And with this, our final installement of reviews for the 20th Toronto Jewish Film Festival. We hope you have enjoyed Part I, Part II, Part III and Part IV of our coverage where we review 13 of the films playing throughout the run of the festival. The movies have been fun to watch with some real gems in the pack. There are still some free screenings being mounted by the festival this week, so be sure to check them out.
“Deaf Jam” is a wondrous documentary about deaf teens in a New York City school who teach us how American Sign Language (ASL) poetry works. Whereas a hearing audience will listen to a scattering of words from a slam poet, “spoken word” for the hearing impaired incorporates the entire body and words are presented as cinematic images with signs meant for wide or closeup shots and techniques like dissolves. The key in ASL poetry is to express one’s inner voice through physical expression.
We meet several teens, but then the movie zeroes in on Aneta Brodski, a sassy and whipsmart 17 yr-old Israeli immigrant who lives in the Queens section of New York and tells it like it is. At times we’re convinced that she’s just shouted something at us, her animated face and gifts for communication working so clear and direct and honest that we are immediately hooked on her like a drug. Her indignation is palpable. In her slam poems, she wonders about the limitations of a future for herself out there in the lonely, vast, hearing world. “How many deaf people do we know who work menial jobs?”, she asks rhetorically.
She wants to go to college, but there aren’t any scholarships for immigrants. Her entire essence is distilled in her mesmerizing slam pieces detailing her story and how conflicted she feels about life, about being deaf, about hope and the future. Not once do her performances ever ask us for pity. Instead, she shows more resolute colors than that, painting with a broad brush and evoking frustration and indignation more maturely than most hearing adults can muster.
Eventually, Aneta is introduced to Tahani, a hearing slam poet and immigrant from Palestine. They click immediately and get to work on a sort-of duet that will showcase both of their talents together.
“Deaf Jam” gets inside the world of the deaf in such an absorbing, compelling way. At first it takes a little while to keep up. We watch slam poetry coaches teaching the teens, and we’re about as lost as they are until they start applying their techniques and blending it with their creative talents for storytelling. By the 20-minute mark we find ourselves captivated by how we’ve just learned how this works, and now we’re going with it just as Aneta does.
What an exhilarating, life-affirming movie this is.
Torn Canadian Premiere Biography
MAY 10 – 1:00PM Hot Docs Bloor Cinema buy tickets
“So now he’s a man that’s a living conflict”, explains a rabbi.
He is speaking of polish priest Father Romuald Waszkinel, who learned as an adult that his real name was Jacob Waszkinel and that in order to save his life, his mother gave him to a Catholic family in Poland, before eventually herself perishing in the Holocaust. Now, in the twilight of his life, he seeks citizenship to Israel and to covert to Judaism while maintaining his beloved Catholic upbringing at the very same time.
Waszkinel seeks to live on a kibbutz, but its rabbi won’t allow him to practice Catholic ceremonies. Israeli as well as Jewish law won’t allow a Jewish person who has switched faiths to gain citizenship.
It’s a most peculiar situation involving this man, yet as a character in his own life story brought to us by director Ronit Kertsner, he is ironically presented as a man who appears at peace with himself. He’s sort of cheerfully implacable. The conflict is something put on him, but we’re not so sure it is one that truly conflicts him as much as it inconveniences his own sense for what is right.
I love movies like this. First, because you just can’t write stuff this good, and second, because we’re introduced by one of the more unforgettable people we’ve met at the movies with a totally unique life experience. A man who grew to find solace in the Catholic Church and its values, but who then saw fit to explore his original roots and who simply wishes to, as the old folk song goes, “get himself back to the garden”.
There are numerous generic war films in the Holocaust pantheon, some of them great and some of them not so much, but every once in awhile we’re treated to a unique human drama emanating from that time period that goes beyond action cliches into the lives of real individuals who were affected in their own unique ways, and such is the case in the highly absorbing doc “Torn“, featuring Father Romuald Waszkinel, a man not nearly as conflicted as perhaps the lawmakers and rule-keepers are.
