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Thread: San Francisco Jewish Film Festival 2022

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    A REEL WAR: SHALAL (Karnit Mandel 2021)

    KARNIT MANDEL: A REEL WAR: SHALAL (2021)


    ARCHIVAL FOOTAGE STILL OF PRE-1948 PALESTINIAN STUDENT FROM A REEL WAR: SHALAL

    Old film footage of Palestinians confiscated by Israelis represents stolen history and an attempt to erase memory

    Another short documentary investigation film by a younger generation Israeli, Karnit Mandel, who made and stars in this film, who as a researcher in Israeli historical film files comes upon material different from the rosy picture of the establishment of the State of Israel that they received growing up. This time it is a collection of Palestinian films going back to before the State of Israel and during the time when villages were invaded and people driven out, and the refugee camps of Gaza began. Karnit interviews numerous people, 90% Jewish, inquiring about this material, and the impression is that there is a bigger file with the IDF, شلل "shalal" or confiscated material.

    She calls the woman in charge of the IDF, the Israeli army, film files at an IDF office who plays hard to get and when finally reached claims it's an "urban myth" that they have a file of Palestinian films seized by the IDF, it was destroyed, it never existed, whatever.

    One thing that stings is that one Israeli old-timer says, "At this time, you know, there were no Palestinians; the word was invented after 1964," or words to that effect. And the oldest Israeli "historian," is a man who compiled the standard photo book found "in every home" about the establishment of the State of Israel, who dodges the question by Karnit about his selecting photos for propaganda purposes. He says he didn't edit out Arabs because there were none, or hardly any, they were a small minority. No need.

    Karnit Mandel is diligent, but she has questions, not answers, to present here. And the last word comes from Dr. Mustapha Kabha, Head of Middle Eastern Studies at Open University, says these Palestinian films that are hidden and confiscated rob the Palestinians of their identity, and if they don't want to return them, they should make them public. He asks how Israel can want to steal a history from a people after only 70 years when they pride themselves on remembering their own history for, well, several thousand years. "No attempt to erase a layer of memory ever succeeds," he concludes.

    Another more final word is allowed former state archivist Jacob Lozowick, who feels no archive should be kept hidden beyond a certain period, certainly not after 70 years, and says he resigned because the forces for the status quo are stronger than "one lone archivist."

    A Reel War: Shalal, 55 mins., in Hebrew, English, and Arabic, was screened for this review as part of the 2022 San Francisco Jewish Film Festival.

    SFJFF SHOWTIMES:
    Friday July 29, 2022
    1:00 p.m.
    Albany Twin
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-28-2022 at 06:54 PM.

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    AND I WAS THERE (Eran Paz 2020)

    ERAN PAZ: AND I WAS THERE (2020)


    POSTER FOR AND I WAS THERE SHOWS PAZ IN 2002

    Through footage he shot with video camera, an Israeli reexamines participating in house invasions as a soldier 20 years ago

    Eighteen years later, Eran Paz finds a box of videotapes with footage he took of his squad in the West Bank during Operation Defensive Shield in 2002 when he was doing military service, and is horrified at the callousness of their behavior. Viewers may remember the 2008 (NYFF) film Waltz with Bashir about an Israeli solider who has difficulty remembering his part in a 1982 massacre.

    This meandering film depicts Eran Paz (which in Hebrew means "gold," in Spanish of course "peace") after he finds the tapes. He goes to a place where specialists can play them and gets them digitalized, and a still image made of a Palestinian family of a dozen or more crowded by his unit into a single room in their house after breaking into it using a large axe. On such occasions they often took the adult men out, he says.

    Paz is an artist and sets out to paint this crowded scene. He also reunites with some fellow soldiers and paints their portraits, interviewing them after showing them the tapes (or excerpts from them) on his smartphone. The first fellow unit member says that time was "fun" and an "adventure" (using the English word). He says he doesn't remember why they were there. Another fellow soldier says he now is "working with the Bedouin," which he thinks will be good for his daughter. He hopes he will be able to show Paz's footage to his children. He says he knows quite well why they were there, serving as a basic combat unit, and recalls that there were several serious casualties.

    As other footage from the old films appears, the dialogue of the men on tape shows they regard basically all the Palestinians they encounter, the males particularly, as "f-ing terrorists," and a pregnant woman big with child as about to give birth to a "f-ing terrorist," and so one wonders, aloud why they are being "nice" to her by offering her water. They are part of a unit occupying the Palestinian town of Tulkarm.

    At another moment we see footage of the unit hungrily eating while reports of casualties and calls for a doctor come over their radio. A third, big dark haired fellow vet Paz speaks to seems to have no memory about and no ability to articulate what happened. "It was, like, boom," he says. Maybe it's repressed, he admits.

    A notable sequence is of the rave, in a room draped all around with ornate flowing pink floor-to-ceiling curtains. Two men looking into a big round mirror, and one says: "This is your photographer (Paz). And it may be the last time you see him alive, because he has taken a serious amount of LSD." The Palestinian family has been locked up in the next room. Someone says to lower the sound in case an officer comes, but the wildness continues. Later they speak, now, of being in a trance-like state at this time, an escape from the reality of where they are and what they are doing. One ex-soldier says he hated going into the houses. Why they did this, what was going on overall during this "operation" is never mentioned in Paz's film.

    As the present time interviews, as Paz paints several fellow soldiers' portraits, intercutting these with sometimes very logically connected excerpts from the old footage, he begins to work on the idea of going back to a family they invaded and apologize to them. But he doesn't know Arabic (probably all Arabic know "sorry," but perhaps he doesn't know that. He looks up how to say it and finds "ana asifan" on Google.

    Despite the misgivings of his wife and her concern for their three young children Paz goes to see the man in the foreground of the picture of the many people whose house his unit invaded. The house has been located and the man contacted. Paz goes to see the man with another man, whose face we are not allowed to see, understandably given on the way we see a sign that declares in Hebrew, Arabic, and English that they are entering territory belonging to the Palestinian Authority and to continue is "forbidden, dangerous, and illegal" for Israelis to come here.

    The meeting is awkward, but moving. Paz speaks little English, and the man he visits may understand it but does not speak it, only Arabic; also, Paz, perhaps not the mensch he would like to be, lacks the courage at this moment to say exactly who he is, and only apologizes later on the phone. Here, he offers a gift of food, and they eat lunch together, with large spoons. The neighborhood is very crowded and poor. This is the same house, they see the same room, Paz shows the man the same photo. On the phone later, the man says, in Arabic, "I forgive you, I forgive you." Pretty elemental, powerful stuff. All of this is good raw material, some of it shocking and devastating in different ways. But there could be more perspective. Perhaps, as in Ari Folman's more detached and contemplative Waltz with Bachir, the years since the fighting by these then very young Israeli soldiers have been a time of forgetting, not contemplation. Jewish Film Review asks whether, "in the absence of anything else, might some view [Paz's] apology as hollow and his film uncomfortably self serving?" Certainly, this is only a beginning.

