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Thread: San Francisco Jewish Film Festival 2018

  1. #1
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    San Francisco Jewish Film Festival 2018

    Ron Yassen's Crossroads


    San Francisco Jewish Film Festival.38 July 19-August 5, 2018

    About the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival
    The San Francisco Jewish Film Festival (SFJFF), presented by the Jewish Film Institute, is the largest and longest-running festival of its kind and a leader in the curation and presentation of new film and media exploring the complexities of Jewish life around the world. Presenting more than 65 films and 135 individual screenings, performances and events in five Bay Area cities (San Francisco, Palo Alto, San Rafael, Oakland, Albany), SFJFF attracts more than 40,000 filmgoers and industry professionals to its 18-day program.

    SFIFF website

    Planned for coverage are these titles:

    Blue Note Records: Beyond the Notes (Sophie Huber 2018)
    Budapest Noir (Eva Gardos 2017) preview
    Crossroads (Ron Yassen 2018)
    Mossad, The (Duki Dror 2018)
    Naila and the Uprising - X
    Playing God - X
    Prince and the Dybbuk, The ( Niewiera, Rosolowski 2017)
    Red Cow - X
    Sammy Davis, Jr.: I've Gotta Be Me - X
    Simon & Théodore - X
    To Dust - X
    Twinning Reaction
    Wajib (Annemarie Jacir 2017) SFIFF preview release 5 Aug.
    When Heroes Fly - X
    Winter Hunt - X

    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-21-2018 at 08:56 PM.

  2. #2
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    BUDAPEST NOIR (Éva Gárdos 2017)



    Sleuthing before the Nazis come

    Éva Gárdos' period thriller Budapest Noir is a bit timid at first. It hits its stride half way through when Zsigmond Gordon, the reporter who operates like a homicide detective, gets knocked out by the arm of a manikin wielded by Skublics, a photog who snaps prostitutes, for going too far - detecting connections high up. The starting point is a classy young dame on her uppers who charges dinner to Gordon, then turns up dead. She is a prostitute, two months pregnant, killed with a lethal kick in the stomach. But who is she, who did it, why? We will find out, and it will have something to do with Hungary's rapid movement toward antisemitism and fascism, and the fact that Fanny, AKA Judith, was in love with a boy who was decidedly Jewish. The book by Vilmos Kondor this movie is based on launched Gordon as the lead in a series of detective novels. He has an on-and-off girlfriend, Krisztina (Réka Tenki), a photographer.

    All the events mesh well with the historical moment in Hungarian life and politics, but what recommends this conventional, even rather derivative, noir, is the beauty of the film and its enjoyable decorative texture. It's saturated with browns, maroons, golds, pale sunlight. The black Thirties sedans slither and gleam. We learn again why a satin slip was the sexiest thing. Every room has its own memorable lamps. And an important character higher up, a coffee baron, lives in modernistic splendor, with cactuses like egrets, an impossibly large, but beautiful, Kandinsky, and a view of the city out the windows. Backing it all up is an award-winning period- and genre-appropriate score offering melodies right for each scene, maintaining a quiet energy, even when the punching-bag protagonist, played by Krisztián Kolovratnik, is so battered he requires Krisztina to hold him up.

    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-20-2018 at 09:31 AM.

  3. #3
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    Jazz's most famous label


    A big Blue Note hit: Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers: Moanin'

    Let's hear it for Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff. They're two Jewish guys, old friends, who fled from Nazi Berlin in the Thirties and started a little company in New York called Blue Note Records. I have loved jazz since I was a kid. So did Al and Frank. Only I just bought records. They made them, setting up a studio that became the most distinguished label in jazz. This is their story, and essential jazz history, old and new.

    A "blue note" is a shift in interval, coming up with a note whose sound's not quite what's expected, especially in jazz. And first and foremost, Blue Note Records put out jazz albums, the best. They gave jazz music - jazz artists - a place to grow and breathe; be itself; themselves. Blue Note was the rarest of things, a wedding of business and art that favored the art. They took chances, and trusted in their artists, put creativity and freedom first and let the musicians stretch out. They didn't know anything about making records. They didn't know much about jazz. They just loved it. So they made records and sold them.

