Posted By Larry Mark
The 2011 Sundance Film Festival, which runs January 20-30 in Park City, Salt Lake City, Ogden and Sundance, Utah, quietly opened yesterday with a press conference – but Jewish fare at the time seemed slim.
Whereas last year’s festival included several films with Jewish themes, including films about comedian Joan Rivers, the Warsaw Ghetto, the poet Allen Ginsberg, and Hasidic youth being used as drug mules, blatantly Jewish films are hard to find this year.
One is an Israeli film which will have its world premiere at Sundance. “Restoration” (Boker Tov Adon Fidelman) is directed by Yossi Madmon and written by Erez Kav-El. It is the story of an antique furniture restorer who struggles to keep his workshop alive, while his relationship with his own estranged son, who is trying to close down the shop, begins to disintegrate. A young, mysterious apprentice aids in his struggle. The Israel Consul General of Los Angeles will sponsor one of several parties for the film prior to its screening on Friday.
Another highly anticipated film is “Crime After Crime,” a documentary directed by Yoav Potash. His film tells the story of Debbie Peagler, a survivor of brutal domestic abuse who has been imprisoned for her connection to the murder of her abuser for twenty years. She finds her only hope for freedom when two rookie land-use attorneys—one of them an orthodox Jew in Berkeley, Joshua Safran—with no background in criminal law step forward to take her case.
Keri Putnam, Sundance’s executive director, was hired last April to lead Sundance. Festival founder Robert Redford called her “the person who’s going to take us forward.”
Putnam, who first attended the Sundance Film Festival in 1992, said that the ten day film festival, which, as in the recent past, is already sold out, is an expression of what happens at the Sundance Institute all year long.
For the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, 118 feature-length films were selected, representing 29 countries by 40 first-time filmmakers. Twenty five films are in competition. These films were selected from 3,812 submissions, 1,943 of which were from the U.S. Ninety-two films at the Festival will be world premieres.
The Festival’s Short Film Program comprises 81 short films from U.S. and international filmmakers selected from 6,467 submissions, which is up 6% over 2010.
John Cooper, Director of the Sundance Film Festival said, “The Festival is a challenge to narrowly define. It is all at once exciting, fun, crazy, engaging, visceral, and sometimes even painful. We can explain storylines, we can share what we know of each artist’s unique journey, but ultimately what we will experience for ten days in January is different for each of us. It’s the spark from the filmmakers - their passion - that brings 200 unique worlds to life and, in turn, ignites the audience. The films, conversations, encounters are there to experience. And that’s what makes Sundance so magical.”
In order to connect more with digital audiences, Sundance will show several shorts on YouTube.com this year. Also, nine films will visit nine cities outside of Utah in the next few days, including New York City, Seattle and Los Angeles (on January 27). Screenings and workshops will also increase across the country and internationally in order to expand the messages and visions of the films and filmmakers.
Sadly, the questions at the press conference were few, and most were lame. One reporter asked if Redford, 74, in light of Larry King’s retirement, was planning to retire. “I’m gonna die,… but I haven’t thought about retiring,” Redford replied. He then used this opportunity to praise festival director, John Cooper, who rose up the ranks from a volunteer print runner.
Asked if Redford has a problem with Slamdance, the actor and activist replied that he had no problem with the other festival and he wished them well.
Asked about the one or two possible protests that are planned against two films, one about homosexuality, and another on red states, Cooper said that , “Stories unite us and Ideologies divide us.” Redford added that although social activism is a part of his personal life, the festival doesn’t focus on ideology. He added, “I’m anti-ideology. Our work tries to transcend politics one way or another. Whatever side you’re on, we try to show stories from every part of the country, and so red state, blue state doesn’t mean a whole lot to us.”
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January 20, 2011 | 12:58 pm
Posted by Tom Tugend
The wrong men were allegedly convicted in the grisly beheading of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl nine years ago, while a dozen terrorists involved in the actual killing are still at large and operating.
The startling revelations are based on a three-year investigation by the Pearl Project, conducted by journalism students and faculty at Georgetown University and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.