    His Linkedin entry describes Eran Paz as "An award-winning documentary cinematographer with an open, wild and adventurous mind." It says he was "Awarded best director in the Jerusalem Festival for [his] film Jeremiah, and received praise and awards from around the world for [his] film And I Was There which aired on 'Yes'."

    And I Was There,64 mins., Jan. 13, 2020 on yes docu at Dokaviv and was screened for this review as part of the 2022 San Francisco Jewish Film Festival.

    SHOWTIMES SFJFF:
    Monday August 1, 2022
    12:01 a.m.
    JFI Digital Screening Room




    ERAN PAZ, RECENT PHOTO
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-22-2022 at 05:23 PM.

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    KARAOKE (Moshe Rosenthal 2022)

    MOSHE ROSENTHAL: KARAOKE (2022)


    SASSON GABAY, RITA SHUKRUN IN KARAOKE

    Life is unfair, but you get second chances

    The setting of Karaoke is a beautiful apartment building in Tel Aviv, which affords views of other similar buildings around it that shimmer around it at night. The glass lobby is filled with sleek, lush looking plants, elegant but not too ostentatious. The couple in question, Meir and Tova, whose lives need an adrenalin rush, live in the same building as the glamorous Itzik; he's just higher up.

    Really, is karaoke the medium of the ultimate mature swinger, a man with a penthouse apartment in a beautiful Tel Aviv apartment house, and a silver Maserati? Well, Israel is a sheltered (or more accurately barricaded) little country. . . But this oddity does not detract from the perception of Moshe Rosenthal's memorable feature debut. And ultimately we learn about the shallowness of this man's world, the emptiness of its glamour.

    It's not fair, either: Lior Ashkenazi, the very well known actor who plays Izik is 53, and Sasson Gabay, who plays Meir, is 21 years older. Who cannot seem cooler and more of a swinger when they're that much younger, even if in their fifties? But they, like Rita Shukrun's Tova, are interesting to watch. We drink them in, their wrinkles and their edge. We study those faces to see what's there.

    Despite some writers' assessment that Gabay comes off as a meek loser, this is not true. There's a dry sarcasm about him from the first. Confidence when he explains to his wife simply that a Maserati is "auto tova," "a nice car." He's not that impressed. Deep down, he's a mensch. But he has to find his inner mensch, which he does. That is the story of this film. It's about confidence. Not letting them get to you. It takes a while. True, Meir is seduced by Itzik's looks, his flash, his apparent charisma. But then Meir finds out he's been foolish. Itzik is just facade, and worse than that, he uses people, and undermines them, spoiling Tova's sexy Greek dancing that she's done just for him, suggesting Meir's life is paltry compared to his, as if a promoter is more important than a teacher.

    Karoake is a simple, seemingly superficial film; there many other Israeli films whose social and psychological portraiture is richer than this. Nonetheless Rosenthal gets at self-worth in a penetrating way. This is like one of Hemingway's short stories where a man risks all to prove himself. There are such moments of truth. And they make wonderful, scintillating drama. I'd say Karaoke punches above it's apparent weight - but scores.

    Karaoke, 103 mins., debuted at Tribeca Jun. 15, 2022. It will show at Jerusalem in July and was screened for this review at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival where it was the opening night film, Jul. 21, 2022.

    SHOWTIMES SFJFF:
    Thursday July 21, 2022
    6:30 p.m.
    Castro Theatre
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-22-2022 at 04:25 PM.

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    GROSSMAN (Adi Arbel 2021)

    ADI ARBl: GROSSMAN (2021)



    A prominent Israeli writer's life reviewed

    The well-known Israeli writer David Grossman, now 68, is the star of this short documentary film about himself by filmmaker Adi Abel. Grossman is the author of See Under Love (1989), about the Holocaust, whose composition is described here. His 1991 A Book of Intimate Grammar is about a boy age age 11-15 growing up in a poor part of Jerusalem. A 1994 change of pace, a much more lighthearted coming of age tale, was Grossman's The Zigzag Kid, which won prizes in Italy. His fame spread when his 2017 novel about a repellant standup comic A Horse Walks Into a Bar won the International Man Booker prize, along with his frequent English translator, Jessica Cohen; in 2018 he received Israel's highest literary award. Another notable Grossman novel, Falling Out of Time, (2014) was a response to the death of his son Uri while serving in the Israeli military. There are a dozen fiction books in all, and five works of nonfiction. Four Israeli film adaptations have been made from Grossman novels. The method of this film is straightforward, with archival footage and plenty of narration drawn from multiple interviews with the author in which he talks about his life and work.

    Grossman is first introduced when he recently met with a group of his translators in Croatia. His work has been translated into more than 40 languages. Addressing the camera later, he tells how as a child, not an ordinary boy (what writer is?), he was already a compulsive, fluent spinner of tales, and in recognition of this, once his teacher set him down in the schoolyard and said, "Tell a story." His parents and grandparents were of humble working class status. His father was a bus driver but later a librarian who brought him home books, including the stories of Sholom Aleichem, which he devoured. He developed a connection with Israeli radio early, going there even as a boy to act in plays, and later he got a regular job there. His army service was with intelligence, involving listening from high places. It was then that he met Michal, his wife of fifty years, whom we see then and hear from now. Grossman talks about how his obsessive work when writing must be difficult for family, since he describes it as like an illness that possesses him.

    In the middle of the film's 54 minutes he talks about the occupied territories and himself, and he is glimpsed frequently visiting them, using his knowledge of Arabic to talk to Palestinians. His book The Yellow Wind (1987) was the result. Its pro-Palestinian views caused about 98% of the staff of the state radio to turn against him and for him to be fired from the Voice of Israel where he had worked for many years. He says he thinks this situation, the injustice of the status of Palestinians, can't continue. But it seems that an Israeli to go on living as he has, to be the writer he has been, he has generally had to set this issue to one side.

    Grossman's two sons served in the military, as Israeli citizens usually must. He wrote a 2008 novel To the End of the Land about how Israeli parents suffer when their children are serving. We see footage of both sons, Yonatan and the younger, Uri, even a stunningly intelligent dialog with them as young children when they ask him searching philosophical questions. When Yonatan returns from military service, Uri signs up for a tank unit, where he dies, in 2006, in a fierce battle with forces of Hezbollah.

