Posted by Larry Mark
By Larry Mark
As moths are drawn to the flame, celebrities are drawn to the cameras. Sundance usually provides the necessary flashbulbs, but this year, the media is in Washington D.C. And so, the word here in Park City is that most celebrities have left Utah and flown East for the inauguration. Whether it is the festivities there or the economic recession, Park City seems emptier than in years past. Main Street is not as crowded, and the wait list lines don’t seem as long, and even the Yarrow Hotel has reduced its lofty prices for the second half of the fest. Parties are fewer, and the availability of swag is geometrically less than last year.
There is also a distinct decrease in “buzz” and deals, and what some say is the peripheral nonsense, or the “childish things” that President Obama mentioned in his inaugural address.
The greatest buzz amid this dearth of buzz is for ”Sin Nombre,” a U.S.A/Mexico production directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga and distributed by Focus Features. Sin Nombre means “nameless” or “without a name.” The producer is Amy Kaufman, a Massachusetts native who is fluent in Spanish and English and a past associate of Scott Rudin, David Linde, and James Schamus. She was executive producer of Alfonso Cuaron’s “Y Tu Mamá, También” and led the filmmaking team on Sophia Coppola’s “Lost in Translation.“ For Kaufman, “Sin Nombre” is a Greek tragedy that authentically shows how much is involved among families traveling from Central America to the United States. The film is a love story and chase film as well as a thriller. A Mexican Noir film, it is set on the border crossings of Mexico, where gangs thrive and control these small, precarious universes, and young men and women, Mexicans, Hondurans, and others, try to cross to America on freight trains for new, safer, and more prosperous lives. Sayra is traveling with her family from Honduras atop a freight train, when she meet Casper, a gang member, murderer and thief, whom she thinks she can reform and change. Both Casper and Sayra are trying to reconstruct their families and create individual connections. As the train carries them to a new life, it shows that it is also a frightening, lumbering, steel monster. The train can be an angel to some and a devil to others, and the same can be said about people.
Another much-hyped film is “I Love You, Phillip Morris,” a gay love story starring Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor (the producer, Andrew Lazar, is Jewish). I saw this gay love story in Utah, in a high school auditorium. And they say times do not change.
The film is the hard to believe, but somewhat true, story of a high I.Q. (169) con man in Virginia Beach, VA, who commits outlandish scams and is repeatedly incarcerated—all in the name of love. When the movie opens, Steven Russell (Carrey) is a married, local cop and church leader. But not long into the film he has an epiphany, pursues the life of a gay playboy, and eventually lands in prison. There he meets the waif-like, Phillip Morris (Ewan McGregor), a fellow inmate, and falls in love. This may be the latest gay love story performed by straight actors, but it was shot at several real prisons, including Angola, where all the extras were actual, life term prisoners.
I had the opportunity to query the film’s producer, Andrew Lazar, at a panel discussion hosted by The Queer Lounge, a program of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), in Park City. Lazar, who grew up in Los Angeles and became interested in film at New York University, acquired the rights to Russell’s story after reading a treatment and three chapters of an unfinished novel about the con artist.
“Yes, it’s interesting that Steven Russell is a gay man, but what makes the story universal is that everyone can relate to being obsessed and love sick and wanting to be with that person who’s going to change your life,” Lazar said.
“This movie is not about a straight guy pretending to be gay,” he added. “Steven Russell was a homosexual and it’s a very provocative script [by the screenwriters of ‘Bad Santa’]. We lucked into being introduced to Luc Besson, who funded the film, early in the process, because sexual relationship stories don’t seem to fluster Europeans as much as they do Americans.” And the sexual chemistry between the two protagonists is intense.
Asked if there is still a stigma attached to playing gay, Ewan McGregor responded that as an actor, you are always seeking out interesting characters to play, and that he has played gay before without any stigma. Carrey was passionate about his role, but admitted that “his people” raised many concerns about him taking on the part. Carrey said he created a “smoldering yum yum eat ‘em up vibe” between McGregor and himself in the film.
