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Friday, December 26, 2014

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Montrealer’s doc on Yiddish selected by World Film Fest

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Abigail Hirsch

Montrealer Abigail Hirsch’s documentary Yiddish: A Tale of Survival will be shown during the Montreal World Film Festival (MWFF) taking place Aug. 22-Sept. 2.

The film is about Yiddish culture’s survival after almost being obliterated during the Holocaust, as exemplified by the revival of Yiddish theatre.

“I am thrilled that the film will have a showing in Montreal at the festival,” said Hirsch. “The reaction in New York was very favourable.”

PBS television’s Mountain Lake affiliate has expressed an interest in airing it next year, she added.

Hirsch, an independent filmmaker, was inspired by the first Montreal International Yiddish Theatre Festival held at the Segal Centre for Performing Arts in 2009 and its second edition two years later. She tells the stories of three key participants, from different generations and different countries, who are leading this revival.



Shmuel Atzmon founded and remains the artistic director of Israel’s Yiddishspiel repertory theatre. Bryna Wasserman, executive director of the Folksbiene Theater in New York, is the former director of the Dora Wasserman Yiddish Theatre in Montreal. The newest generation of Yiddish activists is represented by Paris-based singer Milena Kartowski, who was born in 1988.

Yiddish: A Tale of Survival had its world premiere at the New York City International Film Festival in June.

Elsewhere at the 37th MWFF, where 432 films from around the globe will be screened, is the Israeli entry Snails in the Rain (Shablulim Ba’geshem), one of 20 in the First Films World Competition.

Directed by Yariv Mozer and set in 1989, Snails is a drama/mystery about 25-year-old Boaz (Liron Argaman), a handsome linguistics student, who visits the post office every day to see if the scholarship he is hoping for comes through.

Instead, he finds anonymous love letters – from a man. These obsessive missives disturb Boaz and he becomes more and more paranoid.

He starts to doubt his heterosexuality. His relationship with his girlfriend suffers. He is haunted by an experience in his past, and he suspects everyone.

Things get more tense when his secret admirer gives the student an ultimatum.

Snails debuted at the Tel Aviv LGBT International Film Festival in June.

There are two other Israeli feature films in the lineup, in the Focus on World Cinema category: Fragile (Plastalina) by Vidi Bilu and White Panther (Panter Lavan) by Danni Reisfeld.

Set in a bleak Jerusalem in 1966, Fragile centres on Ruthy, who spends her days in bed reading novels in the decrepit apartment she shares with her husband, who is working most of the time, and her 11-year-old daughter who lacks attention.

When Ruthy decides to get up and find a job, the family’s placid, if dysfunctional, life is turn upside down.

White Panther is another family drama, in this case, about Alex, a young Russian immigrant, who joins a skinhead gang, led by his violent older brother. Alienated Russian youth, who felt unwelcome by Israelis, gravitated to these gangs.

Alex unexpectedly meets a religious Moroccan Jew, a boxing trainer, who offers him the chance of fulfilling his dream of becoming a boxer, like his father.

Alex is torn between his brother’s nihilism and his newfound father figure, who represents a more hopeful future in Israel.

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An Israeli/German co-production in the same section is the romantic comedy Hanna’s Journey (Hannas Reise) by Julia von Heinz, shot in Berlin and Tel Aviv.

Among the Focus on World Cinema shorts scheduled is Sein Kampf, a 16-minute German film by Jakob Zapf, about a teenaged skinhead whose depraved worldview is upset by a talk given by an 83-year-old Jewish survivor of Auschwitz at his school.

Another short is No Such Street (Ein Rehov Kaze) by Israel’s Yonatan Peretz. This 17-minute drama follows the relationship between two teenaged girls, one of whom is homeless and saves the other from an attack. To thank her, the one rescued invites the waif to her family’s home.

Other documentaries of interest are Café Ta’amon, King George Street, Jerusalem by the German Michael Teutsch, and Jews of Egypt (An Yahoud Masr) by Amir Ramses of Egypt.

Teutsch’s film puts into historical context one of the oldest coffee shops in Jerusalem, a meeting place for politicians, artists, writers and activists, which has been owned by both Jews and Arabs. Established in 1936, many discussions about the Jewish state have been conducted around its tables and still are today.

Jews of Egypt, which has been controversial in that country, is a history of the community in the 20th century up to its expulsion starting with the creation of the State of Israel and culminating in 1956 with the Suez crisis.

It is billed as the first frank examination of how this long-established community was treated by Egypt by an Egyptian filmmaker for general release.

According to Ramses, his film is an attempt to understand how Egyptian society changed from one “full of tolerance and acceptance of one another” to one of rejection of those of differing political and religious views.

It opens by interviewing ordinary Egyptians on the street today about what they think of Jews. The responses reveal a profound prejudice.

Ramses also talks to some prominent Jews in long exile, who reminisce about a golden era that was lost.

The film’s premiere in Cairo was delayed when the authorities withdrew their initial permission for the March opening. But a couple of weeks later relented, and the screening went ahet hey ad. It’s been criticized in the mes proven popular.

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