angeles, under the auspices of the American Film Institute.

A couple of days later Cohn arrived in Hollywood to report on his Shanghai triumph and participate in the first annual International Jewish Film Festival here.

He officiated at the American premiere of “Children of the Night” and presented an award to veteran actor Gregory Peck.

Cohn, who stands a rangy six-foot, three inches, is a third generation Swiss citizen and resident of Basel.

His father, Marcus, was a respected lawyer and a leader of the Swiss religious Zionist movement. He settled in Israel in 1949, helped to write many of the basic laws of the new state, and served as Israel’s assistant attorney general until his death in 1953.

The family’s Zionist roots go even deeper. The producer’s grandfather and namesake, Rabbi Arthur Cohn, was the chief rabbi of Basel. He was a friend of Theodor Herzl and one of the few leaders in the Orthodox rabbinate to support the founder of modern Zionism.

It was because of this support, says Cohn, that Herzl chose Basel, rather than one of Europe’s more glittering capitals, as the site of the first Zionist Congress in 1897.

Of the filmmaker’s three children, two sons have served in the Israeli army and studied at Israeli universities.

Community Briefs


Even for an international film producer and inveterate traveler, Arthur Cohn has covered a lot of territory recently.

During the last week in October, the winner of a record five Oscars and producer of “The Garden of the Finzi-Continis” and “Central Station” was feted in Shanghai at his very own “Arthur Cohn Day” by the Chinese government and film industry.

He used the occasion of a retrospective of his works at the Shanghai International Film Festival to premiere his latest documentary, “Children of the Night.”

Conceived as a cinematic memorial to the 1.3 million Jewish children who perished in the Holocaust — and their rescue from the anonymity of statistics — the film resurrects the faces of its subjects, sometimes at play, more often ragged and starving.

Although the film is only 18-minutes long, Cohn spent three years scouring archives across the world for material, of which only six yielded scraps of usable footage.

For the feature film to follow the documentary at the Shanghai festival, Cohn had originally selected his 1995 movie “Two Bits” with Al Pacino. However, government officials in Beijing insisted on “The Garden of the Finzi-Continis,” the 1971 classic about an aristocratic Italian-Jewish family that is ultimately destroyed by the fascists.

Cohn says that he took the Beijing fiat as a signal that “the theme of the Holocaust has been openly recognized by the Chinese government for the first time.”

His reception in Shanghai was remarkable, as press and public mobbed him like some rock star. More than 130 journalists covered his press conference, during which a giant banner above his head proclaimed “World Famous Producer Arthur Cohn” in Chinese and English.

For the screening itself, Chinese fans fought for tickets to the 2,000-seat theater. When the two films ended, the audience sat, as if stunned, for three-minutes, before quietly leaving.

For most Chinese, it was their initial introduction to a Holocaust theme. Said a young hotel manager, “Six million dead … that’s as if they murdered every bicyclist in this city.”

A reporter for the Shanghai Star perceived that “Cohn seems to cherish a special feeling for the Jews.” Indeed, the producer’s next release will be “One Day in September,” referring to the terrorist attack on Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich.

The production will be a “thriller with documentary footage,” says Cohn, with Michael Douglas in the central role of the commentator.

“One Day in September” will have its world premiere on Jan. 18 in Los Angeles, under the auspices of the American Film Institute.

A couple of days later Cohn arrived in Hollywood to report on his Shanghai triumph and participate in the first annual International Jewish Film Festival here.

He officiated at the American premiere of “Children of the Night” and presented an award to veteran actor Gregory Peck.

Cohn, who stands a rangy six-foot, three inches, is a third generation Swiss citizen and resident of Basel.

His father, Marcus, was a respected lawyer and a leader of the Swiss religious Zionist movement. He settled in Israel in 1949, helped to write many of the basic laws of the new state, and served as Israel’s assistant attorney general until his death in 1953.

The family’s Zionist roots go even deeper. The producer’s grandfather and namesake, Rabbi Arthur Cohn, was the chief rabbi of Basel. He was a friend of Theodor Herzl and one of the few leaders in the Orthodox rabbinate to support the founder of modern Zionism.

It was because of this support, says Cohn, that Herzl chose Basel, rather than one of Europe’s more glittering capitals, as the site of the first Zionist Congress in 1897.

Of the filmmaker’s three children, two sons have served in the Israeli army and studied at Israeli universities.

Movie Memoirs


Some of the best recent American documentaries are nonfiction, highly subjective narratives that explore the Sturm und Drang of family relationships. Filmmaker Ira Wohl calls this kind of up-close cinematic memoir “first-person documentary.”

It’s an apt description for his latest film, “Best Man,” the “Best Boy” sequel that first screened locally at the 1997 Cinema Judaica Festival and was featured again as the kickoff film for the Laemmle Theatres’ Documentary Days series, which began on Feb. 12 and runs through March 5.

Another highly personal examination of family ties is Eric Trules’ uneven but watchable “The Poet and the Con,” which premières tonight as the second film in the Laemmle series. The film’s energy is generated entirely by Trule’s streetwise uncle, Harvey Rosenberg, the family’s charismatic, roughly handsome black sheep.

When the film begins, Rosenberg is a 57-year-old career criminal and his filmmaker-nephew’s favorite relative. It’s easy to see why. Despite the morally repellent nature of Rosenberg’s street credentials, he’s riveting to watch — an impassioned, mischievous and complex character who lights up the screen whenever he appears: whether it’s to hash out old childhood wounds with his aging siblings or to coolly recount one of his many misadventures — like the time he put a gun to a Mafioso’s head at Tony Roma’s restaurant as a favor to a friend in trouble with the mob over gambling debts.