McGregor said, “I did not want the humor to come out of the story being about two men in love.” If that were the case, he said, would have declined to participate in the movie. Carrey admitted that “there is a homophobic voice in me,” which he had to overcome to be in the film. He encouraged viewers to find parts of themselves in other people—gay people—in order to overcome their own homophobia. “The change must occur in each individual; it is an internal job,” he said.
Carrey repeatedly said, “Love is love, and that’s it.” Steven is relentless about love, and creates cons in order to find it as well as acceptance and significance in life. “Beware the unloved,” Carrey said. “They go to extremes for acceptance.”
For more information, visit the Sundance site.
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January 18, 2009 | 8:04 pm
Posted by Larry Mark
By Larry Mark
As sundown came to Sundance on Friday evening, I prepared to trek over to the local synagogue, Temple Har Shalom, now ensconced in a beautiful new building, complete with a theater for Sundance’s use. It was the weekend of parshat Shemot, the start of the Book of Exodus from Mitzrayim—how appropriate to read from it at a festival where the main theater is called “The Egyptian.”
But I was a “Boy Interrupted” (the title of a Sundance film that is building buzz – actually a tragic documentary about a teenager’s suicide). As I prepared to leave the Yarrow Hotel, I saw a sign for a “Shabbat at Sundance” dinner being held in a ballroom one floor away. I popped in and found 100 people eating a buffet dinner and singing Sabbath songs. In its third year, Mendel Schwartz of Los Angeles’ Chai Center helps to organize and host a Shabbat dinner which draws an extremely diverse group of Sundance Jews, Hollywood Jews, Jewish festival attendees and industry leaders. The kosher food and excessive amounts of wine had been trucked in by a Dallas, TX based kosher caterer. I am not one to kiss and tell, or pray and tell, so without mentioning names, at my table were two founders of the Palisades Park Film Festival, and three young filmmakers from New York City.
One highlight of the dinner, in addition to the Israeli-style rice, was my naiveté at sitting at another table and chatting with some participants, only later realizing that the man sitting next to me was the Jewish reggae star, Matisyahu.
As I got ready to leave after the Birkat haMazon, or grace after meals, one of the hosts approached me to ask me to be a tenth man the next morning at their condo minyan. Free cholent would be provided afterwards, they said. How could I resist? But seriously, I was and am a Jew at Sundance, and given the choice of seeing two films in the morning, or making a minyan, especially one where someone might need to say Kaddish, the choice was clear.
The next morning I hiked into the snowy mountain area and found the condo. It was many times nicer than mine, so I got to see the luxury that can be Park City (or what I, a guy who lives in a one-room studio in Manhattan, would consider luxury). Complete with a Torah supplied by Chabad of Salt Lake City, the worship service was unique. It occurred in the living room, facing east towards the fireplace, as out the window, snow boarders could be seen lining up for rides to the slope and nearby chair lifts. The Torah was read from the marble-topped kitchen island. Afterwards, without praying and telling, I was introduced to Matisyahu, once again; his wife, Tali, herself a nascent Jewish documentary filmmaker; Mendel Schwartz of The Chai Center; and Marc Erlbaum of Nationlight Productions, a new Jewish faith-based production company that hopes to reach mainstream audiences.
Nationlight—which had “Sundance” kippahs made up—is led by Erlbaum, who put together an experienced team of Jewish professionals to serve on his board. They include Michael Helfant, executive producer of “Iron Man,” and Doug Mankoff, producer of “Away From Her” and executive producer of Sandra Nettelbeck’s “Helen,” which stars Ashley Judd as a professor coming to terms with her clinical depression, and which screens in the Spectrum section at Sundance. “Nationlight will mingle Jewish wisdom with cutting-edge entertainment in order to highlight human potential, probe the difficult but essential questions of our existence, and inspire viewers to better themselves and their surroundings,” Erlbaum said. His initial films will include “The Good News,” about a man who sets out to launch a news broadcast that only reports positive stories.
A drash on Moshe was given by Noah BenShea, a writer who is known for his “Jacob The Baker” series of books. It fit in so well with the storytelling theme of Sundance 2009.