    Grossman tells us the story of the writer, David Grossman, here. But the part of this film that is affecting for anybody, and not only for fans or those curious about his books, is how keenly it makes us feel the loss of his younger son and how that connects, even if not specifically mentioned, with the ongoing hostilities between Israel and the Palestinians. It is not that Grossman doesn't go deep about anything here. He talks about "touching life and death at the same time" and that as something he felt in talking to his sons that he continually seeks now when he writes. He speaks of his soul disintegrating when he writes. He is known for dealing with profound matters in his books and he doesn't shirk them here. What Adi Arbel achieves is a film where Grossman continually seems to be talking directly to us.

    But an interview with the filmmaker published in The Jerusalem Post shows Grossman, the famous, multiple award winning author, has long been hard for journalists or interviewers to get hold of and had to be handled with kid gloves here. A certain element of blandness of this after all in some ways not-very-deep film biography is shown by how little it says about his politics. After all, according to the Wikipedia article about Grossman, "he has been described by The Economist as epitomizing Israel's left-leaning cultural elite." Well, what of that? In contrast to documentary filmmakers who make themselves the star, she says in the interview, she stays out of the picture. And that can be appreciated. But maybe she should have dared to intervene more.

    Grossman, 54 mins., debuted at Docaviv documentary festival in Tel Aviv Jul. 2, 2021, and in Jun. 2022 at Biografilm festival in Italy. Screened for this review as part of the July 2022 San Francisco Jewish Film Festival.

    SFJFF SHOWTIMES:
    JFI Digital Screening Room
    Monday, Aug 1, 2022 12:01 AM - Sunday, Aug 7, 2022 11:59 PM
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-23-2022 at 09:49 AM.

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    SPEER GOES TO HOLLYWOOD (Vanessa Lapa 2020)

    VANESSA LAPA: SPEER GOES TO HOLLYWOOD (2020)

    [Originally published Oct. 2021 at the time of US theatrical release]


    ALBERT SPEER AT THE NUREMBERG TRIALS

    An attempt to expose the slickest Nazi that fizzles

    How did the most powerful Nazi in the Nuremberg trials become "the good Nazi"? This documentary delves into the details of his successful post-prison life. Well, sort of. In fact this documentary seems ineffectual and even an out-and-out mistake. Its ironies are at once too subtle and too obvious to be of much interest.

    Vanessa Lapa made a previous documentary about Heinrich Himmler, The Decent One. When she was approached by Stanley Cohen, a man who was originally going to promote a film dramatizing the memoir of Albert Speer, the architect of the Third Reich, she has recounted that she couldn't face more exposure to the mind of evil, but eventually she was drawn into it.

    The pretext for this film is 40 hours of tapes recording discussions between Andrew Birkin and Albert Speer in the early seventies. Cohen had bought the film rights of Speer's memoir. Paramount was interested. Hence these discussions.

    Speer never went to Hollywood. The Birkin-Speer talks took place at Speer's home in Germany. Speer had evaded hanging at the Nuremberg trials and served 20 years at Spandau for his war crimes, then become famous and financially successful as "the good Nazi" for his books about the Third Reich whitewashing his role in it. Andrew Birkin, brother of Jane, then 25, was a protégé of Stanley Kubrick and cousin of Carol Reed, and Birkin was a young screenwriter. On the tapes they are going over the screenplay Birkin had composed dramatizing Speer's memoirs.

    Lapa's idea was to recreate these discussions - degraded quality required that they be dubbed by other voices - and provide visuals that alternately illustrate and contradict Speer's claims as they go through a screenplay outline.

    Lapa uses a wealth of archival material for this that shows Speer and his wife in their comfortable home alternating with images of Germany before and during the war and images of the Nuremberg trials, with special emphasis in the latter on Speer's behavior.

    As before, at Nuremberg and in his memoirs, Speer dodges issues constantly. He tries to persuade Birkin to present him in a more innocent light, the man who claimed not to have known about the Nazi plan to exterminate the Jews, not to know about the death camps.

    We get the outlines of Speer's remarkable rise to power from being a young, minor architect to a favorite of Hitler, and then when the chief or armaments Fritz Todt died in a plane crash, being chosen to replace him and thus become one of the most powerful figures in the Third Reich. It is now believed that Speer's falsification of his armament production and artificial increase of it, through slave labor of prisoners, was effective in extending the war and causing the deaths of millions of additional war victims when Speer knew early on, which he partially admits in these talks, that the war was lost and Germany would only be further destroyed. He acknowledges knowing horrible things were happening in the camps. He says he approved their introduction though, because the jails weren't big enough.

    But Speer doesn't dramatically admit such a thing. On the contrary he smoothly covers it over, as was his way. There are some stunning admissions. He says, for instance, that he wasn't anti-Semitic; he just was disgusted by Jews and their money-grubbing ways. He had claimed not to have been present when Himmler made his notorious speech announcing that the Jews must be exterminated, claiming that he left the dinner early. But in the tapes he asks Birkin if it would be better for the movie if he was shown to have been there. The truth clearly is to be tweaked as the situation requires. He wavers on whether he was involved in the plot to kill Hitler. He describes visiting a shabby, worn down Hitler in the bunker to say goodbye and disapproves of his coldness on this occasion.

    But so what? Some of this is mildly shocking; a surprise only if you're thoroughly ignorant of the Third Reich ;and of Speer. Tergiversations don't make very good dialogue. Birkin is mild, accommodating. His wishy-washiness is a strong hint that this project is doomed. He reminded me vaguely of Truffaut in the famous tapes interviewing Hitchcock, except that Speer, unlike Hitch, has nothing illuminating to say, nor does Birkin have truly penetrating questions. At some point both Kubrick and Reed are cited as warning Birkin that his screenplay supports Speer's lies or tergiversations and that if Speer doesn't admit his culpability this movie won't work. Indeed so.

    Where is the illumination here? What we get is another, more suave and dodgy version of "the banality of evil" famously delineated in Hannah Arendt's famous 1963 New Yorker profile, "Eichmann in Jerusalem." Only Vanessa Lapa, dedicated and sincere though she clearly is, is no Hannah Arendt.

    In her Variety review Jessica Kiang points out that the sound, the basic foreground of the film, is weakened in two major ways: by the stilted performances of Anno Koehler and Jeremy Portnoi, who voice the dialogue of Speer and Birkin, respectively; and by the unnecessary added sound effects to accompany historical footage, which creates an artificial "over-foleyed" effect. These things undermine the fine job Lapa has done in unearthing rare Third Reich-period footage of Speer in action. Kiang believes that this film is a good idea, but has failed in the execution. I am doubtful that it was even such a good idea. People who admire it seem to be seeing what they want to see - as they can because one can read different meanings into the ambiguous material.