Heading the probe was Asra Nomani, Pearl’s colleague, from whose house in Karachi, Pakistan the reporter left on the day of his 2002 disappearance for an alleged interview with a high-level terrorist source.
While four men were convicted in the slaying and remain in jail, the actual killer was Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the suspected mastermind of the 9/11 destruction of New York’s World Trade Center, according to the project analysis, reported in the Washington Post and New York Times.
Both U.S. and Pakistani officials are accused of first bungling the pursuit of Pearl’s killers and then covering up the actual facts.
The report found that Mohammed told U.S. investigators at Guantanamo Bay the he slit Pearl’s throat and severed his head, with independent forensic evidence pointing in a similar direction.
However, Washington officials decided not to charge Mohammed, fearing it would complicate their case against him in the 9/11 prosecution, the report stated.
Judea and Ruth Pearl, the parents of Daniel Pearl, said they were still “trying to digest” the Georgetown report and did not wish to go into details at this point.
However, Judea Pearl said that the authors were “good and honest people, who [conducted the project] with love.”
Ruth Pearl added that the project investigators had phoned frequently and that the Pearl parents had provided valuable contacts.
January 19, 2011 | 2:10 pm
Posted by Julie Gruenbaum Fax
Tiger Mother Amy Chua writes in her book “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” of her unbending demands on her children – all As, no sleepovers, no schools plays, and pathological piano practicing. But she has a foil to her unbending Chinese parenting style – her Jewish husband.
Chua’s husband, Jed Rubenfeld, is a Yale Law professor and mystery novelist. He gives the girls the adventures and understanding they might not get from their mother. But he took himself out of the book, Kate Zernike wrote in a New York Times profile.
Initially, Ms. Chua said, she wrote large chunks about her husband and their conflicts over child rearing. But she gave him approval on every page, and when he kept insisting she was putting words in his mouth, it became easier to leave him out.
“It’s more my story,” she said. “I was the one that in a very overconfident immigrant way thought I knew exactly how to raise my kids. My husband was much more typical. He had a lot of anxiety, he didn’t think he knew all the right choices.” And, she said, “I was the one willing to put in the hours.”
Still, she said, her children got pancakes and trips to water parks because of their father, the son of parents more inclined to encourage self-discovery.
Rubenfeld is no slacker: He graduated Princeton undergraduate, Harvard Law, and spent two years studying theater at Julliard. He clerked for a Federal judge before becoming a Yale law professor.
Rubenfeld told Bookreporter.com that it was Chua who encouraged him to write his novels, which are historical mysteries, the first one a bestseller about Freud.
January 19, 2011 | 1:28 pm
Posted by Julie Gruenbaum Fax
Amy Chua’s excerpt from “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” printed last week in the Wall Street Journal, has mothers everywhere up in arms, and perhaps no one more so than Jewish mothers, who thought they had a lock on producing over achievers motivated by gigantic filial guilt trips.
Chua—whose husband Jed Rubenfeld is Jewish—writes with tongue-in-cheek pride of how she does not let her daughters, now 14 and 17 and still talking to her, go on sleepovers, be in school plays, or bring home anything less than As. She forces them to practice violin and piano for four hours a day, even while on vacation. Anything less than perfection merits brutal motherly insults and hysterical fits (from the mother).
Wendy Sachs, writing on the Huffington Post, notes that there’s a difference between the Chinese mother’s hair-pulling and shrieking and the Jewish mother’s passive-aggressive guilt.
Chua says that Chinese moms don’t mince words when it comes to their children’s appearance either. They can say, “Hey fatty—lose some weight.”
The Jewish mom would more likely kvell over her daughter than insult her, no matter how fat she had become.
“You are too gorgeous, but maybe you want me to get you a gym membership,” a Jewish mom would say.
The f-word would never enter the conversation. While Chua describes Chinese moms in almost pathological terms, the Jewish-mom style is decidedly more passive aggressive.
“Why don’t we go study for your spelling test now?” I say to my son.