Unfortunately, Rosenberg shares equal screen time with his nephew, Trules. Although clearly attached to his uncle, Trules eventually becomes an unwelcome intrusion for the viewer. A performance artist, poet and professor at USC, Trule s sees his own life as inextricably tied to his uncle’s, and so constructs the film with them both at center stage. But Trules (the “Poet” of the title) is not nearly as interesting onscreen as his uncle (the “Con.”)

For the filmmaker, his Uncle Harvey is a potent mix of kindred spirit, muse, paternal mentor and walking cautionary tale. Trules uses Rosenberg as a catalyst for exploring his own emotional baggage: He describes his attraction to law-breaking and bemoans his own feelings of marginality. In a bit of family cinéma véritè, Trules uses Uncle Harvey as a bludgeon to beat at his parents and the middle-class “Jewish culture” at large, at whom he feels an inordinate degree of anger and contempt. In a 44-year-old man, such stuff comes across as unappealingly whiny and adolescent.

By contrast, in Rosenberg (who ultimately died of lung cancer in a prison hospital), Trules had a larger-than-life film character. Rosenberg got his first taste of crime as a 17-year-old street tough hijacking a liquor truck on the docks of New York City. Guns, prison stints, head-turning girlfriends and friction with family followed. Eventually, Rosenberg got clean and worked as a certified alcohol and drug counselor after a stint at Los Angeles’ halfway house, Beit T’Shuvah. Near the end of his life, his role in an unsolved Hollywood murder caught up with him. He found himself a fugitive from justice, featured on “America’s Most Wanted” and running scared from the idea of returning to prison after his brief taste of redemption. Simply put, this should have been Harvey’s movie.

“Documentary Days” screens through March 5 at Laemmle’s Grande 4-Plex downtown, 345 S. Figueroa St. (213) 617-0268.

Cinema Judaica


In years past, the Sundance Film Festival — a two-week marathon of industry schmoozing, skiing and screenings in Park City, Utah — has served as the launching pad for Jewish independent cinema. The gematria-laced, sci-fi-tinged “Pi,” the Simon Wiesenthal Center-produced Oscar winner, “The Long Way Home,” the Academy Award-nominated “Shine,” and the critically lambasted “A Price Above Rubies” all surfaced there in recent years.

This year, Jewish filmmakers triumphed once again, as several top festival trophies went to films containing Jewish subject matter. The Dramatic Feature Directing Award went to Eric Mendelsohn for “Judy Berlin,” a surreal meditation on dysfunctional Jewish families trying to make sense of their lives during a solar eclipse. And co-winning the Audience Award for World Cinema was “Train de Vie” (“Train of Life”), another dramatic comedy, almost film as fable, set during the Holocaust.

Like a French version of a Sholom Aleichem story, “Train of Life” spins the yarn of a shtetl, scheduled to face annihilation at the hands of the Germans, that finds hope when the village idiot proposes a plan to buy a train, disguise the townspeople as Nazis and deport everyone to Eretz Yisrael. Many of the film’s seriocomic incidents — Jewish tailors faking Nazi uniforms, swastikas replacing mezuzahs, etc. — may straddle the line of good taste for some, but, like “Life Is Beautiful,” the film’s life-affirming sentiments strive to win over its audience.

Other features that generated positive buzz included “Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter Jr.,” a documentary about a Holocaust revisionist by Erroll Morris that received rave response, as did “Fools Gold,” Jeffrey Janger’s road movie about a pair of Oklahoma outlaws — one Latino, the other Jewish — on the lam.

Also receiving attention was “A Walk on the Moon,” directed and produced by actors Tony Goldwyn (grandson of movie mogul Sam Goldwyn) and Dustin Hoffman, respectively. Set in 1969, the bittersweet drama centers around a bored Jewish mother (Diane Lane) and daughter (Anna Paquin) who find themselves lured to Woodstock while vacationing in the Catskills. At the press conference for the film, “Moon’s” screenwriter talked about the resistance she met while shopping around her nostalgic script. Mentioning that studio execs had found her story “too soft, too small, not global enough and too ethnic,” Hoffman quipped, “Hey, that describes me!”

Jewish images also turned up in unexpected places. In “Home Page,” filmmaker Doug Block uses his nephew’s bar mitzvah and a family seder to contrast traditional Jewish community with the fragmented one found across the World Wide Web. In “Fools Gold,” the twentysomething Jew, struggling with both Jewish identity and anti-Semitism, attempts to keep kosher as he is being pursued and, to his dismay, learns that his “wanted” photo is an old bar mitzvah picture (in a postmodern Hitchcockian cameo, the director used his own bar mitzvah photo for the shot). And in the hip romance, “The Invisibles,” a fresh-out-of-rehab rock star named Jude displays an uncanny Chassidic knowledge, offering rabbinical tales from the Baal Shem Tov and offhand comments about planting trees in Israel.

One of the festival’s sleeper hits, “The Invisibles” shot for an astounding $7,000 in eight days and was directed by Noah Stern, a Conservative Jew from Chicago whose production entity, ZH Films, stands for Zionist Hoodlum (a reference to the infamous Oscar speech Vanessa Redgrave gave in the 1970s).

If the overt Jewish presence in, of all places, Park City seemed jarring to some, the juxtaposition wasn’t wasted on “Invisibles” director Stern, who told The Journal: “Most Jews in Hollywood hide from their identity, but like many at Sundance, I have no interest in hiding. There’s a ghettoization in the industry about being a Jew, but we prefer not to be a part of that ghetto. And if we’re labeled freaks for doing that, dayenu.”

Community Briefs


Even for an international film producer and inveterate traveler, Arthur Cohn has covered a lot of territory recently.

During the last week in October, the winner of a record five Oscars and producer of “The Garden of the Finzi-Continis” and “Central Station” was feted in Shanghai at his very own “Arthur Cohn Day” by the Chinese government and film industry.

He used the occasion of a retrospective of his works at the Shanghai International Film Festival to premiere his latest documentary, “Children of the Night.”

