The 2016 New York Jewish Film Festival (NYJFF) will run January 13-26, 2016, at the Film Society’s Walter Reade Theater and Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center. This year’s lineup includes 38 features and shorts from 12 countries—21 screening in their world, U.S., or New York premieres—providing a diverse global perspective on the Jewish experience. The 2016 New York Jewish Film Festival is presented by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and the Jewish Museum.
The 25th annual New York Jewish Film Festival opens on Wednesday, January 13 with the U.S. premiere of Yared Zeleke’s Lamb (pictured above), the first Ethiopian film to be an Official Selection at the Cannes Film Festival and the country’s entry for the Best Foreign Language Oscar. This feature debut focuses on young Ephraim, who is sent by his father to live among distant relatives after his mother’s death. But when his beloved sheep must be sacrificed for the next religious feast, the boy will do anything to save the animal and return home.
Closing Night on January 26 will feature A Tale of Love and Darkness, Academy Award winner Natalie Portman’s debut as screenwriter and director. Based on Amos Oz’s international best-seller, the film recounts the time Oz spent with his mother, Fania (Portman), who struggled to raise her son in Jerusalem at the end of the British Mandate for Palestine and the early years of the State of Israel.
Screening in its U.S. premiere is a special presentation of Amos Gitai’s Rabin, the Last Day, a thought-provoking thriller investigating the brutal 1995 assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin through a masterful combination of dramatized scenes and news footage of the shooting and its aftermath, shedding light on an ever-growing crisis of the impunity of hate crimes in Israel today.
Catherine Tambini’s documentary Art and Heart: The World of Isaiah Sheffer receives its world premiere, celebrating founder and artistic director of Symphony Space Isaiah Sheffer and his indelible influence on music, theater, television, and culture across three decades in New York. Also receiving its world premiere is Sarah Kramer’s short Period. New Paragraph., a loving portrait of a father by his daughter, as well as an homage to a past era.
Sam Ball’s The Rifleman’s Violin will receive its New York premiere as part of a special musical event. In this documentary short, violinist Stuart Canin recalls the private performance he gave at the request of Harry Truman to break the tension at post-World War II negotiations with Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin. Following the film, Canin will recreate his performance with pianist Thomas Sauer before an on-stage discussion with Canin, producer Abraham Sofaer, director Sam Ball, and Stanford University historian Norman Naimark.
A trio of documentaries receiving New York or U.S. premieres examine three individuals whose lives intersected with the world of film. Marianne Lambert’s documentary I Don’t Belong Anywhere: The Cinema of Chantal Akerman, a U.S. premiere, dives into the 40-film oeuvre of the late Jewish Belgian pioneer, who traced a worldwide path of rugged avant-garde and political art from Brussels to Tel Aviv, Paris to New York. Barry Avrich’s The Man Who Shot Hollywood explores the life of Yasha Pashkovsky, a Jewish Russian immigrant photographer who practiced his art anonymously during Hollywood’s golden age and amassed 400 portraits of movie stars, including Clark Gable, Judy Garland, Gary Cooper, and Shirley Temple. Tatiana Brandrup’s Cinema: A Public Affair charts the rise and fall of the Moscow State Central Cinema Museum under the leadership of Russian film historian Naum Kleiman, who founded the institution in 1989 as the Soviet Union was collapsed and gave rise to the perestroika reform movement.
FILM DESCRIPTIONS & SCHEDULE
Yared Zeleke, Ethiopia/France/Germany/Norway, 2015, DCP, 94m
Amharic with English subtitles
Yared Zeleke’s remarkable feature debut tells the story of young Ephraim, who is sent by his father to live among distant relatives after his mother’s death. Ephraim uses his cooking skills to carve out a place among his cousins, but when his uncle decides that Ephraim’s beloved sheep must be sacrificed for the next religious feast, the boy will do anything to save the animal and return home. Lamb is the first film from Ethiopia to be included in the Official Selection at the Cannes Film Festival and the country’s entry for the Best Foreign Language Oscar. U.S. Premiere
A Tale of Love and Darkness
Natalie Portman, Israel/USA, DCP, 98m
Hebrew with English subtitles
Based on Amos Oz’s international best-seller, A Tale of Love and Darkness recounts the time Oz spent with his mother, Fania (Natalie Portman), who struggles with raising her son in Jerusalem at the end of the British Mandate for Palestine and the early years of the State of Israel. Dealing with a married life of unfulfilled promises and integration in a foreign land, Fania battles her inner demons and longs for a better world for her son.
