U.S. Debut of ‘Isaac Bashevis Singer’ & ‘Felix and Meira’ Bookend 24th NY Jewish Film Festival

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by Brian Brooks | FILM COMMENT

The New York Jewish Film Festival is returning for its 24th year next month with a roster that includes 47 features and shorts from 11 countries, with 21 screening as World, U.S., or New York premieres. The lineup of screenings, panels, events, and more, presented by the Jewish Museum and the Film Society of Lincoln Center, takes place January 14-29 at the Walter Reade Theater and Elinor Bunin Munroe Center. NYJFF will open with the U.S. premiere of Asaf Galay and Shaul Betser’s The Muses of Isaac Bashevis Singer.


Utilizing a combination of unflinching interviews and exclusive archival footage, an unknown aspect of the Nobel Prize-winning author’s main sources of inspiration takes the spotlight. Singer’s bevy of female translators worked with him to open the doors to his singular Yiddish prose. His relationships with many of them blurred the lines between the professional and the intimate.


Closing out the 16-day event is the New York premiere of Maxime Giroux’sFelix and Meira. The feature, which won Best Canadian Feature at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, is set in Montreal’s Mile End neighborhood, characterized by a mixture of hipsters and Hasidism, which coexists amicably but independently. When Meira, an Orthodox Jewish wife and mother with an undercurrent of rebelliousness, meets Felix, a middle-aged atheist adrift without family ties, a slow-blooming affair takes shape that will present Meira with a difficult fork in the road.

Asaf Galay and Shaul Betser’s The Muses of Isaac Bashevis Singer

“This is a film that will play to our traditional audience. It’s striking to look at the Nobel-laureate’s romantic life through the lens of his many translators, and so it’s a film that will have broad appeal,” noted Jaron Gandelman from The Jewish Museum about The Muses of Isaac Bashevis Singer. About Felix and Meira, he added, “The film brings together the old and new worlds and [Meira] goes back and forth between these two worlds. It’s an atmospheric and moody [film].”


Israel’s 2014 entry for Best Foreign Language Oscar consideration, Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem, will have its New York Premiere at the festival. The film was adapted from the true story of an Orthodox woman who has spent five years in a legal stalemate fighting for a divorce that, according to religious law, requires her husband’s consent. Ronit Elkabetz, who co-directed the film with her brother Shlomi Elkabetz, also stars as the film’s lead.


Directors Joseph Dorman and Oren Rudavsky’s documentary The Zionist Idea will have its World Premiere, exploring one of the most influential, controversial and urgently relevant political ideologies of the modern era. The film examines the meaning, history and future of Zionism at this crucial time. A panel discussion will take place in conjunction with the film on January 25. “The film is the first full-fledged three hour-long doc about the history of Zionism,” explained Gandelman. “[The feature] goes through the movement from its early days in the 19th century to today. It also includes footage of the first Zionist conferences in Europe. It’s a very encompassing film.”


Five films focus on various aspects of the Holocaust and its repercussions.Let’s Go!, directed by Michael Verhoeven (The Nasty Girl) and a U.S. premiere, artfully presents a biting commentary on post-World War II German society in an adaptation of Laura Waco’s autobiographical novel. Overcome with grief at her father’s funeral in 1968, Laura looks back with fresh eyes at her parents’ decision to settle in Germany after surviving the Holocaust. In Forbidden Films, receiving its New York premiere, Felix Moeller brings viewers into a vaulted, explosive-resistant compound where 40 incendiary Nazi propaganda films are kept, banned from public viewing; and interviews renowned film historians and filmmakers who debate the importance of these “Nazi movies of the poison cabinet” asking: Are they worth keeping? Do we need to show them? How do we approach this dark legacy?


Acclaimed director Amos Gitai’s Tsili, receiving its U.S. premiere, adapts Aharon Appelfeld’s novel about a young Jewish woman hiding in the forests south of Czernowicz, her world and family having been ripped away, and her subsequent wandering and search for meaning following the war. Dieter Reifarth’s The Tugendhat House, also a U.S. premiere, examines the history of one of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s earliest prototypes of modernist architecture in Europe. Built for a Jewish family by the name of Tugendhat in 1930, it was abandoned during the Nazi occupation, only to resurface in the ensuing decades as a therapy center, a ballet school, and a school for children with scoliosis. In Natan, investigative documentarians David Cairns and Paul Duane reveal the forgotten life of Bernard Natan, a Romanian Jew who fought for France in World War I and became the head of the innovative and influential Pathé studios, only to die forgotten during the Holocaust and almost erased from the history of French film. Read more


Reference:  FILM COMMENT by Brian Brooks


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