Conceived as a cinematic memorial to the 1.3 million Jewish children who perished in the Holocaust — and their rescue from the anonymity of statistics — the film resurrects the faces of its subjects, sometimes at play, more often ragged and starving.

Although the film is only 18-minutes long, Cohn spent three years scouring archives across the world for material, of which only six yielded scraps of usable footage.

For the feature film to follow the documentary at the Shanghai festival, Cohn had originally selected his 1995 movie “Two Bits” with Al Pacino. However, government officials in Beijing insisted on “The Garden of the Finzi-Continis,” the 1971 classic about an aristocratic Italian-Jewish family that is ultimately destroyed by the fascists.

Cohn says that he took the Beijing fiat as a signal that “the theme of the Holocaust has been openly recognized by the Chinese government for the first time.”

His reception in Shanghai was remarkable, as press and public mobbed him like some rock star. More than 130 journalists covered his press conference, during which a giant banner above his head proclaimed “World Famous Producer Arthur Cohn” in Chinese and English.

For the screening itself, Chinese fans fought for tickets to the 2,000-seat theater. When the two films ended, the audience sat, as if stunned, for three-minutes, before quietly leaving.

For most Chinese, it was their initial introduction to a Holocaust theme. Said a young hotel manager, “Six million dead … that’s as if they murdered every bicyclist in this city.”

A reporter for the Shanghai Star perceived that “Cohn seems to cherish a special feeling for the Jews.” Indeed, the producer’s next release will be “One Day in September,” referring to the terrorist attack on Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich.

The production will be a “thriller with documentary footage,” says Cohn, with Michael Douglas in the central role of the commentator.

“One Day in September” will have its world premiere on Jan. 18 in Los Angeles, under the auspices of the American Film Institute.

A couple of days later Cohn arrived in Hollywood to report on his Shanghai triumph and participate in the first annual International Jewish Film Festival here.

He officiated at the American premiere of “Children of the Night” and presented an award to veteran actor Gregory Peck.

Cohn, who stands a rangy six-foot, three inches, is a third generation Swiss citizen and resident of Basel.

His father, Marcus, was a respected lawyer and a leader of the Swiss religious Zionist movement. He settled in Israel in 1949, helped to write many of the basic laws of the new state, and served as Israel’s assistant attorney general until his death in 1953.

The family’s Zionist roots go even deeper. The producer’s grandfather and namesake, Rabbi Arthur Cohn, was the chief rabbi of Basel. He was a friend of Theodor Herzl and one of the few leaders in the Orthodox rabbinate to support the founder of modern Zionism.

It was because of this support, says Cohn, that Herzl chose Basel, rather than one of Europe’s more glittering capitals, as the site of the first Zionist Congress in 1897.

Of the filmmaker’s three children, two sons have served in the Israeli army and studied at Israeli universities.

Community Briefs


Even for an international film producer and inveterate traveler, Arthur Cohn has covered a lot of territory recently.

During the last week in October, the winner of a record five Oscars and producer of “The Garden of the Finzi-Continis” and “Central Station” was feted in Shanghai at his very own “Arthur Cohn Day” by the Chinese government and film industry.

He used the occasion of a retrospective of his works at the Shanghai International Film Festival to premiere his latest documentary, “Children of the Night.”

Conceived as a cinematic memorial to the 1.3 million Jewish children who perished in the Holocaust — and their rescue from the anonymity of statistics — the film resurrects the faces of its subjects, sometimes at play, more often ragged and starving.

Although the film is only 18-minutes long, Cohn spent three years scouring archives across the world for material, of which only six yielded scraps of usable footage.

For the feature film to follow the documentary at the Shanghai festival, Cohn had originally selected his 1995 movie “Two Bits” with Al Pacino. However, government officials in Beijing insisted on “The Garden of the Finzi-Continis,” the 1971 classic about an aristocratic Italian-Jewish family that is ultimately destroyed by the fascists.

Cohn says that he took the Beijing fiat as a signal that “the theme of the Holocaust has been openly recognized by the Chinese government for the first time.”

His reception in Shanghai was remarkable, as press and public mobbed him like some rock star. More than 130 journalists covered his press conference, during which a giant banner above his head proclaimed “World Famous Producer Arthur Cohn” in Chinese and English.

For the screening itself, Chinese fans fought for tickets to the 2,000-seat theater. When the two films ended, the audience sat, as if stunned, for three-minutes, before quietly leaving.

For most Chinese, it was their initial introduction to a Holocaust theme. Said a young hotel manager, “Six million dead … that’s as if they murdered every bicyclist in this city.”

A reporter for the Shanghai Star perceived that “Cohn seems to cherish a special feeling for the Jews.” Indeed, the producer’s next release will be “One Day in September,” referring to the terrorist attack on Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich.

The production will be a “thriller with documentary footage,” says Cohn, with Michael Douglas in the central role of the commentator.

“One Day in September” will have its world premiere on Jan. 18 in Los Angeles, under the auspices of the American Film Institute.

A couple of days later Cohn arrived in Hollywood to report on his Shanghai triumph and participate in the first annual International Jewish Film Festival here.

He officiated at the American premiere of “Children of the Night” and presented an award to veteran actor Gregory Peck.

Cohn, who stands a rangy six-foot, three inches, is a third generation Swiss citizen and resident of Basel.

His father, Marcus, was a respected lawyer and a leader of the Swiss religious Zionist movement. He settled in Israel in 1949, helped to write many of the basic laws of the new state, and served as Israel’s assistant attorney general until his death in 1953.

The family’s Zionist roots go even deeper. The producer’s grandfather and namesake, Rabbi Arthur Cohn, was the chief rabbi of Basel. He was a friend of Theodor Herzl and one of the few leaders in the Orthodox rabbinate to support the founder of modern Zionism.