On Saturday evening, I headed over to The Egyptian Theater for the world premier of “Zion and His Brother,” an Israeli drama by Sundance Lab alumnus Eran Merav. The film opens with a scene of boys in Haifa playing soccer under an overpass. Zion, 14, is hunted down and attacked by Meir, 17, his older brother, wrestled to the ground and taken to a dentist. They live among the endless apartment blocks, vulnerably small and insignificant in the grander scene. Trains pass from Haifa to the center of the country, ignoring the people in this neighborhood. They are two brothers, perhaps like Jacob and Esau, forever struggling, with an estranged, absent, most likely imprisoned, father, and a struggling single mother desperate for love, on the poor side of town. It is the end of summer, hot and sticky, and the sun is drying out everyone and everything, spotlighting all events. Watching the film, I felt I was back in Israel, walking the steps of an apartment building, flicking the switch to light the interior steps, hearing the sounds of Zohar or Haim Moshe from behind apartment front doors.
When a schoolmate of Zion‘s, an even lower-class son of Ethiopian immigrants, an outsider among outsiders, is killed in an accident and the brothers are in some respects responsible, Zion must decide whether to keep the secret to himself or to take on a greater role of leadership in the family as their dysfunctional relationship descends even more into chaos.
Also screening was an Israeli short film by Michal Vinik. Unfortunately, the Sundance film guide listed Michal as a “Michael” and as a “he” instead of a she. Which was ironically appropriate, since her film, “Bait” is about a tomboy named Nitzan, living near Ashdod, who plans to go out for a day of fishing. Instead, she accompanies her sister—who takes a risk by hitchhiking to the beach in skimpy clothing. They are given a ride by a Filipino guest worker (played by Israeli-Filipino, Peter Somra) from a nearby moshav, who spends the afternoon with them swimming in the sea and more. Just what is Nitzan fishing for?
I must admit, my favorite film so far is not directly a “Jewish” one. It is “The September Issue,” a documentary by R. J. Cutler about the creation of the largest September issue of Vogue, and a profile of its editor, Anna Wintour. It will be a must-see for all 13 million readers of Vogue, anyone in fashion and fashion retailing, all garmento’s, runway models, fashion photographers and stylists. For all her cold glances and rudeness, I would work for Wintour in a heartbeat, albeit a fashionably styled heartbeat.
For more information, visit the Sundance site.
January 17, 2009 | 10:19 pm
Posted by Larry Mark
By Larry Mark
My Friday at Sundance began with the premiere of “William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe,” a documentary by his two youngest daughters, Emily Kunstler and Sarah Kunstler. William Kunstler was one of America’s most loved, and to many, the most hated, civil rights, anti-war, and criminal defense attorneys of the late 20th century. The documentary is an exploration of his life and the events that provoked the love and hate, as well as an attempt to learn more about his life by his daughters, who were born after his most celebrated cases.
The doc was screened as the inaugural film at Sundance’s newest venue: The Temple Theater. It is so named since the venue is a temple, namely Temple Har Shalom, Park City’s growing congregation and “ski shul” (it offers a Jewish study class held on the slopes). It should not surprise anyone that this venue has the best food concession, including lox sandwiches. The “Kunstler” screening perhaps was one of the few times that the late William Kunstler, who was born Jewish, and who loved tongue sandwiches on rye with cream soda, appeared in a shul—albeit on digital video.
The film’s title derives from a T.S. Elliot poem, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” in which Prufrock wonders if he “dare disturb the universe.” The documentary, which received some of its funding from the Foundation for Jewish Culture, shows Kunstler as a paradigm of the great Jewish prophetic tradition of radical action, his daughters told me. Some said he was a self-hating Jew. But he would reply that that was impossible since anyone who knew him knew that he was Jewish and that he loved himself. He kept a picture of Michelangelo’s statue of David over his desk, slingshot nearly at the ready, and used it as an example of why people must choose kinetic action over inaction when faced with racism or the unlawful exercise of government power.