    They took their lumps, not dictating the terms or content of recording sessions or records and willing to survive if a record didn't sell well. (Eventually some did sell, very well indeed.) It's hard to imagine what the rank and file of us would have, we who love jazz, from the late Forties up till the Eighties, were it not for Fred and Frank and the artistic freedom they provided to some of the greatest geniuses of jazz, to grow and experiment and set down their best ideas.

    This documentary by Sophie Huber is for and about Fred and Frank. And Frank in particular, snapping photos and husbanding the album-making, is omnipresent in the background of the story for the first three quarters of the story. But what makes this one of the best documentaries about jazz in a while, though, are those in the foreground, both in the dozens of black jazz artists who made the recordings that are a serous part of the legacy of John Coltrane, Thelonoius Monk, Bud Powell, Art Blakey, Clifford Brown, Miles Davis, Joe Henderson, Jackie McLean, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter - this lists goes on, and it's dazzling - and in present-day interviews and recording sessions.

    Blue Note began by recording boogie woogie piano masters Meade Lux Lewis and Albert Ammons. But they soon moved on to newer stuff. The creativity and personalities of the most advanced jazz artists, and the successive styles of bebop, hard bop, cool jazz, avant garde and free jazz (shortchanged in this film) and more mainstream stuff, are such a rich story that frankly it swamps the history of the label itself at times, and we don't really get to know the men who first ran it very well. But it hardly matters. I would throw the rest away just to hear Herbie Hancock tell the story about what he learned from Monk about open-mindedness when he made a horrible mistake and Monk saved it in a recording session. There are magic moments here, and they're from the present as well as the past.

    The film samples the recordings, narrating the record company's history. It shows archival films of the artists and - key to the beauty of the film and the style of the label - the LP album covers, using still photos by Frank Wolff and graphic art by Reid Miles with those distinctive color tints, the unique period "look" of the classic Fifties and Sixties Blue Note album covers essential to the label's image. There is nothing more iconic in the world of records. This film does not betray or cheapen this look but allows it to permeate the screen. Few historical films come supplied with a more distinctive and handsome set of images.

    Let's hear it also for producer and music historian Michael Cuscuna, the successor and heir to Francis Wolff and manager of his photographic and recording legacy. He is much heard from here. And let's hear it also for the legendary recording engineer Rudy Van Gelder, technical supervisor of thousands of recordings, specializing in jazz. He passed two years ago next month, but we hear from him here in a recent interview where he talks about how he started a studio for Blue Note in his parents' living room in New Jersey, then eventually built a cavernous, temple-like independent studio, still in New Jersey.

    Besides the voices of Shorter and Hancock, Lou Donaldson is an oldtimer, present nearly at the conception of Blue Note bop recordings but a musician of great longevity, is frequently heard from as a lively independent talking head. We also hear from time to time throughout from Don Was, current president of Blue Note Records - which has died and been reborn several times since the departure of Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff. And we hear from hip hop musician and producer Terrance Martin, a current force in the new Blue Note Records, who shows how much jazz, and Blue Note jazz in particular, is a part of hip hop music. I didn't know this, and have a little trouble believing it. But assuming Terrance Martin is right, it's another proof of the eternal youth of this amazing label. And the longevity of - some - jazz greats as well as the energy of today's jazz are shown when Hancock, a youthful seventy-something, and Wayne Shorter, a youthful eighty-something, join young Blue Note leader Robert Glasper and his group for a present-day recording session.

    It is a little astonishing to see the succession of great Fifties and Sixties Blue Note artists as they appear in brief films of them recording at the time, many of them whose looks were unknown to me. So many of them look nondescript. That's part of the story too. This is just creativity, not showmanship. The elegant matching suits of the Modern Jazz Quartet, Miles' flash and provocation, are for for show. But there is a part of jazz, which Blue Note quintessentially expresses, that lets us in on the creation, into the studio, the workshop, the very minds of the musicians doing their best and most original work.

    There is a 1997 film shown on TV, Blue Note - A Story of Modern Jazz, which I have not seen. Information about it is provided in Joe Bendel's review of Huber's film from Tribeca, which gives more names and facts.

