Posted by Larry Mark
The tagline for “Fix ME,” a film from Palestine by Raed Andoni, is “Life in Ramallah… sure keeps us occupied!” An unusual departure for Palestinian cinema, “Fix ME” is a humor-filled documentary that focuses on the filmmaker, his anxieties, his life as an artist, and his 20 visits to a local psychotherapist.
Andoni can be compared to a Palestinian Woody Allen, albeit the early Allen. And he is adamant that he is a filmmaker from Palestine, not a Palestinian filmmaker.
The doc opens as Andoni complains of a pain in his head. We learn that he suffers from headaches, but when he visits a doctor his blood pressure turns out to be fine, as is his blood work. The physician prescribes “medical” alcohol, i.e. a daily drink. When the pain persists at his temples and forehead, Andoni decides to consult a psychologist at a modern Palestinian medical building in Ramallah.
The camera is placed behind a one-way mirror, and the sessions begin. Over 20 appointments, we learn more about Andoni, his family, perceptions, depressions, history, memories, and even lack of memories. Between sessions, the filmmaker explores his personal relationships, reacts to the therapist’s suggestions, drives through cities and villages, interacts with his anarchist nephew, and fantasizes about his own feelings.
Andoni is best known in the United States as one of the producers of Ra’anan Alexandrowicz’s 2001 documentary, “The Inner Tour,” in which two dozen Palestinians go on a three day sightseeing trip of Israel. His earlier film, “Improvisation,” explores generational conflicts within a Palestinian family of musicians.
In “Fix ME,” the spotlight turns to Andoni’s own desire to be an artist and an individual in a society dominated by a collective identity.
While other filmmakers in Palestine have focused on wars, conflicts, checkpoints, separation walls, and battles, Andoni hoped to take a different path: to examine who he is, his life as a human being, and his simultaneous sense of weakness and superiority . In an amusing early scene, he visits his mother with his film crew. Like mothers worldwide, she criticizes him for not calling enough, then tells him “A film about your headaches is not of interest to people.” Later, while driving through the streets of Ramallah in his BMW, he passes a billboard from Canadian Club that implores “Be Yourself.”
When Andoni describes his perceived faults during his sessions – that he is impatient, aloof, prefers boredom to engagement, combined with his feeling of slight superiority, the therapist makes him stand on a chair and asks if he feels as if he is looking down at the people around him.
Asked how he filmed his therapy sessions, Andoni said that when one makes a documentary, one actually creates three movies: “First you write the film, then you film it, and then you edit it,” he explained. Therefore while writing the basic concept for the movie, he had a friend perform some unofficial therapy sessions with him, in order to get an idea of what to expect. For the real therapy, he devised the following plan: “The cameras will be behind a one way mirror. The therapist will have absolute control of the sessions. The crew will not hear the dialogue, and they did not understand Arabic. Lastly, I was not allowed to review the dailies of the therapy sessions until after the last session. This last item was the request of the doctor.”
In one session, Andoni muses about the question: If you were given the choice, would you rather have been born as a Palestinian or an Israeli Jew? In another session, we learn that the director remembers very little about the year he spent in an Israeli prison right after he graduated from high school. After that session, he seeks out one of his former cellmates. As Andoni walks down a path next to this man, we see that the director walks with a slight stoop, that one of his arms is limp, and that he appears weak compared to his old friend. The former cell mate, who recalls everything that happened in prison, discusses how he has suppressed his own career goals for the common nationalist goal. Andoni only remembers a specific detail: that his cellmate had three tiny dots on his hand; nearly everything else about the experience he has suppressed or forgotten. He says he is ashamed of his feelings of weakness and vulnerability, theorizing that others have faced far worse problems in their lives.
I asked Andoni if his headaches subsided after the process of therapy, or after of making the film, which was a form of therapy. “The headaches were a hook to start the film, but my tension headaches have been better,” he said. I am currently living in Paris, where I have been for almost a year. I can now say that my headaches are a bit Parisian.”
