October 13, 2019

The Jewish Stars and Stories of Summer Cinema

“Fiddler: Miracle of Miracles” Photo courtsey of Roadside Attractions and Samuel Goldwyn Films

Documentaries, foreign films, superhero flicks and animated favorites for kids are on the summer movie menu.

‘Fiddler’ on Film
Fifty-five years after it first opened on Broadway, “Fiddler on the Roof” is more popular than ever, with a U.S. national tour, a hit Yiddish production in New York, and international incarnations playing all over the world. Now the iconic musical about shtetl life in czarist Russia is the subject of “Fiddler: Miracle of Miracles,” a documentary that tells its origin story but also connects it to relevant themes that resonate in 2019. 

“Yes, it’s about something so specific, Jews in the Pale of Settlement in 1904,” Valerie Thomas, who co-wrote and produced the film with director Max Lewkowicz, told the Journal. “But it’s also about families and traditions, female empowerment, displaced people and refugees, and that resonates particularly today.”  

Tracing its roots to Sholem Aleichem’s stories and its origins with songwriters Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock, director Jerome Robbins, producer Hal Prince and many former cast members, the film features new and archival interviews, animation and scenes from productions around the world and the 1971 film version to analyze the “Fiddler” phenomenon. 

“It has this enduring quality that never seems to stop,” Thomas said. “It continues to give meaning and joy and resonance to generations. I think we get to the heart of it in our film.” (Aug 9)

Barbara Rubin: A Woman Ahead of Her Time
Unlike her friends Allen Ginsberg, Bob Dylan, Andy Warhol and other male figures of the New York underground art scene in the 1960s, experimental filmmaker Barbara Rubin isn’t nearly as well known. Chuck Smith’s documentary “Barbara Rubin & the Exploding NY Underground” seeks to amend that, using archival footage, home movies, interviews and Rubin’s radical, often shocking avant-garde films to celebrate a woman who was ahead of her time. The story takes a surprising turn in the end, when the teenage rebel, in her quest for meaning and spiritual connection, turns to kabbalah and then ultra-Orthodox Judaism in the years before her death. (June 14)

“Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love” Photo courtesy of Roadside Attractions

Leonard Cohen’s Muse
The lifelong love story between writer/poet/singer/composer Leonard Cohen and Marianne Ihlen, the woman who became his muse, plays out in Nick Broomfield’s documentary “Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love.” Soul mates since they met on the Greek island of Hydra in 1960, they remained connected even when personal upheavals and relationships with others separated them. They died less than four months apart in 2016. (July 5)

Remembering Anton Yelchin
Best known as Chekov in the “Star Trek” movies, prolific actor Anton Yelchin made 69 film and TV appearances before he died in a freak accident in 2016 at the age of 27. Few people knew that the Leningrad-born son of Russian-Jewish ice skaters suffered from cystic fibrosis, but it didn’t stop him from carving out a lauded career that was cut short far too early. Through scenes from his films; his writing, music and photography; and interviews with his family, friends and co-stars, “Love, Antosha” paints a loving portrait of a unique young talent. (Aug. 2)

“Leona”; Photo courtsey of Hola Mexico Film Festival

Hola Mexico
Taking place May 31-June 8, the
Hola Mexico Film Festival will showcase films by three Jewish directors. Isaac Cherem’s “Leona” is a coming-of-age story about a young woman (Naian Gonzalez Norvind) who is torn between her desire for independence and honoring the wishes of her religious Jewish
family that disapproves of her non-Jewish boyfriend (June 3, 4). “If I Were You” is a comedy-fantasy from Alejandro Lubezki about a husband and wife who switch bodies and learn what it’s like to walk in the opposite sex’s shoes (June 6). In Sergio Umansky Brener’s drama “Eight Out of Ten,” a man whose son was murdered and a woman fighting for custody of her daughter forge a dangerous alliance as they seek justice and revenge. (June 2)

“Spider-Man: Far From Home”; Photo courtsey of Sony Pictures

Gyllenhaal Meets Spider-Man
Jake Gyllenhaal joins the Marvel Cinematic Universe in “Spider-Man: Far From Home,” playing Quentin Beck, aka Mysterio, a magician who becomes the young web-slinger’s (Tom Holland) ally in a story set in Europe. (July 2)

Animated Actors
This summer’s animated offerings feature familiar voices that you, if not your kids, will recognize. Nick Kroll, Jenny Slate and Lake Bell supply the voices in the “The Secret Life of Pets 2” (June 7); Seth Rogen and Billy Eichner team up as Pumbaa and Timon in “The Lion King” (July 19); Josh Gad and Rachel Bloom take wing in “The Angry Birds Movie 2” (Aug. 16); and Daniel Radcliffe and Adam Lambert take on the toy-inspired “Playmobil: The Movie” (Aug 3).