Posted tagged ‘Ronit Waisbrod’

Inside the NYJFF: A probing look at “Being Jewish in France”

January 23, 2009

Poised to become the definitive film on the complex history of French jewry, Yves Jeuland’s sweeping new documentary Being Jewish in France begins with the Dreyfus Affair and ends with contemporary charges of escalating anti-Semitism.

New York Jewish Film Festival correspondent Ronit Waisbrod spoke with the filmmaker.

Ronit Waisbrod: How did the idea of making a film about the history of French Jewry come about?

Yves Jeuland: Judasim and Jewish history interested me since I was a teenager. In 2004 I read Michel Winock’s new book La France et les Juifs (France and the Jews) and immediately wanted to tell that story with images and Michel Winock became the historical advisor of the film.

RW: In your previous films you addressed political and social issues such  as the history of the gay movement in France (Bleu blanc rose, 2002), the  controversy over gay marriage, the election process in Paris in 1991 (Paris à tout prix), and the the  history and evolution of the communist party (Camarades, 2004). Did the idea of ‘Being Jewish in France’ arise from the same sensibility to French historical and political processes?

YJ: In my films I am intrigued by politics, elections, the ways power affects the personality and choices of those who hold it.  I like to alternate between past and present, between historical documentaries based on archival research, and films that concern contemporary issues. I started working with archival material with ‘Bleu blanc rose’ (2002), ‘Camarades’ (2004), and then ‘Le Siècle des socialistes’ (2005). With ‘Being Jewish in France’ I expanded to a pre-20th century era. I love working with archival material and have interests beyond the history of minorities, or social and political movements. It is interesting that only now I perceive  my ‘gay, communist, socialist, and Jew’ films as a ‘collection.’ It was not planned as such.

RW: The film is 3 hours long; how did you decide what material to include and which to leave out?

YJ: Originally the film was meant to be two episodes of 52 minutes each. Even after editing, the film was almost twice as long. Luckily I had the freedom and flexibility to work out of format. I’m not sure if the film is complete but I am satisfied with the end result. There is also a version in four episodes of approximately 48 minutes each, with the same content but different editing.
When I made the film I tried to avoid an encyclopedic approach and concentrate of cinematography. In my opinion, an historical documentary reflects a point of view on a certain time period. It is subjective; and the more subjective you are, the more rigorous and honest you have to be.

Inside the NYJFF: Exploring The Fire Within

January 22, 2009

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“You don’t often ask a person of his religion the first time you meet; but in light of the film he made about the conversion process of a Peruvian community in the Amazon basin, I felt comfortable asking The Fire Within director Lorry Salcedo Mitrani whether he was Jewish. The story he told me revealed as much about the subjects of his documentary as his own personal history.

Lorry’s grandfather was a Sephardic Jew from Turkey. He was sent by his parents to New York to avoid persecution, did not like it and continued to Peru. There, he met his future wife, a Catholic woman with whom he started a family. He was one of two Jews in his town, and was always referred to as ‘el judio’ (the Jew) but did not experience anti-Jewish sentiments. They decided to raise the boys as Jewish and the girls as Catholic. Lorry, a descendant through his mother, was brought up Catholic, but had Jewish uncles and cousins with whom he went to synagogue, participated in Bar Mitzvahs and Jewish weddings and did not experience it as a bizarre situation.  Lorry’s grandfather died when Lorry was 12 and his memories of him are as the weird grandfather who spoke Ladino.

Still, Lorry’s interest in his own ancestry drove him to begin telling the story of the Jewish immigration of Peru in photography, starting in 1990. After researching in many family archives, he became aware of the Jewish community in Iquitos and found himself fascinated by the way the group combined indigenous customs with Judeo-Christian faith.  In 2002 Salcedo published the book (The Eternal Return: Homage to the Jewish Community of Peru) and decided that the story of the Jews of Iquitos needed to be made into a film. He met Ariel Segal, a South American born historian who was working in Iquitos documenting the lives and history of the community aka the ‘mestizos’. There was a genuine yearning of the people to formally convert. As a puzzle waiting to be completed, the film maker and the historian followed the hard work of the people of the congregation and the rabbis who worked together toward the goal of conversion and immigration to Israel.

