A Tribute to “Three Lennys” – Bernstein, Cohen and Bruce & more as this year’s Toronto Jewish Film Festival
The annal Toronto Jewish Film Festival in Toronto kicks off May 7 with 118 films from 21 countries, including 1 world premiere, 1 international premiere, 3 North American premieres, 34 Canadian Premieres, 7 free programmes and 1 World Class Film Festival. The festival runs until the 15 of May and will also feature a tribute to “Three Lennys” – Bernstein, Cohen and Bruce – with special guests Alexander Bernstein and Kitty Bruce; and with Offerings From Eytan Fox, Lou Reed, Claude Lanzmann, Dani Levy, Tony Palmer. Also the festival will screen China’s First Animated Film To Deal With The Holocaust.
Here is the official press release:
One of the largest festivals of its kind in the world, TJFF returns May 7 and runs through May 15, with films from 21 countries that reflect aspects of Jewish identity and diversity with universal themes. This year’s TJFF features 118 films from Argentina, Austria, Brazil, China, Cuba, Denmark, France, Germany, Israel, Mexico, The Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Russia, South Africa, Switzerland, the UK, USA and Uruguay.
The Festival begins Saturday May 7th at 9:15pm, at The Underground (186 Spadina Ave.) with the North American Premiere of Looking For Lenny, directed by Elan Gale. The film is an illuminating look at the late, great Lenny Bruce, featuring interviews with mavericks from the comedy world, colleagues, and friends of the iconoclastic comedian/social commentator. Bruce broke all taboos in revealing societal hypocrisy. A number of young, contemporary comics also offer their views on the debt they owe his defiance of convention. Opening Night includes special guests: Kitty Bruce, daughter of Lenny Bruce and founder of “Lenny’s House”, a non-profit charity for women recovering from drug and alcohol abuse; Looking for Lenny Co-Producer Matt Amar; and Bruce’s friend, Fred Baker (Director of Lenny Bruce: Without Tears). And no venue better suits an icon like Bruce than The Underground, located in an unassuming condo building at Queen St. W., at Spadina; it is truly one of the city’s last undiscovered gems.
Looking For Lenny dovetails with the Toronto Jewish Film Festival’s 2011 sidebar series –The Three Lennys – a 19-part series celebrating the lives and careers of Leonard Bernstein, Leonard Cohen (the recently announced recipient of the prestigious Glenn Gould Prize) and Lenny Bruce. Through documentaries, concert films, shorts and a feature biopic (many of them rarely or never-before-screened) as well as a live musical component, speakers and special guests, the series pays tribute to the work of these remarkable artists. Alexander Bernstein, son of the late, legendary conductor/composer Leonard Bernstein, will be in attendance for several of the screenings. Alexander is the founding Chairman of the Leonard Bernstein Center for Learning, dedicated to stimulating and deepening academic learning through the Arts.
TJFF is pleased to co-present with TIFF Bell Lightbox and, Scored, the Montreal-based arts organization – Leonard Cohen: Bird on a Wire, directed by the esteemed Tony Palmer. Palmer was given incredible access to Leonard Cohen during his 1972 European tour of 20 cities. This Special Presentation, with the director in conversation with Jesse Wente, will take place at the TIFF Bell Lightbox. This documentary was essentially missing for 38 years. In 2009, Palmer discovered 294 rolls of raw footage in a Hollywood warehouse, and with Cohen’s consent, he painstakingly and completely reconstructed it. Bird on a Wire (which includes several poems and 17 songs, with backup vocals by Jennifer Warnes and Donna Washburn), captures Cohen in surprisingly candid moments, providing remarkable insight into a sensitive and poetic soul.
TJFF is honoured to host the World Premiere of Between Two Worlds, a documentary film by Deborah Kaufman and Alan Snitow. This personal documentary explores the divisions that are redefining Jewish identity and politics. The filmmakers’ own families are battlegrounds over loyalty to Israel, interpretations of the Holocaust, and intermarriage. Directors Kaufman and Snitow will be in attendance. The film will be followed by a panel that will discuss the resonant question, “Who Speaks for the Jewish Community?” Panelists will include Kaufman and Snitow as well as filmmaker Fern Levitt (7 Days of Remembrance… and Hope) and Daniel Sokatch, who appears in the film.
