Thursday, July 31, 2008

San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, 2008, Week 2

The San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, 2008, continues into it's second week of screenings around the San Francisco Bay Area. I was fortunate enough to see quite a few programs at Atlanta Jewish Film Festival, as well as some screeners generously provided by Larsen Associates in San Francisco. Instead of my typical, daily "journal" of films, I am dividing my posting of the SFJFF into weeks. Following is what I've seen from Week 2.

Screening on Saturday, August 2nd, are an eclectic group of documentaries, or more accurately, non-scripted narratives.

A HEBREW LESSON (dirs. David Ofek, Elinor Kowarsky, Ron Rotem, Israel, 2006, 123 mins.) This is actually a five episode reality series from Israel about the process and the challenges of assimilating into the Jewish culture, as undertaken by a handful of immigrants. The cast represents a broad spectrum of backgrounds, including Russian, Chinese and Spanish. I think the experience would be easier and more rewarding if it were taken in the five episodes that it was originally formatted for. In watching it as a whole, the frustration of the cast was almost overwhelming. (Of course, I could have been over empathizing, as I have had my own "cultural disconnect" in my short-lived attempt at living in Atlanta.) Though the focus is on their lives outside of the classroom, I found the scenes inside the classroom to be the most engaging. For me, the "drama" was in how the group interacted within the common bounds of the class. Their lives outside, in which they struggle to learn the social rules of Israel, was more frustrating than engaging. In fact, as it started, I thought I was about to see a remake of Israel Horovitz's "THE PRIMARY ENGLISH CLASS", which is essentially the same subject, though much more of a comedy.

The next documentary IS a comedy about... circumcision! THE QUEST FOR THE MISSING PIECE (dir. Oded Lotan, Israel, 2007, 52 mins.) documents the debate about circumcision, featuring the director himself, a gay, Jewish man, whose partner is an "intact goy". The situation is fraught with comic possibilities! However, as humorously as director Oded Lotan handles the subject, the information provided is actually pretty enlightening about the socio-religious background of the practice. He also interviews the "new" generation of Jews who are leaving their sons intact, and actually have support groups to discuss that. The intertitles are animated, which also lends a lighter touch to a potentially hostile subject matter.

MOM, I DIDN'T KILL YOUR DAUGHTER (dir. Orna Ben Dor, Israel, 2007, 50 Mins.) This was one of two documentaries screening at Frameline 32 this year (along with SHE'S A BOY I KNEW) about the transgender transition that actually focuses as much on the families as with the subject undergoing transition. Here, the subject is from Israel and the FTM (female-to-male) transition she is making has more sociological impact, as the importance of the female in Jewish society makes the "loss" of the daughter to becoming a man even more of a hurdle for her mother to accept. (There are also some segments regarding the difficulty in changing their passports to indicate their sex change, too.) The mother is an exceptionally brave individual for her participation in this documentary, as she faces a continual negotiation of her daughter's sexual identity. She has been involved with another FTM for several years, thus they will be two males in love. This is as much about the mother's journey as it is about her daughter/son's. It can be quite gripping at times.

On Monday, August 4th, there is an opportunity to have one of those "film festival only" experiences of screening the epic documentary,
BEING JEWISH IN FRANCE (dir. Yves Jeuland, France, 2007, 185 mins.). Though originally devised as a two part television documentary, unlike A HEBREW LESSON which screened earlier in the week, this holds up to, and is actually enhanced by, experiencing the series in a single screening. It focuses on the history of Jews in France in the 20th century, starting with the Dreyfus Affair, continuing with the World Wars, the post-holocaust and then the migration occurring after France's involvement in North Africa. Each generational wave of immigrants have had to face different challenges, at the time of immigration as well as dealing with the previous generation that awaits them. So, not only are there challenges of melding into French society, but into the existing Franco-Jewish state, as well. Subsequently, the piece delivers a nearly exhaustive and fascinating overview of Euro-Judeo relationships in the 20th century. (I saw this at the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival, which included a brief intermission.)