William Moses Kunstler was born in 1919, graduated Yale, and during World War II, reached the rank of major and received the Bronze Star Medal and Purple Heart. After Yale Law, he ensconced himself in New York’s Westchester County and, with his brother, practiced law and raised a post-war family. He even published a small book on practicing law. It was the staid, ordinary, suburban life of a young lawyer, father and husband. But he slowly began to take a greater role in civil rights litigation, and in 1961, supported the Freedom Riders. By the late 1960s, in addition to civil rights cases, he was representing the anti-Vietnam War cases of the Berrigan Brothers, and later, Abbie Hoffman and the Chicago Eight. In the 1970s, divorced and remarried, he won even more fame representing Attica prisoners and later proving that the government was criminally wrong it its behavior at Wounded Knee, South Dakota, against Native Americans.
The film is at its most powerful when presenting interviews with his anti-war and civil rights clients and colleagues. If only his life could have continued on this trajectory. But it didn’t. As Emily wrote, “Sarah and I wanted to fit dad’s life into a single, unified theory. We wanted all of his clients to be innocent, and all his cases to be battles for justice and freedom. His clients were fighting to change the world, and he was fighting to keep them out of jail.“
But in his later years, perhaps for the attention and fame, or his addiction to the theater of the courtroom, his clients were the most sensational and vilified accused rapists, murderers, and mobsters. In the film, attorney Alan Dershowitz politely said Kunstler was “inconsistent” in his later years. Kunstler’s defense of the alleged assassin of Rabbi Meir Kahane, as well as mobster John Gotti and one of the accused Central Park jogger rapists, made him a pariah and placed his home and family under nearly daily attack by protestors and members of the Jewish Defense Organization. His teenage daughters thought he had “stopped standing for anything worth fighting for.”
The film, which will be broadcast by PBS’s POV series this year, allows the viewer to decide for himself as to whether Kunstler should be loved, hated or both. The recent exoneration on DNA evidence of his client, Yusef Salaam, one of the accused Central Park jogger rapists, makes one wonder just how hated he should be. The difficulty of Kunstler’s job was reinforced for me during the film’s Q & A session with the filmmakers. There at the front of the Temple Theater was a newly freed Yusef Salaam, and Gregory “Joey” Johnson, an activist who burned an American flag at the 1984 Republican National Convention in Dallas. Kunstler argued Johnson’s case before the U.S. Supreme Court and won. While one might defend the right to burn a flag under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, Johnson’s post screening monologue on why there needs to be a real revolution in America and why the U.S. must stop supporting Israel’s genocide against Palestinians made my stomach burn.
Yet the film made me wonder: Would I, like a young David, place a rock in a slingshot and fight the Goliaths of the present world, as Kunstler thought he spent his life doing? I hope I would, but perhaps I would be pickier as to my causes. In the end, this documentary might just help reawaken viewers to find their own Goliaths and slingshots.
By the end of the day, as sunset came to Sundance, I had had few celebrity sightings worth mentioning, but had spent some quality time with two filmmakers from Israel, including Michal Vinik, creator of the short film, “Bait,” about a tomboy teenager’s adventures on a summer’s day.
I also stopped by the “Shabbat at Sundance” dinner that drew more than 100 participants. When the time came to say the Birkat Hamazon, a dozen attendees remained and I sat next to a tall, thin, bearded man from Brooklyn, and poured him some Kedem grape juice. “What do you do in Brooklyn—learn?” I asked the stranger. “I’m in music,” he replied. It was not until 20 minutes later – when another participant gushed over the man’s latest CD – that I realized the “stranger” was the Jewish reggae star, Matisyahu. He was at the dinner with his wife, Tali, a graduate of New York University’s film school, who met her husband while doing a documentary on men and women in the Orthodox community not touching. Tali apparently is at Sundance to make contacts to continue this project.
Hopefully Matisyahu will join me for an Israeli film after Shabbos.
For more information, visit the Sundance site.