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January 29, 2010 | 1:22 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
According to The New York Post, “Top Chef” host Padma Lakshmi’s baby daddy could be billionaire techie Michael Dell’s older brother, Adam who is—you guessed it—Jewish.
The Dells were born into a family which “liberally practiced Judaism,” according to Wikipedia.
Lakshmi, 39, is an Indian American author, actress, and model who was married to novelist Salman Rushdie for three years before the couple divorced in 2007.
From Page Six:
Padma Lakshmi, the gorgeous host of Bravo’s “Top Chef,” is due to give birth soon, and she has never named the man who impregnated her. But Page Six hears the father is Adam Dell.
Dell, 40, the tech-savvy younger brother of billionaire computer maker Michael Dell, is a venture capitalist who teaches at Columbia Business School.
Lakshmi, 39, the ex-wife of author Salman Rushdie, had long been linked to Teddy Forstmann, the corporate buyout king who owns the IMG talent agency. Many people assumed Forstmann was the father of Lakshmi’s child, who is due next month.
January 28, 2010 | 11:20 pm
Posted by Larry Mark
Maybe it is the recession, or the new focus on Sundance’s rebellious roots, but there is a distinctive lack of popular swag in Park City in 2010. But who needs a pair of boots, apparel, or trinkets, when a truly fabulous gem is in town: Joan Rivers.
One of the hottest tickets at the festival is the documentary, “Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work,” directed by Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg, which follows the indomitable Ms. Rivers throughout one full year of her life: her 76th.
The film premiered at Sundance’s “Temple Theater,” which, when the Sundance Film Festival is not in town, is also known as the (Jewish) Temple Har Shalom. At her red carpet (Rivers commented that it was more “grayish”) photo opportunity, in the synagogue’s second floor library, Rivers quipped, “My film is premiering here in a synagogue. Six members of my family are downstairs praying for it right now.”
Stern and Sundberg came to project after completing award-winning, character-driven narrative documentaries on Africa (“The Devil Came on Horseback,”) and murder (“The Trials of Darryl Hunt”). Heavy topics. But after films on Death and Darfur, they were ready to create a lighter doc featuring a different kind of “D’: a “Diva.” Stern’s mother is a long time-friend of Rivers’, so when the filmmakers approached the comic about a documentary, she did not hesitate to commit.
The movie follows Rivers for a full 14 months, exposing her private dramas, her ups and downs, her brash comedy, her fight to keep her career going, her frank discussions with her daughter (watch for her new series, “Mother Knows Best”), while peeling away the facade of a comedy icon. Of course, Rivers does not want to be an icon, she just wants to work and be number one. Speaking of peeling, the film opens with a close-up of Rivers applying her makeup. From the very first second, the audience knows that nothing will be hidden.
The child of Russian-born, Jewish parents, Rivers grew up in an upper-middle-class, Westchester, NY household, and knew before Kindergarten that she wanted to be an actress. After graduating from Barnard College, she went on to a career that has included Tony and Emmy nominations, her Tonight Show pinnacle, but also the suicide of her husband, a fraudulent business partner, and an alleged boycott by NBC late night talk shows. Rivers has had to reinvent herself more times than Madonna.
One would think that after her lengthy career, Rivers would only play Vegas or larger clubs. Instead, the film shows her planning a cruise ship performance and traveling to rural northern Wisconsin to play a casino gig. Actually, the northern Wisconsin date was almost not filmed, as it was a quick trip and required three flights to get to the venue. But the documentary’s directors decided to send one cameraman with Rivers, which elicited three of the best scenes in the movie. Always the Jewish mother, Rivers traveled with her own Lysol disinfectant and re-cleans the venue’s bathroom. When a heckler interrupts one of her shows – which she says happens only once every six years—Rivers demonstrates how a master performer regains the audience’s love and her own comic timing.
Why agree to such an honest film? In an interview, Rivers replied that she likes the truth and wanted her year documented by filmmakers she trusts. The movie shows her to be obsessively driven, blunt, edgy, and still incredibly relevant to the comedy field at 76. She works 18-hour days, 7 days a week from her Manhattan apartment, which resembles a wing of the palace Versaille.
