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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Los Angeles Gitai retrospective will present the following films:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Venues, films and dates

Skirball Cultural Center:

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

“Alila” on March 30, 8 p.m.;

“Kadosh” on April 10, 2 p.m.;

“Esther” on April 21, 8 p.m.;

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

American Cinematheque’s Egyptian Theatre:

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

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

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

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, April 15

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

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

Sunday, April 16

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

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

Monday, April 17

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

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Tuesday, April 18

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

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

Wednesday, April 19

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

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

 

Thursday, April 20

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

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

 

Friday, April 21

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

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Vintage Israeli posters, MethodFest, ‘Bush Is Bad’


Saturday the 31st

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

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

Monday the 2nd

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

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

Wednesday the 4th

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

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

Friday the 6th

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

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

Lights, Camera, Israel


Los Angeles will welcome the 18th Annual Israel Film Festival this month, with 31 Israeli feature films, documentaries, TV dramas and student shorts to be screened at Laemmle’s Music Hall Theater in Beverly Hills and at Laemmle’s Town Center 5 in Encino. The festival continues in Chicago, Miami and New York.

During the April 10 opening night gala at the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, actress/director Penny Marshall, producer Mike Medavoy and Israeli director Eli Cohen will be honored for their contributions to the film industry.

A symposium on April 11 on "How Do Current Events in Israel Affect Film and Television Production?" will feature a panel of Israeli and American experts, including Israel’s Minister of Science, Culture and Sports Matan Vilnai.

Among the feature selections, the light and lightweight "Desperado Square" takes us to a hardscrabble development town. Its predominantly Sephardi immigrants desperately miss the town’s only movie theater, which was closed down nearly three decades earlier, despite the immense popularity of its films from India, with their star-crossed lovers and extravagant song-and-dance production numbers.

Morris, the deceased owner of the theater, shuttered the place in despondency when he learned that his beautiful wife, Siniora (Yona Elian), really loved his brother, Avram (played by Muhammad Bakri, Israel’s leading Arab actor).

As the film opens, the estranged Avram has returned after a 25-year absence and begins a low-key pursuit of Siniora. Meanwhile Morris’ sons, with the help of the town’s quaint residents, try to resurrect the movie palace for a showing of the love-triangle themed "Sangam," the neighborhood’s favorite film, much to the agitation of Siniora because Avram owns the only copy.

Nobody will mistake this variation on the eternal triangle, directed by Benny Torati, as high art, but the film, by its setting in a development town, focuses on one aspect of Israeli life rarely seen in feature movies.

"It’s About Time" is an hour-long documentary, which in a humorous and unassuming way tells us a great deal about today’s Israelis by probing their attitudes toward the concept of time.

Talking to a cross section of Israelis, the film contrasts the nostalgic past, when "we had time and seasons," to the obsessive listening of newscasts every half hour in today’s "microwave generation — we want it cooked right now."

Directors Ayelet Menahemi and Elona Ariel trace their country’s frantic pace back to the beginning, when "the state was born in a hurry, we rushed through the process."

"More happens here in a week than in Switzerland in a year," notes one respondent, and another skewers the infamous "Israeli time" by noting that "we set an event for 2:00, come at 2:30 and think we’ve arrived early."

For more information, see Calendar.

Coming Attractions


If the mark of a fully matured film industry is that directors have logged enough time behind the camera that one can spot personal styles emerging over several films, then this year’s Israel Film Festival proves that the Israelis have definitely reached that plateau. With Eran Riklis (“Cup Final”) represented by two features and a new film by Aner Preminger (“Blind Man’s Bluff”), not to mention the latest work from Israel’s one truly world-class director, Amos Gitai, one can speak comfortably of Israeli auteurs.

Truth be told, the Israelis had reached that particular plateau many years ago, but who wanted to brag about the generally meretricious work of Menachem Golan or the trivialities of Amos Kollek? No, it was Gitai and Eli Cohen (“The Quarrel”) who first drew some positive attention.

With “Cup Final,” Riklis announced himself as the next Israeli filmmaker to watch, and this status is probably confirmed by the fact that his latest film, “Vulcan Junction,” is the opening night offering at this year’s festival, the 16th annual version of the event. Unfortunately, “Vulcan Junction” is of a piece with the previous Riklis film shown in the festival, “Zohar: Mediterranean Blues”; that biopic (of the Mizrachi singer Zohar Argov) looked and felt like an American TV movie, sloppy, mannered and hurried. “Vulcan Junction” is a multi-character melodrama, following the gradual breakup of a ’70s rock band and the circle of friends surrounding it, shot in the same disjunctive TV-and-rock-video style as “Zohar,” but without that film’s compelling central personality. Thematically, Riklis has some interesting pre-occupations — the way in which people use pop culture (soccer, rock music) to hide from their personal problems, the damaging nature of overweening machismo — but he hasn’t yet found forms to express them.

National film industries develop different genre strengths. In the past decade, the Israelis have emerged as purveyors of intriguingly quirky comedies with the tart edgy quality of the classic American screwball works of the ’30s, and bleak family melodramas with more than a suggestion of maverick filmmakers like John Cassavetes and his successors. The best of the theatrical features on view in the festival fall into these two categories.

The festival’s closing night film, “Yana’s Friends,” directed by Arik Kaplun, is a warm and engaging comedy about a young Russian émigré, the very fetching Evelyne Kaplun, who finds herself abandoned by her ne’er-do-well husband in a dazzling and confusing Tel Aviv on the eve of the Gulf War. Kaplun is himself a transplanted Russian (with a background in medicine, of all things), and this sweetly sentimental film has all the earmarks of first-hand experience. Like so many other Israeli films, it is structured around a large ensemble cast, a veritable community constellation from which its protagonists emerge. A first feature of real promise.

Gideon Kolirin produced one of the most execrable Israeli films of the ’90s, an embarrassing adaptation of Amos Oz’s “Black Box,” so nothing could have prepared me for his second feature as a director, “Zur Hadasim.” This is a quirky, punky ensemble comedy about two couples, all of them born losers, living on the edge of booming Tel Aviv society, desperately trying to grab a share of its largesse. Etti is pregnant. Her idiot boyfriend, Shaul, is a minor functionary in the underworld, a self-satisfied schlemiel with the IQ of a fire hydrant. The pair become entangled with Adi and Ilana, a similar, older couple, who have engineered a kidnapping that, through no particular expertise of theirs, should net them a tidy sum. Eventually, all the film’s players end up on the site of a never-to-be-built luxury housing development whose name gives the film its title, where things are worked out amusingly, if a trifle too neatly. An edgy, funny little film about the lure of foolish dreams of prosperity.

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.