January 16, 2009 | 7:25 pm
Posted by Larry Mark
By Larry Mark
The Sundance Film Festival 2009 opened on Thursday night with an Australian clay animation feature, “Mary and Max,” written and directed by Adam Elliot, a Sundance veteran and Oscar winner for best animated short in 2004. “Mary and Max” features the voices of Philip Seymour Hoffman, Eric Bana, Toni Collette and Barry Humphries (a.k.a Dame Edna) as the narrator. Think of it as an Australian “Wallace and Gromit” meets “About Schmidt,” but one painted in dark tones of brown, gray and black. The movie deals with the serious issues of mental illness, death, and depression; it is neither a “Nemo” nor a “Shrek,” since it is mostly a tragedy sprinkled with bits of comedy.
This is the first time that an animated feature has opened Sundance. And with the critical success of the Israeli film “Waltz with Bashir,” perhaps we are at the beginning of a cinematic trend in darker-themed animation.
“Mary and Max” is about a pen pal friendship that endures for over two decades between Mary Dinkle, an 8 year old girl in a Melbourne suburb, and Max Jerry Horowitz, a 44-year-old obese Jewish man who lives in black and gray isolation in New York City. Max has a variety of short-term jobs and suffers from an undiagnosed case of Asperger‘s Syndrome, while Mary has a relatively absent father who works in a tea bag factory and a perpetually drunk mother. Both endured teasing throughout their childhoods. I scored a ticket to the opening screening of the film, as well as the after party.
Remarkably, the film is based on a true story… that of Max Elliot‘s life, the film’s writer and director. Elliot, the son of a trampoline salesman, grew up on an (unkosher) prawn farm in Australia (yes, they really do put shrimps on the barbie there); and he has had a pen pal, or “pen friend” as he calls it, from America since childhood. It was all on account of his joining a fan site for animation in his late teens and clicking on a box indicating that he would like a pen pal. Elliot’s pen friend, whom he has never actually met, is a Jewish man from New York City, who, although not named Max, does suffer from Asperger’s Syndrome, and who has been in a nursing home for the past few months recovering from surgery. Not even Philip Seymour Hoffman, a resident of New York, who lent the voice to the character of Max, has met Elliot’s actual pen pal.
Creating a stop motion “claymation” film is a slow and arduous process, Elliot said. On average, only five seconds of film are created a day. Elliot likened the process to “making love and being stabbed to death at the same time.” The 92-minute film took 57 weeks of actual shooting, a crew of 50, and five years to finally complete. As an Australian production, over 65 percent of the funding came from the Australian government.
As the story proceeds, Mary grows older and taller, as Max grows wider and fatter. The browns get more chocolate-hued, and the grays darker, with occasional highlights of spot-red to symbolically highlight something, like a pompom on top of Max’s kippah, which he wears even though he is an atheist. Elliot told me this was his homage to the spot-color used in “Schindler’s List.” In Elliot’s film, the back story is that Max’s father abandoned his family, and Max’s mother, who raised the boy on a kibbutz, killed herself when Max was 6. A very sad childhood indeed. Max is a creature of habit and his diet consists of kugel and blintzes, as well as fish sticks. (Speaking of blintzes, the director took his parents to Nate ‘n’ Al’s deli in Los Angeles last week, where, Elliot told me, his father “tried a ‘cheesy’ blintz and a turkey blintz for the first time”). Max’s wardrobe consists of eight tracksuits, all the same color. When he sends Mary a letter, he bids the package a ritual farewell with a Yiddish phrase, “geh, gezunt a heit.”
Elliot is not Jewish. I asked him how he came up with the Yiddish phrase and Jewish foodstuffs. Mostly he queried his Jewish friends in Melbourne, where he said there is a significant Jewish community, “especially a large group of Holocaust survivors.” His friends gave him the Yiddish phrase and also told him that he had to include “Yentl’s noodle kugel.” The actor, Philip Seymour Hoffman, also a non-Jew, had trouble with the Yiddish phrase. At first, he used a more autistic, “Rain Man-like” voice for Max, but the director had him soften his tone, which helped him to create a more approachable character.