    What gave Blue Note the edge over the also good jazz label Prestige Records, we learn, is simply this: Blue Note paid the musicians to rehearse. Hence they could develop new and more challenging work.

    Blue Note Records: Beyond the Notes, 86 mins., debuted at Tribeca Apr. 2018, also showed at the Sheffield doc fest. It was screened for this review as part of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, where it shows at the Castro Theater in San Francisco at 3:15 p.m. Sat. 21 July 2018 and at the Paramount in Oakland at 4:01 p.m. on Sun. 5 Aug.

    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-20-2018 at 04:07 PM.

  4. #4
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    There are many classic Blue Note albums on YouTube now. You can hear all of Thelonius Monk's recordings with the label here.
    Here is a recording that's not Blue Note, but a superb date, with great sound, from Monk in Japan in 1966. Nine minutes of sheer perfection. MONK IN TOKYO. (CBS Redords 1973 release.)
    Thelonious Monk – piano
    Charlie Rouse - tenor saxophone
    Butch Warren – bass
    Frankie Dunlop – drums
    What a team!
    If you cue in "Monk in Tokyo," you can get other cuts from the album on YOuTube.

    See here Wikipedia Monk in Tokyo.

    The film notes, the other labels would not record Monk.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-20-2018 at 12:07 AM.

  5. #5
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    CROSSROADS (Ron Yassen 2018)



    Coming from behind

    Sports documentary filmmaker Ron Yassen found a fun subject in Crossroads. In fact he himself is doing something here somewhat like Bobby Selkin. Bobby was a successful Jewish ophthalmologist bored with his repetitious professional routine performing LASIK surgeries. He found a highly rewarding and soul-satisfying new thing at Charlotte Secondary School. The 200-student North Carolina charter school, where his daughter happened to be a student, is mostly a haven for boys whose personal and academic problems have led them to bomb out at regular larger schools. At Charlotte Secondary, Bobby coaches some of them in lacrosse, and saves them and himself. Yassen was a very successful and busy sports filmmaker. But here, he finds something that's not commercial or mass appeal but heartwarming and fun, a personal satisfaction.

    Lacrosse was originally a Native American game but it's become very much something preppy white boys do, especially in Maryland. The American Lacrosse Association however, makes it a practice, we learn to provide free equipment to needier schools to promote the game. They supplied such supplies to Charlotte Secondary, and at the request of Teddy Walker, head of athletics, relayed by Bobby Selkin's wife, Bobby came to coach the sport. The program begins in 2015, more as a lacrosse club, not a team. The boys he coached have never played lacrosse. But Bobby soon sees that he has some talent on his hands. And in a couple of years of hard, continual work, the lacrosse team at Charlotte Secondary that Bobby Selkin built beat teams made up of players who had been brought up in lacrosse all their lives. This is a coming-from-behind sports success story, and also the story of a burnt-out ophthalmologist who found a new love and a new family.

    This documentary is very similar in subject to Suzannah Herbert's Wrestle (SFIFF 2018), and invites comparison with it. Wrestle concerns a driven, motivated young white coach at a high school in Alabama. The team becomes the state champions. This achievement not only gets many of the young players from poor black backgrounds into colleges. It very nearly saves the school, which is going under and about to be closed.

    Bobby Selkin need not save the Charlotte Secondary School. But he is giving his players a motivation at school and a springboard to college admission. The handful of key players the film follows all get into college with scholarships. This is not without a struggle. They come from deep poverty, and their early years have left them with inner pain or other handicaps.

    Crossroads has some scenes of parents. We get to know the personalities of key players, handsome and charismatic as they are, and capable of great end-of-game speeches to teammates. But we do not delve into the athletes' family lives quite as Wrestle does. Lacrosse isn't as clear or dramatic a sport to watch as wrestling. On the other hand, the coach-team relationship here is more loving and intense. In Crossroads Bobby brings the players into his big new house and treats them just like family. He loves them, and he says so. The film shows this. Bobby's success with the boys is impressive, and so is his passion.