Our coverage of the 20th Toronto Jewish Film Festival continues as the festival enters the week. Catch out the earlier parts of our coverage with Part I, Part II, and Part III. The festival is also offering some free screenings as well, so make sure to check them out. Below you will find Part IV of our coverage with Part V coming a little later.
Hopefully you can catch some of these great films as the festival has programmed a wonderful lineup with some lovely and eclectic films.
Portrait of Wally International Premiere Documentary
“Portrait of Wally” is a painting by Austrian Egon Schiele from shortly before WWI of his model and muse. It is also the subject of this very involving documentary, which uses a cultural artifact as a means to get inside the breadth of the effects that a war and a holocaust has on all the lives of those who came to possess the now famous work. Schiele is described as a young libertine, living the artist’s life on the fringe in Vienna. A student of Gustav Klimt, Schiele was an early Expressionist, focusing mostly on the human body in self portraits as well as a multitude of women, many appearing in cheerfully salacious paintings. Schiele was essentially a rock star to his contemporaries, but whose works where seen as disturbing by more elite, white-collar circles.
Schiele died before he reached the age of 30, and many of his works were retained by Lea Bondi, who he knew personally. A curator herself, “Portrait of Wally” hung in her gallery until 1939 when the Nazis came and crashed the party, with an official seizing the painting. We learn in the film that Bondi would spend the rest of her life trying to get the painting back.
What follows is a fairly convoluted narrative that somehow we’re able to digest without ever losing ourselves, and that’s a testament to the film’s director, Andrew Shea, who breaks off just enough for us to chew on before giving us another thread that introduces us to some other curator person. We meet Leopold, the painting’s present owner, as well as his wife, who simply feels it in her bones that the work is the property of her and her husband.
“Portrait of Wally” is careful not to ever get too legalese on us, either. One interview distills something having to do with the laws on recovering artifacts from the war while the next one breaks down the details of 1920′s Vienna, for instance, at the same time that we’re drinking in gorgeous Schiele paintings dripping with a modern sexual energy. As the legal drama ensues, we come to understand the importance and the urgency of the players involved and how attached they are to these stunning works.
This is one of the most compelling movies at the festival, and deserves the wider release it is sure to get once it’s done running the festival circuit.
How to Re-Establish a Vodka Empire Canadian Premiere Documentary
First-time director Daniel Edelstyn has fashioned a quirky and surprisingly satisfying documentary of the exploration of his Jewish Ukrainian roots after he discovers hidden diaries of his father’s mother, Maroussia Zorokovich. He was too young to remember his father, and now the new-found artifacts set off the adult Edelstyn on a personal journey fueled by a lifetime of curiosity and nostalgia for his father, as well as the rest of his family tree.
Edelstyn and his wife Hilary journey to the Ukraine armed only with the name Zorokovich, since the journals are long on juicy material, but short on details and facts. All they’ve got is that last name and their connection it has to his great-grandfather’s fortune in the vodka business. They discover a sugar factory that has long since been shut down, and Daniel is surprised to find himself an heir to the family’s vodka factory that is the commercial backbone of that small town. Go figure.
Edelstyn has an everyman’s presence throughout, with a look that reminds you of Oliver Twist if he were all grown up. Perhaps that has something to do with what is no doubt at times the boy inside the man, finally fulfilling a journey to complete himself in a way.
“How to Re-Establish a Vodka Empire” does not have any big points to make. It sees us through revolution, immigration, displacement, and other sordid historical events with grace and fascination. The film follows Daniel Edelstyn shooting himself taking this journey with sequences of wonderful old archival footage of the Ukraine and long-ago figures like Stalin, and also uses droll re-enactment’s to convey and illustrate passages in his grandmother’s diaries. It is not told with urgency and it does not ask us to care. It simply shows Edelstyn showing himself and then finally showing us, this remarkable document of 20th century Ukraine and this most unique of family stories. That it shows it with such joy is enough, and it reminds us that learning history need not be a boring affair having to do with the memorization of facts, but can be something we can actively engage in just by asking questions and then going after the answers.
We are around the first bend being the first weekend of the 20th Toronto Jewish Film Festival. We have been in providing some reviews over the past week. Be sure to catch Part I and Part II here as well as some info on some of the free screenings the festival is mounting here. Now we bring you Part III of our coverage.
