May 7, 2004
So many films, so little time
Annual festival features controversy, life lessons and racy comedy.
The 16th Annual Vancouver Jewish Film Festival (VJFF) has begun.
Running until May 20, it offers viewers a wide range of choices,
from documentaries to dramas, with a little humor thrown into the
mix. The Bulletin had a chance to view some of the 60-plus
movies being presented. Here's what we thought about them.
The "complete" Jews?
I will admit that I had already decided what I thought of the
film The Chosen People and its subject matter before I watched
it. I will also say that this film is very well done. It tackles
a number of issues head-on and allows both Jews for Jesus, as well
as their conterparts, Jews for Judaism, a chance to speak.
I've always considered Jews for Jesus, otherwise known as Messianic
Jews (I find this name misleading, as though Jews do not have the
concept of a Messiah already) a little disconcerting and slightly
offensive. They believe in Jesus as Messiah and they refer to Jesus
by his Hebrew name, Yeshua, in an attempt to "bring him home."
The film concentrates on the City of David Church/Synagogue in Toronto,
but visits communities in Israel and Hungary as well. Most interviewees
are members of Jews for Jesus and it is a pair of sisters, originally
from a Jewish family, who have the greatest impact. Both are spiritual
seekers, both have had difficult moments in their young lives and
both have committed themselves to Jesus, hoping that one day their
father will follow their example and be permitted to join them in
This movement has close ties to a fundamentalist evangelical Protestantism
with a heavy dose of Christian rheotric, and adds particular aspects
of Judaism (like kippot, tallitot, Hatikvah and the hora). They
insist that, because of their reliance on the "scriptures"
(both Jewish and Christian), they are the "complete Jews."
They reject Jewish Oral Law, denigrating it as "rabbinical"
and, therefore, false, mere tradition that has led false Jews astray.
Those who work for the countermissionary organization Jews for Judaism
insist that this proselytizing missionary group is inflicting a
"spiritual holocaust" on the Jewish people.
The only problem with the filmmaking is a strangely misplaced, melodramatic
musical interlude that featured long shots of trains and train tracks
in Hungary. Is this some attempt to conjure images of the Holocaust?
Despite its flaws, The Chosen People is a fascinating look
at a group that some might say succeeds in capitalizing on the spiritual
void in people's lives by appearing as a wolf in sheep's clothing.
It is worth seeing.
The Chosen People plays Sunday, May 9, 7 p.m., at the Norman
Rothstein Theatre, with director Igal Hecht and Rabbi Michael Skobac
of Jews for Judaism in attendance. In English, Hebrew and Russian
with English subtitles.
Oh, to be young again
If you had a chance to be young again, would you take it? What if
it meant forgetting your spouse, your children, your grandchildren
... the life you had lived?
All I've Got is a thoughtful and at times humorous
look not only at second chances but at how you can have a
full life even after you encounter tragedy. Tamara was in a car
accident when she was 23 years old. It took the life of her first
love, who she describes to the paramedic at the scene as all she
had, she "came there [to Israel] for him."
The next time we see Tamara is at the "transit post to the
afterlife." She has passed away at age 75 and she is presented
with the chance to be 23 again and live out eternity with her boyfriend
Uri, who has been waiting for her in the afterlife since the accident,
more than 50 years. The catch is that, in order to do this, she
must relinquish all her memories of the life she has lived with
her husband, children and grandchildren. Her other option is to
remain a 75-year-old woman with all her life's memories intact.
A game of rock-paper-scissors decides her fate.
All I've Got plays at the Norman Rothstein Theatre on Sunday,
May 9, at 9 p.m.
Life without parents
Adriana Lewi was only a year and a half old when she and her parents
were kidnapped by the Argentine military. While her abductors eventually
handed her over to her maternal grandparents, Lewi never saw her
parents again. Looking for Victoria follows Lewi's incredibly
emotional search to find out more about her parents.
During the military dictatorship in Argentina, from 1976 till 1983,
about 30,000 citizens were kidnapped, including 2,000 Argentine
Jews. Lewi's father was Jewish, her mother Catholic. While the dictatorship
of Jorge Rafael Videla persecuted Jews, it also endeavored to dispose
of any opposition to its power. Lewi finds out that her father,
and perhaps her mother, were members of the radical left-wing Montoneros,
a guerilla group that took up arms and organized bombings
and hostage-takings when the dictatorship's death squads
started killing people.