It was because of this support, says Cohn, that Herzl chose Basel, rather than one of Europe’s more glittering capitals, as the site of the first Zionist Congress in 1897.

Of the filmmaker’s three children, two sons have served in the Israeli army and studied at Israeli universities.

Community Briefs


Even for an international film producer and inveterate traveler, Arthur Cohn has covered a lot of territory recently.

During the last week in October, the winner of a record five Oscars and producer of “The Garden of the Finzi-Continis” and “Central Station” was feted in Shanghai at his very own “Arthur Cohn Day” by the Chinese government and film industry.

He used the occasion of a retrospective of his works at the Shanghai International Film Festival to premiere his latest documentary, “Children of the Night.”

Conceived as a cinematic memorial to the 1.3 million Jewish children who perished in the Holocaust — and their rescue from the anonymity of statistics — the film resurrects the faces of its subjects, sometimes at play, more often ragged and starving.

Although the film is only 18-minutes long, Cohn spent three years scouring archives across the world for material, of which only six yielded scraps of usable footage.

For the feature film to follow the documentary at the Shanghai festival, Cohn had originally selected his 1995 movie “Two Bits” with Al Pacino. However, government officials in Beijing insisted on “The Garden of the Finzi-Continis,” the 1971 classic about an aristocratic Italian-Jewish family that is ultimately destroyed by the fascists.

Cohn says that he took the Beijing fiat as a signal that “the theme of the Holocaust has been openly recognized by the Chinese government for the first time.”

His reception in Shanghai was remarkable, as press and public mobbed him like some rock star. More than 130 journalists covered his press conference, during which a giant banner above his head proclaimed “World Famous Producer Arthur Cohn” in Chinese and English.

For the screening itself, Chinese fans fought for tickets to the 2,000-seat theater. When the two films ended, the audience sat, as if stunned, for three-minutes, before quietly leaving.

For most Chinese, it was their initial introduction to a Holocaust theme. Said a young hotel manager, “Six million dead … that’s as if they murdered every bicyclist in this city.”

A reporter for the Shanghai Star perceived that “Cohn seems to cherish a special feeling for the Jews.” Indeed, the producer’s next release will be “One Day in September,” referring to the terrorist attack on Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich.

The production will be a “thriller with documentary footage,” says Cohn, with Michael Douglas in the central role of the commentator.

“One Day in September” will have its world premiere on Jan. 18 in Los Angeles, under the auspices of the American Film Institute.

A couple of days later Cohn arrived in Hollywood to report on his Shanghai triumph and participate in the first annual International Jewish Film Festival here.

He officiated at the American premiere of “Children of the Night” and presented an award to veteran actor Gregory Peck.

Cohn, who stands a rangy six-foot, three inches, is a third generation Swiss citizen and resident of Basel.

His father, Marcus, was a respected lawyer and a leader of the Swiss religious Zionist movement. He settled in Israel in 1949, helped to write many of the basic laws of the new state, and served as Israel’s assistant attorney general until his death in 1953.

The family’s Zionist roots go even deeper. The producer’s grandfather and namesake, Rabbi Arthur Cohn, was the chief rabbi of Basel. He was a friend of Theodor Herzl and one of the few leaders in the Orthodox rabbinate to support the founder of modern Zionism.

It was because of this support, says Cohn, that Herzl chose Basel, rather than one of Europe’s more glittering capitals, as the site of the first Zionist Congress in 1897.

Of the filmmaker’s three children, two sons have served in the Israeli army and studied at Israeli universities.

A Jewish New Wave


Ella Lewenz, pictured with one of her children,is the subject of her granddaughter’s documentary.
Filmmaker Myles Berkowitz made the comedy “20 Dates” on a budget of$60,000.

Park City, Utah

Jewish filmmakers descended on this snowy townlast month for their annual 11-day-long holiday ritual of schmoozing,skiing and screenings, better known as the Sundance FilmFestival.

That’s hardly big news in an industry with morethan a few Jewish members. What is news is that Jews were alsoturning up in full force on screen. While mainstream Hollywood hasbeen leery of taking on Jewish characters and subjects — theHolocaust being the exception– a new generation of independentdirectors is turning the cameras on their heritage.

When Robert Redford started screening cutting-edgework at his festival almost two decades ago, it was rare to see ayarmulke or a non-stereotyped Jewish family on a Utah screen. Butlast year, there was such a profusion of Jewish artists tacklingJewish themes that the Salt Lake City Jewish Community Center hosteda reception for them.

This year’s selection continues the trend.”There’s a diverse group of independent Jewish films here, and theydon’t all look alike,” said director Judith Helfand (“Healthy BabyGirl”).

Beyond the patently Jewish-themed films — more onthose later — it’s worth noting that the festival’s two winningdramatic films were imbued with a spirit that’s Jewish, even thoughthe characters were not. The Grand Jury Prize went to “Slam,”director Marc Levin’s neo-realist, humanistic drama about Washingtonprison life. Levin said that he next plans to film “BrooklynBabylon,” a cross-cultural love story between Jews and Rastafarians,which he hopes will be the “‘West Side Story’ for themillennium.”

The Audience Award and Filmmakers Trophy went to”Smoke Signals,” a poignant Native American father-and-son storyco-produced by Scott Rosenfelt, whose own father died the day beforethe Sundance awards ceremony. “It’s so ironic,” he said while sittingshiva with hisfamily. “For the past year and a half, I’ve poured my heart and soulinto this film dealing with the loss of a father. But life is notlinear; it’s cyclical — that’s a concept in Native American cultureand on the Jewish calendar too. I still feel like my father knowsabout this [award], that I have honored him with my work, and that wehave come full circle.”