    Speer Goes to Hollywood, 97 mins., debuted at the Berlinale, as did Lapa's 2014 Himmler film The Decent One. It also showed at Moscow, Jerusalem and Telluride in Apr., Aug., and Sept. 2021 respectively. It opens theatrically Opens at Film Forum, New York, Oct. 29, 2021; at Laemmle Royal & Town Center, LA, Nov. 5. Republished here as part of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, July 21-Aug. 7, 2022.

    SFJFF SHOWTIMES:
    Schedule
    Sunday July 31, 2022
    11:30 a.m.
    Albany Twin
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-22-2022 at 11:44 PM.

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    WE BURN LIKE THIS (Alana Waksman 2021)

    ALANA WAKSMAN: WE BURN LIKE THIS (2021)


    MADELEINE COGHLIN IN WE BURN LIKE THIS

    Lost in Montana, a young woman finds her Jewishness

    One may wonder if this congeries of youthful female American lostness, which includes whiplash-inducing flashback edits, is good material for a Jewish film festival audience. If only there were an American feature about antisemitism as intellectually startling and well made as Henry Bean's The Believer were available. But that was 21 years ago.

    Alana Waksman's first film concerns a lost young woman, Rae (Madeleine Coghlan), a grandchild of Holocaust survivors wandering in Montana, who discovers her Jewishness traumatically through the antisemitism of local right wing extremists. But she is already working on other problems. She's distressed when her boyfriend drops her; then an untrustworthy older man called Wolf (Andrew Rizzo)feeds her oxycontin. Rae's best friend is another, even prettier, lost soul, Chrissy B. (Devery Jacobs), who is Native American and the object of more front and center prejudice; her boyfriend says she's not really local because she comes from "the res."

    Waksman's film was long in the making and there seem to be threads of earlier elements still dangling here - see Matt Kettmann's interview with the filmmaker in The Santa Barbara Independent - while, in the foreground, though the two women and the semi-urban landscapes are beautiful, just not enough is happening. As that interview shows, Chrissy B. or someone like her was the original lead character of Waksman's six-year project.

    Letterboxd can be eye-opening sometimes. wowMIKEwow says the logline of a Holocaust descendant targeted by Neo-Naxis inBilings, Montana "put me in mind of something very pulpy, very poor taste, and very, very fun." He goes on: "I was picturing some sub-grindhouse thriller about a young Jewish girl having to contend with the modern day neo-nazi movement...and dealing bloody mayhem on them." Reading the blurb more carefully he realizes it's meant to be a "very slow-burn, rambling, minimalist drama about this girl going on a very internalized journey of self-discovery."

    So wowMIKEwow got what this film's meant to be - not fun pulp - but finding it more a time-waster than a slow-burn enlightener, missed the alternative: "there is real value to films just nakedly talking about this stuff." Maybe that's what The Believer is - fun pulp, but done with such skill and intelligence it's riveting. This is what We Burn Like This, alas, wasn't and isn't. One should cite another Letterboxd view here though, of Joe Westwood, who "was pretty stunned by how absolutely spellbinding a lot of the photography in this film was." It is often very pretty. But it is still a painfully slow watch.

    We Burn Like This, 81 mins., debuted at Santa Barbara Apr. 2021, showing at other festivals including Deauville American Film Festival Sept. 2021, and a dozen other domestic festivals, releasing Jun. 2022 on the internet. Screened for this review as part of the Jul. 21-Aug. 7, 2022 San Francisco Jewish Film Festival.

    SFJFF SHOWTIMES:
    Schedule
    Monday August 1, 2022
    12:01 a.m.
    JFI Digital Screening Room
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-23-2022 at 07:11 PM.

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    REMEMBER THIS (Jeff Hutchens, Derek Goldman 2022)

    JEFF HUTCHENS, DEREK GOLDMAN: REMEMBER THIS: THE LESSON OF JAN KASKI (2022)


    DAVID STRATHAIRN IN REMEMBER THIS

    [Currently listed on IMDb as: Untitled Karski Film.]

    David Strathairn's distinguished one-man performance provides context for Jan Karski's witness of the Holocaust

    This film is the documentation of David Strathairn's distinguished one-man stage performance as Polish Holocaust witness Jan Karski. Some of the performance, perhaps of necessity, is somewhat fanciful. The voice and accent he adopts don't quite gibe with the footage of the man filmed by Claude Lanzmann, it has an extra vowel beat, like an Italian accent. But he works magic with his changes of clothing, his movements (he makes the performance very physical, turning the table into a desk, a wall, a house), and with the help of music, sound effects (a youth rally, bombs, a storm). It's a remarkable performance, but above all a feat of storytelling. His voice, plaintive yet resilient, is memorable, as it tells the story of a life and an experience beyond imagining.

    Strathairn as Karski is a witness, a storyteller. Karsi never spoke of his wartime experiences for 35 years, till Lanzmann approached him in the late seventies. He indeed witnessed incredible things in the war, the devastation of Poland, Warsaw heaped with rubble and debris, with improvised graves in public parks. He saw it all. From a soldier in defeated Poland he became a diplomat, that is, for the resistance, reporting on the state of the country.

    He is imprisoned, tortured, attempts suicide, hospitalized, and Germans help him escape, for which he says they are later executed. He reports to the Allies in France and in London. Then he is taken to see what is happening to the Jews, he comes with another person to the Warsaw Ghetto, and revisits it the next day. Children playing with rubbish, naked corpses in the street, figures standing, motionless, dying.

    Then, at equally great danger to himself and disguised, he visits a death camp and witnesses the systematic extermination. (This part of the monologue is directly drawn from the Landzmann film.) With this knowledge he is laboriously conveyed to London (walking over the Pyranees is involved), where he meets with Anthony Eden but not allowed to talk to Churchill: Churchill didn't learn of the atrocities against the Jews till after the war.

    The Polish government in exile sent Karski to the US in 1943. He meets with Justice Felix Frankfurter, who tells him not that he is lying, but that he cannot believe him. He meets with President Roosevelt, who doesn't even ask any questions about the massacre of the Jews. He can't go back to Poland because he is "dishonored" and "I know too much." He concludes what happened is a second original sin, for which humanity will have to pay.

    The monologue tells a little about the rest of Karski's life, including his teaching for 40 years, the late marriage to Pola, the Polish Jewish dancer Pola Nirenska whom he had seen in London years earlier. I like the ending, in the actor's own voice and accent: "These questions haunt me now, and I want it to be so." David Strathairn is an actor whose being exudes moral probity and seriousness. Remember This seems as much a declaration of responsibility as a theatrical performance on his part.

