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New Year, New York, Jews in the News, Part I

New Year, New York, Jews in the News, Part I

To my friends and readers:  We are about to conclude the Jewish High Holidays which began 10 days ago with Rosh Hashanah and ends tomorrow with Yom Kippur.  In the spirit of this season, I must ask everyone, if I have offended any of you, whether knowingly or unknowingly, I ask your forgiveness.  If I have not published articles I promised you I would, please forgive me.  I meant to when I said I would but have so many other commitments and things I must do.  I am sure that the article is not forgotten and I may get to it in the coming year.  But I ask forgiveness for overreaching and for commitments and promises I have not kept.

By the way this free ranging stream of consciousness blog will go, it could also be called Jews in the News, the “News” being New Years and New York, and of course films.  Imagining this as a new feature, and  because it might only run once a year, I am going to use it here as a platform to mention everyone on my mind as they come up as a sort of New Year’s wrap up of things left undone.

To begin, I am writing about all the people and things I saw and did in New York and, again, I hope friends I don’t mention will forgive me.  Like Lynda Hansen whom I did see at New York Film Society’s Walter Reade Theater…or Wanda Bershan whom I saw across the room at a press screening or Gary Crowdes the editor-in-chief of Cineaste Magazine and whom I meant to greet but didn’t.  I saw so many old New York friends and acquaintances and because it was New Years and a time of reflection, I revisited what were my circumstances when I left it in 1985 to return to L.A.

When I first moved to New York in 1980 to work for ABC Video Enterprises, I had spent 5 years practicing Orthodox Judaism.   Being in New York represented the apotheosis of all things Jewish (outside of Israel, whose films and festivals will be the subject of another blog – excuse me Katriel Schory of the Israeli Film Fund and Alesia Weston the new director of the Jerusalem Film Festival).  In New York, even those who were not Jewish by religion seemed Jewish to me by virtue of living in New York.  When I realized this, my own Orthdoxy fell away from me as if I were shedding a cloak.  I understood that my Jewish self was Jewish no matter what life style I would live. And I liked the New York life style most of all.

After TIFF 12 (Toronto International Film Festival 2012), Peter and I came for a week of relaxation to New York City.  What a city!  So NEW YORK, in-your-face, loud, crowded, lots of horns honking, and people:  PEOPLE.  The best.  We saw our friends, we saw New York with New Eyes.

We arrived by train from the airport, straight to our apartment!  What great rapid transit, even if it is old and ugly, so blackened by dirt and age.  I noticed new decorations on some walls of some stations, some works were better than others.  I wish we had such a quick easy way to zoom around our fair city of L.A.

We stayed in an apartment in Chelsea – that of our daughter’s mother-in-law who lives half the year in the apartments built by the Amalgamated Ladies Garment Union.  (The other half she spends in Truro.)  Such history!   Coincidently these are the very apartments I had wanted to live in when I was leaving NYC in 1985. 

We were invited to a screening by Hisami Kuroiwa, whose friendship goes back to our early days in Cannes, or back to the days she produced Smoke and Blue in the Face with my other old friend Peter Newman.  Araf  (Venice FF, Tokyo FF, ISA: The Match Factory), which she associate produced, will be presented at the New York Film Festival  (NYFF50), September 28 – October 14.  The press screening at the new Walter Reade Theater was a great treat.   The film’s director, Yesim Ustaoglu, ♀, who also directed Journey to the Sun and Pandora’s Box spoke via Skype at the press Q&A afterward. 

Araf in Turkish means “somewhere in between”.  The Somewhere in Between in the film is a 24-hour restaurant halfway between Ankara and Istanbul. The young girl whose first job it is; her friend – an “older” woman, not much older than herself who becomes her guide to adulthood; the girl’s childhood friend who works there as a teaboy and whose mother is not much older than the other two women and a truck driver who comes through en route, are the protagonists in this piece which brings to life a very distant place where the people’s most intimate issues are very much like our own to the degree that all the women share the same life issues of sex, love, work and family today in a world where traditions are giving way to the exigencies of modern life. 