One performance a day is too few for Rivers; the entire day needs to be filled. If there is too much white space in her calendar, she said, she is blinded by the whiteness. To Rivers, her work is her hobby, her passion, and the source of her enjoyment. Can she ever be happy? “The job of the comedian is to show that the emperor is not wearing clothes,” she said. “ The minute you are happy, you aren’t funny.”
January 28, 2010 | 4:43 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
Joe Shalmoni, a Los Angeles resident responded to the crisis in Haiti by signing up to volunteer at the IDF field hospital in Port Au Prince. Shalmoni, who comes from a devout pro-Israel family (his sister is StandWithUs director Roz Rothstein) volunteered through the Los Angeles Israeli Consulate and has been reporting from Haiti for the past week. Just the other day, actor Sean Penn stopped by the IDF outpost where he was photographed with Joseph, a Haitian survivor of the earthquake who was later subjected to police brutality.
Shalmoni’s story is below:
Text and Photographs by Joe Shalmoni © 2010, All Rights Reserved
PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI - Joseph’s story begins with four volunteers from the Israel Defense Forces Medical Corps Field Hospital in Port Au Prince, Haiti: Dr. Rubin Cohen, (NYC), Dr. Milton Steinman, (Sao Paolo), Dr. Tanya Zamataro, (Sao Paolo), and myself, Joe Shalmoni, (Photographer/EMT, Los Angeles). On a break, we had hired a car to show us around devastated Port Au Prince.
On Friday, January 22, 2010, the IDF field hospital physicians and I hired a car for a well-deserved break from our work at the field hospital and a chance to see more of Port-Au-Prince. The physicians are from New York, Sao Paulo and I am a photojournalist and a trained EMT volunteer who livesin Los Angeles.
We left our compound, got onto the Bicentenaire highway, and stopped to photograph the demolition of a large building that had been leveled by the earthquake. When we started to drive again, we came upon a large, chaotic crowd of screaming Haitians pleading with us to stop and help them. Then we saw why. It was Joseph. He was in pools of blood. Just below his shoulder, his left arm was nearly detached from his body, and there were gunshot wounds to his lower back and neck. He looked as though he had been tortured. His hands were tied behind him with a black rope, and his arms were entangled in his shirt. He was fighting death in the hot Caribbean sun and was losing the battle.
Dr. Steinman freed Joseph from the ropes with a small knife. We had no medical equipment and no way to transport him to the IDF base. We frantically tried to hail down passing vehicles that could drive us all to the IDF base. A UN vehicle wouldn’t stop. The noxious fumes of the passing cars surrounded us as we tried to hair another vehicle. Then, finally, a helping hand. Alexander, a man driving with his wife in his “top-top,” stopped and let us climb into his truck.
We lifted the “dead weight” of the nearly unconscious Joseph. We didn’t have a stretcher. We didn’t have protective gloves. We had none of the normal accoutrements necessary for a rescue. With the help of some standers-by, including a six- or seven-year-old boy, we got Joseph onto the hard metal back of the covered pick-up truck. Dr. Cohen asked one of the men in the pick-up to form a makeshift tourniquet for Joseph’s nearly severed arm.
I noticed that Joseph had a laminated portrait of the President Obama affixed to his belt. It vibrated as we moved along.
I gave Joseph some water, risking the airway complications it could cause because we had no IV or trauma supplies.
Joseph kept passing in and out of consciousness, and we yelled over and over at him in French to stay awake and resist his desire to curl over the exposed wound on his arm and put it on the dirty metal floor of the truck. He was at risk of severing his brachial artery, though we didn’t realize it at the time, because his upper bicep was nearly completely severed from his shoulder.
Joseph had no c-collar, no backboard, nothing that would restrain his movements and prevent further injury or buffer the pain.
