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Eric A. Goldman
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‘A Borrowed Identity’

FilmPublished: 26 June 2015

In Israel, making films during the early years of the state was a difficult enterprise.

With no government funding, creative movie-makers got minimal investment monies and often knocked out low-budget films to a public generally not interested in seeing them. But by the 1980s funds had been created to assist filmmakers, and seed money to jump-start movie production has become more readily available during the last 15 years. The result has been a growth in the number of film schools in Israel, and increasingly in the production of world-class films that can compete on the world market with films from anywhere.

A few decades ago, a filmmaker often would wait seven or eight years before making the next film; today, many Israeli directors are making films every two or three years, and the movies are getting better and better. The result is that an increasing number of Israeli filmmakers now have a body of work that can be seen, studied, and analyzed. One of these filmmakers is Eran Riklis, whose latest film, “A Borrowed Identity,” opens today in New York.


Movies at KulturefestNYC

FilmPublished: 12 June 2015

It is not every week when you can see 37 films in seven days — all celebrating the renaissance of Yiddish culture.

Starting Sunday, as part of KulturfestNYC, the National Yiddish Theatre — Folksbiene will present the largest festival of Yiddish culture cinema ever presented anywhere. (In full disclosure, I am pleased to have been asked to curate and moderate the film series.)

A century ago, Yiddish cinema began. It was seen as a way to convey Yiddish theater to the far ends of Europe. In Soviet Russia, it became a medium for Jewish expression in a Communist realm that first encouraged it and then later demanded ideological conformity. Throughout the 1930s, it continued as a creative force, both in the United States and in Poland, as a source of entertainment and a bulwark against assimilation. After World War II, Yiddish movies served to provide comfort to those in need of that consolation.


Felix and Meira

FilmPublished: 24 April 2015

One of the more exciting developments in cinema over the last decades is an effort to contemplate aspects of ultra-Orthodox Jewish life.

Though you might think that the unseen and somewhat mystical world of the chasidim would invite cinematic study, few narrative and documentary filmmakers have done so. Adapting Chaim Potok’s novel for the screen in 1981, Jeremy Paul Kagan gave us “The Chosen,” and 16 years later, Menachem Daum and Oren Rudavsky brought us the documentary, “A Life Apart: chasidism in America.” In the years that followed, a few Israeli filmmakers, including Amos Gitai, made unflattering movies about that world. Now, Maxime Giroux’s “Félix and Meira,” a powerful study of disparate worlds colliding when a young chasidic mother unexpectedly meets a non-Jewish man as he struggles to come to grips with his father’s death, charts new ground.


‘Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem’

FilmPublished: 13 February 2015

Bureaucracy often has been a great subject for cinema.

Many of its foibles are universal; over the years, we have been treated to films from all parts of the world that tackled issues of citizen rights vs. the travails of dealing with government. Not surprisingly, Israeli filmmakers have used cinema to try to bring some of these issues out in the open, hoping that public discussion might pave the way for change. Two of the great ‘60s classics of Israeli cinema, “Sallah” and “The Blaumilch Canal,” written by satirist Ephraim Kishon, showed how ordinary Israeli citizens met with obstacle after obstacle as they tried to find their way in their society. Now, with “Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem,” co-directors and co-screenwriters Ronit and Shlomi Elkabetz have delved into the all-too-problematic issue of divorce in Israel; they very much hope the film will spark greater public debate and change.


‘Above and Beyond’

FilmPublished: 30 January 2015

Every once in a while, a filmmaker captures the essence of what the State of Israel means to the Jewish people in general and to America’s Jews in particular.

“Above and Beyond” provides a remarkable look at the birth of Israel’s air force. Perhaps more importantly, it considers the ways in which Israel can affect the lives of Jews in America.

On one level, this is a film about a group of veteran World War II pilots and navigators who volunteered to fly airplanes for Israel during the 1948 War of Independence, when Israel’s enemies had air power and Israel did not. This story has been told on film before, but after she saw the obituary of Al Schwimmer in 2011, producer Nancy Spielberg decided to provide a broader look at the “band of brothers” who changed the course of Jewish history, and who indeed may have saved Israel at a time when its very existence was at risk.


