Thursday, 15 April 2010

Toronto Jewish Film Festival (April 17th - 25th) Mixes It Up!

The Toronto Jewish Film Festival has been around for 18 years, but I've only been attending for the past few years. When I first started going, I was surprised to see the variety of films offered--there were films with Black content! What a surprise that was to me, although, when I thought about it Black and Jewish cultures have been linked historically for centuries. I was also surprised at the international scope of the films. So, if you think there's nothing at this festival for you, think again. The Festival runs over two weeks at various venues with an extensive focus this year on Comic Book Creators (did you know many of them were Jewish?), FREE events and a variety of films to suit everyone's taste. I've screened a few films in advance, so if you don't know where to start have a read. I've ordered the films by screening date.

Each of us, at some point in our lives, has to deal with the issue of identity: who are we, and who are we in relation to those we call family. I’m used to seeing documentaries about children being raised by same-sex couples, and I have seen stories about Black children being raised by White families, but I have never seen a film where an adopted Black child is being raised by two White mothers in a Jewish home with another adopted Black child and a Korean child. Avery is the central focus of OFF AND RUNNING and she has to come to grips with the consequences of making contact with her birth mother. What does it mean to be a Black teenaged Jewish girl who doesn’t look like anybody in her family and who doesn’t naturally fit into her new world of attending a secular school high school with mostly Black, non-Jewish kids? I must commend Avery and her family for granting permission to director Nicole Parker to document their lives in such an open, intimate way. Avery obviously loves and is loved by her family, but no one can tell you who you are; you just have to figure that out for yourself and it is not always an easy road to travel. Bring lots of people with you when you see this, so you can have a great discussion brunch afterwards. Sunday, April 18th, 11:00AM, Bloor Cinema

GAYS DAYS (Hazman Havarod) is a capsule of Tel Aviv in the '80's when being openly gay was a very dangerous declaration. Back then, Poliana Frank (left) was in a punk band and sang songs about being in love with women. When she gave an interview with the only television channel in the city, she became the lesbian—everybody knew her. Through archival footage and present-day revelations by other gays and lesbians, we get an idea of how the gay revolution began and developed in Tel Aviv. With the depiction of any anti-oppression movement you are going to get scenes that you are already familiar with; however, the context of being gay in Israel brings to light some cultural differences that North American audiences may not be aware. A big revelation for me was how active an ally Yael Dayan (Moshe Dayan’s daughter) was in fighting for gay rights in Israel. This documentary is an interesting look back at a time that was about more than big hair and body glitter. Sunday, April 18th, 8:45 pm, Al Green Theatre (Bloor/Spadina)

I had first heard of Pannonica Rothschild (Nica) from Straight, No Chaser the documentary about Thelonius Monk. I knew they had a close relationship, but I didn't know if they were lovers or very close friends. All I knew was that she took care of him as she did with a lot of jazz greats at the time, including Charlie Parker (who died in her apartment).

I had always wanted to know more about this rich, white Jewish woman and her penchant for supporting Black jazz musicians at a time of racial segregation in the US. Nica grand-neice had the same curiosity as I did, which is why she made the film. No one in director, Hannah Rothschild's aristocratic British family openly discussed Nica, the rebel who had left her upper crust life to live in New York, so Hannah went digging. How did this zebra-rich (there is a shot carriage on the Rothschild estate that is being drawn by four zebras!) woman end up being intimes with a sharecropper's son from North Carolina? What did they have in common and what was the nature of the relationship? Just who was the real Pannonica?

You don't even have to be a jazz fan(although the music in the film is pretty fantastic) because the film includes elements of the European and American social issues of the time, World War Two, and human rights that will be of interest to many. I loved it when I saw it at Hot Docs las year and encourage you to see it if you can. Monday, April 19th, 2:45 PM, Al Green Theatre.