Finally, I heard the sound of steel sliding on steel. We had arrived at the safe haven of the air-conditioned emergency room of head nurse and ER supervisor Ruben Gelfond at the IDF field hospital. Just days before, the tough-as-nails Gelfond had made solitary, clandestine trips to an abandoned Port-au-Prince industrial factory, looking for sterile, surgical grade pins. The stock was running low. Gelfond wasn’t the type to let Joseph die without at least trying to hold the gates of heaven shut himself if need be.
Quickly, the professional team went into action. Intubated and finally sedated, Joseph was no longer conscious of his pain. But with his loss of blood, his blood pressure was dangerously low. He was given two liters of blood.
The medical team got to work. Surgery began. The medical team was concerned that there was no exit wound for the bullets and had to open Joseph’s abdomen to ensure there were no further internal injuries. Then Dr. Avi Yitzhak, general surgeon at Soroka Hospital in Be’er Sheva, had to make the agonizing decision. Could Joseph’s arm be saved? The choice boiled down to Joseph’s arm or his life. The doctor chose Joseph’s life.
Finally, the surgery was over. Joseph was transferred from the OR to the post-op intensive care observation unit. It remained to be seen if Joseph could survive the night.
Joseph survived. A few days later, I met Joseph, and he told me what had happened.
He was 20 years old. He and his good friend had just bought some Maggi, a beloved spice used in traditional Haitian cooking, and were walking home. Suddenly, two Port-au-Prince police officers stopped them and accused them of stealing the Maggi. They were put in hand restraints, forced into a police car and driven to a clandestine location, where they were told to lie face down, and they were and shot. His friend immediately died from a gunshot wound to the neck. The police left Joseph for dead, too. But he wasn’t. He slowly crept to the location near the highway where we found later him. A crowd, horrified by his wounds, quickly gathered around, and they were the people who stopped us, begging for help.
We learned the name of Joseph’s girlfriend, whom I will call Asnet, and where she lived. We located her, and brought her to Joseph.
Then another surprise - nurse Justine Ndjoli Loyanga brought shoes her husband donated for Joseph. Joseph also shook hands with American actor Sean Penn who was touring the IDF field hospital as part of his humanitarian relief efforts here in Haiti.
Joseph was finally discharged, with instructions to have follow-up care at the University of Miami Children’s Hospital Port-au-Prince Airport installation.
I lost touch with Joseph.
Things in Haiti seem to happen in a vivid reality. Then you blink, turn around, and that fleeting reality suddenly vanishes. But I feel a spiritual ease. Joseph and many other Haitian victims of the earthquake and urban violence are there, alive, because so many caring people and relief organizations wanted to be in the right place at the right time to save lives and ease the suffering.
During his whole ordeal, Joseph never cried or demanding anything. He only expressed gratitude, only smiled whenever he could. He was happy to be alive and frequently gave the hand gesture indicating “all is okay” whenever he posed for a photograph.
A life was saved by the random chance that a medical team would be where Joseph lay wounded and dying and would be able to save him because of the dedication of people from thousands of miles away. A life was saved because within a day of the tragedy, Israel had set up a Field Hospital that could provide state-of-the-art care for the victims of Haiti’s natural disaster.
I’d like to see Joseph again one day. I hope he will get his follow-up medical care and be one of those who survived and lived to help rebuild his country.
January 27, 2010 | 8:37 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
Having his 2006 DUI arrest erased from record has apparently given Mel Gibson license to deny he ever dissed the Jews.
At least that was the position he took in a recent KTLA interview about his new film, “Edge of Darkness” when reporter Sam Rubin questioned him about his past:
“Some people are gonna welcome you back and other people are gonna be like ‘He should never come back,’” Rubin said.
“Why?” Gibson deadpanned.
“Because of what happened before..”
“What happened before?”
“..the remarks that were attributed to you…”
“That were attributed to me, that I didn’t necessarily make,” Gibson said. Then he stumbled a bit. “I gather you have a dog in this fight?”