Enjoy and hope to see you at the festival.
In the Shadow of No Towers Feature
If you love the documentary “Crumb” by Terry Zwigoff about artist and cartoonist Robert Crumb, you’ll appreciate this double bill of two long shorts about cartoonist and editor Art Spiegelman. “The Art of Spiegelman” is an overview of his life, born to Polish Jews who survived WWII and made their way to America. The film weaves together interviews of Spiegelman and his wife, Francoise Mouly and is filled with a multitude of images from his work as co-editor of the magazines Raw and Arcade, and as a contributing editor to the New Yorker mag in the 90′s. You may recall some of his covers particularly at the time of the Lewinsky scandal with an image he drew of President Clinton‘s pants being hounded by the paparazzi.
In 1992, Spiegelman found fame after we won a Pulitzer Prize for “Maus”, a graphic novel culled from images over the decades from stories of his parents at the time of the Holocaust, to the heart-wrenching time in the late 60′s after Spiegelman’s mother committed suicide.
His next big work was “In the Shadow of No Towers”, where he animates the details surrounding the events of 9/11, located essentially in the cartoonist’s backyard. “The Art of Spiegelman” is an interesting documentary particularly for fans of edgier, adult-oriented comics and graphic novels.
The second short, based on the title of his work on 9/11, is a wonderful multi-media presentation that dives into his comic and is narrated with aplomb by John Turturro. It follows Art’s ruminations over 9/11, as well as the mundane details of that horrifying day as he and his wife went on a search for their daughter, who had just started going to high school, located less than a couple blocks from the World Trade Center. The images are magnificent and haunting, and throughout both films you can really feel the organic process that his final images have gone through, from life experience at first, to contemplation, to the rendering of them.
Terrific special interest doc here about a relatively happy, open-faced man who lives the artist’s life and who is fascinated by the way he can divorce his feelings from the most morbid of events through his work.
My Australia Canadian Premiere
MAY 7 – 6:00PM BLOOR MAY 9 – 8:00PM SHEPPARD buy tickets
This is a movie that finds us dropping into a time not covered so much on film: the years following World War II. Our story begins from the POV of 10 yr-old Tadek, a Polish Jew being raised to believe he is Catholic. See, his mother represents a more secret kind of Holocaust survivor, one who changed her identity entirely in order to protect herself.
But now Tadek, brought into a Neo-Nazi gang by his brother Andrzej, has gotten in trouble for beating up on Jews for sport. Halina, their mother, not afraid to use her beautiful looks to her advantage, lays down a pack of lies to the on-duty police officer, setting her boys free. Halina is beside herself at the news of what they were up to. The truth is revealed to the boys. She decides it isn’t the best environment for her sons and they briskly depart to Haifa, Israel–though Tadek is assured they’re going to Australia, a country he idealizes.
“My Australia” has you leaning forward in fascination and wonder at a most precarious time in history for this specific kind of family in a story that must have sadly been common to many survivors. The movie does a terrific job of compartmentalizing the adult world of Halina with the child’s world of Tadek, a boy now forced into a coming-of-age where his entire value system and identity come into play. The story arc belongs with him. In an early scene after Halina has gotten them out of the police station, she asks Tadek, “You were beating on Jews?!”. Tadek smiles, proudly, as though it was an achievement. But from the very next sequence he is shaken out of his own young cemented-mind and by the end of the film has journeyed hundreds of miles both physically and internally in just a few short months.
It won the Audience Award at the Jerusalem International Film Festival, and that comes as no surprise. This is a very thoughtful human drama.
Continuing our coverage of the 20th Toronto Jewish Film Festival we bring you the second part of our ongoing series previewing some of the films that you can catch. Check out part one of our preview reviews here with the next batch below. And if you are looking for some great free screenings, TJFF has those as well. Head over to the announcement for all the details.
See you at the fest!
