Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Jason goes to Jewfest North--Wednesday, August 6

Okay, it's officially more than a week old. Due to personal commitments (congratulations again, Cynthia and Yuri!), I haven't had time to write. In fact, I barely had time to see a movie all last week. But one phrase brought me up to one more North Jewfest screening last Wednesday--"Israeli Holocaust Pornography". More on that in a moment.

The late show last Wednesday was another double bill of Heymann brothers documentaries, starting with "It Kinda Scares Me", directed by and starring Tomer Heymann. Tomer, as well as a filmmaker, is a volunteer drama coach in a program for at-risk Israeli youth. He sets out to coach them through writing, rehearsing, and performing an original play. They start with no idea what the play will be about, workshop some ideas, and then Tomer happens to mention that he's gay. This is about halfway through the movie, after they've been working together for a while, and it completely changes their relationships. Suddenly the movie becomes about how they react not just to his homosexuality, but his keeping it a secret (and whether it's any of their business anyway). The title comes directly from a quote from one of the kids. But they're still dedicated to putting on a play, and now they have an idea for a subject--their reactions to Tomer coming out of the closet. And so the play "Tomer and the Boys" is written and performed.

And then the movie that really brought me out to the festival one last night: "Stalags--Holocaust and Pornography in Israel". Nowadays the horrors and atrocities of the Holocaust are pretty well known, but I've never thought much about how they were first revealed. Well, after the Eichmann trial, for many Israelis the first accounts (at least in Hebrew) came in the form of soft-core erotic paperbacks called "Stalags". They generally have a formula--American/British GI is captured by Nazis, sent to a prison camp, and sexually humiliated and tortured by buxom female German guards (sort of a precursor to "Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS"). Conversely, stories of Jewish women kept in a brothel in Auschwitz were popularized by "The House of Dolls" by K. Tzetnik (which is still used in Israeli high schools today, despite controversy surrounding it's validity). These only existed for 2 years in the 60's, until the Israeli courts declared them pornography and banned them. But their brief existence (and the collector culture that still exists) raises some interesting points about the fetishizing of victimization. It was also interesting to learn that many of the first settlers to Israel weren't Holocaust survivors but people who emigrated out of Europe before the Holocaust. So when survivors started arriving, they were sometimes treated with suspicion and an attitude of "well, I was smart enough to emigrate before things got bad, so what's wrong with you?" Then when these books hit the market things got even worse for the survivors, as there was now suspicion around "what did you do to survive?" It's a fascinating documentary, controversial subject (obviously), and a point of view I never knew existed.

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