Other evidence of the Jewish “New Wave” atSundance include:

“Pi” (Winner:Dramatic Directing Award) “Pi” is thebrainchild of twentysomething writer-director Darren Aronofsky, aBrighton Beach-raised Harvard grad whose father teaches science atYeshiva of Flatbush junior high school. In “Pi,” a tortured mathgenius named Max Cohen, with a knack for cracking codes, findshimself pursued by Wall Street suits and kabbalists searching for thehidden numbers behind the Almighty’s secret name. “It’s a spiritualsearch,” said Aronofsky. “The message of ‘Pi’ is that you shouldn’tspend all of your time searching for God in this lifetime. The beautyis in the chaos. It’s about enjoying life — which is also aChassidic message.” The film’s rich Jewish imagery, said thedirector, “comes from a trip to Israel. I got involved with the AishHaTorah Discovery program for three days in Jerusalem. That’s where Igot my introduction to numerology. It didn’t quite work for me, butit gave me a lot of respect for Judaism, and I used a lot of thematerial in this film.”

“A Price Above Rubies” One of this festival’s most lovingly-crafted tales is alsosure to be one of most controversial portraits of traditional Jews tobe released by a major studio (Miramax Films, a subsidiary of theWalt Disney Company). Manhattan-born writer-director Boaz Yakin tellsthe harrowing story of a pretty young Hassidic wife (ReneeZellwegger) who endures a veritable “Perils of Pauline” throughBrooklyn’s Boro Park. Her tribulations include an unloving husband(Glenn Fitzgerald), too busy praying and poring through the Talmud tosatisfy her needs, a judgmental sister-in-law (Julianna Marguiles)who kidnaps her baby; and an adulterous brother-in-law (ChristopherEccleston) who seduces her while reciting the “Woman of Valor” lovepoem–providing the film’s title about a woman’s worth. She findssolace in the arms of a sensitive non-Jewish Puerto Rican sculptor(Alan Payne). Yakin is ready for controversy after a successfullaunch in Park City. “The response to my film at Sundance has beenfantastic. It’s been a real high,” said Yakin, awaiting theinevitable criticism. “It’s all downhill from here.”

“A LetterWithout Words” This fascinating andentertaining documentary traces the rise of the Third Reich via newlydiscovered home movies. Director Lisa Lewenz grew up as anEpiscopalian. At 13, she learned the family secret: Her dad had takenon a new identity in America, converting and marrying out of Judaismto spare his children from the anti-Semitism he had experienced inGermany. Lewenz spent 16 years of her life trying to piece togetherher missing family history, partially to find out more about her ownJewish identity. “One of my subversive goals,” she said over coffee,”was to inspire people to really explore their own families andfriends. I think so few of us ever really delve into that pastbecause we’re so busy living in the present.”

“Obsession” Perhapsthe sweetest Jewish images at the festival were offered up by PeterSehr, a German director who is, naturally, Catholic. “Obsession”concerns a ménage àtrois between a young female musician andher two men, and their friendship with two aging Russian Jewishbrothers, Simon and Jacob Frischmuth (played by Allen Garfield andSeymour Cassell, respectively). “People are a bit surprised that aGerman director would put two Jews in there,” said Sehr, who haspresented one of the first glimpses of Jews in contemporary Berlin.”What I tried to show was 50 years of absence. I think the biggestloss in German cultural life is the loss of its Jewish community, andI think only now we realize how big this loss is. This is my smallopportunity to give something back to the community, my wish that wewould have what we don’t have now: people with humor, generosity, acertain type of attitude toward life, a type of love which I’mmissing with my own people.”

“20Dates” Appearing at the rival SlamdanceFilm Festival, New Yorker Myles Berkowitz took the Dramatic AudienceAward for making a comedy about his two biggest failures in LosAngeles: his professional and his social lives. He consults amatchmaker, married friends, a rabbi, and even crashes a traditionalJewish wedding, posing as a videographer so that he can interview theprettiest girls at the reception. We get to see each one of his 20miserable real-life dates, many of whom are brutally honest, thanksto a hidden camera. Although Berkowitz claims that “religion is notan issue” in his dating habits (most of his pursuits are non-Jewishwomen), he remains proud of his Jewish heritage and his family’stemple, the Pelham Jewish Center in New York. “Slamdance wanted toopen my film on Friday night,” he said somewhat slyly. “But just likeSandy Koufax, I refused to pitch on a holy day. I told my family Iwas not going to première my movie on Shabbos.” Berkowitz’sfinished effort, a polished homage to Albert Brooks’ “Real Life” andWoody Allen’s romantic comedies, cost $60,000, provided by a LebaneseChristian producer.

Now that Jewish themes are trendy at the festival,dire
ctor Judith Helfand suggested that the Jewish filmmakers gatherfor a Shabbat dinner in Park City next year. “The only problem,” shesaid, “is that all the Jews will be at the movies on Friday night.We’ll have to work on that.”

Woody’s Story

“Wild ManBlues,” which won Sundance’s DocumentaryCinematography Award, includes the first-ever real-life portrayal ofWoody Allen’s very private life. Directed by Academy Award winnerBarbara Kopple, the real focus here is on Woody’s recent Europeanjazz tour. Fans will be surprised to see Soon-Yi mothering Woody,while Woody notes that Soon-Yi was once “this kid eating out ofgarbage pails in Korea”; Soon-Yi referencing “Manhattan” as herfavorite Woody Allen movie (starring the teen-aged Mariel Hemingwayas his love interest); and an epilogue in which he visits hisparents’ condo to drop off some new trophies. His father, examiningthe DGA Life Achievement Award, admires the quality of the engravingbut never recognizes the achievement, while Woody’s mother, whenprovoked, lets him know what she really thinks of him:

Woody’s Mom: “Sure,you did a lot of good things, but you never pursued them! I took youwherever I thought was good for you.”

Woody: “Like where?Hebrew School? All that junk?… You still think I’d still be betteroff if I was a druggist, right?”