CINCO DIAN SIN NORA (NORA'S WILL) is a wonderful Spanish drama with just a touch of farce that keeps it from being maudlin. This film held my attention from the opening scene where a delicate bit of lace is revealed to be a tablecloth to the very last scene where things come to their natural conclusion. NORA'S WILL is a fine balance of the bitter with the sweet thanks to the economical script and direction of Maria Chenillo and the emotional nuances that actor Fernando Lujàn brings to the role of José. To everyone in the film, Nora is José’s wife; to José she is his ex-wife, she is dead so let’s bury her already. Under normal circumstances a quick burial would not be a problem, but the timing of Nora’s death (Passover) is complicated by Jewish laws and the fact that after 14 attempts, Nora has succeeded in committing suicide. This is all too much for José: he is in conflict with his son, he offends a very powerful Rabbi, he doesn’t want to eat any of the food Nora stocked in the fridge before her death, and he wants the young man sitting Shiva to leave so he can dig around in Nora’s things and find answers to her secret. Meanwhile, the maid is trying to Catholiize Nora’s dead body, the grandkids are scared of the body but not of the coffin in the living room, and the family has to wear winter coats because the apartment has to be kept cool. Including elements of farce in the story of a marriage marred by mental illness and separation could not have been easy for this director, even though she wrote the script. So much is still dependent on timing, tone, and performance. Chenillo manages to pull this off exceedingly well because of her experience as as editor. There are no wasted scenes in NORA'S WILL, just a well-told story that satisfies. Monday, April 19th, 1pm Bloor Cinema (Bloor/Bathurst); Tuesday, April 20th, 6pm, Richmond Hill

Usually a movie with entitled HEART OF STONE is not something I would flock to see; it just sounds too melodramatic. If you’re thinking the way I did, let me assure you that this documentary will bring you into a world that you probably have never entered before. The film could not be called anything else after you witness to determination of principal, Harold Stone to ensure that each and every one of his students graduate from high school and go on to college. How does he think he can turn around his gang-divided school community? Well, he is presiding over Weequahic High School (WHS) in Newark New Jersey, the school that once had more high school graduates that anywhere else in the United States. As a graduate of the school, Harold Stone and the WHS Alumni Association have the common goal of supporting the school and the students by providing scholarships and field trips and events that shows them another world besides the one in which they live. Watching this film, you want these adults to succeed in a community where kids getting shot is commonplace and where education is not as important as immediate money—what good is an education if you’re not going to live long enough to use it? What sets this documentary apart from other films I’ve seen on the same topic is the way in which Stone works with the families and the gang members to stress that education is the key to not only having a better life, but a different life. The police will not work with the gangs, but at WHS, Stone has Crips and Bloods in leadership positions that ironically enough, inspire other members of their respective gangs to study. A fascinating study about education and cross-cultural (Black, Jewish) collaboration of the WHS Alumni . I LOVE YOU, MR. STONE!  Monday, April 21st, 5:45 PM, Al Green Theatre. Director in attendance.

This movie about a Jewish woman whose boyfriend isn’t Jewish. When her family finds out she is dating, rather than deal with the repercussions, she tells them that he is Jewish. The premise sounds good on paper, but in the hands of director, Dirk Regal, OH, WHAT A MESS is summed up by its title. Unlike Nora’s Will (above), this movie lacks the pacing necessary to bring out the elements of humour and the depth to handle the dramatic issue of a Jewish woman dating a German man. I really wanted to like this because of actress Marianne Sagebrecht in the role of the aunt, but ended up being bored out of my mind. If you must: Wednesday, April 21st, 5:45 PM, Bloor Cinema; Thursday, April 22nd, 4:30 PM, Cineplex Odeon Sheppard Centre

It's unfortunate that a few of these films screen during the weekday afternoon, so look for them on DVD at indie video stores if you can't attend, and be sure to check out the full schedule on the website to find a film or two that suits your personality.

18th Toronto Jewish Film Festival
April 17th – 25th
(various venues)
Single tickets: $12
Senior/Student: $7 (with ID)
Weekday Matinees (before 5pm): $7
Services charges will apply.

For information about FREE films/events and schedule, please visit or call 416-967-1528


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

I have to disagree with your views on 'Oh, What a Mess'. I liked it and found the film quite endearing. It was funny and sweet yet had some edge added by the thoughtless anti-semitic remarks from the boyfriend's parents and the girl's rejoinder.

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