Rubin later regretted that he didn’t confront Gibson head on and say, “Damn right I have a dog in this fight!” and instead let Gibson’s onetime star power intimidate him into silence. But even though Gibson seems to have forgotten he once drunkenly ranted, “F*****g Jews… The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world,” those Jews certainly have not.
Now, many of them are calling for a boycott of Gibson’s upcoming film.
An email circulating within the Jewish community reads:
As a fellow Jew I am asking you to do the following for the reasons
that I am going to state. Mel Gibson has a new movie coming out within
the next week. It is named The Edge Of Darkness. I am asking you to
not only boycott the movie but to forward this email to every Jew and
every Jewish support group that you know. If you have any contacts
with any media that can put this to print, it would reach even more
people then we can imagine.
If you recall Mel’s father denies that the Holocaust ever happened.Mel
supports his fathers beliefs.
On Ash Wednesday February 25th 2004.The movie Passion Of The Christ
opened in thousands of theatres.
Mel Gibson co-wrote, directed,and co-produced the movie. Gibson also
financed the $25 million it took to make the movie through his own
company, Icon Productions. Hollywood’s major studios all passed on
offers to distribute the film. New market films agreed to distribute
it for a fee.
The movie has`probably created more controversy than any other movie
in recent years. Some commentators have charged that the movie is
anti-Semitiic because it blames the Jews for the death of Christ. The
film portrays Jews who adhere to their Jewish faith as enemies of G-D
and the locus of evil..
(The above 2 paragraphs were taken from the web site of
In July of 2006 Mel Gibson was stopped and arrested for drunk driving
near his house in Malibu.by Deputy James Mee. In his initial report
Deputy Mee described how Gibson bolted from custody and how he chased
the actor back to his car where he handcuffed him.In addition, the
report detailed repeated threats against Mee made by Gibson, who said
that he” owned Malibu” and “would get even"with the deputy.The report
also detailed Gibson’s"barrage of anti-Semitic remarks"in which he
said, “The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world” before
asking the deputy, who is Jewish: Are you a Jew.
The article goes on to say that Gibson because of his celebrity status
received a $1300.00 fine and other minor consequences. He never
apologized to the deputy or to the Jewish people. Can we support an
individual who hates us.
It is very important that you don’t delete this email. If you do, it
only helps to support the beliefs of Mel Gibson against the Jewish
It isn’t very Jewish to hold a grudge. Jews are a people who believe that forgiveness is a foundational principle of righteous living. But Jews also believe you have to ask for forgiveness in order to be forgiven. And I don’t hear Mel Gibson asking for a second chance. I see a Mel Gibson who is embarrassed and ashamed and thinks denying responsibility will absolve him of his sin. Let’s hope for his sake that kind of religious faith works with his God, because in Jewish Hollywood, it doesn’t stand a chance.
More Mel Gibson on Hollywood Jew:
Mel Gibson gets defensive about his anti-Semitic past
Read more about Mel Gibson’s 2006 DUI incident, including copies of the police report at TMZ.com.
January 27, 2010 | 5:39 pm
Posted by Larry Mark
The Ecstasy Without The Agony
Bad Boy, Watcha Gonna Do When They Pray For You?
Monday was like Rosh Hashana at the Sundance Film Festival. Two of the most highly anticipated Jewish films had their world premieres to sold out audiences and standing ovations. “Holy Rollers,” which spotlights Brooklyn Hasids who smuggle drugs from Amsterdam—loosely inspired by real events from the 1990s—premiered to 1,400 attendees in the afternoon – including Harvey Weinstein. And Monday night introduced the documentary “Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work,” about the eponymous, provocative comedienne (more on Joan later).
“Holy Rollers,” by first-time feature auteur, Kevin Tyler Asch, stars Jesse Eisenberg (“Adventureland,” “Zombieland”), as Sam Gold, who is disgruntled by strictures of his religious community and the grind of working in his father’s fabric store on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. His neighbor, Yosef (Justin Bartha), meanwhile, wears a Rolex and seems happy, and Sam becomes enamored of his exciting, extravagant lifestyle. He doesn’t initially realize that Yosef’s loot is funded by an Ecstasy smuggling operation, run by an Israeli and staffed by Hasidic drug mules. Before September 11, who would think of searching an observant Jew at the airport?
