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David Poland

By David Poland poland@moviecitynews.com

15th New York Jewish Film Festival Settles in at Lincoln Center


Festival season is officially back in swing in the city, where the New York Jewish Film Festival fires up tonight at Lincoln Center. For 2006, the event’s programmers have locked up two world premieres, five U.S. premieres and 16 New York premieres from more than a dozen countries–not bad for a festival that started 15 years ago screening eight films over the course of a week.
“I’m really excited about this year’s program,” festival director Aviva Weintraub told The Reeler in a conversation late last week. “I mean, it feels extremely international–which it always is–but we’ve got some entires from countries that we don’t often have represented. We have a terrific short from Mexico (Jai), and our opening film, Live and Become (above), is beautiful. The director, Radu Mihaileanu, was born in Romania, but the film is a French-Israeli co-production, and it’s about an Ethiopian boy who’s sent to Israel. It’s a very moving drama.”
Adding to the international mix are the festival’s two world premieres, both documentaries looking at the Iranian Jewish experience. Love Iranian-American Style follows good-humored filmmaker Tanaz Eshaghian around New York and “Irangeles” as her family pushes her toward marriage, while Ramin Farahani’s Jews of Iran looks closer at the lives of Persian Jews who stayed in Iran after 1979’s Islamic Revolution. Farahani’s presentation of his film will mark the first-ever appearance by an Iranian filmmaker at the festival.
Among the New York documentary premieres are Erik Greenberg Anjou’s A Cantor’s Tale–about a Brooklynite who inherits the celebrated cantorial tradition of Eastern Europe–and Jerry Blumenthal and Gordon Quinn’s follow up to their 1988 New York Film Festival entry Golub. The duo’s latest, Golub: Late Works Are the Catastrophes, chronicles the last months of the trailblazing artist’s life in 2004. Another notable New York doc, Ira Wohl’s Best Sister, returns to the family thread Wohl followed through his Oscar-winning Best Boy and Best Man.

In conjunction with the Jewish Museum‘s Sarah Bernhardt: The Art of High Drama exhibiton, festival organizers also programmed a pair of little-seen Bernhardt films from 1912 (Queen Elizabeth and Lady of the Camelias). But even the rare Bernhardt pictures have likely been viewed more frequently than some of the festival’s more contemporary selections. “We try to show as many premieres as possible,” Weintraub said. “Any film that’s had a theatrical release, we don’t show in the festival. Our emphasis is always on bringing new films to New York, and some of them do go on after the festival to have theatrical releases. For some of them, we turn out to be the only venue to have presented them.”
Aditional screenings branch out into the Jewish Museum and Makor as well, so get your running shoes on and plan ahead–you have 16 days to take advantage, and it goes fast. And you know it is never too early to get back in shape for that long festival grind. At least not in this town.

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“Ten years ago at Telluride, I said on a panel that theatrical distribution was dying. It seemed obvious to me. I was surprised how many in the audience violently objected: ‘People will always want to go to the movies!’ That’s true, but it’s also true that theatrical cinema as we once knew it has died. Theatrical cinema is now Event Cinema, just as theatrical plays and musical performances are Events. No one just goes to a movie. It’s a planned occasion. Four types of Event Cinema remain.
1. Spectacle (IMAX-style blockbusters)
2. Family (cartoon like features)
3. Horror (teen-driven), and
4. Film Club (formerly arthouse but now anything serious).

There are isolated pockets like black cinema, romcom, girl’s-night-out, seniors, teen gross-outs, but it’s primarily those four. Everything else is TV. Now I have to go back to episode five of ‘Looming Tower.'”
~ Paul Schrader

“Because of my relative candor on Twitter regarding why I quit my day job, my DMs have overflowed with similar stories from colleagues around the globe. These peeks behind the curtains of film festivals, venues, distributors and funding bodies weren’t pretty. Certain dismal patterns recurred (and resonated): Boards who don’t engage with or even understand their organization’s artistic mission and are insensitive to the diverse neighborhood in which their organization’s venue is located; incompetent founders and/or presidents who create only obstacles, never solutions; unduly empowered, Trumpian bean counters who chip away at the taste and experiences that make organizations’ cultural offerings special; expensive PR teams that don’t bring to the table a bare-minimum familiarity with the rich subcultural art form they’re half-heartedly peddling as “product”; nonprofit arts organizations for whom art now ranks as a distant-second goal behind profit.”
~ Eric Allen Hatch