The experience of Lorry’s grandfather is parallel to the protagonists in his film.  Both found a way to mix religions into their families. Salcedo became aware and interested in Jewish themes later in his adulthood and feels it was a part of his creative process in making the film.   He describes himself as a visual anthropologist who translates social stories and issues into artistic visual language.”

-Ronit Waisbrod, New York Jewish Film Festival correspondent

Check out The Fire Within at the Jewish Museum: Tue Jan 27: 3 & 6:30

[More about Lorry and his works on his website]

[From Nextbook: Hidden Roots in the Jungle]

Inside the NYJFF: Cultures collide in WWII-set Wedding Song

January 21, 2009

A selection of the New York Jewish Film Festival, The Wedding Song tells a story that deftly bridges the personal and political. A young Muslim woman, Nour, and her Jewish friend Myriam are close friends in World War II-era Tunisia, both preparing for marriage. But the Nazi occupation strains their fragile, cross-cultural connection.

NYJFF correspondent Ronit Waisbrod talked with filmmaker Karin Albou.

Ronit Waisbrod: Where did you get the inspiration for the story and was it based on a true story?

Karin Albou: At first, my main idea was to tell the story of a friendship between two teenagers, one Jewish and one Muslim who both live into a context of war. The film is built on a double narrative. The more political events drive the two girls apart, the more their position as women reunites them.

RW: Does your family have roots in Tunisia? Any autobiographical facets in the film?

KA: My family comes from Algeria. I got the idea of the historical  background because once I helped my grandmother clean the house (I was living with her in my 20’s) and I discovered letters of my grandfather who was a POW in Germany.

I studied in a French schoool what happened in Europe during  WWII. I thought that nothing had happened in North Africa. With these letters, I discovered that the Vichy government removed French nationality from all Jews from Algeria. They were French since 1870 and suddenly in 1940 they were not French anymore! I was in shock when I discovered that. Then I began to do historical research because I was passionate and I discovered that there was a German occupation in Tunisia. As a young adult living in Tunisia, I decide to write this script.

RW: What attracts you to Jewish themes?

KA: I don’t know. It is something I need to explore in myself at the moment. I don’t experience it as a “Jewish theme” but more as a personal and intimate issue I need to express. Sometimes I don’t even realize that my stories deal with Jewish themes.

RW: What are you working on now?

KA: I am working on an adaptation of Marguerite Duras’s diary. She describes how she cured her husband who comes back from Buchenwald. I would love to make a movie in the States, and also in Israel.

Buy tickets: Thu Jan 22: 3:45 & 8:30

Inside the NYJFF: The imaginary voyages of Empty Nest

January 20, 2009

“If I imagine a voyage, it will be to Israel,” Empty Nest director Daniel Burman told NYJFF correspondent Ronit Waisbrod, “and if I think of a party—[it will be] a bar mitzvah. In the case of choosing Israel [as a setting for the film], it has to do with personal feelings of my first trip—a fantastic reality and yet so abstract. I do not know what my Jewish sensibility is. I do not even want to know it, in order to avoid speculating.  Jewishness extends itself through my production and my life in a natural way and I do not wish to know about the mystery of its dynamics.”

Empty Nest follows the fortunes of playwright Leonardo and hyperactive housewife Martha as they struggle to redefine themselves and their relationship after their kids have grown. When the couple travels to Israel to visit their youngest daughter and her husband, their vacation at the Dead Sea becomes a floating, surreal experience. “We live permanently running away from reality in order to tolerate it,” Burman said of his creative approach. “The protagonist Dr. Spivach is like an imaginary friend that we had in our childhood. When we become adults, we still keep him in mind but do not talk about him. He is a person to whom we talk while waiting at a traffic light or standing in line at the airport. Our fantasy world is much richer than the one we call reality, which is so limited, sad, painful or boring.”