Lewi revisits old neighbors, speaks with survivors who had been
in prison with her father and tries to make her family's story known,
so that perhaps some justice can prevail (the murderers are known,
but were granted amnesty when "democracy" prevailed).
She also speaks with family members about her parents her
aunt admits that the family has grieved all these years in silence,
This documentary will make you cry. It is hard to watch Lewi as
she takes in each bit of new information about her parents. Her
longing is painful to watch as much as you'd like to, you
can't reach into the screen and give her a hug.
Looking for Victoria, which is in English and Spanish with
English subtitles, is at Pacific Cinémathèque, Tuesday,
May 11, at 9 p.m., preceeded by a short film about abstract artist
Marvin Shwartz called The Provider. Lewi will be in attendance.
Ugandan lesson in pride
The first time I heard about the Abayudaya of Uganda, it was the
year 2000 and I was in New York. I just happened to visit a woman
whose father was involved in raising awareness about this far-flung
community and their hard-fought struggle to be officially converted
to Judaism. My initial reaction upon hearing about them was delight
and surprise here was a group of Ugandans who had been living
and identifying as Jews for close to a hundred years in a
veritable vacuum! I began watching Moving Heaven and Earth
with this same feeling of anticipation, as though I would be able
to sneak a peek into the lives of Jews I've always wanted to know,
but don't. And herein lies the problem. It is difficult to make
a film like this and not fall into the trap of "othering,"
of classifying the Abayudaya as "exotic," "different"
and, frankly, "African." There are scenes of Abayudaya
immersing in the mikvah, unclothed of course, as well as enduring
a symbolic circumcision, and I couldn't help but wonder if it wasn't
a bit too "National Geographic does Africa" and
not quite respectful.
But, while being very aware of the problems with this film, I did
enjoy it immensely. Moving Heaven and Earth explores the
fundamental question, "who is a Jew?" as well as the contentious,
"who gets to decide who is a Jew?" The film never lost
my interest and features interviews with numerous Abayudaya as well
as the North American rabbis who assisted with their conversion.
The rabbis' obvious glee in welcoming this community into the family
of world Jewry was palpable. A film like this reminds us that Jews
do not look a certain way, do not speak a certain language or hail
from the same corner of the earth. If the Abayudaya can decorate
their homes with Jewish symbols and endure the dictatorship of Idi
Amin Dada, it is a wonder that in North America we do not display
one-half of this pride when it comes to outwardly identifying ourselves
Moving Heaven and Earth screens at Oakridge Cinemas in English,
Thursday, May 13, 7 p.m., with directors Debra Gonsher Vinik and
David Vinik in attendance. It repeats at Oakridge Cinemas, Sunday,
May 16 at 4:30 p.m., preceeded by My Brother's Wedding.
Movie-goers can consider Moments Israel 2002 a buy-one-get-17
situation. The film is made up of 17 short films that take an artistic
look at some of the many different views and perspectives on the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Some will be upsetting to viewers,
while others will make them chuckle.
One of the more disturbing films is Status Quo. It portrays
a video game in which Israeli soldiers are chasing a Palestinian
female, carrying a bomb, who continues to yell "Allah is all
mighty." Ironically, the two-player game is being controlled
by children who refer to themselves as brother and sister.
Another, titled You for Your Mother, features a handful of
Palestinian children ages five to eight and their understanding
of the conflict. With the stereotypical frankness of children, one
child, when asked what should be done to stop all the killing, answers,
"Stop the bull - - - -. "
Many of the films have a political bent, but others offer lighter
fare. 72 Virgins offers an unusual technique that might push
the peace process ahead, suggesting that a certain sexual act might
motivate Yasser Arafat to reveal his conciliatory side.
Moments Israel 2002 contains mature language and content.
It screens Wednesday, May 19, 9:30 p.m., in the Norman Rothstein
Theatre. It is preceded by Hora, a Canadian short film about
the history of the hora dance and its use as a metaphor for Israeli
The festival has screenings at the Norman Rothstein Theatre (950
West 41st Ave.), Oakridge Cinemas (601-650 West 41st Ave.) and Pacific
Cinémathèque (1131 Howe St.). Programs are available
at the above venues, the Peretz Centre for Secular Jewish Culture
(6184 Ash St.), select VanCity locations and at various merchants
throughout the Lower Mainland. There are a range of ticket prices
and they can be purchased by phone at 604-488-4300, online at www.vfjj.org
or in person at the VJFF ticket booth at the Jewish Community Centre
of Greater Vancouver. For more information, please call 604-266-0245
or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.