    After the five original key players graduate, they leave a big void. Bobby promotes the best three remaining players to captain status, but they seem unable to provide strong leadership, and in the first few games, the Charlotte Secondary lacrosse team is a loser. Bobby steps in with strong speeches, and the team has a long string of wins. Sadly, Teddy Walker, the head of athletics who created the lacrosse program, is suddenly diagnosed with Stage Four pancreatic cancer. The rest of the games are dedicated to him. There is a visit by the team to an emaciated Mr. Walker to give him the winning ball. Ultimately he doesn't make it, and the film is dedicated to him.

    The final game is not a win, but a loss to Cox Mill, the best team, 6-2. But this is Cox Mill's weakest score, so for Bobby it's a victory. It's clear that this film is about the boys and Bobby Selkin. We see what rewards Bobby reaps in fathering these boys, creating a successful team, and finding a new passion. Crossroads is a heartwarming and enjoyable little film.

    Crossroads, 76 mins., debuted Apr. 2018 at Tribeca, also playing at other festivals. An ESPN Films release. Also playing as part of the Tribeca/ESPN Sports Film Festival, and at Nashville. It was screened for this review as part of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, playing at CineArts, Palo Alto Sat. 21 Jul. at 4:15 p.m.; at the Castro Theater, San Francisco, Sat. 28 Jul. at 4:00 p.m.; at the Albany Twin, Albany, Sun. 29 Jul. at 4:45 p.m.; and at San Rafael, Sun. 5 Aug. at 2:05 p.m.

    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-20-2018 at 06:34 PM.

  6. #6
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    THE MOSSAD (Duki Dror 2018)


    An ugly business

    There have been several boldly revealing Israeli documentaries, namely The Gatekeepers (NYFF) and The Law in These Parts (SFIFF). There was also The Lab (SFJFF), an eye-opening film about Israeli's huge arms production and sales. This one is about Israel intelligence. Like those others, it relies on testimony by retired persons, in this case former operatives of the Mossad, the spy organization. Again this is mostly talking heads (with some archival footage and suggestive imagery), but the filmmakers get information that for a mainstream documentary may be new.

    This film seems as devious as its subjects because it keeps changing names. For its German TV release, it was called Inside Mossad - Israels Agenten erzählen. For French release, it was titled Mossad: des agents israéliens parlent. The timid title for the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival presentation is The Mossad. On IMDb it's called Mossad: Imperfect Spies - the distributor's English title. So what is its direction? Is it an exposé, or is it a puff piece? Or is it just coldly neutral? More a puff piece, I fear. It's revelations are not that. This is a film for Arte, to be shown on German and French TV, and rather routine. The material may be intriguing to the uninformed, but unlike The Gatekeepers and The Law in These Parts, the interviewees are not revealing anything new. Still, since the Mossad has always been officially "sealed off from the media," this participation in a film by many of its veterans does mark a change.

    Ram Ben Barak, Deputy Director, the first to appear, is an engaging presence, a fit fellow of a certain age, with a ready smile. "Let's put it this way," he says. "The image isn't far from reality. And sometimes reality is stranger than fiction. . . And with that" (that smile) "I've contributed to the image." For ancient history so to speak, the film talks to 91-year-old Rafi Eitan, head of Mossad in its first 30 years. He talks about catching and killing a double agent; personally capturing Adolf Eichman in Argentina, and recruiting ex-Nazi Otto Skorzeny, who'd escaped to Spain, then helped train the Egyptian army, then betrayed his German colleagues in Egypt in return for security.

    Zvi Zamir was another Mossad director. He is known for directing the operation "Wrath of God" to enact revenge against the Palestinian guerrillas who captured the Israeli Munich Olympics hostages. The introduction of this is rather propagandistic in tone, and Zamir's extreme displeasure at how the Germans handled the affair, allowing the hostages to get killed, has frequently been expressed before. The revelations of Egyptian 1973 war plans by Nasser's son-in-law Ashraf Marwan, described here by several retired Mossad officers, are also, of course, not news. But this allows for some general remarks about relations between a "handler" and his "asset" in intelligence-gathering.

    An interesting facet of the film is Zvi Zamir's description of his delicate relationship with "The Saint," Ashraf Marwan, their mutual respect, and his real sorrow that Israel betrayed this key asset and allowed him to be killed in London.

