Gene Wilder with a 50th anniversary screening of Mel Brooks’s The Producers
Gene Wilder in Mel Brooks’s The Producers

The 26th New York Jewish Film Festival (NYJFF) taking place January 11 to 24, 2017, today revealed the special events lineup.

The 2017 festival will feature a tribute to comedy legends Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder with a 50th anniversary screening of Mel Brooks’s The Producers, alongside a poster exhibition honoring their lives and work. The exhibition will be on view in the Furman Gallery of the Walter Reade Theater for the duration of the festival, and there will be a video tribute running continuously in the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center Amphitheater showing a compilation of film and television clips from some of Mostel and Wilder’s best moments on camera.

NYJFF’s special events lineup will also honor forgotten star Valeska Gert, the Weimar-era German-Jewish cabaret dancer and pioneering performance artist. Three works starring Gert—by G. W. Pabst, Carl Junghans, and Alberto Cavalcanti—will be presented, as well as Volker Schlöndorff’s intimate documentary portrait of the artist later in life. To accompany the films, Mel Gordon, professor emeritus of theater arts at University of California, will give an illustrated lecture about Gert’s fascinating life, including rare clips of her “grotesque” dances.

Two unique free talks complete the roster of special events: a master class on documentary filmmaking by returning NYJFF filmmaker Tomer Heymann (The Queen Has No Crown, 2011), who has two films in this year’s main slate, Mr. Gaga and Who’s Gonna Love Me Now? (the latter co-directed with his brother, Barak); and a panel about film biopics, featuring filmmakers from this year’s festival and moderated by the Jewish Museum’s Director of Special Exhibitions and Public Programs, Jens Hoffmann.

See below for the full special events lineup and complete festival schedule. The main slate was announced earlier this week and can be found here.

FILM DESCRIPTIONS & SCHEDULE
All films screen digitally at the Walter Reade Theater (165 West 65th St.) unless otherwise noted

Tribute to Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder
50th Anniversary Screening
The Producers
Mel Brooks, U.S., 1968, 35mm, 90m
Mel Brooks’s directorial debut stars Zero Mostel as down-on-his-luck theatrical producer Max Bialystock, who is forced to romance rich old ladies to finance his efforts, and Gene Wilder as his timid accountant, Leo Bloom. Together, they hit upon a way to make a fortune by producing a sure-fire flop, “Springtime for Hitler.” The Producers won the 1968 Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay and launched Brooks into a long-standing career as one of America’s greatest entertainers.

Related Exhibition
The Producers and Beyond
The late, great Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder—who both started their careers on Broadway and first came together for Mel Brooks’s 1968 film The Producers—are two of comedy’s most enduring legends. Born to Jewish immigrant parents (Mostel to an orthodox family in New York’s Lower East Side, and Wilder to Russian immigrants in Milwaukee, Wisconsin), they would go on to star in some of Hollywood’s funniest films. In addition to The Producers, Mostel achieved acclaim for his role alongside Woody Allen in Martin Ritt’s The Front, written by Walter Bernstein; and Wilder for his roles in Brooks’s Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein, among other collaborations with the director.

Poster Exhibition
A poster exhibition in the Frieda and Roy Furman Gallery at the Walter Reade Theater pays tribute to the lives and work of these extraordinary artists of stage and screen. Features posters from The Producers, Blazing Saddles and other favorites.

Clip Reel
A compilation of film and television clips from some of Mostel and Wilder’s best moments on camera. Visit NYJFF.org for details. Running on loop from noon to 9pm daily, except during other programming, in the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center Amphitheater.
Free and Open to the Public

Honoring Valeska Gert
Born to a German Jewish family, Valeska Gert (1892-1978) was an eccentric dancer, a star of Weimar cabaret, and one of the forgotten pioneers of performance art. Gert appeared in three movies for director G. W. Pabst, including The Threepenny Opera, and made others with the experimental filmmakers Carl Junghans and Alberto Cavalcanti. Fleeing Europe but too radical for Hollywood, Gert opened cabarets in New York and Provincetown. Late in life, she was discovered by young German filmmakers Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Volker Schlöndorff—who shortly before her death made the irrepressible octogenarian the subject of an hour-long documentary.
—J. Hoberman, film critic and author