The filmmaker describes his experience at festivals as wide-ranging: “The film was in several festivals (Toronto, San Sebastian, Jerusalem, Sao Paulo, etc.) The reactions are very different. Every screening is like the first, and the nerves are never lost. The Jewish audience at the festivals are sometimes more sensible to certain points that other audiences overlook, and this sometimes makes the Q&A very attractive and sometimes very tense.”

Judaism has a way of creeping into each of the filmmaker’s works, whether he is aware of it or not. “If you had asked me yesterday, I would have said that the new film I am working on has nothing to do with Jewish themes. But it is always like this. I start deciding “nothing about Judaism this time” and at the end it does come out.”

-Ronit Waisbrod, New York Jewish Film Festival correspondent

Buy tickets to Empty Nest: Tue Jan 20: 1:30 & 6
Wed Jan 21: 8:30

Inside the NYJFF: From Uncle Vanya, the inspiration for Weekend in Galilee

January 16, 2009

With Weekend in Galilee, a selection of the New York Jewish Film Festival, acclaimed Academy Award-winning filmmaker Moshe Mizrahi tells the story of secret passions and brewing jealousies boiling to the surface between a distinguished professor and his young wife on a retreat.

New York Jewish Film Festival correspondent Ronit Waisbrod talked with the filmmaker about his inspiration.

RW: Why did you set the story in 1996?

MM: I wanted to tell a story that would describe the mood of the people who were among the founders of the state of Israel. I also wanted to tell about generational gaps within the Israeli society. 1996 seemed like an end of a chapter; it was a year after Rabin’s murder, and the Israeli army still in Lebanon; there was a palpable change in mood and atmosphere. I started hearing phrases like ‘No more Israel as we knew it’ or ‘our country is gone’ that depicted frustration and disappointment. I wanted to describe the mood that brought people to feel this way and I decided to make this film as a tribute these people.

RW: Why did you choose Chekhov’s ‘Uncle Vanya’ as a parallel background and inspiration?

MM: For a long time I wanted to make a film about the changes that happened in the Israeli society, its perception and behavior. I was looking for a fictional core and remembered a conversation I had many years ago in France with a friend about a story he wanted to convey about a society in conflict. At that time I recommended him to use Chekhov as an inspiration. Many years later I took my own advice; I had my characters and their dynamics form in my head and I was looking for a framework. I love 19th century literature, I love Chekhov, and I love what literary parallelism brings to a story. Using Chekhov’s spirit as a backdrop to my Israeli story gave me an opportunity to use ‘Chekhovian’ style that emphasizes character and mood.

RW: I see many controversial issues raised in your film: three different wars, sentiments of blame and guilt (‘we eat our children’), the young Israeli men and women who are soul-searching and wandering, the urbanization of the Galilee, etc. Is it your intention to send a political message to the viewers?

MM: I don’t think so. In every narrative there is a message but my intention in the film was to tell the story and convey the mood of certain people in Israel in 1996; a mood that continues to this day and experienced by many Israelis.

Buy tickets to Weekend in Galilee: Sat Jan 17: 9

Inside the NYJFF: A mother reflects on the the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

January 16, 2009

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A Refusenik’s Mother is a film that describes the drama of a ‘moral objection’ from a mother’s point of view. It reflects some of the deepest dilemmas of the Israeli society: the occupation and its moral consequences, recruitment to the army as an unquestioned norm, the moral state of the Israeli society and the way it treats its next generation.

New York Jewish Film Festival correspondent Ronit Waisbrod spoke with the documentary’s protagonist, Marit Moran-Zameret.

Ronit Waisbrod: How did it all start?