    Titillating spy stuff comes with the story of "Tamar," a female agent sent to gather intelligence in Cairo. She is not seen full-face, and many photos of her at the time are shown, but with her and her "partner's" eyes masked. Silly, perhaps; but interesting to learn that after she and her assigned "partner" became a real couple, her commander took steps, unspecified, to break them up that made her "very, very angry." Something for a spy novel.

    The Periphery Doctrine in Israel intelligence is a policy of establishing a network of sympathetic contacts "to break through the ring of hostile countries surrounding Israel." This in effect has led to Israel fomenting rebellion and unrest all over Africa and the Middle East; but they also defended the defenseless, as in South Sudan. This was military activity, not intelligence or counterterrorism. Mossad was great friends with the Shah of Iran and his secret police, the dreaded Savak; "The crowned cannibals" were just fine for them. An even more ugly moment is the 1982 war in Lebanon and the Sabra and Shatila massacres of Palestinians aided and abetted by the IDF and the Mossad. And the chief Mossad operative in Lebanon, in his nice leather jacket, is dismissive, literally shrugging his shoulders about Sabra and Shatila. Here, the filmmakers have gotten something tasty.

    Mossad (and intelligence organizations in general) look rosier when the film arrives at the present day troubles with post-Khomeini Iran. (Incidentally Mossad decided not assassinating Khomeini was best, though some of its members regret this decision.) President Netanyahu wanted to bomb the Iran nuclear plants; Mossad's then leader declared tis a "harebrained" idea. Taking out Iran's nuclear scientists and facilities stealthily was a better plan. What about an international treaty to curb Iran's nuclear arming? Not in the Mossad playbook. Mossad is all about war. It's just not overt war. But as Ram Ben Barak, Deputy Director, the handsome, urbane speaker who bookends the film, declares, intelligence's "unconventional" war is less costly, and far preferable, to the conventional kind. And he realizes in his capacity he has wielded great power in the world. Can he give examples? Well - that smile again - actually, no, he can't.

    In a promotion for this film Duki Dror has declared, in English (all the film is in Hebrew) that "Mossad" is the most known Israeli word after"shalom." "Shalom," he says, and then "Mossad," and "then maybe 'fellafel.'" Sorry, Fellafel is an Arab, not Israeli, word, Mr. Dror.

    The Mossad: Imperfect Spies, 90 mins., debuted on TV from Germany 24 Apr. 2018. It will be available for streaming on Netflix in Jan. 2019. It was screened for this review as part of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, where it shows on Tues., 24 July at CitiArts, Palo Alto; Thurs. 26 July at the Castro, San Francisco, at 1:15 p.m.; and Fri., 27 July at Albany Twin, Albany at 3:50 p.m.

    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-21-2018 at 09:39 AM.

  7. #7
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    THE PRINCE AND THE DYBBUK (Elwira Niewiera, Piotr Rosolowski 2017)



    A self-made man

    Exploring the past of a man without a past is wonderful sport for documentarians. They invent as much as they discover. Some viewers may be frustrated with the lack of concrete achievements, the CV. Or one may be enchanted, and then feel the experience slip away. Niewiera and Rosolowski's documentary is an exploration and a visual poem. It's enchanting and dreamy, despite continually returning to earth. Their film is notable for its free, artistic use of archival footage, almost creating a feature film out of their inspired patchworks. They have also done some tremendous sleuthing work at far-flung locations from Ukraine to Rome to Tel Aviv.

    Perusing online biographies of Michał Waszyński, or Michael, or Mischa or Moshe Waks (his given name), or, better, a blog in Polish summarizing a 2008 biography by Samuel Blumenfield, one realizes this film has been rather vague about some of the basic facts about this rather strange man. To make them clear will falsify the film, but we may have to. The fact is that he does have a CV, a very detailed one. It's just his inner life that is a mystery. And he did hide his original identity. But perhaps his inner life isn't such a mystery either, given his extensive diaries, quoted from throughout this film. It's just that he was a mystery to the people who knew him.

