October 28, 1999
By Curt Schleier
In "Hit and Runway," a straight Italian-American naif teams up with a gay Jew to write a screenplay. In "Aimee & Jaguar," a Jewish woman and a Nazi's wife begin a torrid affair. In "Man is a Woman," a gay man marries a woman, a Yiddish singer, who has never known a man.
"There is definitely something in the air," says Alisa Lebow, a lesbian Jew and a filmmaker, of the three gay-themed films in the International Jewish Film Festival. Since the early '90s, she has noticed gay and lesbian directors have been making movies about their Jewish experiences. The trend began later than other ethnic-gay films because of the Jewish tendency to assimilate, and because, for some, it's difficult to reconcile the gay politics of oppression with Jewish privilege.
AIDS forced the issue in 1993, when movies like Gregg Bordowitz's "Fast Trip, Long Drop," focused on Jews and HIV. Around the same time, lesbians were making their own identity films, such as the Oscar-nominated short documentary "Chicks in White Satin," about a lesbian wedding. By 1998, Lebow and her partner, Cynthia Madansky made "Treyf," which bypasses "coming out" issues to focus on the filmmakers' progressive Judaism.
"For some gay filmmakers, there has been a disconnection with Israel over politics and a weariness of identity based on the victimization of the Holocaust," says Janis Plotkin, director of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival. The result has been a number of bubbe films, in which directors seek a Jewish connection by returning to the love and nostalgia embodied in their grandparents.
Sometimes the filmmakers turn to grandma to find themselves. Andy Abrahams Wilson, director of the Emmy-nominated "Bubbeh Lee & Me," says his solid Jewish grandmother "helped me straddle the worlds of being gay and Jewish, and find where I belonged."
Today, almost a decade after the earliest gay-Jewish films, the trend is a "normalization" of gay characters in feature films. Filmmakers are creating protagonists who are not angst-ridden about their identity, but who happen to be gay and Jewish. The comedy "Hit and Runway," for example, was based on the real-life writing partnership (and conflicts) between Christopher Livingston, a straight writer-director, and his gay-Jewish writing partner, Jaffe Cohen. "We decided to make a movie about our relationship," Cohen says, "because the arguments we were having over our scripts were funnier than anything else."
"Hit and Runway" screens Nov. 6 at Laemmle's Music Hall in Beverly Hills and Nov. 10 at Laemmle's Town Center in Encino. "Amy & Jaguar" runs Nov. 11 at the Music Hall. "Man is a Woman" screens Nov. 14 at the Music Hall and Nov. 17