The Ballad of Weeping Spring
Get out of the cold and into the cool with the 22nd annual New York Jewish Film Festival, which opens on January 9 with A.K.A. Doc Pomus, a documentary about the blues singer/songwriter Doc Pomus. Born Jerome Felder in 1920s Brooklyn, Doc Pomus went on to become one of the greatest blues and rock songwriters of all time. Behind hits like “Save the Last Dance for Me,” “This Magic Moment,” “A Teenager in Love,” and “Viva Las Vegas,” he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame a year after his death in 1991. Pomus's daughter, Sharyn Felder, co-produced this musical doc with Will Hechter and Peter Miller that makes use of rare archival footage and interviews with collaborators and friends.
If the blues isn’t your business, explore other films about music like The Ballad of Weeping Spring, a crowd-pleasing Israeli “Western” about legendary lute player Yosef Tawila, who brings his band back together to grant a dying friend’s wish.
In the world of dance, NYJFF brings us Cabaret-Berlin: The Wild Scene, an archival film, sound and visual display of Berlin’s Weimar Republic cabaret scene, which fostered many of Europe’s most experimental artists, writers, and musicians. Emphasizing the contributions of Jewish artists, director Fabienne Rousso-Lenoir brings the entertainment (and a little tragedy, too). Then there's the New York Premiere of Let's Dance, a documentary focusing on several generations of dancers and choreographers from Israel, such as Ohad Naharin, Rami Be'er and Yasmeen Godder. It’s exciting and joyful and screens with Life in Stills, a documentary about a 96-year-old woman’s quest to save a Tel Aviv print shop.
Franciszka and Stefan Themerson's Calling Mr. Smith
Looking for something more avant-garge? Don't miss our special event, The Films of Franciszka and Stefan Themerson. Widely influential in the world of experimental film, Franciszka (1907-1988) and Stefan (1910-1988) produced seven films in the 1930s and 40s that rank among the top pieces of avant-garde cinema in Europe. Unfortunately, only three films survived the destruction of World War II: Adventures of a Good Citizen, Calling Mr. Smith and The Eye and the Ear. Featuring these and Bruce Checefsky's remakes of two of the lost films, Apteka and Moment Musical, this program is a one-of-a-kind event that any adventurous filmgoer won't want to miss!
In addition to these offbeat options, this year's NYJFF lineup includes full-length features like Policeman (NYFF ’11), about elite anti-terrorist police and a group of wealthy young anarchists; Süskind, about a Jewish businessman that befriends an SS officer in an attempt to save lives; and In Case I Never Win the Golden Palm, director Renaud Cohen's satirically self-referential return to filmmaking.
Daddy Longlegs and directors Josh and Ben Safdie.
Graduating from Boston University but hailing from New York City, indie wunderkinds Josh and Ben Safdie come to NYJFF to offer up five amazing short films as well as one fantastic feature: Daddy Longlegs (a.k.a. Go Get Some Rosemary), which stars Film Society projectionist Ronnie Bronstein in a Spirit Award-winning performance. Daddy Longlegs is another self-referential film and includes the recreation of a photograph from Josh and Ben's childhood. As told to The New York Times, the photo concerns a “paper tornado,” with a woman and two boys reaching for pieces of paper blown about by the wind: “It makes perfect sense that our dad was taking the photo, and our mom was helping with the paper.” Josh and Ben's father shot more than 300 hours of home video of their family while they were growing up. See the Safdie brothers in person and hear more stories like this in An Evening with the Safdie Brothers, featuring five of their acclaimed shorts and an extended conversation. Combine the two programs with a Double Feature Package!
Out with the new and in with the old! This year's festival features three blasts from the past: The Black Cat (and Other Tales) (1934), a collection of Jewish tales of terror presented by film critic J Hoberman; a restoration of classic melodrama Kol Nidre (1939); and The Yellow Ticket (1918), a silent film with live musical accompaniment.
Barbara Sukowa in Hannah Arendt
Although NYJFF takes audiences around the world, it also brings them back home with three New York stories: Joe Papp in Five Acts, Koch, and The Art of Spiegelman. Without Joe Papp there would be no free Shakespeare in Central Park, interracial casting in New York theater would have come much later, and many plays might never have been written. Joe Papp in Five Acts looks at democracy in the arts through the story of one of its greatest champions. Documentary Koch tells the story of former mayor and “quintessential New Yorker” Ed Koch and the issues of his day: AIDS, gay rights and homelessness. The third featured knickerbocker writes and draws his way into understanding childhood and memory. Pulitzer Prize winner Art Spiegelman’s seminal work, Maus, made waves in the underground comic circuit and beyond. See The Art of Spiegelman with short Polish documentary Castaways, about the children who were saved from concentration camps by being thrown off of trains by their parents.
Closing out the festival is Margarethe von Trotta's Hannah Arnedt, the first-ever biopic on The New Yorker writer that covered the trial of Adolf Eichmann—the lineup also boasts a feature documentary about the trial. From her experience with the trial comes her “banality of evil” theory and the resultant backlash. Played brilliantly by Barbara Sukowa, Arendt escaped a French detention camp, moved to Jerusalem and then New York where she taught at the New School.
The 22nd New York Jewish Film Festival runs January 9 – 24. Pre-sale for members of the Film Society of Lincoln Center and The Jewish Museum begins Thursday, December 13 at 12:30pm. Tickets go on sale to the General Public on Thursday, December 27 at 12:30pm.