When is a Jewish movie a Jewish movie?

FilmPublished: 16 January 2015

I don’t quite get it.

The New York Jewish Film Festival opened on Wednesday, and it seems to me that about one third of the 47 films screened there are not Jewish movies. That doesn’t make much sense to me. When I go to see films at a Jewish film festival, I expect to see films that are in some way Jewish.

For me, a Jewish film is a movie about anything related to the Jewish experience. The 24th New York Jewish Film Festival is presented by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and the Jewish Museum. When I questioned Aviva Weintraub, who is the museum’s associate curator and the director of the festival, about the selection committee’s choices, she said, “Our goal is for the program as a whole to add up to more than the sum of the individual films. Each season, we strive to deepen the definition from the most obvious, evidently Jewish characters, Israel, and/or historical Jewish events to a broader perspective.”

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‘Zero Motivation’

A woman’s look at women in the Israeli military

FilmPublished: 05 December 2014

Let’s face it! There is a very strong sense that Israel today is a society that men largely dominate. We certainly see this in the majority of Israeli films, and in various other aspects of Israeli life.

We looked at photographs and films from earlier times, showing men and women working side by side in the field or defending the country together, weapons in hand. Today, we are treated to stories of Israeli women pilots and tank commanders. But what percentage of pilots and commanders are women? Do men and women soldiers walk side by side through the streets of Gaza?

And how many Israeli film directors are women? Are they challenging the system and asking tough questions? First-time feature film director Talya Lavie has stepped up and taken on that task in her new film, “Zero Motivation.” Her mission seems to be to tell a different story about women in the Israel Defense Forces.

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Teaneck Film Festival in its ninth year

FilmPublished: 07 November 2014

There has been a proliferation of regional and town film festivals across the country these last two decades.

Nine years ago, Teaneck joined them. Because of the town’s unique demographic makeup, its directors have tried to provide films that reflect its diversity. From the beginning, that has meant including films on Jewish subjects. The gala fund-raising event is now on a Saturday night, so that everyone in the community can participate.

Given Teaneck’s large and growing African-American and Jewish population, I found this year’s choices most appropriate. Three of the four films that tackle Jewish subjects look at the interaction of Jews and people of color and provide fascinating historical and contemporary studies. The fourth film takes a hard look at how the gap year in Israel affects young people from traditional homes.

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Rockets fall, but the show must go on!

The 31st annual Jerusalem Film Festival

FilmPublished: 18 July 2014

The moment I heard the siren go off outside the seminar room in Tel Aviv, I knew that my visit to Israel would be altered dramatically.

Etgar Keret, the writer and film director, changed his prepared talk and started instead by reading one of his short stories, “Pastrami,” about how in the midst of a rocket attack, he and his wife pulled off to the side of the road and comforted their frightened child by playing a game. By doing this, he reassured all of us. Later that afternoon I learned that that there had been red alerts all across the country, including Jerusalem, and I understood that my plans for the next week were now in flux.

I was to attend the opening of the 31st annual Jerusalem Film Festival at Sultan’s Pool last Thursday, preceded and followed by a variety of fun receptions that make Oscar parties pale in comparison — well, maybe I am exaggerating a bit! The annual festival opening is an event to which I always look forward, with hundreds in attendance at this incredible open-air film screening, just below the walls of the Old City.

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Topol and Yehoram Gaon and me

Our film reviewer meets two legends of Israeli cinema

Film | TheaterPublished: 20 June 2014

It is not every week that two legends of the Israeli cinema come to town.

Last Monday, Topol was at Town Hall in Manhattan for “Raising the Roof,” the National Yiddish Theater-Folksbiene’s tribute to fifty years of “Fiddler on the Roof,” honoring lyricist Sheldon Harnick. (The Jewish Standard ran a preview of this performance on May 16. The Folksbiene’s artistic director, Zalmen Mlotek, lives in Teaneck.)

The 78 year-old Topol is known for his portrayal of Tevye in Norman Jewison’s 1971 film adaptation of the stage classic. On stage on Monday, Topol sang an a cappella version of “If I Were a Rich Man.” The rendition held the audience spellbound. It was absolutely brilliant.

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