Because of his Asperger’s, Max is unable to perceive the visual cues from others’ facial expressions, so he carries around a guide to facial emotions in order to discern if people are happy (smiling) or angry (frowning). The fact that his partially blind neighbor, Ivy, who suffers from alopecia, has no real eyebrows, presents quite a problem in reading her mood. Mary does not have that problem, since she wears a mood ring that tells her how she is feeling.
What I found so Jewish about this film was not only the character of Max and his rabbinical style of advice, but the movie’s “haggadic” telling of the story of human relationships. Like the seder’s four question’s, Mary questions and Max responds; their decades-long dialogue informs them and connects them to each other and the human community. Max teaches Mary that it is wrong for her to naively think that she can cure his Asperger’s Syndrome. It would be like changing the color of his eyes. The message is that while we cannot choose our relatives, we can choose our friends; that we are all flawed; and that we should aspire to live in spite of our flaws and not hide behind them. All this makes “Mary and Max,” to me, even more of a Jewish film than meets the naked eye.
For more information, visit the Sundance website.
January 16, 2009 | 1:57 am
Posted by Larry Mark
By Larry Mark
Greetings from Park City, Utah, where I arrived for my seventh (or is it my eighth?) visit to the Sundance Film Festival. I can’t keep track of how many years I have come, but neither, apparently, can Robert Redford, the festival’s founder. Speaking at the opening press conference this afternoon, Redford said that Sundance has been celebrating its 25th birthday for the past three years. It all depends on when you start the count. Do you start in 1985? Or maybe you start back in the 1970s, when the fest was called the USA Film Festival and the focus was not on indies?
I arrived really excited about the offerings at the 2009 festival, which runs from Jan. 15-25. And why not? The opening film is a Jewish one: “Mary and Max,“ an Australian clay animation feature written and directed by Adam Elliot. Elliot made a splash at Sundance in 2004 with his animated short film, “Harvie Krumpet” – about a working class boy with perpetual bad luck – which went on to win an Oscar. The perhaps even quirkier “Mary and Max” is a feature film about a pen pal friendship that has endured for over two decades between Mary Dinkle, a zaftig 8 year old in a Melbourne suburb, and Max Horowitz, a 44 year old obese Jewish agoraphobe (Philip Seymour Hoffman) who lives in isolation in Queens, NY. I scored a ticket to the opening screening of the film, as well as the after party, and will fill you in on Friday.
Other films on my growing hit list include: “William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe,” a documentary by two of the Jewish attorney’s daughters, which explores his famed civil rights litigation as well as his defense of accused rapists and terrorists; “The Messenger,” by Israeli-born Oren Moverman, about two soldiers (Woody Harrelson and Ben Foster) who work for the military’s Casualty Notification Office, and are “casualties” themselves; “Zion and His Brothers” an Israeli sibling drama set in Haifa, by Eran Merav, who studied at both the Camera Obscura and the Sam Spiegel Film & TV schools in Israel.
The list also includes a smattering of Palestinian themed films, including “Pomegranates and Myrrh“ by Najwa Najjar; and “Shouting Fire” by Liz Garbus, a documentary on free speech which includes a focus on the infamous Neo-Nazi march in Skokie three decades ago.
In terms of celebrity sightings after just a few hours, I only had two: Robert Redford and Spike Lee. At the press conference today, Redford said he’s excited that President-elect Barack Obama’s inauguration on Jan. 20 falls in the middle of the festival. “You’ve got a lame-duck guy going out, but he sure has done a lot of quacking in the last while,” Redford said of the Bush Administration. Redford added that the National Endowment for the Arts had been “fighting the right, which saw art as some kind of threat. “So I think that’s going to change.”
Asked if Sundance was going to create a festival in Abu Dhabi, Redford said that the labs had gone international and had worked well in the Middle East, specifically in Iran and Jordan, since the 1990s. While still in preliminary discussions with representatives from Abu Dhabi, he expects that Sundance will proceed in creating some lab or event there in the future.