“Can you please get your math review sheets? Let’s make sure you get 100 percent on your quiz!” I say in my best bubbly, you-can-do-it voice.
We frame demands in pleasant questions. Really what we mean is, “Go study now, and I want you to get straight As and a National Merit Scholarship that gets you into Harvard.” We just message it differently.
Writing in the Wall Street Journal, “Bad Mother” author Ayelet Waldman contrasts her own ambivalent Jewish, Western parenting style to Chua’s. She talks about how her daughter collapsed in tears when Waldman pointed out that the five solid As on her daughter’s report card did not erase the two non-A’s.
The difference between Ms. Chua and me, I suppose—between proud Chinese mothers and ambivalent Western ones—is that I felt guilty about having berated my daughter for failing to deliver the report card I expected. I was ashamed at my reaction. But here is another difference, one I’ll admit despite being ashamed of it, too: I did not then go out and get hundreds of practice tests and work through them with my daughter far into the night, doing whatever it took to get her the A. I fobbed that task off on a tutor, something I can afford to do because my children reside in the same privileged world as Ms. Chua’s.
Writing in the New York Times, David Brooks calls Chua a wimp, saying she is letting her daughters off easy when it comes to training for real life skills:
Practicing a piece of music for four hours requires focused attention, but it is nowhere near as cognitively demanding as a sleepover with 14-year-old girls. Managing status rivalries, negotiating group dynamics, understanding social norms, navigating the distinction between self and group — these and other social tests impose cognitive demands that blow away any intense tutoring session or a class at Yale.
January 14, 2011 | 10:02 am
Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
In Iraq, when it comes to chicken, Shiites and Sunnis disagree over what is or isn’t halal. Shiites eat Khafeel. Sunnis eat Sadia. Both brands are produced in Brazil.
Anyone familiar with the question of whose kosher designation is trustworthy could probably relate to this morning’s story about the way sectarian divides in Iraq are playing out in the choices of halal chicken brands that Iraqis are making:
At a wholesale market in east Baghdad, the first thing you see in the chicken section is a big poster with the fatwa, or religious ruling, that sanctions Khafeel chicken.
But many people say the religious institution that issued the fatwa is also profiting from the boost in sales of Khafeel chicken. Shop owner Abu Zuhair says that’s wrong.
“This should not be a money issue,” he says in Arabic. “It should be a way for the religious establishment to help poor people.”
See the rest of Kelly McEvers’s story at NPR.org.
January 13, 2011 | 1:10 pm
If Sarah Palin has learned anything in the past week, it has to be this: words matter.
First, she faced a storm of criticism for her use of hunting language and imagery after the attempted assassination of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. Then, in defending that use, she invoked the language of centuries of Jewish persecution, saying that the accusations against her amounted to a “blood libel.”
Yes. Palin equated the criticism she’s facing for her arguably questionable use of language to the completely fabricated accusations that resulted in the murder of thousands of innocent men, women an children over the ages. That provoked Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, to call an out-of-bounds.
“It is simply inappropriate to compare current American politics with term that was used by Christians to persecute Jews,” said Hier. “She has every right to criticize journalists without going over the top.”
From Europe in the Middle Ages to modern Syria today, Jews have been accused of killing Christian (and now Moslem) children for some nefarious purpose. The accusation often led to increased persecution of Jews. The origins of the blood libel likely have to do with the precarious existence of Jews as a minority.
Professor Israel Jacob Yuval of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem published an article in 1993 that argues that blood libel may have originated in the 12th century from Christian views of Jewish behavior during the First Crusade. Some Jews committed suicide and killed their own children rather than be subjected to forced conversions. Yuval investigated Christian reports of these events and found that they were greatly distorted with claims that if Jews could kill their own children they could also kill Christian children. Yuval rejects the blood libel story as a Christian fantasy that was impossible due to the precarious nature of the Jewish minority’s existence in Christian Europe.
In any case, it has been an enduring and particularly oppressive myth that Jews have suffered under for centuries.