Wednesday, August 6th, begins with a pair of free matinées which are preceded by the same short subject, ALICE AND I (dir. Micha Wald, Belgium, 2004, 19 mins.) The premise is entertaining enough. A man, struggling in his current relationship, is trapped in a car with three meddling, older women. As fun as some of this short film is, the actual humor treads on mean-spiritedness. It is well paced, so the nineteen minutes to pop along. However, the containment within the car limits the dramatic possibilities and the exchanges become repetitive extremely quickly.

To end the day, there is a double-feature of a pair of provocative documentaries as part of the continuing retrospective of the Heymann Brothers. This program presents their latest and first films.

STALAGS - HOLOCAUST AND PORNOGRAPHY IN ISRAEL (dir. Ari Libsker, Israel, 2007, 62 mins.) Well, what could have been campy, if not a bit kinky, comes off quite academic as the film discusses the history of the fetishizing of the NAZI regime by Jews. It goes right to the point of revealing the psychological and sexual impact of the holocaust and what the role of "sex" played during the internment. Though it really is not a laughing matter, I do think that the film could be more accessible by taking a 21st century look into the matter of "fetish" and then exploring how that was expressed by holocaust survivors. The film tries to remain true to the period of the writers and survivors, without any pretense at nostalgia. It is as if it were an exceptionally painful practice that "happened back then" and bears discussing only in those terms. Whereas, in my little armchair director position, I would have hoped to make it more relevant to today's psychology. However, it does a fairly thorough job presenting what could be considered a rarely discussed, if not taboo subject.

IT KINDA SCARES ME (dir. Tomer Heymann, Israel, 2001, 60 mins.) profiles a group of at-risk teenagers and their participation in creating a theatrical event based upon their lives, under the direction of Tomer Heymann. This was Heymann's first film, but he does maintain some distance, though he is essentially the center of the piece. His coming out to the group proves to be one of the challenges that the troupe faces, amongst many other artistic, administrative and even political stumbling blocks they run up against. There is a sense of "postering" by the boys in front of the camera, and one would have hoped for more footage of the final performance itself. However, it is fairly well paced and balanced, and the exhaustive epilogue is appreciated.

The next posting will include programming from Thursday, August 7th through the closing on August 11.

Maxxxxx says
re MOM I DIDN'T KILL YOUR DAUGHTER: [Maxxxxx is sexually questioning.]
re BEING JEWISH IN FRANCE: "Is it bedtime?" (too long for Maxxxxx)
re ALICE AND I: "I love you."
re STALAG...: "Wooooo!"
re IT KINDA SCARES ME: "Shuddup!"

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Thursday, July 24, 2008

Project Runway, Season 5, Episode 2

Jay thinks Suede should shut up. Jay will slap Suede if Suede continues to refer to Suede in the third person. Suede and Orange Boy (Blayne?) should be left in a subway, somewhere.

The herd needs to be thinned...

It seems to be about personalities this season and not clothes, i.e. the DULLEST person was auf'ed. In fact, when they first showed him, I didn't know who it was. There is still one woman on there that I was surprised to see, as I didn't think she had been on either. Hers was the FLOWING dress, which we saw nothing of her or her preparation.

This weeks lesson: Don't put fins on your ass. You'll look like an old Chrysler.

Maxxxxx says
re Suede: "SHUDDUP!!" (again!)

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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, 2008, Week 1

The San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, 2008, opens tomorrow: Thursday, June 24, for sixteen days of screenings around the San Francisco Bay Area. Though sixteen days may seem intimidating, that includes a thorough amount of encore screenings at the different venues in San Francisco (The Castro, the JCCSF, Swedish American Hall), Palo Alto (Cine'Arts), Berkeley (The Roda) and San Rafael (Christopher B. Smith Film Center). I was fortunate enough to see quite a few programs at Atlanta Jewish Film Festival, as well as some screeners generously provided by Larsen Associates in San Francisco. Instead of my typical, daily "journal" of films, I am dividing my posting of the SFJFF into weeks. Following is what I've seen from Week 1.

Screening on Saturday, July 26th, is a fabulous family oriented double feature.