Art and Heart: The World of Isaiah Sheffer
Catherine Tambini, USA, 2015, HDCAM, 52m
One of New York’s great Renaissance men, Isaiah Sheffer left an indelible mark on music, theater, television, and culture across three decades in the Big Apple. He was the founder and artistic director of Symphony Space, the originator of Bloomsday on Broadway, and the comic genius behind the Thalia Follies. He hosted the popular WNYC Radio program Selected Shorts and earned an Emmy nomination for his Road to the White House series on NBC. He was a husband and a father, and a mentor to many. Art and Heart: The World of Isaiah Sheffer celebrates his life through interviews with Morgan Freeman, Stephen Colbert, Leonard Nimoy, and many others. World Premiere
The Man Who Shot Hollywood
Barry Avrich, Canada, 2015, DCP, 12m
Yasha Pashkovsky was a Jewish Russian immigrant and photographer who practiced his art anonymously during Hollywood’s golden age. Unable to keep up with the swift business pace of the West Coast, Pashkovsky photographed movie stars and stored the prints under his bed. By 1950 he had amassed 400 portraits of movies stars, including Clark Gable, Judy Garland, Gary Cooper, and Shirley Temple, which went undiscovered until 2001, the year of his death at age 89. This short compiles and releases these gems as part of an inquiry into Pashkovsky’s motivations and the glamour of anonymity. New York Premiere
Efrat Corem, Israel, 2014, DCP, 85m
Hebrew with English subtitles
Shlomi Ben Zaken lives with his mother, brother, and 11-year-old daughter on a run-down housing estate in the small Israeli city of Ashkelon. As a single parent of a troubled child, he confronts a series of hardships and difficult decisions: space is tight in the apartment, work life is stagnant, and social services threaten to break up the family. Efrat Corem’s remarkable debut feature is a sensitive and austere portrait of a father and family attempting to redefine themselves against all odds. New York Premiere
Steve Rivo, USA, 2015, DCP, 85m
Carvalho’s Journey tells the extraordinary story of Solomon Nunes Carvalho, an explorer and artist who photographed the sweeping vistas and treacherous terrain of the American West in the mid-19th century. Born in Charleston, South Carolina, Carvalho was a middle-class portrait painter and an observant Sephardic Jew who had never saddled a horse. Everything changed in 1853 when he joined the famed explorer John C. Frémont on his Fifth Westward Expedition, a 2,400-mile journey from New York City to California. Carvalho’s experience as a Jew on the Western trail was unprecedented, and his photography provides a clear window into the interethnic cultural exchanges that shaped America in the era of Manifest Destiny. New York Premiere
Cinema: A Public Affair
Tatiana Brandrup, Germany, 2015, DCP, 100m
Russian, German, and Hebrew with English subtitles
In 1989, as the Soviet Union was collapsing and giving rise to the perestroika reform movement, Russian film historian Naum Kleiman founded the Moscow State Central Cinema Museum. Within a decade, the museum accrued more than 150,000 titles in its electronic catalog and became a haven for artistic and intellectual discourse in the new political era. It was a tragic and symbolic gesture, then, when the cultural ministry scandalously closed the museum and dismissed Kleiman amid nationwide censorship. Tatiana Brandrup’s new documentary charts the rise and fall of the museum under Kleiman’s legendary leadership. New York Premiere
Hot Sugar’s Cold World
Adam Bhala Lough, USA, 2015, DCP, 87m
Hot Sugar’s Cold World is a fly-on-the-wall portrait of Nick Koenig, a New York–based record producer who works under the name Hot Sugar. He constructs beats using only sounds from the world around him, and many of his days are spent in search of new and exotic samples. After his girlfriend, the rapper Kitty, goes on tour and they break up, Koenig heads to Paris, where he stays in the apartment of his late grandmother, a Holocaust survivor. Featuring appearances by the legendary filmmaker Jim Jarmusch, the astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, and former members of Das Racist.