OSS 117: Lost in Rio Comedy
MAY 5 – 9:15PM Underground Cinema MAY 8 – 7:30PM Sheppard Centre
OSS 117 was a series of books started by Jean Bruce beginning in 1949. They featured Bonisseur de La Bath, an American Colonel from Louisiana of French descent. He worked for several agencies, including the CIA, OSS and NSC. When Bruce died in 1963, his wife continued the series writing another 143 novels, and his daughter wrote another 23 after that. The first film adaptation was made in 1957, and based on its success, several were made throughout the 60′s and were a big part of the Eurospy film series.
In 2006, OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies was made as a spoof of the original series. de La Bath was reinvented as a French spy working French Intelligence, SDECE. The film plays out as an odd mix of Austin Powers meets Our Man Flint with a nod to Dean Martin’s Matt Helm series. Now a comedy character played by Jean Dujardin (The Artist), de la Bath is a bumbling idiot complete with the racism, sexism and overall arrogant xenophobic manner that belies his supposed skills as a spy. The character may be off putting to some, but the point of the character is that he is an idiot, and more than a bit of anachronism even for the age he is in. The film was well received and a sequel was made.
Now, OSS 117: Lost in Rio has de La Bath traveling to Rio to track down an ex-Nazi who has a list of French collaborators. Along the way he is also being hunted by the Chinese, chased by two Mexican wrestlers in hoods, visited by foul-mouthed CIA agent Trumendous (Ken Samuels) and teams up with Mossad agent Dolores (Louise Monot). At times the narrative makes no logical sense but the general silliness and clever humor is really what the film is about, so the film never aspires to be anything other than mildly cohesive. It’s a very pleasant kind of silliness. There are some subtle, and quite funny things going on as well. Some of the sight gags happen quickly, or with little of the fanfare so many other jokes are done with, making the overall film more interesting than those it seeks to emulate.
While some might rankle at the anti-Semitism displayed by some of the characters, this black comedy directed by Michel Hazanavicius makes a point to also show how de La Bath fails to seduce Dolores through his inability to say something not anti-Semitic or sexist. The smug French agent is simply unable to restrain himself in his self satisfied lust and arrogance in his own superiority. That he is about as competent as Inspector Clouseau only makes him that much more of a caricature.
With the era shot in perfect split screen, zoom shots and graphics, the sets, costumes and soundtracks all work well to achieve the look and esthetic of the films it seeks to parody. An opening shot of de La Bath dancing with a room full of girls to Dean Martin’s ‘Gentle On My Mind’, utilizing the aforementioned visual tricks only prepares the viewer for what is to follow. It stays quite historically accurate with Bossa Nova tunes and trick shots until the final scene and credits playing another Martin tune, ‘Everybody Love Somebody’.
While not everyone will appreciate the black humor, and some will think the anti-Semitic remarks go too far, overall it is well produced and fun film. While the first few instances seemed shocking, I soon realized the intent was mocking the mindset that allows anti-Semitism, sexism and xenophobia to be acceptable. Once I realized this intent, I was able to enjoy the film as a fantastic alternative to other spoofs already made.
I recommend this as a fun, but interesting period piece spy spoof.
A.K.A. Doc Pomus Closing Night Film Biography
MAY 13 – 7:30PM Bloor Hot Docs Cinema
Directors William Hechter and Peter Miller have made a compelling and thoughtful documentary about the life of songwriter Doc Pomus. Born in Brooklyn as Jerome Felder, he was an unlikely person to become one of the most prolific and sought after songwriters during his career. The Jewish songwriter contracted polio when he was six and spent the rest of his life on crutches or in a wheelchair. Despite this, he chose to become a blues singer at a time when mainly black artists were writing and performing the blues. Despite being a fat Jewish kid on crutches, he began to mange a blues bar where he could sing daily. It was at this point he started using the name Doc Pomus (so his mother wouldn’t recognize his name on the marquee). Still, the record companies saw his disability and color first, and would not sign him. While he was able to record songs, he didn’t have the elusive and ever important recording contract, so he decided to begin selling his songs to others.
