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New York Jewish Film Festival, 2007 edition

New York Jewish Film Festival, 2007 edition took place January 10 to 25.

Playing to a captive, though a bit aged, audience the 16th edition of the
NY Jewish Film Festival presented 31 feature film, documentaries and shorts
depicting the complexity of Jewish lives, its history and culture and the endless themes of coping with a murderous past. Paradoxically, only few productions in the program focused on Jewish life in Israel and the problems that country faces, possibly due to the Israeli Film Festival held each year in New York. As in past years most performances were sold out, a tribute to the savvy of Aviva Weintraub and her collaborators. As the reaction to the program indicated the offering synched with the needs of the audience, which is the quest for restored films, entertaining features and superb documentaries. Many of this year’s films will have a longer shelf life for the productions their harvest of archival material not seen before, is astounding.
Among the best productions ranked NUREMBERG: THE NAZIS FACING THEIR CRIMES by Christian Delange, a superb documentary reconstructing the Nuremberg trial using extraordinary archival footage taken under the direction of John Ford. Featuring statements and interrogations of the principal war criminals, films on the liberation of the camps from by US and Soviet military film makers and moving testimonies by camp survivors, this documentary excels where many other holocaust films fail. As reinforced by the detached narration by Christopher Plummer, NUREMBERRG induces reflection more powerful than passing emotional responses. An equally important theme is touched in Daniel Schweitzer’s WHITE TERROR, an exposition of the contemporary growth of right-wing racist groups with anti-Semitic platforms in North America, Europe and Russia. His accumulation of relevant footage is impressive and the message of this documentary most disturbing, yet Schweitzer hardly moves beyond the illustrative descriptive level. There is no analysis and viewers are at a loss as to why we observe this neo-nazi phenomenon today and what accounts for its post-modern appeal. Unfortunately a portrait of the well organized US American Christian Zionists is left out, fundamentalists who adhere to the view that Jews shall perish, presumably by the hand of God, on the day of reckoning unless they convert to the Christian faith. THE RAPE OF EUROPE by Richard Berge, Nicole Newham and Bonni Cohen is a well structured and captivating filmic Fleissarbeit on the destruction of modern art in Germany by the Nazi leadership, the plunder of cultural treasures from occupied Europe, and the recuperation of some of the stolen art after the war, a process that still continues. Among some of the milieu bound noteworthy films at the festival which appealed more to emotions and inside humor were TOOTS a portrait of Toots Shor and his famed saloon by his grand daughter Kristi Jacobson; MATCHMAKER: IN SEARCH OF A KOSHER MAN, on “hunting a Hebrew hunk” in Switzerland who is fit to be an orthodox husband by Gabrielle Antosierwicz; and the Israeli filmmaker David Gavro’s documentary SISAI on the problems of acculturation and loss of ethnic roots as revealed in the portrait of a young Ethiopian and his adopted family.
Yet DAVID a Russian short, subdued matter of fact half-hour documentary recorded on video mostly in sepia tones is undoubtedly one of the strongest films of this festival. Directed in 2002 by Alexsey Fedorchenko, it features David who provides a running commentary on his own life. His voice over, periodically interrupted by music, is juxtaposed with rare archival footage from Russian archives from his birth in Minsk in 1934 through childhood passages passage in death camps, internment and stay in Israel, followed by forced return to the Soviet Union where he is imprisoned in slave labor camps for most of his adult life. His comments lack blame or scorn, making this harrowing brief about fifty years of slaughter and horrors in his life so effective. Fedorchenko’s film is an exercise in documentary film making at its best.

Claus Mueller, New York Correspondent


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