How to Win Enemies
Gabriel Lichtmann, Argentina, 2015, DCP, 78m
Spanish with English subtitles
In Argentinean filmmaker Gabriel Lichtmann’s zany caper about betrayal and revenge, Lucas, a young Jewish lawyer and an avid consumer of detective fiction, meets Bárbara in a café, and is instantly smitten. She is smart, beautiful, and shares his taste in literature. But the morning after the two go home together, Lucas wakes up to find Bárbara—and his financial savings—gone. Inspired by the heroes of his favorite crime novels, Lucas sets out to crack the case with just a few clues but no shortage of wits. New York Premiere
I Don’t Belong Anywhere: The Cinema of Chantal Akerman
Marianne Lambert, Belgium, 2015, DCP, 67m
French with English subtitles
From Brussels to Tel Aviv, Paris to New York, the late experimental filmmaker Chantal Akerman traced a worldwide path of rugged avant-garde and political art. Her celebrated 1975 film Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles was declared by The New York Times upon its release as the “first masterpiece of the feminine in the history of the cinema.” Now, the documentary I Don’t Belong Anywhere: The Cinema of Chantal Akerman dives into the 40-film oeuvre of the Jewish Belgian pioneer. U.S. Premiere
Christian Faure, France, 2015, DCP, 90m
French with English subtitles
In the fall of 1974, the French health minister Simone Veil was in charge of a daunting task: to pass a law legalizing abortion in France. Christian Faure’s riveting courtroom drama follows Veil, an Auschwitz survivor, in her heroic battle on behalf of her country’s women. She faces fierce resistance from the Catholic Church and the opposing party, but refuses to back down even in the face of increasingly aggressive personal attacks. Emmanuelle Devos delivers a brilliant performance in the lead role. New York Premiere
Period. New Paragraph.
Sarah Kramer, USA, 2015, Digital projection, 14m
Period. New Paragraph. is a loving portrait of a father by his daughter. It’s also an homage to a past era and an encounter with someone who has to let go of what they love. Technology can change; the tools of our work can change; and yet nothing can change our passion for the things we love to do. In the case of 85-year-old Herb Kramer, he is forced to confront the end of his career and his mortality as he winds down his legal practice, closing the office he has worked in for the last 40 years. World Premiere
David Bezmozgis, Canada, 2015, DCP, 93m
Russian and English with English subtitles
Mark Berman is the son of Russian immigrants and a typical teenager: hormone-fueled, mischievous, and prone to slacking. One fateful summer, his uncle’s Russian fiancée moves to Canada with her daughter, Natasha, and Mark is tasked with introducing her to the new neighborhood. Before long, the two teenagers fall for each other and a forbidden summer romance begins. Mark learns of Natasha’s troubled and promiscuous life in Moscow, and together they build a web of secrecy that ultimately leads to tragedy. Adapted from the director David Bezmozgis’s award-winning book Natasha and Other Stories. New York Premiere
Projections of America
Peter Miller, Germany/USA/France, DCP, 2015, 52m
English, French, and German with English subtitles
During the darkest hour of World War II, a team of idealistic filmmakers were commissioned by the American government to create 26 short propaganda pieces about life in the United States. The Projections of America series presents stories of cowboys and oilmen, farmers and window washers, immigrants and schoolchildren, capturing both the optimism and the messiness of American democracy. The creation and dissemination of these works is the subject of this documentary, which includes pristine new transfers of the films, as well as interviews with their directors, audience members, and critics. New York Premiere
The Autobiography of a Jeep
Irving Lerner, USA, 1943, Digital projection, 9m
This 1943 propaganda film was produced by the U.S. Office of War Information as part of their series of documentaries released throughout World War II. Told from the perspective of a jeep, the utilitarian military vehicle that exemplified America’s can-do attitude, the film received a particularly enthusiastic response in France, where it had its first screenings soon after D-Day. The Autobiography of a Jeep was directed by documentarian Irving Lerner, a left-leaning filmmaker who would eventually be caught up in the Hollywood blacklist, and written by Newbery Award winner Joseph Krumgold.
