Rosh Hashanah — the Jewish New Year — falls this week, so it’s fitting that indieWIRE-curated selections on Hulu’s Documentaries page offer a series of portraits of Jewish lives in the past and the present.
An example of the diversity in modern Jewish identity is on display in Jason Hutt’s “Orthodox Stance.” The documentary profiles 24-year-old Russian immigrant Dmitriy Salita, a professional boxer and devoutly religious Orthodox Jew. Putting the lie to jokes about the absence of Jewish pro athletes, Hutt follows the fighter over many years, as he prepares for his first professional title and balances training with Torah study and weigh-ins with keeping kosher.
Seth Kroll’s “Mifgash: Encountering Jewish Identity” is another film that looks at the Jewish diaspora. Young Jews participate in Taglit-Birthright, a trip to Israel to connect with their Jewish heritage. Between tourist trips to significant Biblical sites and encounters with young Israeli soldiers, they confront what Jewishness means to them today.
For a unique and more secular view of a modern Jewish life, Dani Merkin’s “39 Pounds of Love” profiles Ami Ankilewitz, a thirtysomething Israeli animator with a rare muscular atrophy who has outlived his life expectancy many times over. An inspiring and poignant portrait that won the Best Documentary award in the Israeli Academy Awards, and was shortlisted for the Oscar.
Turning our focus to the past, Malcolm Clarke and Stuart Sender’s “Prisoner of Paradise” tells the story of acclaimed German-Jewish performer Kurt Gerron, who was condemned to the Theresienstadt concentration camp and forced to write and direct a Nazi propaganda film. The film received an Oscar nomination, won the Directors Guild of Canada Award, and was also nominated by the Directors Guild of America.
Fellow Academy Award nominee Michele Ohayon journeys back to the same dark time to tell the story of Jack, Ina and Manja in “Steal A Pencil For Me.” Screening at SXSW and Berlin, among other fests, the film reveals an unlikely and illicit affair that developed in a Nazi concentration camp between a married Dutch Jewish man and a young woman.
Finally, Ulf von Mechow offers the tale of another unexpected pairing against the backdrop of the Holocaust in “The Jewess and the Captain.” After being forced from her home in Germany to the Jewish ghetto in Minsk, young Ilse Stein unexpectedly begins a clandestine relationship with Willi Schultz, the Nazi captain in charge of the ghetto.
EDITOR’S NOTE: “indieWIRE @ Hulu Docs” is a regular column spotlighting the iW-curated selections on Hulu’s Documentaries page, a collaboration between the two sites. iW selections typically appear in the carousel at the top of the page and under “Featured Content” in the center. Be sure to check out the great nonfiction projects available to watch free of charge. Disclosure: Some selections are titles provided to Hulu by SnagFilms, parent company of indieWIRE.
ABOUT THE WRITER: Basil Tsiokos is a Programming Associate, Documentary Features for Sundance and a consultant to documentary filmmakers and festivals. Follow him on Twitter (@1basil1) and visit his blog (what (not) to doc).