Friday, August 22, 2014

Jason goes to Jewfest North--August 3rd

My one day at the Castro, and my last day at the festival. There were a lot of good movies at Jewfest this year, and I managed to see a fair number, but nowhere near the amount I usually see.

SALOMEA'S NOSE: This autobiograph-ish short tells the story of a family's "day of tragedy" when baby Salomea's brothers were playing around and accidentally broke her nose. And then in hiding from it, ended up injuring themselves as well. Life-long injuries to everyone all on the same day.

THE STURGEON QUEENS: That short was the lead in to this delightful documentary about multiple generations of famed New York smoked fish shop Russ & Daughters. Now I'm not a New Yorker, so I didn't know about this place in advance. But when the opening shot of the movie is Justice Ginsberg talking about her favorite fish from Russ & Daughters, I sit up and take notice. This place is apparently an institution there, surviving all the changes to the neighborhood. What in retrospect might seem like a forward thinking progressive step in naming the fish shop after the daughters (when everyone else was bringing their sons into the business and naming their shops as such) was really just a pragmatic business choice. Russ had no sons, and his daughters cut fish well (the standard, of course, is if you can read the New York Times through the lox.) That pragmatism carries through to the days where they hire a Latino to cut fish for their still predominantly Jewish customers. Two of the original daughters--100-year-old Hattie Russ Gold and 92-year-old Anne Russ Federman, the original "Sturgeon Queens"--are still alive and are absolutely adorable in the movie, as their grandchildren are now running the shop (and expanding into a cafe.) It seems every generation of Russes tries their hand at something else--lawyer, businessman, whatever--but they always seem to be drawn back to the store by some genetic magnet. And that continuity, even as the world changes, and they change along with it, is pretty cool. Although it's unthinkable that the original store would sell something called a Heebster Sandwich, I gotta say it sounds pretty damn delicious and the next time I'm in New York I'll have to try it out.

SOME VACATION: The next show started with this short, a funny, animated, autobiographical story of a father who combines a family vacation with his traveling salesman job.

HAVANA CURVEBALL: And the feature was a cool movie about charity, a mitzvah, and learning about other cultures and international politics. Bar Mitzvah boy Mica has a great idea. He heard about how poor Cubans were, and how much they loved baseball. He loves baseball too, and is dismayed to hear they don't have proper baseball gear there. So he organizes a drive to collect gear--bats, balls, gloves, etc.--and send them to a charity in Cuba. But he quickly learns it's not that easy. It's illegal to mail anything to Cuba from the United States. So his family takes a roadtrip to Canada. And he ships out the package...and he hears nothing from it. Now I have to stop and say his parents are filmmakers and this is their film, so maybe all of this doesn't happen if he didn't have such engaged parents who could recognize a great story. Anyway, it's a struggle to get any news from the Canadian mail, but he sticks with it. This is his project, and he'll see it through even if it means going to Cuba himself. Spoiler alert, he goes to Cuba. He meets his baseball-loving contemporaries there. He sees how they fight over the gear he brings. And it's beautiful...and confusing...and sometimes difficult. It's a great story of cross-cultural learning and coming-of-age at the same time.

EL CRITICO: Then it was time for a little clever light comedy. VĂ­ctor Tellez is a jaded film critic who especially despises the cliches of romantic comedy. So of course he falls in love and starts living all those ridiculous rom-com cliches--even a ridiculous run through the rain in a pretty hilarious climax. I also particularly liked how his reviews start going soft and he praises things that his colleagues would never like and so they tease him horribly. That's maybe a little too on the nose, but I can attest it's absolutely true.

LITTLE HORRIBLES: MINIBAR: And the final show started with this short, wherein our heroine has no self-control and bribes her little sister into taking blame for ransacking the minibar at the hotel where they're staying on vacation.

LITTLE WHITE LIE: And then the day ended with a really remarkable true-life oddity. Lacey Schwartz never questioned her identity growing up. She was a white, Jewish daughter of white, Jewish parents. It didn't really matter that her skin was dark. That was just because of her Sicilian great-grandfather, right? The thing is...she's pretty obviously black to look at her. And everyone treated her as black. And when she applied to Georgetown she was questioning it enough that she didn't check a box next to any race but sent a they admitted her as a black student. Sure enough, when she confronts her mom (after she and her father were divorced) she admitted to an affair with a black family friend who was undoubtedly her father. That's a good 45 minutes into the movie (ummm...I guess I should've said SPOILER ALERT!) Anyway, it's a fascinating story of race, identity, and most of all a family that really, really, has a hard time communicating.

Total Running Time: 302 minutes
My Total Minutes: 369,044

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