    Background. In 2010 Claude Lanzmann, who had interviewed Karski in his film Shoah, released a short documentary, The Karski Report, which contained more about Karski's meetings with President Franklin D. Roosevelt and other US leaders in 1943. You can find Jan Karski on YouTube describing his visit to the Warsaw Ghetto for Lanzmann and describing his subsequent effort to halt the extermination of the Jews in Europe in Shoah. Then in his later Karski Report Lanzmann interviews Karski at much greater length onscreen. About all this and Karski the man in general I also found "Jan Karski: A Polish Underground Courier and Gentleman," a talk for Yad Vashem Online by David Silverklang on YouTube extremely interesting background on this remarkable man who was only 25 when Germany invaded Poland but already was an Olympic-level equestrian, had acquired an exceptional knowledge of law and politics and fluency in languages and possessed a photographic memory which made him especially useful as a courier for the underground - and meant that his Holocaust experiences remained with him always.

    See the May 19, 2022 Washington Post review by Peter Marks, which gives a full account of the genesis of the theatrical piece recorded here and Strathairn's role in it.

    Remember This: The Lesson of Jan Karski, 90 mins., was penned by Derek Goldman and Clark Young. Directed by Goldman, a founder of the Lab of Georgetown University (where Karski taught), where this work was first performed Nov. 2019. Details of the film are lacking at present. Screened for this review as part of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival.

    SFJFF SHOWTIMES:
    Schedule
    Sunday July 24, 2022
    2:50 p.m.
    Castro Theatre



    DAVID STRATHAIRN IN REMEMBER THIS: AN INTENSELY PHYSICAL PERFORMANCE
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-25-2022 at 12:02 AM.

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    THE FAITHFUL: THE KING, THE POPE, THE PRINCESS (Annie Berman 2021)

    ANNIE BERMAN: THE FAITHFUL: THE KING, THE POPE, THE PRINCESS (2021)



    Long-pursued film about obsessive fandom becomes its own obsession

    Annie Berman, the film's maker and constant intimate narrator, says she is exploring the origins of celebrity; her narration is designed to link together videotapes she shot over twenty-plus years. There is a wealth of material here, maybe too much. She claims a lollipop in Rome with the Pope's face on it (which we see) leads her to go to Memphis to learn about Elvis. She can't take a camera into Graceland but she is allowed into a nearby related house (he lived there early on) occupied by a big Elvis fan who has a sign outside saying "Elvis Fans - Make Me an Offer," so apparently if you pay something, you get a private tour, and she films her visit to the memento-packed rooms. Twenty-three years after Elvis' death she visits here and goes to the night service in honor of his demise with 15,000 people carrying candles.

    Then she returns to the Vatican to trace back those "origins." On another jaunt, she is on hand only a few years after Lady Diana's death to tape the worshipers. Then back to Elvis again, over and over. A confessional element enters. Director Berman's obsession with shooting pieces of her film, which goes on for decades, leads to her fiancee's departure, upon which her mother thinks she needs help. She indeed sees a shrink, she tells us. She shows the rows and rows of small "Elvis," "Pope," and Diana tapes she has filed, dozens of them. It seems a little like the fanatical Elvis, Di, or Pope fetishists' collections of memorabilia she has filmed, though perhaps more tidy. "Pope Tape 46," "47," and so on are shot in Canada at what is dubbed "Popestock," a massive gathering in the rain and mud for a visit from the Pope.

    Berman's fascination with making all these tapes begins to seem hermetic and self-obsessed. But after years she says she stops looking for anything and starts finding interesting things, such as an Elvis cover band found by chance at a bar in Rome, the Pope's town. She understands Italian (we don't know why) and we hear from one of the people outside the bar, in Italian, about how she became an Elvis fan: she was orphaned at the age of nine, and was lonely. Askew, away from the central obsessions, the film finally seems to breathe a little - and to find a basic explanation for Elvis-mania - perhaps also Pope-mania and Diana-mania?): a void we all have in the soul and a deep need to fill it.

    Berman is drawn to photographer Ralph Burns who's a friend now and who has been doing Elvis-fan-related photographs for 40 years, still working with film and developing it by hand, which she seems to like and may envy the hands-on quality of. He is searching for some will'o'the wisp of ultimate meaning in Elvis worship - or maybe just a good photograph?

    It might be unfair to suggest that Berman's search for "the origins of celebrity" is based on too limited a sample in her focus on only three celebrities, be they big ones, or that her voiceover is narcissistic. One wonders if she's right that being Jewish gives her an "outsider" outlook on these fandoms. Maybe she's just an "outsider" because she's not so silly, for are not these groupies silly people? And aren't we all outsiders when observing collective phenomena like these?)

    Berman's incessant, lulling narration is a sign the film's images themselves are never interesting enough. This is a kind of documentary one has seen before: one that's overworked, to diminishing returns, a self-absorbed nonfiction project in which the filmmaker got stuck in a groove for a long time and couldn't get out, couldn't stop, and went on shooting even though nothing much new was coming. Celebrity-worship is in itself a form of excess, so, in studying it, how do you know when too much is enough? Typically, this film just sort of ends.

    This is about materialism though, and outsiders looking for a common bond, and it is a record of Felliniesque Mondocane absurdities like Pope-face lollipops (officially licensed, but you may not lick the Pope's face!). And it is true that Berman never becomes snide, always remains sympathetic, and the message about love and loneliness and worship, grieving and memory, therefore is personal, honest, and kind.

    (A review by Mick LaSalle in the Chronicle shows that this film was already shown in the city - at the independent cinema the Roxie - and reviewed nine months ago.)

    The Faithful: The King, the Pope, the Princess, 91 mins., premiered in NYC Aug. 13, 2021 and Memphis Aug. 14, 2021., showing at Camden Oct. 2021; limited release Oct. 2021. Screened for this review as part of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, where it showed July 25, 2022 at the Castro Theater with the filmmaker, JFI Filmmaker in Residence, present.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-27-2022 at 12:20 AM.

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    THE CROSSING/LA TRAVERSÉE ( Florence Mialhe 2021)

    FLORENCE MIALHE: THE CROSSING/LA TRAVERSÉE (2021)


    BROTHER AND SISTER ADRIEL AND KYONA IN THE CROSSING

    Hand-painted animation of a wartime flight delights with its visuals even when the story doesn't

    This fictional animated film features surreal and fairytale-like imagery that evokes brush drawings and paintings, thanks to the distinctive technique of filming oil paintings on glass. Comparisons have been made with Loving Vincent, but that is an animation of Van Gogh paintings, and this is the work of one person, though the style, a mixture, is reminiscent of several modern artists, even Dufy and Picasso, perhaps Chagall, perhaps Matisse, perhaps Van Gogh. It's hard to pin down, but feels classic, and often delights with its fluid line and radiant color.