Teaming up with Mort Sherman, whom he thought would have a better understanding of the contemporary youth musical tastes than Doc’s own blues based style, the two went on to pen some of the biggest hits of the late 50′s through the mid 60′s. The songs included, “This Magic Moment,” “Save The Last Dance For Me,” “Teenager in Love,” “Can’t Get Used To Losing You,” “Turn Me Loose,” “Hushabye,” “I Count The Tears,” “Sweets for My Sweet” and “Seven Day Weekend”. For Elvis Presley, they produced a series of major hit songs, including “Little Sister,” “Viva Las Vegas,” “His Latest Flame,” “Surrender,” “Suspicion,” “A Mess of Blues” and “Long, Lonely Highway”. He also married a young actress named Willie Burke and the two moved out of the city and began having children. The story of how “Save The Last Dance For Me,” came to be is quite touching.
The writing collaboration broke up at nearly the same time as his marriage. Finding himself unable to work without a partner, he collaborated with several artists during this period, but none proved as successful or as lasting as the one with Sherman. Unable to sustain the income he had while writing fulltime, he turned to gambling, ultimately using his apartments to host frequent games. A new generation of songwriters began to seek him out, and by the mid 70′s the self imposed exile was over.
Working with these new artists he was able to both influence and inspire them, they include, but are not limited to, Dr. John, Ken Hirsch and Willy DeVille. It was Dr. John in particular whom Doc had the most profound relationship during this period of his life. Being a native New Yorker, Doc was sympathetic to the downtrodden and overlooked. He helped both the traps and losers in the neighborhood where he lived, but also helped re-start and re-energize carriers of people who once had inspired him to get into the music business. He was a founder and trustee of the Rhythm and Blues Foundation, trying to ensure that those artists once so well known and important were not forgotten.
While this has been considered his most important period as far as maturity and complexity of writing, it also saw his health begging to fail. By the late 80′s he was mostly in his bed or wheelchair, and always a heavy smoker, he succumbed to lung cancer in 1991 at the age of 65.His influence on the music industry and songwriters is profound and still continues. Versions of his songs continue to be recorded by each new generation of musicians.
I really enjoyed this film and recommend it to anyone interested in a film about triumph over adversity.
Exile – A Myth Unearthed WORLD PREMIERE Documentary
MAY 8 – 5:30PM AL GREEN
In the documentary, Exile: A Myth Unearthed, director Ilan Ziv asks the question, what if what we know or what we think we know about the Jewish exile from the holy land isn’t as accurate as tradition would have us believe. Archeology within the region, most specifically in the ancient town of Sepphoris in Galilee, are showing evidence of a different narrative than the Biblical one so well known. Using evidence and interviews with leading historians and archaeologists, the film weaves diverse threads into a pattern mare complex and rich than until recently has been known.
Starting with the causes of and major players during the first Roman siege of Jerusalem, the impact of Josephus, Titus Flavius and Tiberius Julius Alexander on not only the destruction of the city, but how the narrative of the events would unfold. Josephus, a onetime priest in the order of the Jehoiarib, was also from a wealthy aristocratic family. He was a military commander during the first Jewish-Roman war of 66–73, and while he fought bravely, was captured by the Romans. Predicting that Vespasian would become Emperor of Rome, and it then happening, saw Josephus freed and in the employ of the Roman Flavian dynasty.
It is here that the beginnings of the Exile story begins. Part of Josephus duties was as historian and in describing the first Jewish-Roman war he suggested that God was punishing the Jews for their sins. The second phase of the Jewish-Roman war came in 132–135, known as the Bar Kokhba revolt. It is this second war that sees the Roman refusing to allow Jews to repopulate Jerusalem and the surrounding countryside. Thus begins the exile, the Diaspora, that lasted until the UN resolution in 1947 making the modern state of Israel possible. The exile myth is extremely important to both Christian and Jewish theology, being the basis of understanding of God’s relationship with man to this day.
The question then asked is this, what happened to the Jews exiled? What of those that lived outside of the immediate area of Jerusalem? What happened to the Jews in cities like Sepphoris, in Galilee, which capitulated to Roman rule, and therefore spared from destruction? Did Jews in these other regions, stay put, and if so, what ultimately became of them? Examining the now known evidence, research is beginning to unravel these questions, showing a much more diverse history of the people of the region, Jew, Muslim and Christian, than was previously understood. While it raises some interesting questions, it also unearths some uncomfortable truths, such as the evidence of what really took place at the siege of Masada.
