1995 Jewish Film Festival

"Movie Magazine International" Special Report

(Air Date: Week Of 7/19/95)

By Monica Sullivan

Many of the films in this year's fifteenth annual Jewish Film Festival reflect on the pioneering spirit necessary for survival over the long haul. The selections date back as far as 1918 when a 21-year-old Polish actress named Pola Negri made Victor Janson's "the Yellow Ticket" in Warsaw. Her character wants to make medicine her life, but the only way the fledgling Jewish student can afford to do that is through prostitution in a St. Petersburg brothel. San Francisco composer Alison Faith Levy performs her original organ score for this bay area premiere revival screening. Award-winning actress Tatyna Vasilyeva stars in two festival entries from Russia and Israel: Alexander Proshkin's "To See Paris and Die" & Leonid Gorovets' "Coffee with Lemon". Both films suggest that talent only appears to transcend the perennial challenge of a Jewish identity, and their downbeat conclusions suggest that, drawn to its most illogical extremes, belief in such an apparition leads to tragic consequences.

Daniel Goldberg's "A Kiss To This Land" shows how Jewish immigrants of the 20's and 30's were able to build new lives in Mexico. Crammed with seldom-seen archival footage, Goldberg's documentary reveals the process of starting over with a nuts and bolts approach: all the interviewees are wonderfully eloquent and candid about their experiences. More oral histories about the Holocaust are offered by two Canadian documentaries made last year: Harriet Wichins' "Silent Witness" & John Walker's "Hidden Children". Wichins' study of the death camps at Dachau and Auschwitz is deliberately low-key & Walker's visits with six Jewish survivors of World War II supply a painful reminder of what it was like for small children to be torn away from their families and adjust to new names and completely different lives.

My particular festival favourite is Eytan Fox's "Song Of The Siren" based on Irit Linur's best-selling novel. "Siren" takes place during the days of Operation Desert Storm, but Talilah, its wry & funny protagonist, pretty much ignores the conflict, the news bulletins & all the precautions she's supposed to be taking in order to outlive the war. Instead, she's concerned with finding a husband and not just any husband. Her choice is Noah, a food engineer so cute that violins play when she first lays eyes on him. But THINGS get in the way as they often do during 91-minute love stories. The intense emphasis on the personal at a time when the media focused on nothing but the war seems very real. SCUDS are a subject for Talilah's mirth in "Song Of The Siren", only the right GUY deserves any meaningful attention at all. The 28 films and 14 videos come to the Jewish Film Festival from 14 countries.

Copyright 1995 Monica Sullivan

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