July 31, 2003
Big Screen, Bigger Picture
Rabbi Ari Hier doesn't like to just watch nonfiction films, he likes to ask questions about them -- usually Jewish questions.
"My motivation has always been, 'What questions would I ask the filmmaker at my own dinner table, no holds barred?'" said Hier, the director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center's Jewish Studies Institute (JSI).
Presuming that others share in his curiosity, Hier has launched "Take Two," a free discussion series sponsored by the JSI, featuring films produced by "Point of View," which, according to the PBS Web site is "public television's premiere showcase for independent, nonfiction films."
From films on the killing fields of the Khmer Rouge regime of Cambodia and civil war in Sudan to mental illness and homelessness in America, the series will allow viewers to take a second look from a Jewish perspective.
"We felt that we wanted to be very diverse," Hier said. "We will show a Jewish film now and then, but I believe that the world interfaces with Judaism all the time. We live in a world, not just a Jewish community."
"Take Two" began on July 20 with Joscelyn Glatzer's "The Flute Player," a new documentary about Arn Chorn-Pond, a Cambodian musician who survived during the brutal Khmer Rouge regime by playing propaganda songs on the flute for his captors. Hier and two Cambodian guests led an audience discussion examining issues such as what Judaism says about life-and-death decisions, and whether Judaism has a monopoly on the term "Holocaust."
The discussion was heated. "Some [Cambodians] said that God went out the window," Hier said, noting that it bothered a number of the religious audience members.
But he hopes the series in general will cause people to think about things in a new light.
"My goal isn't necessarily to move people to be involved in that particular cause," Hier said, "but to articulate and sharpen their own thinking."
The series continues on Aug. 17 with "West 47th Street," a portrait of four people struggling to recover from serious mental illness; and on Sept. 14 with "The Lost Boys of Sudan," which follows two young refugees of the Dinka tribe, who were forced to flee and resettle in the United States. To R.S.V.P., call (310) 552-4595 ext .21.