    Begin with the diaries of Michał Waszyński, apparently in Yiddish, though this is not remarked upon. It is best to leave his past behind, he says. But if he kept a diary in Yiddish, since he fled early from his native Kowel, "on the far borders of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth" (Polish blog), where he was born on September 29, 1904, he always carried his past with him, haunting him, even as he hid it, like a dybbuk, possessing him. Moshe Waks was the son of a blacksmith and poultry trader and a "brilliant student of the yeshiva, when he was expelled from the Talmudic studies center for a heresy. Shortly thereafter, in 1919, he left his family home and left Kowel forever[;] he was only 16 at the time."

    The filmmakers take us to a group of Waks family members in Tel Aviv, speaking heavily accented English. He was the black sheep, they say. Yes, well, he was heretical, he was gay, he was brilliant, and he ran away. And he changed his name, and became a Catholic, and wound up in Rome making movies, married to a wealthy old Italian countess (actually the daughter of an American millionaire, not mentioned here) , or just her companion - someone says he never married. But he inherited her money and palatial digs. He called himself a prince. Not a good member of the Waks family at all, but someone who made his identity one of his greatest creations. ("La vita come opera d'arte".)

    There are six years that are a blank, but at 22 Waszyński, as he now called himself, popped up in Warsaw making movies, and the filmmakers have found some publicity, from 1937: "Previously known for his melodrammatic films and quickly thrown-together comedies, he is shooting a new film...something special, a mystical, Jewish drama, The Dybbuk" (from the play by Szymon An-ski). Goebbels saw this film and had it quashed, declaring (switch to German) "The Jewish race is the most dangerous on the globe." The film (Waszyński's most famous?) features dreamy-handsome young men in payot. The makers of this documentary believe, or hint, that their subject was possessed by the "dybbuk," the spirit of a lost love, probably a boy he longed for at the yeshiva, mentioned in his diaries, who did not return his feelings. Amazingly enough, the filmmakers seem to have found a film of people watching the film. The excerpts of it that we see suggest a masterpiece, containing imagery doubtless much influenced by the silent German expressionist masterpieces.

    Comes the war, and the Waks family of Kowel escaped or was killed. The Jews of Kowel took refuge or were herded into the largest synagogue. It still stands, a handsome building, and is a clothing factory. Brilliantly, the filmmakers muse over rows of dark suit jackets in the factory as we hear witnesses of the sacrifice of lives here.

    But Waszyński was long gone. In the war, he turns up in the Russian-Polish army of General Anders, as a filmmaker. And we meet two sprightly old veterans of the same army who knew him, reading military reports on his intelligence, creativity, but lack of leadership. These two old gents are one of the best moments of the film. They are thoroughly forgiving of their comrade's later affectations, especially of his shacking up with a rich old countess and inheriting all her money. Good for him, they say! They don't mention that he was a Jew and a homosexual. It does not concern them. Or he hid it successfully.

    Anders'Army was a way that many Jews got to Palestine, but the film doesn't mention this. We've been hearing about how splendidly "The Polish count," "il conte polaco," lived in Rome. Dark films of a Rolls tooling through Rome and words from Waszyński's former chauffeur hint at it, and Italian friends who speak of how elegant he always was, surely could have been a prince. At a later more climactic moment the chauffeur, now perhaps a little too portly to get behind the wheel even of a Rolls, describes drives around from cinema to cinema or cafe to cafe of Rome with his boss chanting "cerchiamo il dybbuk, cerchiamo il dybbuk" (we're searching for the dybbuk, searching for the dybbuk). It is almost too made, too good to be true.

    But go back to just after the war, and we see excerpts from our subject's impossibly beautiful 1944 black and white documentary short Capture of Monte Cassino, its sad, haunting images. And then later, the 1948 Unknown Men of San Marino - a sequence of a (shell-shocked?) man who can't remember who he is, and takes on an aristocratic identity.