When Sam first signs on to the operation, he believes he is simply transporting medicine from Europe—but then finds he is good at his job and has a “kopf” for the business. He gets the praise he seeks from his new friends, something he had found lacking at home and in his other endeavors.
“Holy Rollers,” is a double entendre, since “rolling” is a term used by users of Ecstasy to describe the drug’s high. “I really dig the title,” Asch said in an interview. “The story is lively. There were ideas for other titles. But I wanted it to be accessible, and I did not want it to sound like a somber film.”
Sam’s father, Mendel, (Mark Ivanir) values happy customers more than gelt and profits; Leon (Jason Fuchs) is Sam’s best friend and next door neighbor; Leon’s older brother, Yosef, is the lapsed Hasid, who also enjoys watching porn on cable; Jackie Solomon (Danny A. Abeckaser), like a Jewish Al Pacino, is an Israeli-born drug smuggler, though he calls his mother in Israel every Shabbat; and Rachel (Ari Graynor) is a Hebrew school dropout and Jackie’s main squeeze.
Asked if any of his cast members were Jewish, Asch said with a laugh, “Much of the cast is, but I did not go into their specific [beliefs]...It is not as if I counted out people who were not Jewish, but it was important to me. [The story] is based in reality so it was important to find people who fit these roles, and being Jewish, I think, we had a deeper curiosity about ultra-Orthodox culture.”
If some viewers characterize the film as a Hasidic “Goodfellas”—sans the violence—or a Jewish “Mean Streets” or “Trainspotting,” Asch begs to differ. “It is actually a story about a young man’s struggle with faith and blind faith,” he said.
At the beginning of the movie, Sam hopes for an arranged match with a lovely Hasidic woman from a respected family, but the outcome of his initial meeting with her helps to push him down an alternate path, to isolation, and to a sense of alienation, which makes him vulnerable when he first visits nightclubs and is introduced to the drug subculture.
At first, Sam follows the practice of “niddah” (avoiding touching or mixing of genders), but not for long. Astute observers will note that the Torah portions discussed in the synagogue scenes concern God asking Adam “where he is” in the Garden of Eden, and two of Aaron’s sons offering up a “strange fire” and perishing as a result.
The genesis for the movie, which at first glance may cause some Jewish community members to think its topic is a “Shandeh for the Goyim,” was actor Danny A. Abeckaser’s interest in the Israeli-Hasidic drug mule operation of the late 1990s. U.S. Customs officers usually ignored men and women in Hasidic garb at airports. The actor thought the role of the Israeli drug smuggler would be a great challenge, and approached Asch with the idea for the film, who in turn hired Latino Mormon writer Antonio Macia to pen the script. “I did a lot of research on my own, [then] took the perspective of the character, Sam, and his journey, and how he takes these small little steps of compromise.”
New York actor Jesse Eisenberg was so enamored of the script two years ago that he drove to Brooklyn, explored the Hasidic community, discussed the project with his mother, then called his agent to sign on.
Research for the entire cast and crew included visiting Hasidic families; viewing the controversial Melanie Griffith film “A Life Apart;” reading “The Unchosen,” which profiles ultra-Orthodox Jews who left their communities; and a Hasidic extras casting professional who also served as a technical advisor on the film.
During rehearsals at his mother’s apartment in midtown Manhattan during Hanukkah, Asch said, “A Chabad ‘Mitzvah Tank’ was parked across the street. Ari, Jesse and I spent an hour in the Tank with the young Hasids who manned it, and we incorporated some of that experience into the script. Like when Ari went to shake their hands and they jumped back since she is a woman. It was like a cop drama ride along by actors, but with tefillin instead of guns and arrests.”
