Home Culture Arts & Entertainment Dreaming of A Jewish Christmas takes Screen Award

Dreaming of A Jewish Christmas takes Screen Award

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Larry Weinstein, centre, with the dancing and singing waiters. (Jackie Shapiro photo)

The seventh annual Canadian Screen Awards, which was put on by the Academy of Canadian Film and Television, were broadcast live on March 31.

Notable wins included the best comedy program and/or series award going to Schitt’s Creek, the best writing, comedy award going to Jacob Tierney for Letterkenny, the animated short award given to Alison Snowden and David Fine for the National Film Board’s Animal Behaviour and best fiction web program/series for digital storytelling comedy going to Lauren Corber Norris and Wendy Litner for How to Buy a Baby.

The March 26 opening gala celebrated excellence in non-fiction programming, honouring the best in news, documentary, reality, lifestyle and sports content. In this category, director Larry Weinstein won best direction, documentary program, for Dreaming Of A Jewish Christmas.

“I became very interested in music as a child,” the Academy Award-nominated director told The CJN. “One of the things I was not aware of growing up, and later on thought about, was the fact that virtually everything I was obsessed by as a child was the stuff in popular culture that Jews had created – whether it was the television shows I watched or the music that I listened to, from Broadway music, to pop music, Simon & Garfunkel, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Lou Reed. And the comedians that I loved were all Jewish … and, of course, the actors and the movies. I was thinking of how much Jewish creation had permeated everything I know or cared about and that is a revelation,” Weinstein said.

“I’ve been lucky and very supported as a filmmaker over the years. I am really honoured on receiving the Screen Award. Dreaming Of A Jewish Christmas has been incredibly successful.

“It’s a very positive story when there was a lot of anti-Semitic thought out there, and yet this has been embraced and loved and, surprisingly, it surprises me. The story was based on me. The film was set in 1967. I was 10 years old at the time and that little boy was me and the girl was my little sister. We shot it at the Sea-High Chinese food restaurant on Bathurst Street and that’s the first Chinese food restaurant I went to as a child.”

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Dreaming Of A Jewish Christmas is an offbeat, irreverent documentary that tells the story, through words and song, of a group of Jewish songwriters – including Irving Berlin, Mel Tormé, Jay Livingston, Ray Evans, Gloria Shayne Baker and Jonny Marks – who wrote the soundtrack to Christmas. The film tells a tale of immigrant outsiders, a generation of songwriters who understood the times they were writing in and found Christmas to be the perfect holiday.

The film’s numerous interviews include Ben Sidran, Ophira Eisenberg, Jackie Mason, Alan Dershowitz and Mark Breslin, with musical performances by Aviva Chernick, Steven Page, Tom Wilson, Dione Taylor, David Wall, the Lemon Bucket Orkestra and more. “There is the priest, the rabbi and the lawyer – it sounds like a premise for a joke,” laughed Weinstein. “We had a healthy blend of people to give it body.”

Weinstein explained that, “Holiday favourites like Silver Bells, Let It Snow, White Christmas, Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire, Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer have become evergreens because there is a sincerity in the expression, these are very sincere, heartfelt songs that tell stories.…

“These are love songs and songs of gratitude. If Christmas embodies family warmth, then why can’t the whole planet have that warmth as one? In other words, Christmas becomes a metaphor for something bigger.”

Weinstein is currently working on another documentary about all the comic book superheroes who were created by Jewish writers.