    At the end, while Waszyński was living an impossibly glamorous life, consorting with Sophia Loren, Orson Welles, and many others, he participated in the making of even grander films like The Barefoot Contessa (with Ava Gardner and Humphrey Bogart), and Cleopatra. Waszyński was working with Joseph L. Mankiewicz. His daughter questions his rather deaf widow. No, "Mike" (as he was now) didn't marry, the widow says. He had a boyfriend. But no, he didn't "sashay around." We slide to Spain, with James Mason narrating a "making of" about the ambitious sets for The Fall of the Roman Empire. The most extraordinary and expensive yet. This was, we realize, the Sixties, the time of the most grandiose movie productions in many decades. And "Mike" was there, in charge of them. All he asked was no one should tell when he peeked in the young men's dressing rooms.

    Another coup of the filmmakers: showing where the sets for the Roman Forum used to be: all "bosque" now, wooded, bushes, grass - the witnesses are speaking Spanish now. There's no explanation, but "Mike" has moved to Spain, where a lot of these super-duper productions were made, and where he died, of a heart attack, as if reaching over to gather a dropped napkin, at one of his "famous dinner parties." A nice way to go.

    But there's a footnote: a bony old man, of uncertain age, Albin Ossowski, speaking Polish, no doubt a relic of Waszyński's Warsaw film director days. After all, didn't he make at least forty of those "melodramatic films and quickly thrown-together comedies" before that quickly-skipped-over phase of his life was over? Ossowski was handsome, then, he says, and Waszyński liked to go around with him, and put his hand on his knee from time to time. But he never found the dybbuk.

    The Prince and the Dybbuk/Ksiaze i dybuk, 82 mins., debuted at Venice Sept. 2017 in the Classics section, winning a documentary prize; also at the NYJFF Jan. 2018; at Waltham, Vienna, Amsterdam and other fests icluding the SFJFF, as part of which it was screened for this review. Produced by Poland’s Film Art Production, Germany’s Kundschafter Filmproduktion and Zero One Film. Coming in the Viennale later this year. At the SFJFF showtimes are: on Sun., 22 July at 2:05 p.m. at the Castro, San Francisco, and on Sat. 4 Aug. at 2:00 p.m. at the Piedmont Theater in Oakland.

    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-22-2018 at 01:23 AM.

  8. #8
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    THE TWINNING REACTION (Lori Shinseki 2017)



    Such knowledge

    As Daniel Engber says in a review for Slate,"Three Identical Strangers Has a Long-Lost Twin" - another film that covers the same ground. This "twin" is The Twining Reaction. Both films are documentaries about the misguided - to put it politely - study set up by Viola Bernard and Peter Neubauer, that was supplied with infants by Louise Wise Services, twins, and in one case triplets, who were separated at birth and put up for adoption, then studied, without the twins (or triplets) or their adoptive parents knowing they had identical siblings. Recently Tim Wardle's Three Identical Strangers was released and has gotten a lot of publicity. It trns out Wardle's film has a "twin," started by Lou Shinseki at about the same time, with less funding, a shorter film (55 minutes instead of 96), finished and released a year earlier than Three Identical Strangers' January 2018 Sundance debut.

    Wardle's film of course focuses on the dramatic and highly publicized story of the three triplets who discovered each other in 1980 at the age of nineteen. Shinseki's goes over that story too. It also, like Wardle, goes to Michigan to interview Lawrence Perlman, a researcher with the Bernard and Neubauer twin study for a year, who has revealed what was kept secret and so enabled two twins, Doug Rausch and Howard Burack, followed by Shinseki, who met in their thirties, to know they were in the study. The Slate review goes over how "uncannily" the two films "twin" each other, including the same shots of the "twin study" specialist and New Yorker Writer Lawrence Wright's files, and so on.

    Shinseki's film doesn't play so dramatically with the triplets story. It cuts straight to the chase: there was this study in 1960 that split up twins in cooperation with the Louise Wise Jewish adoption agency in New York for this study that it didn't tell the subject or the adoptive parents about. I can't find any better term than the one used by one of the triplets: it was "some Nazi shit."

    "The twinning reaction" is a unique bonding process that is believed to occur between twins early in life. Neubauer claimed that the twins in the study were separated before that process had occurred, so the separation would not be painful. Viola Bernard claimed that raising twins separately had benefits for the twins. Shinseki's film points out that neither claim was true. One of the triplets committed suicide. Shinseki's film finds a female twin who committed suicide. Another female twin is found, who finds her identical sibling (who refuses to be filmed).