Director Ilan Ziv has made an interesting and thoughtful film. One that doesn’t seek to question religious belief as much as it takes a historian’s view of events, trying to accurately and truthfully recreate a timeline of events, and how events impacted those that both lived through them and came after.
I enjoyed this film, as much as I find biblical history fascinating, some will find the subject unsettling as it directly questions their faith.
There are discount movie nights. And then there’s free. And this year the Toronto Jewish Film Festival is opening its doors - free of charge – to a number of screenings, as well as stimulating talks.
A “Sensory Friendly” screening of Joseph and The Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, starring Donny Osmond, will offer families and children affected by autism a chance to see a movie on the big screen together—often for the very first time. Taking place Saturday May 12 at noon at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema, this screening will provide a safe and welcome setting. The theatre will have the lights turned up and the sound turned down, and we invite audience members to get up, dance in the aisles and sing along!
Five minutes prior to any screening at the Festival, students with valid ID will be admitted for free from the Rush Line. Subject to availability.
Saturday May 5th, beginning at 12pm, at Innis Town Hall, 2 Sussex Ave (at the corner of St. George)
It’s Party time as TJFF celebrates its new venue with music, food, advance ticket sales and the following FREE events:
1pm: Film critic and author Kevin Courrier presents a talk, illustrated with film clips, entitled “Notes and Frames: The Neglected Art of Film Music”. This special talk traces the history of the great Jewish film composers—from the silent era to the present day. Kevin will explore whether or not a good score can save a bad picture and the impact of pop music on films.
3pm: Joshua Waletzky’s Music for the Movies: Bernard Herrmann is an Academy Award®-nominated portrait of one of the most influential film composers of all times. The legendary Herrmann wrote the music for more than 50 films—from Citizen Kane to Taxi Driver. A master at creating dramatic tension, Herrmann is best known for his collaborations with director Alfred Hitchcock. The documentary will be followed with an excerpt of an interview with composer Danny Elfman and director Tim Burton.
Additional Free Programs at TJFF 2012 include:
Sunday May 6 at 12pm at Al Green Theatre, 750 Spadina Ave. The Oscar-nominated Joshua Waletzky has directed another excellent documentary on soundtrack magic, Music for the Movies: The Hollywood Sound. Movie music from the Golden Age of Hollywood was virtually invented by Jewish exiles from Nazi Germany, Europe and Russia. This entertaining documentary incorporates a wealth of film clips, and showcases such legendary composers as Max Steiner, Erich Korngold, Franz Waxman and Dimitri Tiomkin. The documentary will be followed with excerpts from exclusive TVO interviews with composers David and Thomas Newman.
Saturday May 12 at 2:30pm at Bloor Hot Docs Cinema, 506 Bloor St. W. Leonard Cohen (spotlighted in last year’s TJFF sidebar series, The Three Lennys) is the recipient of the Ninth Laureate of the Glenn Gould Prize, to be presented in Toronto on May 14. In honour of Cohen, the Festival presents a special programme, consisting of three films: I’m Your Man, I Am A Hotel, and Ladies and Gentlemen…Mr. Leonard Cohen. Co-presented with the Glenn Gould Foundation.
Saturday May 12 at 4pm at Bloor Hot Docs Cinema, 506 Bloor St W. A must-see doc about one of the legends of film scoring, Fred Karlin’s Film Music Masters: Jerry Goldsmith is an illuminating homage to the musical genius of the Oscar-winning film and television composer Goldsmith (Chinatown, Star Trek, Twilight Zone). The film (not available anywhere else) includes a wealth of film clips, as well as rare interviews with Goldsmith and colleagues. The documentary will be introduced by film music journalist Mark Hasan.