In this 19th year, TJFF is offering an eclectic mix of films. Titles include the International Premiere of I Shall Remember from Russian director Vitaly Vorobjev; Sundance favourite and Canadian Premiere, Crime After Crime, directed by Yoav Potash, chronicles the legal battle to free Debbie Peagler, a California woman serving a sentence of 25-years-to-life for her connection to the murder of the man who brutalized her; Claude Lanzman’s The Karski Report – a Canadian Premiere – is a riveting account by Jan Karski, a courier for the Polish Government-in-exile during WWII. He was among the first to alert Allied leaders to the dire situation facing Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto. The screening will include an introduction and a Q&A with a guest from the Karski Foundation in Poland; Little Rose directed by Jan Kidawa-Blonski is a sexy and provocative thriller set against the mid-Sixties campaign of anti-Semitism launched by the Communist Polish government; A Jewish Girl in Shanghai, a Canadian Premiere, is the first-ever animated feature from China to deal with the Holocaust, and is based on the popular graphic novel of the same name; Dani Levy’s Life Is Too Long, a North American Premiere, is a German-Jewish variation on the films of Woody Allen and Charlie Kaufman. This laugh-out-loud film also boasts a pitch-perfect cast that includes cult actor Udo Kier as a psychiatrist, and Elke Sommer. TJFF once again offers something for everyone.
And with TJFF once again taking place in May, the Festival brings back a time-honoured tradition of celebrating Mother’s Day with films portraying inspiring and provocative women, and explorations of gender dynamics: Grace Paley: Collected Shorts focuses on a fascinating, though perhaps not-widely-known, Jewish-American writer. Director Lilly Rivlin’s documentary, which shows how Paley passionately inhabited her role as a writer and activist, is empowering not only for women, but also for men ready to challenge the status quo. Paley published her first short-story collection, depicting the lives of Jewish-American urban women, during the mid-1950s when there was a lack of frank discussion about women’s lives and their sexuality. Grace Paley is being screened with local filmmaker, Barbara Center’s short film, Letters, which describes her own coming-out story. The filmmakers of both films will be in attendance; Pnina Feiler: A Communist Nurse introduces us to an 85-year-old chain smoker extraordinaire, who remains just as uncompromising as she was as a young girl in the Communist youth movement. She became a Communist at age of 15 in Poland, immigrating to Palestine in 1938. Each week she crosses into the occupied territories, wearing her green bracelet made of peace signs, in order to deliver medical services; Another portrait of a social activist, is musician Lou Reed’s film of his 100-year old cousin – Red Shirley – immigrant garment worker, labour activist, and participant in the 1963 March on Washington; Ingelore is a mesmerizing documentary about Ingelore Herz Honigstein, born and raised in Germany, who narrates her inspiring story about living as an outcast in Nazi Germany not only as a Jew, but also as a deaf woman; Esther & Me is filmmaker and comedian Lisa Geduldig’s love letter to her friend, Esther Weintraub, feisty and totally engaged in life and the pursuit of joy. As a 15-year-old, Esther played with the Mandolin Orchestra in Toronto at the Jewish Cultural Centre, then went on to become a model, and from that, a stand-up comedian; Yes, Miss Commander examines the basic training unit in the Israeli army that is dedicated to preparing young men from troubled backgrounds for service in the regular Israeli army. What’s so exceptional about this unit is that the chief officers are all women, many of whom are not much older than the soldiers themselves. As the women struggle to assert their power while building their tough recruits’ self-esteem, they serve as mother figures to these boys, who must come to terms with a woman in a position of authority. At the same screening is the documentary Scent of Strawberries: After enrolling in film school, Tamar and her son take a personal journey with a film on her brother’s death while he was serving in the Israel Defense Forces, and the effect it had on her.
The small screen makes it to the big screen as TJFF focuses on the high quality television that is coming out of Israel. Highlights include a sample of the brand new season of the hilarious comedy series Arab Labor, as well as the colourful and charming miniseries Mary Lou—director Eytan Fox’s (The Bubble) answer to Glee. Also screening will be an episode of the Israeli adaptation of The Office, based on the famous BBC comedy series created, written and devised by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant; watch how the drama of Israeli reality is satirized and adapted to the format of the British and American versions.