    Other identical siblings in the study, including Howard, and the triplets, turned out to have had emotional problems that suggest a sense of frustration and loss, a vague, indefinable awareness that something was missing from their lives - their identical sibling, whose existence had been hidden from them, but which they remember from infancy.

    No one interested in this shocking, absorbing story would want to miss the excitement of Three Identical Strangers. If the topic interests you, you will want to see both films. Shinseki's shorter film in some ways presents the issues more clearly. It also tells more about lawyers used by Doug and Howard to try to get access to their files from the study that were the sealed and deposited at Yale and Colombia.

    Doug and Howard's recent meeting with Lawrence Perlman is revealing. The data was rich, but the study was a mess, Perlman informs us. Bernard and Neubauer did not know what they were doing - even though there turns out to be analysis done on their data into the Nineties. Perlman has records showing there were ten twins - five sets in the study (that doesn't count the triplets - and there must have been others?). Pearlman admits he has now come to see better - forty years later - how deeply mistaken the study was. He got out of it, after a year, realizing it was too badly conducted to be fruitful for his doctoral work. This is a final irony the subjects are troubled by. Nothing wold have justified this traumatic, damaging human experimentation - this "Nazi sit" - without the subjects' or their adoptive families' consent. But this work was fruitless. Data was collected but nothing was concluded, nothing was learned.

    An interview by Shinseki with the widow of Eddy, the triplet who committed suicide, is particularly revealing: Eddy could not get over the sense of those lost eighteen years. As happy as the reunion of the triplets was, for Eddy the realization of those lost years was "devastating." "He could not get over it." He committed suicide at 34, fifteen years after discovering his identical siblings. This adds to the trauma for the remaining two triplets.

    Doug and Howard got access to more data from the secret twin study about themselves. They were together six months before they were separated - sharing a crib in foster care; so were other twins. The more we, and the subjects, learn about the details of the study, the more disturbing it is. Three of the study twins remain separated and unknown to each other; and an unknown number of other twins were separated by the Louise Wise agency, not in the study.

    The Twinning Reaction, 55 mins., "played on the festival circuit from early 2017" (Slate), including Rochester and Atlanta; it is not listed on IMDb. Screened for this review as part of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival. Shown at 3:25 Tues. 24 Jul. 2018 at CineArts, Palo Alto: at 2:15 Fri., 3 Aug., at Piedmont Theater, Oakland.

    An ABC TV feature tells more about Shinseki's explorations of the story.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-25-2018 at 10:56 AM.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area

    WINTER HUNT/WINTERJAGD (Astrid Schult 2017)


    This is a contemporary German thriller that just happens to refer to WWII crimes against the Jews.
    On a cold, wintry night, Lena shows up on the doorstep of the Rossberg family mansion. She claims her car has broken down, but her arrival is intentional. Lena is in pursuit of Anselm Rossberg, an aged Auschwitz guard who lives with his daughter, Maria. Anselm and Maria both deny Anselm's past, but Lena is determined to get him to confess, even as her own weapon is turned on her and she is forced into a moral dilemma.
    -IMDb summary.
    A closet drama, with a couple of new twists involving a painting. Perhaps the most interesting thing is that the actor who plays the 90-year-old ex-Nazi is Michael Degen, a German Jew who survived the war in Berlin hiding with his mother while his father was sent to the camps and died. He's had quite a career and life. A handsome old man, who somewhat resembles Scorsese - but without the glasses. Another interesting touch: Maria is played by Degen's own daughter, Elizabeth Degen. Carolyn Genzkow is suitably raw and intense as Lena.

    Winter Hunt/Winterjagr, 78 mins., was shown on German television 2 Oct. 2017/ Screened for this review as part of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival. Showtmes:
    Thurs. 26 Jul. at 8:55 p.m. at the Castro Theater in San Francisco, Sat. 4 Aug. at the Piedmont Theater in Oakland, and Sun. 5 Aug. at 6:25 p.m., San Rafael.

    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-25-2018 at 04:47 PM.


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