Saturday May 12 at 7pm at Bloor Hot Docs Cinema, 506 Bloor St W. Rodney Greenberg’s Movie Music Man: A Portrait of Lalo Schifrin is an enjoyable concert film featuring award-winning Argentinian-born composer/conductor Lalo Schifrin and guest jazz artists, Dizzy Gillespie, Ray Brown and Grady Tate. The film incorporates clips from Schifrin’s celebrated film scores (Mission Impossible, Bullitt, Cool Hand Luke). The programme also includes an excerpt from an exclusive TVO interview with composer Laurence Rosenthal (Beckett, The Miracle Worker).
Sunday May 13 at 11am at Bloor Hot Docs Cinema, 506 Bloor St W. Film scholar Eric Goldman delivers a lecture with film clips entitled “The New Yiddish Cinema: Renaissance or Curiosity?” Filmmakers in France, Israel and the United States have recently turned to Yiddish as the central language of their films. Why is there renewed interest in what was thought to be the dying language of the diaspora, and who are the auteurs of the new era of Yiddish filmmaking?
All free events require tickets, which must be ordered in person at the TJFF box office. Tickets are subject to availability. One ticket per person/ per free event.
The Festival now screens in six venues: the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema (506 Bloor St. W. at Bathurst St.) the Al Green Theatre (750 Spadina Ave), the Cineplex Odeon Sheppard Cinemas (4861 Yonge St. at Sheppard Ave.), the Toronto Underground Cinema (186 Spadina Ave.) Innis Town Hall (2 Sussex Ave) and the Cineplex Odeon Varsity and VIP Cinemas (55 Bloor St W.)
PRICES (HST included)
Single Tickets: $13 Opening Night: $20 Closing Night $18 Senior/Student Tickets: $9 (ID required) Weekday Matinees: $8 (Monday–Friday before 5 pm) Free Student Admission: Subject to availability. Five minutes prior to each screening, students with ID will be admitted for free from a Rush Line.
Free Screenings: All free events require tickets and must be ordered in person at a TJFF box office. Tickets are subject to availability. One ticket per person/ per free event. Opening Night – Advance purchase at tjff.com, cash only at door (subject to availability)
Running from May 3rd to 13th at various locations around the city, the Toronto Jewish Film Festival is one of the many fantastic Film Festivals that make up the unmatched Cultural DNA that the city of Toronto possesses. Celebrating its 20th Anniversary with over 95 films representing 15 countries, the festival presents films, documentaries and shorts from around the world on themes of Jewish culture and identity.
This year’s Festival also focuses on the arts, as it presents portraits of writers Philip Roth and Howard Fast; songwriter Jerome Felder (aka Doc Pomus); comic book artist Art Spiegelman; violinist Jascha Heifetz; and movie star Tony Curtis. Cabaret-Berlin, The Wild Scene celebrates the modernity of Berlin’s artistic scene of the 1920’s and early 30’s, and the Jewish artists who contributed to it. And this year’s sidebar series, The Sound of Movies: Masters of the Film Score, celebrates the lives and work of Jewish composers who created (and continue to create) music for the movies.
And of course Xavierpop is there giving the access like no else can.
Our intrepid reviewers Louis (@louisyyz) and MovieJay (@moviejay) have watched a whole whackload of the movies in advance of the festival and these are the first of reviews on them. The Festival has a great lineup and is going all out celebrating its 20th Anniversary so make sure you check it out.
We’ll be there, hopefully we’ll see you.
This is Sodom Comedy
The Eretz Nehederet Show (A Wonderful Country) is a hugely successful satirical show that mocks and ridicules the countries leaders, politicians and current events that airs Friday nights in Israel. The troupe that writes and acts in the show recently took the next logical step and moved onto the big screen with This is Sodom as their first film. The movie proved to be a huge success in Israel, breaking box-office records becoming one of the most successful films in the last few decades.