MAX MINSKY AND ME (dir. Anna Justice, Germany, 2007, 85 mins.). This was a particularly sweet (without being CUTE) narrative of a 13 year old girl facing the dilemma of choosing between studying for her bat mitzvah or following through on her complicated plans to meet her heart throb at a basketball tournament. What set this film a step apart and above from most "after school specials" is the emotional twists the principle character experiences. Though the plot isn't exactly unpredictable, the performers never telegraph their journey, and appear as surprised at their characters choices as the audience should be. The wit and humor were delightful, too.

SIXTY SIX (dir. Paul Weiland, UK, 2006, 93 mins.) This is a gorgeously designed recreation of 1966 in London, where a boy's Bar Mitzvah is in "competition" against the World Cup. Gregg Sulkin plays the 12 year old with geekiness without being cloying. Eddie Marsan is fabulous as his father and Helena Bonham Carter delivers a surprisingly underplayed performance as his mother. Director Paul Weiland has the production under great control as the wit is perfectly pitched with the pacing. He treads the line of farce, but keeps it human. The production and costume design is almost freakishly accurate, and displays the best (or was it the worst?) trends of the period. It was released in the UK and Commonwealth over two years ago and just making the festival circuit here. Hopefully, there is US domestic distribution, though it is available on R2 DVD.

Screening on Sunday, July 27th, is a charming documentary, and part of a retrospective of the Heymann Brothers documentary films, DANCING ALFONSO (dir. Barak Heymann, Israel, 2007, 53 mins.). This will inevitably draw comparison to this year's other "geriatrics in the arts" docu-pic, YOUNG @ HEART. However, this film focuses much more on the personal relationships within the group by examining Alfonso, who during the span of the film (SMALL SPOILER HERE) becomes a widower and then begins his search for another companion within the tango dance company he is a part of. The tango itself becomes something of an allegory, paralleling the emotional ups, downs, pairings and splits that Alfonso experiences. And there is some fun in watching a set of "golden girls" fight over a man!

Screening on Tuesday, July 29th, are a pair of documentaries on Gay Issues.

DARLING! THE PIETER-DIRK UYS STORY (dir. Julian Shaw, Australia, 2007, 54 mins.) It is almost dismissive to describe Pieter-Dirk Uys as the Dame Edna of South Africa. He invokes a character, or as he would put it, is possessed by, "Evita Bezuidenhout" (which actually pronounces easier than it looks!). Though the "act" might be similar, Mr. Uys is filled with a much more important purpose. Uys, who spent most of the 80's fighting apartheid continues his activism by spreading awareness of AIDS and teaching safe sex practices at schools, in what he calls an "AIDS Awareness Entertainment". His humor is exceptionally biting and uncensored. Think of what Barry Humphries might be like if he expressed his disdain of how South Africa handles the AIDS crisis by accusing the government of genocide. The film itself is a nicely edited compendium of biography, interviews and performance videos. The editing is remarkably smooth for a first time film, and by a teenager, at that!

JERUSALEM IS PROUD TO PRESENT... (dir. Nitzan Gilady, Israel, 2007, 80 mins.) This is a documentary about World Pride Day 2006 in Jersualem and the ensuing debate. Well, actually, it is more than "debate". The film spends a great deal of time documenting the opposing parties literally screaming at each other. To that extent, however valid its purpose, I found it tiresome, but then, that is exactly the situation the organizers found themselves in. I found it to be a difficult film to watch, as the parties are so extremely divided that the argument is made within the first few minutes and then fought over for the next hour and a half. To a certain extent, it is preaching to the choir and does not attempt to educate either side, but simply reports the fighting between the groups.

Screening at the end of the first week, Wednesday, July 30th, is FACING WINDOWS (dir. Ferzan Ozpetek, United Kingdom/Turkey/Portugal/Italy, 2003, 102 mins.). The story plays out two generations of romantic liaisons, woven together, as an elderly amnesiac is taken in by a family, who is facing a marital crisis. Giovanna Mezzogiorno plays the frustrated wife with a great deal of angst and bitterness. So much so, I found her unsympathetic and therefore difficult to empathize with her infatuation on the man who lives across the way, played by the simply gorgeous Raoul Bova. Massimo Girotti has the difficult role of the Holocaust surviving amnesiac. Yeah, that's a lot of baggage to portray right there! Intercutting these stories, though brilliantly edited, was at the same time, confusing. Also, the cinematography is unforgivably dark. I viewed this via a screener on my home projector, and can only hope that the shadows will be more distinct in the theater. The film does end on an exceptionally powerful note, however, that should allow most audiences to leave feeling moved, though they might not know exactly why.