    What most satisfies here is not the storytelling. The language is standard, simple French, and that's pleasant. But the action of the siblings fleeing a pogrom through many vicissitudes to cross into another land ultimately disappoints, and it's hard to say exactly why. The story, cowritten with Arnaud Desplechin's sister Marie, is referring to Mialhe's mother and grandmother, but inventing names, people, and places that are not a direct reference to any place or people we have ever known. Some of the events resemble Jerzy Kosinski's The Painted Bird, or Vaclav Václav Marhoul's 2019 film version of it, and we know a lot of that was invented, but it was more detailed and specific. Here Mailhe never quite finds the sweet spot between the mythical and the historical that she is seeking. but it doesn't matter too much, because the visuals are rare and beautiful.

    What appeals are the hand drawn animations, though they're not uniformly great. Linear closeups of the two siblings, which are that, very linear, are very pleasing. So are scenes that are more complex, when she turns to a bright palette; the dark scenes tend to be muddy. Above all we share her delight in the look of brush strokes on glass, brush strokes one can see into. The older sister Kyona is an artist, and she is continually flipping through her drawing book. Somehow she manages to hang onto it. It is a delight to look at the pages as they turn. It is a little as if we are looking at the drawings being drawn, the film being made.

    Mialhe is best at broad-brush line drawings, and those are what are celebrated in all those flips through the drawing book. The way Kyona and Adriel's faces are drawn is beautiful, Jewish, and classic, beautifully Jewish. Those images are a celebration of Jewishness - whereas it's not otherwise emphasized that their situation is unique. And that is a trouble - it's not clearly enough pinpointed.

    Given the simple language, the fairytale details, and the focus on two young siblings, this seems like a readymade film for children, but as a French review said, due to the harshness of the story, it's hard to see it as suitable for those under 12.

    The Crossing/La traversée, 84 mins., debuted at Annecy, the major animation festival, Jun. 2021, showing Sept. at an Sebastián, and subsequently at numerous other festivals. Screened for this review as part of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival in July, 2022.

    Schedule
    Tuesday July 26, 2022
    3:15 p.m.
    Albany Twin



    KYONA'S SKETCHBOOK IN THE CROSSING
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-27-2022 at 12:53 AM.

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    SUMMER NIGHTS (Ohad Milstein 2021)

    OHAD MILSTEIN: SUMMER NIGHTS (2021)


    ALVA IN SUMMER NIGHTS

    A prize-winning Israeli documentary in which a father explores the point of view of his six-year-old son, with reference to his own father

    Hate to be a complainer but the only thing that's wrong with this little documentary is that it's too perfect. The filmmaker Ohad Milstein creates wonderful purity where nothing unnecessary intervenes. But this truly, clearly, is a very safe environment for the six-year-old Alva. This is a picture of six-year-old Alva, an Israeli boy who speaks Hebrew to his father and grandfather and French to his Swiss mother. The film witnesses moments in Alva's life in the summer before he goes off to his first school.

    This is a prize-winning short film and so it is well constructed. The shape comes from moments: Alva asking his father about aging and, by implication (but skirted), death. A haircut by the father for the boy and similarly one by the father for his own father, who is less satisfied. Alva dancing in colorful tights; swimming; standing on a high diving board; running. In a whispered voiceover he talks about his fear of heights, but he comes off as graceful, athletic, physically well developed for his age. During an interlude in Bern, Switzerland, he also woos a girl his own age - without much luck, though. He offers her white chocolate which she won't take. "It's chocolate!" he says. Enough said.

    Actually this may be more than anything about Ohad, the father's, relationship with his son. Hence also it takes time for Ohad to talk to his father, at first portly but athletic on the beach, discussing whether they ever had searching conversations when Ohad was small, as Ohad is having with Alva. That these conversations, because at night, are whispered not to awaken his little sister, makes them seem all the more magical. They did not have such conversations, or almost never. So we have the old theme of the son who tries to have with his son the intimacy and love he didn't have with his own father. Those magical whispered conversations between Alva and Ohad do contain declarations of love, and promises always to be there to help and support, to hug and kiss, but Alva decides he will do this, the hugging and kissing of his father, till he's 35, and no longer.

    Time spent by Alva with his mother, in French, is spent more talking about school, assembling colored pencils, and a pencil case that delights Alva. It's as if French is for practical academic matters and courtship, while Hebrew (as is only fitting?) is for talking about love and death, God and the passage of time. "Do you believe in God, dad?" Alva asks. There is a nice irony in the way Ohad and his father discuss whether he should tell Alva the truth and he says yes, and not to say the stork brings babies, and then near the end when Alva asks where babies come from his father says the stork brings them, and Alva, saying "What stork, father?" seems to know that's a silly fiction.

    A further development of the sub-theme of the grandfather is said elder's keeping his father's photo in a drawer all these years, and, chided by a discussion with Ohad, bringing it out to frame and hang on his wall at last. He, son and grandson and nephew of carpenters, he says, tries to make a frame for his father's photo helped by Alva, and badly botches the job. He takes the photo to a framer, and hangs the framed photo as we watch (i's dotted, t's crossed). But the mess of a job becomes a subject of joyous laughter for granddad and Alva. There is no shame, no pain; acceptance.

    I probably long for a touch of imperfection, a moment of real awkwardness or tears. But this is simply a perfect film about a perfect boy, and a perfect age of curiosity, purity, and sweetness - and readiness to love. The neat shape of the film is that it's a long recollection about a summer. It reminds one of a more perfect, more complex film about the same age, or ages close to Alva's, Nicholas Philibert's amazing 2002 documentary about a French mountain country elementary school with a single dedicated teacher, To Be and to Have/Être et avoir. Where this film ends, that one begins.

    Summer Nights, 53 mins., debuted Jul. 2, 2021 at Tel Aviv's Docaviv festival, where it won a best film award; also shown at Bologna Biografilm Festival. Screened for this review as part of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, July 21-Aug. 7, 2022.

    Schedule
    Thursday July 28, 2022
    6:00 p.m.
    Albany Twin
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-27-2022 at 06:54 PM.

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    THE RESTLESS HUNGARIAN (Tom Weidlinger 2021)

    TOM WEIDLINGER: THE RESTLESS HUNGARIAN (2021)


    PAUL WEIDLINGER (RIGHT) IN THE RESTLESS HUNGARIAN

    TRAILER

    Weidlinger's exploration of his father is detailed yet unsatisfying

    This film is based on Tom Weidlinger's book exploring the life and work of his father, The Restless Hungarian: Modernism, Madness, and the American Dream (2019). The film makes one think of Nathanial Kahn's wonderful Oscar-nominated My Architect: A Son's Journey,(2003) . Two great, distant fathers in the field of architecture, pursued in documentary films by their sons. But the latter is more successful and more moving as a film. Louis Kahn was a truly great architect, the son's filmmaking pursuit of him is touching and real, and the end of his film explores his father's monumental, transcendent work and finishes on a note of exultation, even joy. And Nathanial was illegitimate, the fruit of another, secret union. Whatever we may think of him as a man, Louis Kahn inspires awe as an architect, an artist: we can feel happy that Nathanial was able to connect with him in this beautiful way. Tom Weidlinger is doing something different, exhaustively exploring his father's life, connections, secrets, and his father Paul, though Tom says he is "famous," is certainly significant and highly accomplished but his life lacks that significant shape of pursuing a unique artistic vision. And while his son wants to admire him he has reason not to like him. Paul Weidlinger was a cold, difficult man who pursued some dubious projects, working for decades on designs for protective silos for nuclear missiles that were never built, while part of the Rand Corporation, which Daniel Ellsberg, once allied with it himself, describes as a "doomsday cult" in an interview for this film.