The issues are so much the same as what we are facing today, namely, our own bodies and all that entails.  Parenthetically, these are the same issues in The Patience Stone (ISA: Le Pacte), which takes my prize for the Best Female Film at TIFF 12.

Both of these films deeply affected me in my own ways.  When I say “affected”, what I mean is that some thought comes into my head which seems unrelated to the film but comes so suddenly and vividly to me and illuminates some part of my life.  When this happens to me during a film, I know the film is really good because it is affecting a subconscious part of me and of something of concern to me.  A thought comes to me which makes my life come together in a new way and I sometimes feel transformed by the experience.  This is my criteria for what makes a good film.  Of course story, script, direction, cast, music, costume and art decoration also count, but in the end, it is the emotional impact a film has upon me as a passive viewer which makes it a winning film for me.  The same pertains to me for all art, whether painting, architecture (WOW factor here for NYC on the architecture front!) , sculpture, music, dancing, etc.

We were given a week’s guest pass to The Sports Center at Chelsea Piers by Alan Adelson whose documentary about James Joyce’s hero, Leo Bloom in Ulysses, In Bed with Ulysses,  is an exciting new film which I hope to see in the upcoming festival circuit.  At the dinner, prepared and served by Alan and his wife Katie Taverna, an editor, who also has a new documentary about to surface, I was astounded by their home  –  so NEW YORK.  Only in New York could someone live in Tribeca’s 19th century warehouse district in such an architecturally unique home amid such astounding works of art.  Docu filmmaker, Deborah Schaffer and her late dear husband, the N.Y. architecht, Larry Bagdanow, introduced us to Alan several years ago.  He also publishes  Jewish Heritage Press, and he gave me a beautiful book entitled, The Last Bright Days: A Young Woman’s life in a Lithuanian Shtetl on the Eve of the Holocaust . Beile Delechy who, along with her brother, were the photographers for a small town called Kararsk in Lithuania, brought her photographs with her when she left Europe for the U.S. in 1938.   They show the everyday reality for Jews and Lithuanians during the 1930s.  Published by Jewish Heritage and YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, this book embodies my own aspirations.  If I could have my books on my family published in such a way as this, I would die happy.

Speaking of Lithuania and this blog, being Jews in the News,  must also cover some other Eastern European news because like New York, its innate character still seems Jewish, even though there are very few Jews there.   There seems to be a resurgence of interest in the subject however, among the third generation since the Shoah.

Kaunas International Film Festival’s Tomas Tangmark, who heads distribution for the festival, is also a filmmaker whom I met at Wroclaw’s American Film Festival last November.  By now his 12 minute short films should have wrapped.  In Cannes, when we met again, he showed me his financial plan for “Breshter Bund – A Union Forever” which has received Development Support from the Swedish Film Institute and money from Swedish TV, has a production budget of around €25,000.  It is about the workers at the Vindsberg factory in Vilkaviskis, Lithuania in 1896.  Influenced by the current events in the world, the workers at the factory organize a strike.  Their demand is a 10-hour working day.  Whether they win, or lose, the outcome could change The Russian Empire.  It was to shoot on location in Vilkaviskis, Lithuania in Yiddish this year.

This 12 minute short is only 1 of the 2 Yiddish language films we have heard about.  Peter also heard about a feature which will be entirely in Yiddish.  Thank you Coen Brothers whose A Serious Man opened the way!

When I was in Cannes this past year, I heard about Jewish Alley (Judengasse) at The Short Film Corner.  Unfortunately Blancke Degenhardt Schuetz Film Produktion GmbH did not include any contact information on the brochure I picked up.  Judengassse tells of the ordeal that the Jewish family Blumenfeld undergoes from 1933 to 1938.  It is shot in B&W from a single camera position and presents the Holocaust and thoughts for the coexistence of different cultures in our modern society.