Woody:’s Dad: “Maybeyou would be. Maybe you’d do more business as a druggist than you didas an actor?”

Woody:“I probablywould. Maybe if I had a drugstore, I’d have a bigger audience than Iget for my movies! Mom, how do you feel that both Christopher[Woody’s nephew] and I are going out with Asian women?”

Mom: “I personallydon’t think it’s right. I would have liked him from the beginning forhim to end up with a nice Jewish girl! [Soon-Yi recoils.] That’s whythe Jews — someday, not in your time — will be extinct! And that’svery bad!”

Woody: “This istruly the lunch from hell.”

Kopple, who grew up in the Reform Jewish communityof Scarsdale, N.Y., notes the meaning behind this interaction. “Itcertainly says, whenever you go home again, you’re a child,” shesaid. “There, he has all these awards, and all the father is lookingat is the engraving. [And Woody has] a typical Jewish mother. It washysterical. Throughout the entire film, it was hard for me to controlmy laughter.” — HarryMedved

Harry Medved hosts “Cinema Beshert: MeetingYour Mate at the Movies” at the University of Judaism on Sundaynights.

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‘I Don’t Feel Any Need to Apoligize’

By Leila Segal

Boaz Yakin is waiting for theother shoe to drop: While his new film, “A Price Above Rubies,” got awarm welcome from audiences at the Sundance Film Festival, theChassidic community has yet to react to his tale of emotionalrebellion, which opens here next month.

Director Yakin is known for his criticallyacclaimed debut, “Fresh,” set in gangland Brooklyn. In “A Price AboveRubies,” Sonia (Renee Zellweger), a young wife and mother living in aclose-knit Chassidic community in New York, finds herself frustratedby her allotted role. She sets out to explore her individuality andsexuality, and her journey to self-fulfillment encompasses a job inthe jewelry business and an affair with her brother-in-law, Sender(Christopher Eccleston).

While Yakin realizes that his choice of backdropfor the movie is bound to provoke controversy, he insists that thefilm’s main concern is societal repression, not a critique of theChassidic way of life: “‘A Price Above Rubies’ is about the power,fear and anxiety that can be created by feminine sexuality in aconservative society,” he says. “I only used the Jewish background asan excuse to tell a story that is really about one woman’s struggleto discover herself in a society which emphasizes conformity and dutyover self-fulfillment.

“It could apply to any community. It shows you awoman who essentially has a certain kind of selfish need and acertain kind of passionate need that isn’t being met, because, in anystrongly knit group, the needs of the individual are subordinated tothe needs of the group, which is very healthy in certain ways. But,like Sonia, there are those people who don’t fit, and they’remiserable, and that’s what this film is about.”

Yakin, himself from a yeshiva background,acknowledges that, in some respects, the film is critical of theChassidic way of life: “I’ve presented a very warm, sympathetic viewof the Chassidic world, but it’s also got a sense of humor, and, inplaces, it is critical,” he says. “Isn’t that what Jewish humor hasalways been about? Isn’t that what we’ve always been able to do? Weshould be able to make art that is critical and loving and humorousabout our own people. Isaac Bashevis Singer won the Nobel Prize fordoing it, and his stories are far more violent, sexual and criticalthan mine.”

True, Jewish tradition encourages discussionrather than imposing dogma. But should that discussion should beallowed to extend beyond the Jewish community, exposing our faultlines to the scrutiny of the wider world?

“The biggest victory someone else can have is toalter your own perception of yourself and your own sense of personalfreedom,” is Yakin’s response. “Historically, Jews have beenghettoized by other people. What we have today is a self-imposedinsularity that leads to total paranoia. Now I don’t forget history;I appreciate history. But when you let crimes against you dictate theway you look at yourself and at the world around you, you have letyour oppressors win.

“Anyone who’s going to be an anti-Semite is goingto be an anti-Semite no matter what we say about ourselves. The morewe can show ourselves as human beings, warts and all, the stronger wewill be.”

And while the Chassidic community, aware of itsvulnerability, is unsurprisingly defensive, if the Chassidim chosenot to participate in modern culture, then they cannot complain whenothers take up the torch on their behalf, asserts thedirector.

“My feeling is that there is nothing more healthythan art that is self-critical,” says Yakin. “Any society that can’tsurvive criticism isn’t going to make it anyway. As an artist, yourlife’s work is to explore the spirit of life in general. If my filmdidn’t offend anybody, I’d feel like I’d totally failed. I don’t feelany need to apologize for it or to soften it up.”

“A Price Above Rubies” opens nationally onMarch 27.


Leila Segal is a writer who lives inLondon.

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Exploring the Dark Side

By Naomi Pfefferman,Senior Writer

Hungarianfilmmaker János Szász agrees that his movies areunrelentingly bleak. “I lost half my family in Auschwitz, so all myfilms, in a way, are pessimistic,” says the soft-spoken, 40-year-oldauteur. “I see the dark side of life.”

Szász’s eerie “The Witman Boys,” Hungary’sOscar entry, is a grim, frightening tale of adolescence. Set amid thewintry mists of Transylvania, it f
ollows two brothers obsessed withsex and sacrifice after the death of their father. The exquisitelyphotographed film has earned accolades from Cannes to Sundance, whereSzász was recently toasted at a Variety magazine reception for”10 leading new independent directors.”

During a telephone interview, the filmmaker tracedhis gloomy vision to the Holocaust, to the mother who survivedAuschwitz and the father who survived Mauthausen. He loves hiscountry, its people and language, yet, as a Jew, he has always felthimself something of an outsider in Hungary.

While working on “The Witman Boys” in small-townTransylvania, he was devastated by “the ruined synagogues, with onlya few Jews left to [frequent] them.” He recalled how his parentsnever spoke of their Holocaust experiences. Instead, his belovedfather, a prominent screenwriter, fell into a quiet depression eachevening.

