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by Basil Tsiokos
September 21, 2010 6:24 AM
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indieWIRE @ Hulu Docs: Reel Jews & IFP Alums

An image from "Trembling Before G-d."

For the second round of indieWIRE's curation of Hulu's Documentaries page, I've selected two separate themes: Jewish subjects, in recognition of the Jewish High Holy Days this month; and former IFP projects, since it's Independent Film Week in NYC this week.

EDITOR'S NOTE: "indieWIRE @ Hulu Docs" is a regular column spotlighting the iW-curated selections on Hulu's Documentaries page, a unique collaboration between the two sites. iW selections appear in the carousel at the top of the page and under "Featured Content" in the center. Be sure to check out these great non-fiction projects each week.


Reel Jews

Sandi DuBowski's "Trembling Before G-d" is a truly landmark documentary that has stimulated discussion and debate since it debuted in Sundance and the Berlin International Film Festival in 2001. DuBowski tirelessly travelled with the film to countless festivals, engaging in post-screening Q&As and panels, attempting to begin and keep a dialogue going about the role of homosexuality in Orthodox Judaism. Far from preaching to the converted, the doc is able to bridge a divide between LGBT and non-LGBT audiences, powerfully showing the deep-seated internal conflict that DuBowski's protagonists face, and the need for re-examination and acceptance.

"Orthodox Stance," directed by Jason Hutt, premiered at Silverdocs in 2007 before going on to screen at scores of Jewish film festivals around the US and beyond. The film profiles 24-year-old Russian immigrant Dmitriy Salita, a professional boxer who also happens to be a devoutly religious Orthodox Jew. While jokes have been made about the absence of Jewish professional athletes, ignoring significant figures across the spectrum of different sports going back decades, competitors like Salita serve as a very visible corrective. Hutt follows the fighter over multiple years, as he prepares for his first professional title and balances training with Torah study, and weigh-ins with keeping kosher.

Wrapping up the Jewish-themed selections is Richard Trank's "I Have Never Forgotten You: The Life & Legacy of Simon Wiesenthal", which had its premiere at the 2007 Berlinale. The film is a portrait of the Holocaust survivor who became a legendary Nazi hunter post-WWII and died in 2005 at the age of 96. Interviews with his family members, friends, and supporters and archival footage explore his life and mission, and the impact of his lifelong efforts to bring war criminals to justice.


IFP Alums

Since 1979, IFP has served independent filmmakers and the film industry, supporting the production of 7000 films, including the following three curated selections, which took part in previous editions of the organization's signature event, Independent Film Week.

Rob Epstein's Academy Award winning "The Times of Harvey Milk" premiered in 1984, profiling the life and death of the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in California, only to be assassinated within a year. One of the most significant non-fiction works dealing with LGBT issues and subjects, the story is known by a new generation through the Academy-Award winning 2008 narrative "Milk," directed by Gus Van Sant. Epstein's film is a must-see for fans of Van Sant's film, or for anyone interested in modern American political history or the story of the struggle for LGBT equality.

The IFP supported a portrait of another controversial gay man, German singer Klaus Nomi, in Andrew Horn's "The Nomi Song." The critically acclaimed music documentary premiered in Berlin, and charts the life of the bizarrely theatrical Nomi, whose stage appearance resembled that of an otherworldly being, complete with outlandish oversized costumes, accenting his unusual vocal range and eclectic music. Early performances and other archival footage chart his rise into international acclaim until he succumbed to AIDS related illness in 1983.

Focusing on a very different near-otherworldly figure of its own, Joshua Zeman and Barbara Brancaccio's "Cropsey," which first surprised audiences at Tribeca in 2009, delves into the story behind the Staten Island urban legend of their youth, an escaped mental patient who was said to kidnap and kill children at night. While the filmmakers had originally viewed the story as a cautionary tale used by parents to keep their kids safe, the stories of actual kidnappings inspired them to uncover the surprising and genuinely creepy truth.


ABOUT THE WRITER: Basil Tsiokos is a Programming Associate, Documentary Features for Sundance, consults with documentary filmmakers and festivals, and recently co-produced Cameron Yates’ feature documentary “The Canal Street Madam.” Follow him on Twitter @1basil1 and @CanalStMadamDoc and visit his blog.

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