Why react so strongly to what is clearly just another case of Palin’s recalcitrantly sloppy use of English? After all, Hier is no Democrat partisan. He was a strong, visible supporter of former Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, and has been close to Republican and Democratic leaders. He is not one to pile on to an political leader under attack, especially one like Palin who has clearly demonstrated her support for Israel.
But as Palin may someday learn, and Hier and other Jewish leaders know wel, words really do matter. Equating even harsh criticism with “blood libel” is like going to the ER for a boo boo. It grossly demeans the historic reality of the blood libel and the victims who suffered brutally and needlessly because of it.
Even if it turns out that the man who tried to kill Laughner was not motivated by Palin’s “crosshair” imagery, or by her use of the language of treason and revolution in describing her political opponents, she has to be thinking that there must be better words to use to characterize those who disagree with her over policy. And Palin must also find better words to describe what happens when the wrong words come back to haunt her.
January 13, 2011 | 11:06 am
Posted by Tom Tugend
Debbie Friedman was eulogized at her funeral service Tuesday by friends, rabbis, fans and fellow musicians, both in words and through the songs she composed and sang and which transformed Jewish worship in synagogues and summer camps.
Her acoustic guitar lay on top of her casket during services at Temple Beth Sholom in Santa Ana, the Orange County Register reported.
Friedman died Sunday (Jan. 9) at 59, after being diagnosed with pneumonia and admitted to a hospital a few days earlier.
She blended the folk music roots of the 1960s and ‘70s and combined them with traditional Jewish prayers and liturgy, and was frequently described as the “Joan Baez of Jewish song.”
Mourners at the service joined Craig Taubman and other singers in such famous Friedman works as “Sing Unto God,” “Devorah’s Song,” “You Are The One,” “Miriam’s Song” and “L’chi Lach.”
Perhaps Friedman’s best known composition is “Mi Sheberach,” a popular version of a prayer of healing for the sick.
It was this song that felloe congregants of Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords sang at a “healing service” at Congregation Chaverim in Tucson on Sunday, the day of Friedman’s death.
Giffords was shot by a gunman Saturday (Jan. 8) in a fusillade that killed six persons, and she is now hospitalized with severe brain injuries.
At the Tuesday service in Santa Ana, Rabbi Heidi Cohen of Temple Beth Sholom described Friedman as a modest artist, despite her fame, adding, “If Debbie were here today, she would say, ‘What’s the big fuss? I don’t need this. I don’t want this.’”
Rabbi Richard N. Levy of Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles said of his former colleague, “Debbie wanted us to believe that God is good and God takes our prayers seriously. Even though all our prayers did not (heal her), they provided an escort into the next world that sang unto God, this woman is going to rock your throne.”
Also on Tuesday, the Los Angeles City Council adjourned its meeting in memory of Friedman, whom Councilmember Paul Koretz eulogized as “Anyone who has ever attended a liberal Jewish synagogue or summer camp or youth group event has been touched by Debbie Friedman.
“She was always ahead of the curve—be it in songs for lifecycle events, Jewish feminist music, or interfaith spirituality…May her memory—and her music—be a blessing.”
January 11, 2011 | 12:08 pm
Posted by Julie Gruenbaum Fax
The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles is kicking of its 100-year birthday celebration with a 1/11/11 buy-1-get-1-free offer at Southern California Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf locations. A link at the Federation website will get you a coupon for a free small beverage when you buy another from 1-4 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 11.
The promotional event, called “Fuel for the Next 100 Years,” kicks off a year of centennial celebrations, including a 1,000-person mission to Israel in October, four volunteer social service days to impact sites around the city, large public events, and the seeding of a $100 million community endowment.
Today also marks the launch of the Next Big Jewish Idea, an online contest looking for initiatives that will have a broad and lasting impact on the Los Angeles Jewish Community. After a combination of public voting and judging by a panel, Federation will choose one idea to fund with $100,000, office space and support services to turn the idea into reality. Individuals and organizations can submit ideas at TheNextBigJewishIdea.com.