Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Jason goes to Jewfest North--Day 5

Four more shows on Tuesday, here we go.

We started with a documentary, GOD'S FIDDLER about the brilliant violinist Jascha Heifetz. It's a fairly standard hero worship movie, which is fine when the hero is so accomplished. He was a prodigy, born in Russia, debuted at age seven, and played Carnegie Hall by age 17. As the movie itself says, "that's all there is to say." Of course, it goes on to say quite a lot more. It uses home movies and concert footage to showcase the talent, and interviews to try to get to the soul of the man--and eventually teacher. The big recurring theme was the criticism that he was a "cold" player. On stage his face was inexpressive, but his fiddle spoke volumes. At one point, an interviewee suggests you just close your eyes and listen instead of looking at his face. Well, I was plenty exhausted so that was easy, I was doing that a lot. Luckily, this is the sort of music-filled movie (BTW, Jews in Tunes is an official theme of the festival) that is just as enjoyable to watch with your eyes closed. I also liked the stories of his humor, although admittedly a lot of the humor relied on the fact it was the "cold" Heifetz being silly. And my favorite story was actually about him in WWII, playing for the troops. One day there was a horrible rainstorm and they suggested cancelling his concert, but he insisted unless he was really ill he would not cancel a performance. So he ended up playing for one soldier  sitting under an umbrella, and he said it was his finest performance ever.

The next show started with a short, and kept with the musical theme. MUSIC MAN MURRAY is the life story of Murray Gershenz, an avid music collector (everything from CD's to Edison wax cylinders) who owns a record shop in L.A. He's getting on in years, and is looking to unload his multi-million dollar collection, but so far no takers. It's an endearing portrait of a life and a passion. And the whole time I was thinking, 'this guy looks really familiar.' And then in the end, they reveal he's also a character actor who has been in THE HANGOVER and THE SARAH SILVERMAN PROGRAM. Oddly enough, this is the first of two times this happened to me on Tuesday.

That was the lead in to LIFE IN STILLS, a feature that plays on similar themes of a life's work. In this case, the life is 96 year-old Miriam Weissenstein, the widow of Rudi Weissenstein. Rudi was a photographer, and in fact an official photographer of the Israeli Declaration of Independence and a visual chronicler of daily and political life in Israel for decades (until he passed away in 1992.) He opened a studio in Tel Aviv, and Miriam still runs it with her grandson Ben. Or she did. The city wants to tear down the studio to make way for a new high rise. So the movie takes on a sad tone as such a rich legacy is threatened with destruction. And even if the prints and negatives survive in a new location, it's just sad to see the past not treated with respect.

Unfortunately, as I mentioned earlier I was pretty exhausted and had trouble keeping my eyes open. That's not much of a problem when you're dealing with music documentaries and you can still listen with your eyes closed, but I feel I missed quite a bit of this movie by struggling to keep awake.

So I loaded up with a large, caffeine-rich soda and settled in for the spotlight screening.

And the spotlight presentation was THE OTHER SON, a switched-at-birth drama-comedy set in Israel and Palestine. Joseph Silberg is turning 18, and it's time for his military service. He wants to be a paratrooper for a few years, and then get on with his dream of being a musician. But something odd shows up in the physical--his blood is A+, while both his parents are A-. After a bit of suspicion that his mother was unfaithful, an investigation reveals that he was switched at birth. See, he was born during the Gulf War, and a scud missile threat triggered an evacuation. In the chaos, he was switched with another baby born at the same hospital and the same time. And that baby grew up to be Yacine Al-Bezaaz. For those who don't recognize names, that's a Palestinian name. His biological parents live in the West Bank, and his biological mother was visiting her cousin in Haifa when he was born early.

So switched-at-birth stories are usually screwball comedies, but of course this situation is a little more serious. There's a lot of conflict to resolve. Joseph is dismayed to find he now has to convert to Judaism, while technically Yacine is automatically Jewish. Yacine isn't too thrilled to discover he's actually one of the hated occupiers (and his brother Bilal is even more angry.) Both fathers have a hard time with it. But I loved how the mothers took a look at each other and with no words passed you can tell they immediately knew how each other was feeling. Our differences may be great, but motherhood is pretty universal. My immediate reaction was, 'well, they'll all have to become one weirdly extended family now.' And without giving too much away...something like that happens. In the Q&A, Jules Sitruk (who plays Joseph) mentioned that while the film has been well received both in Israel and Palestine, it has gotten some criticism for being naive. I like to think that by making it a human, family story instead of an overtly political story it earns the right to be so naive and still believable.

And finally, we ended the night with yet another music documentary...kinda. BEN LEE: CATCH MY DISEASE is the story of Ben Lee (of course!) He's a nice Jewish boy from Sydney, Australia who became a rock star at age 14. He was actually there to introduce the movie, and since it follows him from when he was about 19 through to the birth of his daughter (when he was 30) he warned us how awkward it is to watch yourself in your late teens/early twenties. Of course, when a lot of those years involve making out with Claire Danes, it's probably a little less awkward than most. Yeah, they had quite a romance, but they eventually broke up. And that left Ben a little broken. A lot of the movie is his evolution from a "precocious little cunt" to a rock star to a pop star to a spiritual seeker in India. And it seems like he's found a happy life now, not trying to become a rock star but just trying to become himself. Oh, and remember how I mentioned earlier about how twice today I saw a movie that made me think, 'I've seen that guy before?' Well, Ben was also the star of THE RAGE IN PLACID LAKE. I loved that movie! Awesome! And he was there for a brief Q&A afterwards with his wife Ione Skye (oddly, while he's not really a practicing Jew anymore, he did marry a Jew, so that made his mom happy.)

And that was yet another day at Jewfest North.

Total Running Time: 359 minutes
My Total Minutes: 293,452
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