Maxxxxx says
re MAX MINSKY AND ME: "Sit! Sit!"
re SIXTY SIX: "Such a pretty bird!"
re DANCING ALFONSO: "I love you!" [then bites a finger]
re DARLING!: "woooooo!"
re JERUSALEM: "Shuddup!"
re FACING WINDOWS: "Is it bedtime?"

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[yeah, I did this little press release for them, but thought I'd post it here, too!]


ATLANTA, GA - ASIFA-Atlanta continues its co-presentation of the best in independent animation with ANIMATION ATTACK! at the Festival League's Atlanta Underground Film Festival. This year, ANIMATION ATTACK! will span three nights, with a premiere of Atlanta-based underground animation studio Mike the Pod's feature length, JOHN'S ARM: ARMAGEDDON, followed by two nights of short subjects from Atlanta and around the world.

AUFF will screen JOHN'S ARM: ARMAGEDDON (dir. Matty Boy Anderson), a feature length,
bare-fisted tale of white-knuckle action! Unkempt morgue security guard John's right arm was transformed into a costumed super-limb after being stuck in a vending machine (stocked with irradiated soda). With villains from around the globe hitting town for their annual convention, can John's Arm (and his low-rent super-team, the Superior Friends) keep the bad guys at bay, and save the Earth from an even more ludicrous threat than John's horrible hygiene?

The following nights feature two programs of animated short subjects: nineteen films in total! Included are pieces created by local animators Amanda Goodbread and Em Kempf as well as regional artists Dan Cregan and D. Bradford Greber. There are also contributions from across the country including Aaron Augenblick (of Augenblick Studios in Brooklyn, which produces the latest Adult Swim hit, SUPERJAIL), Aurelio Voltaire, and two pieces from Fran Krause (MOONRAKER and a rare screening of CAPTAIN OLD'S ADVENTURES IN MUMBLELAND, which has only been shown three times in the past twelve years). Also highlighted is Tim Rauch's emotionally moving film, GERMANS IN THE WOODS, based on narration from an actual vet from WWII. Completing the domestic line up of filmmakers are Max Margulies and Naoko Masuda, Lizzi Akana, Ethan Clarke, and Edmond Hawkins. International artists are represented from Australia, Spain, Germany, Belgium and include Argentina's breathtaking graffiti animation, MUTO by BLU. The 1982 psychedelic classic MALICE IN WONDERLAND, by Vince Collins, will also be screened. And, of course, there can always be unannounced surprises!

JOHN'S ARM: ARMAGEDDON will screen on August 21, 11:30 PM, at Lenny's Bar, 486 Decatur Street, Atlanta, GA.

ANIMATION ATTACK!! Parts 1 and 2 will screen on August 22 and 23, at 9:30 PM and 8:30 PM, respectively, at The Plaza Theatre, 1049 Ponce De Leon Avenue, Atlanta, GA.

All Access Passes are available for $35.00, and individual tickets are $7.50.

More information, tickets, as well as complete program information about the Atlanta Underground Film Festival are available at the AUFF website.

ASIFA-Atlanta is quickly becoming the foremost animation community builder in the Southeast. "ASIFA" stands for Association Internationale du Film d'Animation and was founded in France in 1960 as a membership organization devoted to encouraging animation. Our goal is to bring together people who are interested in animation and to give them a forum to share ideas, experiences, knowledge and, most importantly, animation! For more information, please visit:

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Thursday, July 17, 2008

Project Runway, Season 5, Episode 1

t snuck up on me!!

Kelly = I love her already!
Blayne = freak

Loved the yellow + veggies!
Suave, or whatever his name is (which is odd that I already am blanking him out since he CONTINUALLY referred to himself in the third person, gawd I LOATHE that) may bring me to violence.

Maxxxxx says
re Suede: "Shuddup!"

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