A brother-sister filmmaking team from Israel will introduce itself, its unusual alma mater and its Oscar-winning father on the evening of Feb. 5 at the Laemmle Music Hall in Beverly Hills.
Emanuel and Nurith Cohn will present “Little Dictator,” their first production since graduating from the Ma’aleh School of Television, Film & the Arts in Jerusalem.
The central character in the 29-minute short film is Yossi Kleinmann, a history professor and authority on 20th-century dictators who, whatever their crimes, had the charisma to attract fanatical followers.
Kleinmann himself is quite the opposite, a real nebbish who feels, correctly, that he is unappreciated by his students, his three kids and his domineering wife. Indeed, the opening scene shows him speaking to a class in which the few scattered students fall asleep or yawn during his lecture.
Preparing himself for a large family Shabbat dinner celebrating the 90th birthday of his grandmother, a Holocaust survivor, he runs into a self-inflicted glitch. As he shaves off his beard, at the behest of his wife, his mind wanders and he imagines himself as Lenin, Mussolini and Hitler, addressing adoring crowds.
Suddenly he realizes that in removing all his facial hair, he has left behind a small Hitler-like mustache. Because Shabbat has already begun, Kleinmann, as an observant Jew, can’t complete the shaving job and must face his family and guests while resembling the infamous Nazi leader.
As such, his greatest fear is that the evening’s guest of honor, Oma — grandmother — touchingly portrayed by actress Ruth Geller, might have a heart attack on seeing the pseudo-Hitler. On the contrary, however, Oma proves to be the only one who understands and appreciates Yossi, and she helps him assert his manhood by the film’s end.
Nurith Cohn directed the film, and her brother wrote the script and portrays Yossi, and it is amazing how much substance and commentary they squeeze into the short work.
One conversation between Yossi and his grandmother alone reconstructs the struggles German-Jewish immigrants to Palestine and Israel — the so-called Yekkes — had to overcome in integrating into Israeli society.
Last month, “Little Dictator” won the Mayor of Jerusalem Prize for best drama.
In entering the movie business, the Cohn siblings are following in the footsteps of their father, Arthur Cohn, a Swiss citizen and film producer who has won six Oscars for such classics as “The Garden of the Finzi-Continis,” “Black and White in Color” and “The Final Solution.”
Emanuel Cohn grew up in Switzerland, moved to Israel to study in a yeshiva, earned a master’s degree in philosophy at Bar-Ilan University and served in the Israeli army. Asked in a phone interview whether his father influenced his career choice and that of his sister, he said, “My father gave us a completely free choice of what we wanted to do.”
The Ma’aleh film school was founded 25 years ago and “is devoted to exploring the intersection between Judaism and modern life,” Neta Ariel, the school’s director, explained in an email.
Its 100 students include ultra-Orthodox, Modern Orthodox, and secular men and women, with 70 to 80 percent identifying as Orthodox.
“Because of the special character of the students and the environment of the school, the films produced by our students, regardless of subject, are clean in terms of language and visuals,” noted Susan Levin, assistant to the director.
The senior Cohn will also attend the screening in Beverly Hills, billed as “A Salute to Jerusalem,” which will also feature two other short movies. One, “Sister of Mine” by Oshrat Meirovitch, revolves around a young Orthodox woman who faces an arranged marriage with an “inferior” man.
“Wall, Crevice, Tear,” the third film, presents a picture of the Western Wall, but from the perspective of the women’s section.
The film presentations will be followed by a panel discussion with the Cohn siblings and Ariel.
On Feb. 9, Ma’aleh will present two short films, “White Mist” and “Getting Serious,” as part of the San Diego Jewish Film Festival.
Tickets to the event are $75 each, which includes a post-screening reception at the La Gondola restaurant in Beverly Hills. For tickets for the Feb. 5 festival, which starts at 7:30 p.m., call (323) 937-0980 or email email@example.com. Online reservations may be made by visiting