Oh, and then there was Spike Lee. After the press conference, I skipped the free Park City liquor giveaway (it’s an oat-based vodka. What self-respecting Litvak would drink a vodka made of oats?) Instead, I tried a free espresso. It was just the barrista and me, when a shorter “stranger” approached the coffee bar. He ordered an espresso as well. It was Spike Lee. We chatted about the Knicks and his disappointment with the team – until he stepped out of the theater and was barraged by camera-wielding journalists asking about his latest project, the film of the Broadway rock musical, “Passing Strange.”
And now on to the opening night film…
For more information, visit the http://www.sundance.org website
January 13, 2009 | 9:06 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
Ari Folman’s animated documentary film, “Waltz With Bashir” is making headlines—and not just because it’s a darn good piece of filmmaking. As Deborah Solomon points out in her interview with Folman, the doc smacks of irony: Folman’s soi desant “antiwar movie” is doubly resonant if you consider the ongoing Israeli offensive in Gaza. Solomon dubbed Folman “The Peacemaker,” but he told an audience at the Arclight Saturday night that he doesn’t believe film can change the world.
The headlines coming out of Gaza have lent added relevance to your new film, “Waltz With Bashir,” which uses the unlikely form of animation to piece together a nuanced account of your experiences in the 1982 Lebanon War.
It will always be up-to-date because something will always happen again.
You mean the prospect for peace seems so remote? That’s sad.
But it’s true.
You were a 19-year-old soldier at the time of the massacre of Palestinians by Lebanese Christian Phalangists in two refugee camps in West Beirut. Where were you during that 72-hour rampage?
We were nearby, a half a mile away, and we realized what happened just after it ended, while women were running hysterically out of the camps.
The film can be described as the Israeli “Slaughterhouse-Five.”
Yes, more than anything else, I see it as an antiwar movie.
One tends to think of Israel as a country where survivalist imperatives do not allow for much antiwar sentiment.
Israelis are divided, definitely, but I think you hear too much of the louder voices that always justify any kind of act of aggression. But there is a very big crowd of people who are fed up with war. I can’t understand the word “war” anyhow.
What can’t you understand?
I can’t understand people killing each other for a piece of land. Can you understand that?
All this offers a sharp contrast with the glamorized image of Jewish soldiers depicted a half-century ago in a novel like “Exodus,” by Leon Uris. Have you read it?
It’s a must-read in Israel, and the film with Paul Newman is a must-film.
Israel’s founding generation didn’t seem to harbor ambivalence about war.
They were survival wars. They were about the existence of the country, and they were influenced tremendously by the Holocaust. But the Lebanon War had nothing to do with survival.
It was a military exception?
It was not an exception. It was a turning point in the relationship between the Israeli leadership and the people, who realized for the first time that war can be declared just for political reasons.
Ariel Sharon would disagree.
What went through Sharon’s head in 1982? Only he knows.
Were you interested in film as a child?
No, not really. I was interested in football and rock ’n’ roll and girls. As a child I played the clarinet, a nice Jewish instrument.
Your parents were Holocaust survivors?
They met in the Lodz ghetto in Poland when they were 16. They married four years later on Aug. 18, 1944. The next morning, during the liquidation of the ghetto, they were evacuated to Auschwitz.
How old were you when you learned of their past?
The moment I understood Hebrew.
You were one of the original writers on “In Treatment,” the Israeli show set in a psychiatrist’s office that was adapted by HBO.
You know the show? There is an Israeli pilot traumatized by his experiences dropping a bomb that killed 14 kids. In the American version, it was adapted to Iraq.
Will he be returning for the second season?
No, he committed suicide.
I’m sorry. Couldn’t you save him?
No. I’m not a great believer in psychotherapy.
Have you been analyzed?
I’ve been analyzed way too much.
The problem with therapy is that you’re listening to no one but yourself. How can you learn anything?
That’s a very good sentence. Can I use it from now on, as if I invented it?
It’s yours, and no one will ever know. Do you find that talk is more effective in matters of war and diplomacy?