TJFF, in a new partnership with Hillel, is also paying tribute to the achievements of the many diverse film schools in Israel. Over the years, the students in these schools have produced many exceptional short films that have gained worldwide recognition, often leading to successful international screenings and awards at such film festivals as Cannes, Berlin, Venice, New York and Tribeca. The schools have produced an inspired crop of filmmakers who are revolutionizing the country’s film and television industry. This three-evening series opens with Intimate Grammar, the newest feature film by Nir Bergman, a successful product of the Sam Spiegel Film School, who established himself internationally with his impressive student film, Sea Horses (1998), before producing his much-acclaimed dramatic feature, Broken Wings (2002). The series continues on Wednesday and Thursday evening with short films that have been produced within the past eight years at various schools throughout Israel. The films featured in the spotlight have been carefully selected by a committee of Canadian students from different cultural and educational backgrounds.
The fourth annual David A. Stein Memorial Award – fondly named the “Tzimmie” – will be voted on by this year’s specially selected jury and awarded opening night at The Underground. The tribute comes with a $5,000 cash prize. This year our Jurors include Larry Weinstein, Co-Founder of Rhombus Media and one of Canada’s most prolific and accomplished doc filmmakers. He’s joined by award-winning filmmaker Karen Shopsowitz, a director, editor, writer and occasional cameraperson, who has worked on dozens of productions, ranging from stand-alone documentaries to documentary series, music videos and fiction; and Adam Nayman, critic for Eye Weekly and Metro in Toronto, and a contributor to a number of North American publications.
Now in year four, FilmMatters is TJFF’s educational outreach programme which offers free screenings to young students of films that explore cultural and religious diversity. FilmMatters this year runs from May 9-11 and has been made possible by the generous support of The Ganz Family Foundation, and Cineplex Entertainment. Teachers are provided with a detailed Study Guide. This year FilmMatters presents four powerful films: 7 Days of Remembrance…and Hope follows 60 students from diverse backgrounds across Canada who participate in the March of Remembrance and Hope. A multi-faith trip whereby university students travel to the Nazi death camps in Poland. Director Fern Levitt focuses on six of the participants, all of whom filter their experiences through a particular lens relevant to their personal histories. Special guest at the screening is Rudi Okot who is a March participant and is featured in the film; Voices Unbound: The Story of the Freedom Writers is the true story behind the California high school class that inspired the Hillary Swank film Freedom Writers. When teacher Erin Gruwell deviated from the curriculum and assigned The Diary of Anne Frank, the voice of a young Jew in hiding spanned generations and resonated with the disenfranchised inner-city youths. Inspired to record their own thoughts, these students shared powerful stories of hopelessness, broken homes, drug dealing, homicide, abuse and gang violence, and their writing blossomed into the national bestseller The Freedom Writers Diary. Special guest via Skype is Freedom Writer Cynthia Ray; The Last Survivor offers portraits of four survivors of different genocides – The Holocaust, Rwanda, Darfur and the Congo – who have since dedicated their lives to working as activists in the anti-genocide movement. By ensuring that their stories are heard around the world, these four survivors are at the forefront of a movement that seeks to remind the world what happens when inaction prevails; A Jewish Girl from Shanghai is also being shown to students in the Filmmatters programme. All student screenings are held at 10 A.M. at The Bloor Cinema. For further inquiries, contact [email protected].
Finally, TJFF closes out the 19th year with Leonard Cohen: Live in London. This definitive concert, recorded live on July 17, 2008 in London’s 02 Arena, contains 26 songs and illustrates the mastery of the legendary Cohen, whose rich baritone voice and poetic lyrics have somehow become even more sublime and meaningful as he’s aged. Also screening that evening is I Am A Hotel – a “dream in technicolor”. This rarely-screened gem, written by Leonard Cohen and Mark Shekter, was one of the first music videos, and the second long-form music video to be produced (after Michael Jackson’s Thriller). It won numerous international awards, including the prestigious Golden Rose at the 1984 Montreux Television Festival, and stars Leonard Cohen, Robert Desrosiers, Toller Cranston, Anne Ditchburn, Celia Franca and others.
This only touches on some of the wonderful highlights of this 19th edition of the Toronto Jewish Film Festival. Please check the website http://www.tjff.com/ for more details.