Rabin, the Last Day
Amos Gitai, Israel/France, 2015, DCP, 153m
Hebrew with English subtitles
On the evening of November 4, 1995, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was shot down at the end of a huge political rally in Tel Aviv. The killer apprehended at the scene turned out to be a 25-year-old student and observant Jew. Investigation into this brutal murder reveals a dark and frightening world—a subculture of hate fueled by hysterical rhetoric, paranoia, and political intrigue, made up of extremist rabbis who condemned Rabin by invoking an obscure Talmudic ruling, prominent right-wing politicians who joined in a campaign of incitement against Rabin, militant Israeli settlers for whom peace meant betrayal, and the security agents who saw what was coming and failed to prevent it. Twenty years after the death of the Nobel Peace Prize winner, acclaimed filmmaker Amos Gitai sheds light on an ever-growing crisis of the impunity of hate crimes in Israel today with this thought-provoking political thriller, which masterfully combines dramatized scenes with actual news footage of the shooting and its aftermath. U.S. Premiere
The Rifleman’s Violin
Sam Ball, USA, 2014, Digital projection, 14m
In July 1945, Harry Truman, Winston Churchill, and Joseph Stalin convened in Berlin to negotiate the fate of the world in the aftermath of World War II. The agenda included the division of Europe between East and West and the ongoing war with Japan (which would end less than a month later with America’s nuclear strike). To break the ice in these tense discussions, Truman requested a private performance by the young virtuoso violinist Stuart Canin, who had fought as a GI on the front lines earlier that year. In Sam Ball’s short documentary, a 90-year-old Canin recalls his performance with wit and verve. The Rifleman’s Violin was produced by Abraham D. Sofaer for the Potsdam Revisited: Overture to the Cold War multimedia project created by Citizen Film in partnership with the Hoover Institution Archive at Stanford University.
The screening of The Rifleman’s Violin will be followed by a reconstruction of the performance by violinist Stuart Canin and pianist Thomas Sauer as well as an on-stage discussion with Canin; the film’s producer Abraham Sofaer; director Sam Ball; and Stanford University historian Norman Naimark.
Song of Songs
Eva Neymann, Ukraine, 2015, DCP, 76m
Russian with English subtitles
This exceptional Ukrainian feature tells a story that begins with the blossoming of simple childhood love in a shtetl in 1905. Shimek and Buzya’s bond is pure and uncomplicated, but Shimek leaves it behind to seek a life outside his father’s house. When he hears years later that Buzya is to be married, he comes home to find that nothing—in the town or in his heart—has changed, and yet everything somehow seems different. Song of Songs is a poignant tale of love, return, and the transience of youth. New York Premiere
Joey Kuhn, USA, 2015, DCP, 89m
On Manhattan’s Upper East Side, a young painter, Charlie, has spent much of his life in unrequited love with his best friend, Sebastian, a charismatic and reckless partier who lives alone in his family’s townhouse now that his father has been imprisoned for Bernie Madoff–esque crimes and his mother abandoned them both in the wake of the scandal. Joey Kuhn’s feature debut vividly depicts a social circle in crisis, set against the glorious backdrop of autumnal New York.
Regina Schilling, Germany, 2014, DCP, 90m
German, Italian, and Croatian with English subtitles
In the documentary adaptation of Adriana Altaras’s best-selling autobiography, Altaras, the daughter of Jewish Croats who fought the Nazis alongside Tito finds herself leading a normal, if somewhat frazzled, domestic existence in Berlin with her husband and two soccer-crazed sons. When her parents die, she inherits their apartment and begins to sort through decades of letters and photographs, revealing a gold mine of family secrets, persecution, and political heroism. Past and present meld as Altaras compassionately narrates the small details of life and family as a 20th-century European Jew. New York Premiere
Nitzan Gilady, Israel, 2015, DCP, 82m
Hebrew with English subtitles
Hagit, a young woman with a mild mental deficiency, works in a toilet-paper factory and lives with her mother, Sarah, a divorcée who gave up her life for her daughter. When Hagit embarks on her first romantic relationship, she keeps it a secret from her overbearing mom. Israeli director Nitzan Gilady sparkles in his feature debut, a richly detailed family drama for which Asi Levi’s performance as Sarah earned her the Best Actress prize at the 2015 Jerusalem Film Festival. U.S. Premiere