This is Sodom is a comedy that takes a look at God, Abraham, Lot and the destruction of Sodom. God (Eyal Kitzis) appears outside of old Abraham’s (Mordechai Kirschenbaum) tent, seeking to get him to convert to monotheism. During a tough negotiation, Abraham discovers God intends to destroy Sodom, and demands his nephew Lot (Dov Navon), the only righteous man in Sodom, be spared from the destruction. Raphael (Yuval Semo) and Michael (Maor Cohen), two angels, are tasked with the destruction and are well on their way to doing so when God calls them to get Lot out first. Evil King Bera (Eli Finish) intercepts the message, and plots to replace Lot with himself and escape. Using his son, Prince Ninveh (Assi Cohen) to wed Lot’s daughter (Alma Zack). Being a farce, all sorts of doing, counter doings and trickery ensue, also being satire the Biblical story is blown up and reassembled.
The film, from the opening scene, does a fantastic job of making general silliness out of well known Biblical stories. Much like Monty Python‘s ‘Life of Brian’, it seeks to retell these stories with an eye squarely on the absurd. God being a negotiator carrying a briefcase with phone and computer built in, Raphael and Michael dressed as motor cops, complete with riding bikes through the desert, Lot’s wife and daughter only being called Lot’s Wife and Lot’s Daughter, all lead to a general silliness and lightness born from years of hearing the stories as all too serious and solemn. It shows them not as straightforward good and evil, but rather opportunists mucking about trying to make the best of it.
While most of the jokes will be obvious, the language barrier means some of the more subtle aspects of the exchanges are lost. In one scene, there is a double entendre, explained in the subtitles, is quite funny, but suggests other phrases or words might be lost on non Hebrew viewers. Although this does happen, the film only suffers marginally from it and can still be thoroughly enjoyed. An enjoyable mix of sight gags and wordplay, the film relies on at least a little knowledge of Biblical stories. They mix and match stories along the way as it suits them, always with an eye firmly fixed on humor.
The troupe that made this are called ‘The Monty Python of Israel’. With this film it is very easy to see why. Silliness is their stock and trade and this film definitely brings all of the elements that made their show a hit to the big screen.
Recommended for anyone looking for some laughs.
Off-White Lies Comedy
MAY 8 – 6:15PM SHEPPARD MAY 9 – 9:00PM BLOOR buy tickets
Off -White Lies is the debut effort of writer and director Maya Kenig. It tells the story of Libi (Elya Inbar), a bright, 13 year old girl who has been living with her mother in the United States and has been sent to Israel to live with her father, Shaul (Gur Bentvich). The seemingly shy and quiet girl and her father set out to their new lives together. We soon find Shaul and Libi with friends in the north, hiding in a shelter due to war. In the shelter, Libi hears Shaul admit to his friend that he and the girl have no place to live. Upon leaving, the two venture back south to return the borrowed car, but not gaining a place to stay with the car’s owner, Shaul hits upon the idea of posing as war refugees from the north. Soon they find themselves in a home, building a relationship, but both know the deception cannot last forever.
Shaul is an inventor but has a childlike, eccentric view of himself and the world. Libi, on the other hand, finds the fact she is not still with her mother bad enough, but Shaul’s behavior even worse. It is never made clear why the mother sent the girl to her father, other than a passing mention of a new husband. As the two start to build the father-daughter relationship, Shaul also begins to use the people in the home for personal gain. The father is courted as a business partner for his latest invention, the mother as a new lover, and his own daughter as cover of their true plight.
Shaul never comes off as either a interesting man-child, or as properly roguish, but rather an odd mix of liar and opportunist. Libi comes off as rather annoyed by her father, his actions, and being in this situation, yet is willing to go along with it. Libi has all the teenage angst, coupled with the realization that she has been lied to about her father, her mother, and their relationship. Shaul knows the truth, but seeks to keep hiding behind the lies, simply accepting the situation. I know some of what is going on is lost in translation. There are cultural references that simply will not be understood by a non native speaker in a different country. The story is slow to start, and meanders along at a leisurely pace, never really wanting to rush itself, or its characters into anything.
I thoroughly enjoyed this film. It is different than the usual, Hollywood style, sappy film about building new relationships with family. It also avoids the cherry ending where it all works out for the best. Instead, it is more of a slice of life film. It is endearing because it is so straightforward in its depiction of this new family trying to find its way. Rather than make it larger than life, it understates its goals and it’s views on life, family, and how the small decisions we make effect one another. In the end, it is family, however dysfunctional, that we care and rely on.