Also in Cannes I was so sorry to miss Raphael Berdugo’s second film since he left his company, Roissy Films, in the hands of EuropaCorp in 2008.  The Other Son (Le fils de l’Autre) (ISA: La Cite, U.S.: Cohen Media Group) directed by Lorraine Levy  ♀ about a man preparing to join the Israeli army who discovers he is not his parents’ biological son.  In fact, he was inadvertently switched at birth with the son of a Palestinian family from the West Bank.

Returning to the subject of  Eastern Europe in Cannes, Odessa comes to mind.  Odessa cinema tradition began in 1894, a year and a half before the Lumiere brothers showed on the Boulevard des Capucines and its first studio opened in 1907.  Serge Eisenstein made Odessa legend.  On the very place where Battleship Potemkin was filmed, the Odessa Film Festival holds an open-air screening for 12,000 with a view of the sea.  During their first year, there were 30,000 attendees.  By year three, there were 100,000.  It takes place in an opera house on a level of that in Vienna, but their emperor did not pay as in Austria; the people themselves paid for the building.  There are $15,000 cash prizes giving for Best Film, Best, Director, and Best Actor.  Tomboy won last year.   It has a small market for Russian and Ukrainian films, a pitch session and a “summer school” where the students live in tents at attend master classes and a sort of Talent Campus.  There is good food by the sea!  Don’t you want to attend?  I’m hoping to find a way to go, especially after Ilya Dyadik, the program director, so graciously showed me all that goes on there and introduced me to Denis Maslikov, the Managing Director of the Ukrainian Producers Association.   It takes place in July. 

Estonia is another country on my mind.  During TIFF A Lady in Paris (ISA: Pyramide) warmed my soul.  Starring Jeanne Moreau, and costarring Laine MÄGI,  an actress who reminds me of  Katie Outinen, (Kaurimaki’s favorite actress) the film was about women and love and oh so French!  How could you not love the imperious Jeanne Moreau wearing Chanel and being won over by an Eastern European drudge who, under Moreau’s tutelage transforms herself in a vividly chic woman.  And ,Patrick PINEAU, who plays the owner of of those upscale cafes you like to have lunch in when in Paris, only needs to take one small step toward Laine, and oh la la, you too fall in love with him!

Edith Sepp,  the film advisor for the Estonian Ministry of Culture, met us originally at the Vilnius Film Festival in Lithuania and we had a lot of fun hanging out there.  We already had a connection to Estonia because the Estonian American documentary The Singing Revolution was our client’s film.  We introduced our client to Richard Abramowitz in 2006 who did extraordinarily well with the film’s theatrical release.  Edith invited us to their Cannes reception at Plage des Palmes and we continued our conversation.  At TIFF 12 and Karlovy Vary, their film Mushrooming screened, but the one I am really eager to see is In the Crosswind.  It shot through four seasons.  The director is a 23 year old young man and this is his first film.  It cost 700,000 Euros which went into historical costumes, extras and a new technology he is creating to make a profound drama about the relocation of whole populations by the Soviets, a theme which has shaped European history.  I hope to see it in Berlin…or Cannes…or Venice.. The film is a sort of documentary story, somewhat similar to Waltz with Bashir, but it is old in live action and with still photography.  During Cannes, they were seeking 200,000 Euros to complete the film.  There is much to say about both of the Eastern European countries with their new generation of articulate and talented filmmakers.   I hope they will be the subject of another blog or two in the coming year. 

One last note on Eastern European films.  A veteran Czech producer, Rudolf Biermann whom we know since the early days of Karlovy Vary’s freedom from the Soviet bloc, is still producing young, fresh comedies like the one one that showed at TIFF 12, The Holy Quaternity by Jan Hrebejk (ISA: Montecristo). This romp brings marital sex which has become boring to a new and simple solution between two couples who have been best friends throughout their marriage. It’s risque and sweet and plays with two generations’ differing views on the sex games we play for fun.

But I have digressed from New York…And now I must go to Yom Kippur services for the rest of today.  This blog will be continued tomorrow!!  Watch for Part II which will be about New York!

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