Only after Szász’s father died, in theearly 1980s, did a grandfather briefly speak of the “vast trains” tothe camps. The family silence molded a filmmaker: Szász becameobsessed with telling the stories of outcasts, “lost nobodies,”people alienated from the system.

The award-winning “Woyzeck” (1994) focuses on alonely, degraded railway worker who lashes out at society by killinghis wife. “The Witman Boys,” unloved by their cold, stern mother,seek a gruesome revenge.

Szász cast the film by scouringTransylvania for unknown talent; he knew he had found one of hisactors when he came across a teen-ager brooding alone in a darkclassroom while his peers gathered for auditions in theauditorium.

Today, however, the director wants to move beyondthe dark side. “I have to change because I have a beautiful youngdaughter, and I’d like to show that at the end of the tunnel, thereis a little light,” says the filmmaker, whose mentors have includedthe Oscar-winning director Istvan Szabo of “Mephisto.” To this end,Szász is relocating to Los Angeles, where William Morris hasexpressed interest in him.

Nevertheless, the bespectacled Szász hashis eye on at least one more somber endeavor, a Holocaust-themedproject. “I’m hoping it will help me explore my Jewish identity,” hesays, with a sigh. And perhaps, he muses, it will finally exorcisehis personal demons.


Family Business


Seated, the late Max Laemmle, founder of the theater chain, with son Robert, left, and grandson Greg.

Back in the heyday of the self-made Jewish movie moguls, the studios were, to a certain degree, family businesses. For Louis B. Mayer, Jack and Harry Warner, and others, nepotism was standard operating procedure, a way to protectively surround themselves with their own kind and to lend a hand to relatives and friends who otherwise may have had a rockier time of it, particularly during the Depression.

Nepotism reached unprecedented heights at Universal Pictures, which was founded in 1915 by Carl Laemmle, an affable and unpretentious German-Jewish immigrant. According to author Neal Gabler’s “An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood,” Laemmle at one time had more than 70 friends and relatives on the studio payroll. It was a source of amusement within the industry, prompting Jack Warner to quip that Laemmle “was making the world safe for nephews.”

In retrospect, contemporary Los Angeles filmgoers have “Uncle Carl” and his unabashed nepotism to thank for the eventual creation of a lively, eclectic chain of movie theaters.

Two years after the family’s ties to the studio were severed during a 1936 corporate reorganization, Max Laemmle, a nephew who had been an able Universal executive under the elderly Laemmle, co-founded the Laemmle Theatre chain with his brother, Kurt. Today, almost 60 years later, Max’s son, Robert, and grandson, Greg, run the family business as president and vice president, respectively.

Laemmle movie houses — there are eight locations in all — dot the Los Angeles landscape, from Pasadena to the grand Royal in West Los Angeles. On any given weekend, the chain screens a smart and interesting mix of mainstream hits, independent art films, festivals and retrospectives. Foreign-film showcases, revival screenings and campier themes, such as a recent series centered around noir-ish femme fatales, are Laemmle mainstays.

Last week’s movie listings are a case in point. Along with commercial flicks such as “Volcano,” “Father’s Day,” “Breakdown” and Bruce Willis’ new sci-fi epic, “The Fifth Element,” Laemmles also screened “Gray’s Anatomy,” “Das Boot,” “Ridicule,” “Pink Flamingos” and “I Was a Jewish Sex Worker.” As a result, the chain attracts a diverse audience — from the popcorn-munching masses to the culture vultures and film-school wonks who patronize such nonprofit venues as UCLA’s Melnitz Theater, the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s Bing Theater.

To a great degree, the bigger, slicker pictures at the chain’s multiple screen houses pay for the more marginal movies, including titles of Jewish interest such as “Carpati” and “Anne Frank Remembered.”

“In some respects, the special series that we do exist because of the multiplex phenomenon,” said Greg Laemmle, during a recent interview. “We couldn’t do this kind of programming without them.”

Greg Laemmle’s latest project is the Jewish Cinema Series, which begins on Friday, May 23, and runs through June 26. He also programs the company’s wintertime Cinema Judaica festival. Partly because of those efforts, the theater chain has become an important part of the local Jewish cultural landscape.

For Laemmle, a thirtysomething graduate of UC Berkeley and a onetime administrator at Brandeis-Bardin, it’s a role that he particularly enjoys.

“It was a lot of fun putting [the Jewish Cinema Series] together,” he said. “I remember being taken as a child to see ‘Hester Street’ and ‘Lies My Father Told Me.’ Movies aren’t the same as going to day school or to synagogue, but Jewish film is a fun, recognizable experience. You see your experiences documented up on the screen, and it puts them in a context.”

The series opens with “Like a Bride,” a Mexican production that chronicles the coming-of-age of two Jewish girls in 1960s Mexico City: One is from a traditional, marriage-minded family of Turkish-Jewish immigrants in the garment business. Her friend is the daughter of intellectual Eastern European Holocaust refugees.

“Saint Clara,” an offbeat Israeli-Czech production, follows with a one-week run, beginning on May 30. Opening on June 6 is the memorable klezmer documentary “A Tickle in the Heart,” the story of the “rediscovered” Epstein brothers. Interestingly, it was jointly produced by the German government and a Brooklyn yeshiva.

While all three films have made the rounds of the festival circuit — including previous stops in Los Angeles — they merit a second look.

A scene from “Mamele.”

Also getting some much-needed exposure are the 23 films from the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s that constitute the “Yiddish Film Festival,” the final portion of the Laemmle series. These films first premièred as a major retrospective at New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 1991, before traveling to the Soviet Union, Europe and other American cities. They were restored and presented at MOMA by Brandeis University’s National Center for Jewish Film, which is co-presenting their Los Angeles première on June 14.