Marit Moran-Zameret: Everything started with [my son] Shimry’s decision to refuse to join the Israeli army. In his opinion, serving in the Israeli army, and fight the Palestinians in the occupied territories, is an immoral deed that he objected to and he was absolutely determined.

RW: What went in your mind as Shimry’s decision settled?

MMZ: My first thoughts were: what went wrong? Why is my son different? Why can’t he be like all the other boys his age? I argued with him, and did whatever I could to change his mind. I was afraid of the punishment and the consequences of his decision on his future.

RW: When did you have a change of heart?

MMZ: As time went by, I became more involved with the cause and with other parents. I decided to act; I started attending meetings of the “parents group,” and took part in the political and public struggle. My views gradually evolved.

RW: How did the last few years change you as a person?  What did Shimry teach you?

MMZ: [Shimry’s] generation looks at the Israeli reality differently then my generation. I was trapped in the fears that Israel existence is not to take for granted and that every day can bring another Holocaust.  My views have changed, and I believe we need to take into consideration the needs of both sides in this conflict.

RW: How does the present situation in Gaza affect the feelings and thinking of the people in Israel in regard to the refuseniks?

MMZ: The situation now makes both sides more radical where each supports its own views even more strongly. Those who support the army actions base their opinions on the increase in Palestinian rebellious activities, and the refuseniks on the other hand, still believe strongly that this is not the way for a long term solution and there must be a better way.

RW: What is the most important thing you want to convey with the film?

MMZ: I wanted to give voice to the people in Israel who object to the occupation and don’t agree with the ways Israel conducts its actions in the occupied territories; people like Shimry and his friends that chose to follow their beliefs despite the grave consequences; and people who believe that their Zionist forefathers dreamt of a state that takes into consideration safety for its inhabitants with moral humanistic values. In Shimry’s eyes the objection to serve the Israeli army is an act of true contemporary Zionism.

Buy tickets to A Refusenik’s Mother: Mon Jan 19: 8:30

Inside the NYJFF: Finding Utopia in the Bronx

January 13, 2009

In the mid 1920s, thousands of immigrant workers escaped tenement life by pooling their resources to build housing collectives in the Bronx. Opening the New York Jewish Film Festival on Wednesday the 14th, At Home in Utopia by Michal Goldman and Ellen Brodsky focuses on the United Workers Cooperative colony–aka, the Coops–the most grass-roots and member-driven of the Jewish labor housing cooperatives, where many residents were Communists or sympathetic to the Communist movement.

New York Jewish Film Festival correspondent Ronit Waisbrod asked Michal Goldman, one of the filmmakers, about the film’s name. “The word utopia means an imaginary place or no place and as I explored the story of the Coops the term came to my mind,” said Goldman. “As a matter of fact, the children of the founders claimed their parents were not utopians. In a sense I did not believe them; the Coops members were very idealistic. But their idea of utopia was not to be removed from struggles of daily life by detaching themselves and move away. They were radical immigrants and they wanted to immerse themselves in the struggle of the days. The film’s name reflects the contradiction in their idealisms. They were all for engaging in urban life, urban jobs, noise, and chaos, but also for having gardens, sunlit apartments, fresh air, exercise for the children, and culture. The ideal was that working people deserve, and can live in a way that they are not exploited and obtain collective strength that will help them in other aspect of life.”

“In term of their Jewishness” Goldman continued, “the members of the Coops were secular Jews and believed that the Jewish working class’ identity is deeply embedded in Jewish culture and the Yiddish language. They emphasized intently issues of culture and high culture, and had budgeted money to support that cause. They had libraries and choruses, they offered Yiddish after school classes to the children and they strongly believed that working people deserve a very best of culture.”

You can see Waiting for Utopia during the New York Jewish Film Festival, Wed Jan 14: 1:30 & 6:15

[New York Times: For a Working-Class Dream, a New Day]