While Eisenberg is currently working on the role of Facebook.com founder Mark Zuckerberg in “The Social Network,” Asch is already developing his next two films: “Great Neck” will be about growing up in a materialistic world in Great Neck, Long Island; and “Kings Highway” will focus on the rise of the Israeli Mafia in New York City. Both are set in the late 1980’s. A shanda? No, Asch insists. He is just writing interesting stories about interesting lives.
January 25, 2010 | 12:13 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
The Bernie Madoff scandal always seemed like prime fodder for Hollywood.
From the very beginning, it was one of those juicy (Jewish) stories so outrageously sinister, it was considered implausible. Only, it wasn’t; it actually happened. Which is all the more reason it will make for delightful television.
Starting tonight, season 3 of the FX drama “Damages” will feature a storyline ripped straight from the headlines. Glen Close stars as Patty Hewes, New York’s most ferocious litigator, who is hired to take down a billionaire ponzi schemer. The season-long drama will unspool with family secrets, hidden assets and a sizzling list of guest stars that includes Martin Short and Lily Tomlin.
The narrative is once again cut up into jumbled time sequences, but the Madoff scenario is a more plausible and inviting crime than the sinister energy-corporation conspiracy that Patty eventually took down last season. That story line presumed that corporate titans were not just greedy and murderous but also brainy, and that’s a bit much to swallow in the current economy.
The Madoff fraud would be even harder to believe, except that it just happened.
And viewers get to experience the moment the crooked financier confesses his crimes to his family — at Thanksgiving dinner, after pie is served. No one may ever satisfactorily divine what Mr. Madoff said at that moment, let alone explain what possessed him to deceive and ruin even close friends and associates for all those years. “Damages” posits a fictional scenario that may be the closest people ever get to the truth.
January 24, 2010 | 6:25 pm
Posted by Larry Mark
While waiting for screenings of the Jewish-themed flicks “Hesher” and “Holy Rollers,” I took in two sweeter and quieter films – one the story of a Douchebag (which also happens to be the title of the film), and another involving a mensh who changed a child’s life in “A Small Act.”
Drake Doremus’ “Douchebag” opens a few days before bearded, balding Sam Nussbaum (Andrew Dickler) marries his girlfriend, Steph (Marguerite Moreaux); members of both mischpochas will be there save for Sam’s brother, Tom, (Ben York Jones), a, controlling vegetarian who hasn’t spoken to the groom in two years. A concerned Steph decides to drive several hours to Tom’s apartment, introduce herself as his future sister-in-law, and convince him to attend the wedding. Then all would be right in the world – or so she thinks. Suffice it to say that the brothers end up on a road trip around Los Angeles – ostensibly to find Tom’s lost love—although it quickly become apparent that Sam is not in the adventure to bond with his brother, but as a way to avoid his upcoming wedding. The audience gets to decide who is the real Douchbag.
The film had its roots in Doremus’ desire to make a movie starring his two hilarious friends, Dicker and Jones, as brothers; “A Small Act,” meanwhile, began when documentarian Jennifer Arnold spent a year in Nairobi, where she hoped to donate funds to an international children’s charity that was not a scam. Arnold was familiar with the campaigns and TV commercials asking Americans and Europeans to contribute “just a few cents a day” to sponsor African, Central American, and Caribbean children and orphans. But could this kind of organization really make an impact?
While looking for answers, Arnold discovered the case of an impoverished Kenyan boy, Chris Mburu, who as the result of a $15-per-term donation from an anonymous Swede, was able to attend primary school and high school, to graduate, and then to attend Harvard and become a United Nations attorney specializing in human rights law.
Arnold created her film to tell the story of attorney Mburu, now 43; in the process, she discovered the surprising identity of his benefactor – Hilde Back, now 87, a retired Swedish schoolteacher who, as a young German Jewish woman, fled Nazi Germany and survived the Holocaust in Sweden. The two met a few years ago, and in gratitude, Mburo created a new Kenyan Education fund in Back’s name.
At the screening, “A Small Act” took on a special poignancy in light of the recent events in Haiti, and the post-earthquake appeals to text message small donations for relief.