Such Is Life (Takový je život)
Carl Junghans, Czechoslovakia, 1929, 63m
Silent with English intertitles
Carl Junghans’s naturalistic portrait of working-class Prague was among the strongest Czech films of the 1920s. The film captures the tragic story of an aging laundress whose drudgery and toil support a licentious and abusive alcoholic husband. A psychological drama with social themes, it draws from Émile Zola’s novel The Kill, and took a progressive approach to montage, with emphasis on the symbolic power of close-ups. The international cast includes Valeska Gert, typically uninhibited in a featured role as the provocative waitress who takes up with the movie’s loutish protagonist. This new digital restoration features an electronic musical score by Czech musician Jan Burian.

The Threepenny Opera
Georg Wilhelm Pabst, Germany, 1931, 35mm, 112m
German with English subtitles
Loosely based on the 1928 Brecht-Weill musical, itself adapted from John Gay’s 18th-century The Beggar’s Opera, G. W. Pabst’s version of The Threepenny Opera features several members of the original Berlin cast—including Lotte Lenya as Pirate Jenny and Ernst Busch as the Street Singer—as well as Valeska Gert in the role of heroine Polly Peachum’s mother. Set in a shadowy, stylized, and dreamlike Victorian London, the story of antihero Mackie “The Knife” Messer and his attempt to woo Polly Peachum as he eludes the authorities is timeless, and the film remains a benchmark of early sound cinema.

Nur zum Spass, nur zum Spiel—Kaleidoskop Valeska Gert
Volker Schlöndorff, Germany, 1977, 60m
German with English subtitles
In German filmmaker Volker Schlöndorff’s interview with Valeska Gert in her home in Kampen on Sylt the year before she died in 1977, she recounts her eventful life, from her performances as the self-described “Grotesque Dancer” in 1920s Berlin, Moscow, and Paris, to her later years. The documentary features incredible, rare footage from her performances in theater and film, which she came to embrace, incorporating time-lapse and slow-motion into her dance techniques. In 1933, Gert was defamed by the Nazis as “degenerate,” forcing her to leave Germany until 1947. She was not rediscovered until the 1960s, by filmmaker Federico Fellini, who gave her a role in Juliet of the Spirits.

Screening with:
Pett and Pott: A Fairy Story of the Suburbs
Alberto Cavalcanti, UK, 1934, 35mm, 32m
The Brazilian-born experimental filmmaker Alberto Cavalcanti cast fellow émigré Valeska Gert as a wildly impertinent house servant in this plug for telephones, the first movie he made for British documentarian John Grierson’s General Post Office unit.

Related Program
Valeska Gert: An Illustrated Lecture
Mel Gordon, professor emeritus of theater arts at the University of California, Berkeley, speaks about self-described “Grotesque Dancer” Valeska Gert, who defied all contemporary classification and was considered one of the most inventive and original entertainers of the Weimar Era. The lecture includes rare illustrations and film clips of her dances as well as scenes from Gert’s appearances in German and British cinema. Gordon is the author of sixteen books, including Voluptuous Panic: The Erotic World of Weimar Berlin (Townsend, WA: Feral House, 2006).
*Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center Amphitheater
Free and Open to the Public

Master Class with Tomer Heymann
Tomer Heymann leads a behind-the-scenes master class on documentary filmmaking. Together with his brother, Barak, he has directed a number of films including past NYJFF favorites like The Queen Has No Crown (2011). The brothers’ current films, Mr. Gaga and Who’s Gonna Love Me Now?, are screening in this festival. See schedule for details.
*Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center Amphitheater
Free and Open to the Public

Panel: Film Portraits
This panel discussion examines the role and format of biopics and filmic portraits and the expanded understanding of this genre in today’s filmmaking. Panelists include filmmakers from this year’s festival lineup and other guests, moderated by Jens Hoffmann, Director of Special Exhibitions and Public Programs at the Jewish Museum.
*Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center Amphitheater
Free and Open to the Public

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