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Looking Back At The 20th Annual New York Jewish Film Festival

Last week marked the close of the 20th anniversary of the New York Jewish Film Festival.  The festival –which ran from Jan 12th through the 27th, — featured a variety narrative and documentary films that were screened at the Jewish Museum, The JCC in Manhattan and the Walter Reade Theater.  Here’s a rundown of some of the festivals highlights.

Red Shirley

While it’s not so far fetched an idea that Lou Reed might try his hand at directing, the idea that his first film would feature Reed himself doing an interview does seem a bit odd.  Reed, a man known being the most difficult interviewee in the world sits down with his cousin Shirley on the eve of her 100th birthday to talk bout her experiences immigrating to America from Poland.  Shirley talks about leaving Poland following war-related pogroms and heading to Canada.  In Canada she learns the mandolin but quickly leaves, finding it too “provincial.”  She then makes her way into the United States illegally and settles as a dressmaker in NYC who gets involved in workers rights issues.  The interview is filled with some rather awkward moments that almost gives it a bit of a Warhollian feel, but mostly Reed’s affection toward his relative and the history inherent in Shirley’s story make it well worth watching.

The Human Resources Manager

An interesting look into the current state of Israeli cinema, The Human Resources Manager is a look into the world of an HR rep at Israel’s largest bakery.  After a company employee dies in a suicide bombing, the HR Manager must make recompense in order to save face for the company.  In doing so, he finds himself identifying with and admiring this person whom he’s never met. The film stars Mark Ivanir whose role in Schindler’s List began his career and is directed by Israeli film vet, Eran Riklis.

Eichmann’s End

I once found myself courting a young woman and somewhere along the line, I overheard her making anti-semetic remarks.  Instead of ending the courting process there, I soldiered on with even greater zeal.  I’m not sure if I had some kind of Jewish vengeance fantasy embedded in my subconscious, but I at least figured that after she’d fallen for me, I could unveil my Jewishness, thereby causing her to re-think her prejudices.

Adolph Eichmann managed to escape custody after the war and eventually found a safe hiding spot in Argentina.  Massad, The Avengers, anyone with an interest in bringing Nazi’s to justice remained unable to track him down for years.  In Eichmann’s End, we are told the story of how Eichmann finally met capture when his son began dating the daughter of a local Holocaust survivor.  The film is something of a narrative/documentary hybrid, telling this tale through a series of interviews and re-enactments.  This story itself is extremely thrilling and Eichmann’s End tells it with style.  The re-enactments are well acted and the casting seems dead on.   Eichmann’s end is an absolute highlight of the festival.

The Socalled Movie

Josh Dolgin is a hip-hop/funk/klezmer musician known as “Socalled.”  This documentary follows him on a klezmer based European cruise, then on to the Apollo theater in Harlem, and through artistic ventures in Montreal.  There are some very interesting choices in this documentary.  In particular, the way the subject of Dolgin’s sexuality is introduced is subtle and somewhat enigmatic at first.  The film really acts an interesting look at the creative process in general in a way that’s similar to The Devil in Daniel Johnston, minus the neurosis. Dolgin’s innate charm carries the film, but camera work and presentation are extremely well executed.  The screening of this film at The Walter Reade Theater featured a live performance by Socalled on keyboards and accordion along with an accompanying vocalist.

(Images via The Jewish Museum)

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