Several Yiddish actors featured in the series are tentatively scheduled to attend local screenings. For older moviegoers, titles such as “Mamele,” “The Light Ahead,” “Without a Home” and “Yiddle With a Fiddle” may bring back a welcome rush of half-remembered sounds and images. For the rest of us, they represent a rare chance to see up on the screen an earthy, witty and vital world that mostly vanished with the Holocaust.

As for the current state of “Jewish film,” Greg Laemmle finds the field of American independent features to be a bit discouraging.

“Jewish cinema may be all over the place in terms of directorial style, language, etc., but what the films have in common is that they address the Jewish experience,” he said. “The next question, of course, is quality. Unfortunately, I see a lot of stuff that may address Jewish content but doesn’t deserve to be in the theater.”

Laemmle pointed to a dependence on schmaltzy clichés as one example. Superficial, juvenile treatment of subject matter is another.

“What I see mostly is angry and dealing in stereotypes — usually revolving around the bar mitzvah experience,” he said, with a laugh. “Documentaries, on the other hand, have been a rich field. In a sense, this is really a great age for cinema, in that anyone with a camera can make a film. I’ve seen such compelling, authentic stories about Jewish subjects…but, unfortunately, if it’s a documentary, the public still regards it as academic, educational — something that will be ‘good for them’ like eating vegetables.”

Laemmle, who is married and the father of young triplets, maintains that despite their iffy profitability, Jewish film festivals provide an important cultural contribution in an era of rapid assimilation.

“So far, I’ve gotten very positive feedback,” he said, “but we’ve only put this festival on for two years now, and these things grow very slowly…. We do this without any financial support from the Jewish community. We don’t go out and solicit grants and donations or anything like that. We’re prepared to do it and perhaps lose a little money. But audience attendance and support will justify this program. If people think this is worthwhile, they have to get up off their butts and go buy tickets.”

Uncle Carl couldn’t have said it better.

The Jewish Cinema Series runs from May 23 to June 26 at Laemmle’s Music Hall Theatre, 9036 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills. Some movies from the Yiddish Film Festival will also screen at the Laemmle Town Center 5 in Encino. For a festival schedule or other information, call (310) 274-6869.


Three Films to See

“Like a Bride” (“Novia Que Te Vea”)

Filmmaker Guita Schyfter presents us with a rich, sharply rendered portrait of Mexico City’s Jewish enclave during the 1960s with this quiet, coming-of-age movie, based on a novel by Rosa Nissan. Through her two female protagonists — Oshinica Mataroso (Claudette Maille) and Rifke Groman (Maya Mishalska) — Schyfter explores the tensions between a Jewish minority and a Catholic majority, tradition and modernity, Sephardi and Ashkenazi, and men and women.

Oshinica, the dark-eyed daughter of Turkish-Jewish immigrants, dreams of studying to become a painter, a notion that her wedding-minded family finds ridiculous. She is groomed for marriage from such an early age that she recalls cavorting in the gowns from her trousseau as a young girl. Her best friend, Rifke, a firebrand and the daughter of intellectual Holocaust refugees, finds her own Zionist identity rocked by a love affair with a handsome, non-Jewish political rebel, the son of a right-wing politician.

The struggles of both friends to define their place in the shifting sands of the 1960s defines the narrative of this freshly told wry tale, but it’s the larger emotional crosscurrents and visual details of Jewish Mexico City that Schyfter nails with affectionate relish. Oshinica’s father conducts his Luganilla market shmatte business with appropriate theatrics. The local Jewish youth group is flush with Spanish-accented kibbutz idealism. The older women set the tone at home during their sewing circles and canasta games.

The direction is sometimes plodding, and Maille, best known here for her role in “Like Water for Chocolate,” delivers a rather stolid performance, but “Like A Bride” is ultimately a treat — restrained, funny, moody and brimming with la vida.

English subtitles. Opens on May 23.

“Saint Clara”

A quirky blend of Israeli attitude and Czech surrealism, “Saint Clara” is set in the Golda Meir junior high school of a remote Israeli industrial town. The eponymous Clara, a Russian immigrant and a wide-eyed teen psychic, falls in with a group of scruffy, punkish classmates who suddenly begin acing their math tests with the aid of her clairvoyant powers.

The movie, directed by Ari Folman and Ori Sivan and based on a novel by Czech dissident Pavel Kohout, veers between amateurish stabs at realism and delightful forays into dark absurdity reminiscent of “Montenegro” or the films of Jim Jarmusch. Despite uneven performances and the self-conscious hipness, there are some things to like about “Saint Clara.” Well-known stage actor Yigal Naor’s portrayal of Headmaster Tissona, a pompous and passionate Francophile with lonely delusions of Edith Piaf, is a central highlight. His character deserves a movie of his own. Israel Damidov is also fine as Elvis, Clara’s tragicomic Russian uncle. And for moviegoers who still entertain images of Israeli youths as the straight-arrow, ballad-singing kibbutzniks of old travel posters, this film should give them a bit of a surprise.

English subtitles. Opens on May 30.

“A Tickle in the Heart”

The engaging title refers to the emotions evoked by Yiddish music, and, happily, it’s also an apt description for the overall effect wrought by this beautifully photographed documentary. It tells the story of Max (on clarinet), Willie (on trumpet) and Julius (on drums) Epstein, three brothers who began playing klezmer music 60 years ago, only to watch it die out from the vantage point of their retirement community in Florida. To their astonishment and delight, the music’s resurgent popularity among a new generation leads them back out on the road, playing to affectionate crowds in Germany, along with gigs in Poland, Brooklyn and Florida.

Along the way, director Stefan Schweitert captures poignant, revealing and funny visual details. With the buoyant, elderly Epstein brothers as his subject, Schweitert has created a love letter to klezmer music and its bittersweet history that is infused with sensitivity and good humor.

Opens on June 6. — Diane Arieff Zaga, Arts Editor