Yes. I think you should always ask yourself: has everything been done to prevent the conflict? Talk, don’t shoot. Talk.
January 12, 2009 | 6:50 pm
Posted by Tom Tugend
Israel’s “Waltz with Bashir” won the Golden Globe for best foreign-language film on Sunday evening, solidifying its frontrunner status to take home Israel’s first Oscar at next month’s Academy Awards.
The edgy, animated film about a traumatized veteran trying to recover his memories of the first Lebanon War, beat out competing entries from Germany, France, Italy and Sweden.
In his brief acceptance speech, director Ari Folman dedicated his Golden Globe to the eight babies (including three of his own) born to the film’s production staff during the four years it took to complete the picture.
“I hope that when they grow up, these babies will watch this film together and will see it as an ancient video game that has nothing to do with reality,” Folman said.
During a panel discussion the previous day among the five foreign directors nominated for the award, Folman recounted a little anecdote.
When the second Lebanon War started in 2006, a friend asked him whether he wasn’t sorry that he didn’t have the film ready to go at that time, to give the anti-war drama more immediacy.
To which Folman quoted himself as responding, “Don’t worry, they’ll cook up another war.” Sure enough, many critics are now commenting on the picture’s relevance to the current fighting in Gaza.
An audience member asked Folman whether the film’s depiction of Israeli warfare in Lebanon had drawn any protests in his home country, to which Folman responded, “No, Israelis are very tolerant toward their artists.”
The Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which awards the Golden Globes, honored filmmaker Steven Spielberg with the Cecil B. DeMille Award for lifetime achievement.
Britain’s Kate Winslet took home the trophy for best supporting actress for her role as a former SS concentration camp guard in “The Reader.” She also won the best actress award for her portrayal of a suburban housewife in “Revolutionary Road.”
Veteran director Woody Allen showed that he was still in the game when his film “Vicky Christina Barcelona” garnered top honors for best musical or comedy picture.
Israelis could also take some vicarious satisfaction that the HBO drama “In Treatment,” which was adapted from the Israeli TV hit “B’Tipul,” won the best performance by an actor nod for Gabriel Byrne as the show’s psychiatrist.
The evening’s trophy champ was “Slumdog Millionaire,” the rags-to-riches story of an unlikely Indian game show contestant, which won for best dramatic picture, director, screenplay and musical score.
January 8, 2009 | 7:56 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
Israel is at war with terrorists. The U.S. economy is headed for the deepest economic depression since 1929, and, a few weeks ago, Bernie Madoff swindled $50 billion from investors who trusted him, crippling families, foundations and non-profit organizations around the world. This in mind, it comes as little surprise that few people have tolerance (or any interest in) the looming actors’ strike. When millions of people around the country are losing their jobs, why should we care about the majority of the 110,000 Screen Actors Guild members who claim they can’t afford health insurance?
SAG is arguing that just because the economy is in tatters doesn’t mean actors should accept insufficient contracts. And, as the NY Times Carpetbagger reported a few weeks ago, there is internal division among actors as to whether or not to even authorize a strike. Movie stars George Clooney, Tom Hanks and Charlize Theron have vocally opposed the movement. But Mel Gibson, Martin Sheen and Ed Harris are ready to brawl. To be fair, the tiny minority of celebrities in SAG do not share the same concerns as the majority of under- or unemployed actors who are more dependent on pushing this forward. But still, if the SAG family can’t even agree on where to head, how can they expect our support?
Because we need our actors. It is precisely during dark times that we need the entertainment they offer, the most. Imagine enduring the daily barrage of depressing headlines without the promise of escape entertainers guarantee us. How much worse would war or economic recession seem without the possibility of being set free in a dark theater—where India’s “slumdogs” can become millionaires, and Jewish brothers defy Nazis (who, in other films, look like Kate Winslet), where people fall in love, and “Revolutionary Road” is there to remind you your marriage isn’t that bad after all.
Actors are the image people, the ones we see, who most closely reflect us. It is their heartrending portrayals that can bring us out of our own pain and into a world where hope is still possible.