    In fact Paul Weidlinger seems to have gone wrong several times. The first surprise discovery for Tom is that his father was Jewish, though I'm not sure exactly how this could have escaped his son. But this is something that happened sometimes: that Jews who had a horrible time escaping the Nazis chose to conceal their Jewishness thereafter. It seems a mistake that Paul left Bolivia, where he and his French Swiss wife Madeleine found refuge, or he did and she joined him (she was not Jewish; she was just going to become schizophrenic). He was so happy and successful there, as the film tells it, and instantly rich because qualified engineers were so in demand. Instead he chose to immigrate to the US, where he became the structural engineer for buildings designed by some major architects and major sculptures by Picasso and Dubuffet (it's appealing that he had a penchant for Dubuffet and was part of the Bauhaus). At some point Madeleine manifested her schizophrenia unmistakably and went into a clinic so expansive Paul had to found a business to raise the money to pay for her treatment there. They gave Madeleine insulin and electric shock treatments that she said were horrible. Maybe if he had not decided to marry her before he had even met her, he might have chosen more wisely.

    Another mistake is that he seriously discounted Tom's older sister, Michelle, who later killed herself and her young child, for which Paul held himself responsible, as he says in an earlier filmed interview by Tom made when in his eighties, excerpted here. When Tom was born Paul was delighted to have a son, and made her insignificance obvious to Michelle. But since Tom tells of being suicidal at several times, including quite recently, his relative favor may not have greatly benefitted him. He seems to have been aware of his father's doomsday nuclear activities at a time when he was a longhaired youth listening to Bob Dylan's "Masters of War."

    But while Paul Weidlinger's life as explored here is an unsatisfying mixture, the film is nonetheless a review of a large slice of the twentieth century. And as if to compensate for its subject's failings, and as befits a filmmaker who has numerous docs under his belt, re[s a rich and often entertaining amalgam of documents, some of them shot by Madeleine, who early on always had a Leica in hand, and seems to have shot film footage of the family as well, though those are mostly reenactments shot by Tom. Reenactments always fill one with misgivings and uncertainty, but one can't say they're not well done.

    Paul's early life is dramatic and fascinating: his upper middle class origins, mixed success at school, his communist activity, leading to a barely escaped death sentence; his identification with the Bauhaus; then his struggle to live through the thirties as a Jew and escape the war. And then Bolivia, with Tom's vivid recreation of the ocean voyage there amid a great crowd of interesting, very lucky refugees who are going to escape the war and the Holocaust. But in the end, though Tom Weidlinger has pursued his father so energetically, we are left depressed by the downers of the personal life and disappointed by the rather slapdash review of Paul's biggest projects - the contrast is so clear with the lingering, noble visit to Louis Kahn’s Sher-e-Bangla Nagar, Dhaka, Bangladesh buildings at the end of Nathanial Kahn's My Architect.

    The Restless Hungarian, 105 mins., was screened for this review as part of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, July 15-Aug. 7, 2022.

    Schedule
    Friday July 29, 2022
    3:05 p.m.
    Albany Twin
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-29-2022 at 01:00 AM.

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    TAKE THE 'A' TRAIN (Yair Asher, Itamar Lapid 2021)

    YAIR ASHER, ITAMAR LAPID: TAKE THE 'A' TRAIN (2021)


    YUVAL ORON, LEFT, AND YAKIR PORTAL, RIGHT, IN TAKE THE 'A' TRAIN

    A vivid look at Israel's current generation of late-twenties, early-thirties urban slackers.

    The focus is on Yishai (Yakir Portal), a jazz pianist who now lives in Paris (with classical chops, which he shows off) who suddenly turns up back in his native Tel Aviv, reconnecting with his middle-class parents who live there, his leftist dad (Alon Olearchik) and young-looking, loving mother (Anat Atzmon), and with his slacker younger brother Omer (Yuval Oron). The two tall, long-faced young men look almost like twins. They both play basketball, party, drink, smoke, listen to recorded music, make out with women who leave early, party all night. What's up? Directors Asher and Lapid seem more into atmosphere than story. They know their milieu, the film is appropriately cast, the sometimes shaky handheld camera is fluid. Tech specs are minimal, story arc rambling; this will appeal to those whom it's about, and may leave others cold. It is not a happy picture of the coming generation of Israeli adults.

    Yishai's situation back in Paris remains rather mysterious. He has a group and gigs waiting for him thre. He talks to a bandmate, a girlfriend or ex, not exactly saying where he is. What there is comes through the interaction of Yeshai and Omer. The parents are concerned that Omer has dropped out of university, which he says is a bunch of has-been oldsters (he seems not to have connected with the students). His pals are partly musicians too, so Yishai connects with them; he also connects with women he knows, and an old girlfriend, who is free and horny, but has a horrible roommate she has gotten stuck with who plays his music so loud they can't have sex. They drive to a bad part of town; she rejects his suggestion of a hotel room as too expensive. But their effort at car sex is thwarted by a creepy peeper.

    In one scene Yishai has persuaded Omer to come to have dinner at their parents' with some older adults. A hot debate over politics breaks out: this is no easygoing social event. Omer gets into a verbal fight with their parents and leaves before their mother brings desert, but we see them driving together next; another party.

    Yishai interacts with Omer's mates, one of whom is on the verge of a breakup. There is a fight over a new leather sofa. Yishai proposes that Omer come to Paris with him and share his flat, saying he can stay a long time, it will be easy to get a job, it will be great. Omer suggests to a girl at a party that she go to Guatemala with him. She says she can't: she's just gotten a job.

    At the end of this film there is some suspense because the brothers seem so impulsive and lacking in interiority or clear committment we do not know if Omer will go to Paris or Yishai, who has said his return flight is tomorrow, will for some reason decide to stay in Tel Aviv and give up the life in Paris he keeps saying is fine (maybe it isn't?). At the end, Omer drives Yishai to the station at 6 a.m. to catch the train to the airport. We leave them sitting there by the track as the train is apparently about to arrive. The uncertainty remains, though this is hardly a storytelling coup. Yair Asher and Itamar Lapid seem even at the end ready to tell a story but not to have begun it yet. It's in the station, but the train hasn't come yet. Nadav Lapid or Samuel Maoz these directors are not. But they presumably represent a younger generation and will have new things to say.

