Spectator – Sweet Music Amid Turmoil


Those who have followed the documentaries produced by the Simon Wiesenthal Center know what to expect: Films like “Genocide,” “Liberation” and “In Search of Peace” that hit you right between the eyes and in the solar plexus.

Thus, it is more the surprise that its Moriah Films division’s latest documentary, “Beautiful Music,” a 39-minute film narrated by Brooke Shields, proves to be sensitive and understated. “Beautiful Music,” directed and written by the Wiesenthal Center’s Richard Trank, was based on original material by Trank and Rabbi Marvin Hier.

It’s about a blind and autistic Arab girl who blossoms into a musical savant under the tutelage of a caring Jewish piano teacher.

Rasha Hamad, who is deaf and blind like her younger sister, is locked into a small room with her sibling by their parents and later abandoned. Traumatized and helpless, the girls are given a warm home in the Arab village of Beit Jala by a Dutch missionary couple, Edward and Helene Vollbehr.

The girls seem unable to respond to human contact, they beat themselves on the heads and they scream endlessly. But then the Vollbehrs notice that Rasha calms down when listening to classical music and shows an amazing aptitude for playing the piano.

The Vollbehrs turn to the Jerusalem Conservatory of Music, where Rasha is entrusted to Devorah Schramm — although the task is daunting even for this devoted teacher. While Rasha’s piano playing keeps improving, and she even starts to compose her own music, it takes two or three years of daily lessons before Rasha shows any signs of bonding with her teacher. Rasha also suffers when the larger world around her goes awry, when Scuds fall during the 1991 Gulf War or during the terror of the two intifadas.

With calmer days, Rasha picks up again, The last scene shows her performing a Chopin sonata, joined by Jewish classmates, to the applause of the Jewish audience, which had pitched in to pay for her lessons.

Summing up her experience, Schramm observes, “If we look at the headlines, we see generalities. But when we look at one individual, we see more deeply.”

The film will screen at the Hollywood Film Festival on Sunday, Oct. 23 at 3:30 p.m. at the Arclight Theatres, 6360 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles. For information visit www.hollywoodawards.com/screenings.

 

7 Days In Arts


Saturday

Linda Richman types be warned. The American Cinematheque’s “Can’t Stop the Musicals!! A Celebration of Hollywood Musicals of the 1970s and 1980s” presents the plotz-inducing Barbra Streisand Double Feature tonight. From Glamour Babs to Cross-dresser Babs, the back-to-back bonanza showcases two very different Streisands in screenings of “Funny Lady” and “Yentl.”

Sunday

The Conejo Jewish community continues to sound its presence today with a special cantors concert at Temple Etz Chaim titled “Shema Koleinu: Hear Our Voices.” Cantors Pablo Duek of Temple Etz Chaim, Peter Halpern of Temple Adat Elohim, Kenny Ellis of Temple Beth Haverim, Mike Stein of Temple Aliyah and Marcelo Gindlin (pictured) of the Malibu Jewish Center and Synagogue join cantorial soloists Sandy Bernstein and Kim Moskowitz in performing an eclectic selection of spiritually uplifting songs.8 p.m. $18-$25 (general), $50-$1,000 (patrons and sponsors). 1080 E. Janss Road, Thousand Oaks. (805) 497-6891.

Monday

All around Los Angeles on practically every day of the week, Israeli dancing sessions are offered for a fee that’s cheaper than a movie ticket and a payoff that’s way better than “The Matrix: Reloaded.” Today, head to the 310 for lessons by Tikvah Mason or Michel and Israel Yakove. (Tikvah also teaches in West Hollywood on Wednesdays.) David Dassa brings his expertise to West Los Angeles and Valley Village on Sundays and Wednesdays, respectively; and James Zimmer offers swing-salsa-tango before segueing into Israeli on Tuesdays at the West Valley JCC. Those who don’t know their Yemenite step from their grapevine should show up early, as lessons generally precede open dance.Mason: (310) 278-5383 (Mondays), (323) 876-1717 (Wednesdays). Yakove: (310) 839-2550. Dassa: www.rikud.com. Zimmer: (310) 284-3638.

Tuesday

Old-schoolers seeking Jewish gangsta flava need look no further than the American Cinematheque tonight. In conjunction with the film’s special edition DVD release on June 10, “Once Upon a Time in America” screens tonight in all its digitally restored, uncut, 229-minute gory glory. For some added bling-bling, the big night also includes in-person appearances by actor James Woods, producer Arnon Milchan, film historian Richard Schickel and production executive Fred Caruso.7 p.m. $6-$9. The Egyptian Theatre, 6712 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. (323) 466-3456.

Wednesday

Z√≥calo. It’s a cultural forum. It’s a public think tank. It’s a chance to mingle with some of the biggest American thinkers. And it’s happening again tonight. Essayist and author Debra Dickerson discusses “The End of Blackness and the Future of African America” at the downtown Central Library. Educate your mind. Free your soul.7 p.m. Free. Mark Taper Auditorium, Central Library, 630 W. Fifth St., downtown. (213) 228-7025.

Thursday

Three female Middle Eastern artists bring their individual perspectives to the subject of displacement in three movies now on view at UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History. Mona Hatoum, originally from Beirut; Shirin Neshat, born in Qazvin, Iran; and Michal Rovner, born in Tel Aviv, each contribute film or video to the exhibition titled “Elsewhere: Negotiating Difference and Distance in Time-Based Art.”Noon-8 p.m. (Thursdays); noon-5 p.m. (Wednesdays, Fridays-Sundays). Runs through July 27. Free. Westwood. (310) 825-4361.

Friday

Another faux-weathered, mass-produced Pottery Barn piece? Think outside the mall this weekend. The Santa Monica Civic Auditorium welcomes back the Contemporary Crafts Market this year. On display and for sale will be decorative, functional and wearable artwork by over 250 artists.10 a.m.-6 p.m. June 6-8. $6. 1855 Main St., Santa Monica. (310) 285-3655.