    Take the 'A' Train, 103 mins., debuted at Jerusalem Aug. 2021 (nominated for a best feature award). Screened for this review as part of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival of July 15-Aug. 7, 2022.

    Schedule
    Friday July 29, 2022
    8:45 p.m.
    Albany Twin, Albany CA
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-31-2022 at 10:49 AM.

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    SIMCHAS AND SORROWS ( Genevieve Adams 2022)

    GENEVIEVE ADAMS: SIMCHAS AND SORROWS (2022)


    GENEVIEVE ADAMS, THOMAS MCDONELL IN SIMMCHAS AND SORROWS

    In an ambitious directorial debut, Genevieve Adams references her own experience of marriage into a Jewish family

    Genevieve Adams has made a semi-autobiographical film about Agnes (writer-director Genevieve Adams), a young pregnant Catholic-raised, now atheist woman who, with her fiancee Levi (Thomas McDonell), enrolls in a Judaism class taught by progressive, feminist Rabbi Cohen (Hari Nef, "Assassination Nation") in order to convert to his faith and satisfy his family. Adams went through something like this experience herself, and evidently came through it happily. Her film is humorous, but never bitter, even if the humor doesn't always come off. Agnes' family is represented here through a grandfather who raised her, played by 92-year-old two-time Tony winner John Cullum. Adams had no trouble playing pregnant since she was.

    Adams, who is relaxed, and McDonell, who is good humored, are fine in every scene where they're together enacting their sometimes conflictual relationship (celebrating Christmas as an ethnic holiday becomes a sticking point). Some of the times in the rest of this movie are less successful. The setting is Williamsburg, Brooklyn and Manhattan and not for the first time I thought of the great HBO series "High Maintenance," whose scenes and locations are similar, and wished for some of that wit, specificity, and lightness of touch.

    Agnes teaches a class for little kids. Having them talk like sophisticated adults have worked if children had been found who could recite such lines convincingly and understandably. Scenes with Cullum as the grandfather and Broadway vet Chip Zien as Agnes' prospective father-in-law ought to have flowed more seamlessly and with a surer tone.

    Obviously there are simply flaws in Genevieve Adams's writing, which is rife with non-sequitur and overly explanatory moments; and in her direction and the editing;, which don't always find a smooth rhythm. This issue is notable in the Judaism class where neither the writing nor the delivery of Hari Nef as the rabbi feels quite right. Trimming would have helped the script.

    But one supposes those who identify with this experience or are looking for a way to relate to it may find moments of satisfaction.

    Simchas and Sorrows, 117 mins., debuted at Cinequest (San Jose/Redwood City) Apr. 7, 2022, and was screened for this review as part of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival (July 15-August 7, 2022). The film was shown Fri., Jul. 22, 2022, 5:30 pm at the Castro Theater.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-31-2022 at 10:23 AM.

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    REPAIRING THE WORLD: STORIES FROM THE TREE OF LIFE (Patrice O'Neill 2022)

    PATRICE O'NEILL: REPAIRING THE WORLD: STORIES FROM THE TREE OF LIFE (2022)


    DEMONSTRATION SHOWN IN REPAIRING THE WORLD

    The 2018 Pittsburgh anti-Semitic massacre: a film about community response

    Pittsburgh is "small," this film says; and the city's solidarity was great after the October 27, 2018 massacre of 11 Jewish worshippers (including a 97-year-old woman) at the Tree of Life Synagogue, the worst anti-Semitic attack in US history. There was an immediate outpouring of support across communities. It may have helped that the Squirrel Hill neighborhood where this happened is a particularly friendly one. It is also one with a strong Jewish element and the city is very segregated and yet "there is a level of unity and solidarity here that there isn't in other cities", says Wasi Mohamed, then Islamic Center director, who raised close to $1/4 million to help victims. This is an energetic and dedicated documentary that represents three years of work by director Patrice O'Neill, who has previously focused on attacks of this kind in her films. Here especially there has been a coming together. The ongoing collective action chronicled in O'Neill's film is a dramatic, wide and touching interpretation of the Jewish concept of "tikkun olam," repairing the world.

    The accused (unnamed here, who pleaded not guilty and is still awaiting trial) is a white supremacist. This movement has grown greatly in recent years; clearly, Donald Trump tacitly supported it (and still does). Hence the new connection of the Black community with the Jewish community, also the Muslim community - great multi-ethnic, multi-religion unity developed.

    But: there are white suprematists in Pittsburgh, and their threats nation-wide have abounded. Always they increase after a major incident like the Tree of Life massacre. Furthermore, a wide pro-gun coalition exists throughout the country. New Pittsburgh restrictions on the use of assault weapons in the wake of the Tree of Life attack were later struck down by the court as violating Pennsylvania gun laws.

    Brad Orsini, director of security for the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh; appears here as one who, through the 2018 event, came to a greater understanding of what it would be like to be a member of a minority that is an object of hate crimes.

    The Poway synagogue shooting of April 27, 2019 near San Diego, California, which saw one killed and three injured, again caused a gathering of Pittsburgh community figures covered in this film. Likewise August 3, 2019, when a gunman killed 23 in a Walmart in El Paso, Texas; the shooter is one who believes there is a Hispanic invasion in Texas. as local Hispanic hate crime representative explains. This upsurge of racist and anti-Semitic violence in the US following the Tree of Life attack has brought Pittsburghers continually closer together, as the film shows. Efforts show in the film in meet-ups across sectarian lines at the community level and meetings and classes in high schools. Three years after the 2018 attack, Pittsburgh reached out to the world, hosting the Inaugural Eradicate Hate Global Summit, an international conference on hate.

    A conventional film in form, this is nonetheless an impressive enough one for its coverage of trauma and community response. O'Neill has made a real effort to represent all elements of the community. Patrice O'Neill is a leader of Not in Our Town, a movement to build hate-free communities across the country.

    Repairing the World: Stories from the Tree of Life, 90 mins., debuted at the Pittsburgh JFilm Festival on May 5, 2022 and won the best documentary audience award at the festival. It was screened for this review as part of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, July 15-August 7, 2022. West Coast Premiere.

    Schedule
    Sunday July 31, 2022
    2:00 p.m.
    Albany Twin



    IN FRONT OF THE TREE OF LIFE SYNOGOGUE IN REPAIRING THE WORLD
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-31-2022 at 10:10 AM.

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