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Tuesday, October 13, 2015

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Hot Docs festival offers films of Jewish interest

Tags: Arts
The relationship of photographer’s widow Miriam Weissenstein and her grandson, Ben, is explored in Life in Stills.

This year’s edition of the Hot Docs documentary film festival runs from April 26 to May 6 and has a fine selection of films of Jewish interest.

A sampler:

Tamar Tal’s Life in Stills is both a portrait of a country-in-the-making and of an unusual personal relationship.

The late Israeli photographer, Rudi Weissenstein, was an eyewitness to history. Working out of a modest studio in the centre of Tel Aviv, he photographed people, places and events in Palestine and Israel.

His photographs of early Tel Aviv and David Ben-Gurion’s proclamation of independence in 1948 are particularly of value and interest.

When Weissenstein died, he bequeathed his archive of more than one million negatives to his wife, Miriam, who had always been his trusted collaborator.

Now, years after her husband’s death, Miriam and her grandson, Ben, are fighting city hall to save Photo House, the landmark studio that served as his base for decades, from demolition.

The studio is supposed to make way for a residential development, but Miriam and Ben oppose it. Can they stop the march of time? That’s one theme of Life in Stills.

The other theme focuses on their mutually loving relationship. Miriam is gruff and gloomy, while her grandson is blessed with a sunny disposition. Despite their diametrically different personalities, the pair get on remarkably well, and in this altogether charming movie, which is set in Israel and Germany, Tal skilfully fleshes out their battle for survival.

Life in Stills will be screened on Saturday, April 28, at 9:30 p.m. at the Israel Bader Theatre, Monday, April 30, at 4:15 p.m. at the Cumberland Four-Alliance Cinema, and Saturday, May 5, at 1:15 p.m. at the Bloor Theatre.

* * *

One Day After Peace, by Miri and Erez Laufer, is about a dedicated woman’s crusade to find peace of mind and, against all odds, to build reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians.

Robi Damelin, an Israeli peace activist originally from South Africa, is still in mourning after the death of her son, David, an aspiring MA candidate in philosophy and education and an Israeli army reservist who was killed in an Arab ambush in the West Bank in 2002, at the height of the second Palestinian uprising.

In this empathetic film, the Laufers explore Damelin’s attempt to contact the family of the Palestinian sniper who shot David at a checkpoint as well as following her to South Africa on a journey of self-discovery to talk to South Africans who were personally affected by the now dismantled apartheid system.

The Laufers concentrate on the South African segment of One Day After Peace. Damelin, a dogged woman of conscience, is a whirlwind of activity. She meets mothers whose sons were killed by the previous regime, attends sessions of a national committee trying to heal old wounds and visits a cousin who was Nelson Mandela’s lawyer.

For Damelin, the new multi-racial South Africa is a model of hope, a place where enemies can lay aside their differences and grievances and achieve some kind of closure. Clearly, the Arab-Israeli conflict is a tougher nut to crack. But Damelin is not someone who succumbs to despair easily.

One Day After Peace will be screened on Sunday, April 29, at 9 p.m. at the Cumberland Four-Alliance Cinema, Tuesday, May 1, at 11 a.m. at the Isabel Bader Theatre and Saturday, May 5, at 4 p.m. at the ROM Theatre.

* * *

Soldier/Citizen, directed by Silvina Landesmann, takes us into a civic studies class at an Israeli army base where young combat soldiers seeking to finish high school are exposed to such concepts as tolerance and pluralism.

Their teacher, a gentle, probing man, challenges their preconceptions as he examines issues ranging from human rights to democracy.

In the main, he talks about the status of Israeli Arabs, much of whose land was confiscated by the state in the wake of the 1948 War of Independence.

He and his students don’t often share the same views, but their spirited exchanges infuse this film with vitality.

Soldier/Citizen will be screened on Sunday, April 29, at 6 p.m. at the Bloor Cinema, Monday, April 30, at 2 p.m. at TIFF Bell Lightbox and Saturday, May 5, at 9 p.m. at the Rom Theatre.

* * *

Oma & Bella, by Alexa Karolinski, is about friendship, tradition and memory.

Regina Karolinski (Oma) and Bella Katz are Holocaust survivors of a certain age who live together in apparent harmony in a small flat in Berlin. They’ve been through a lot in their lives, yet they face the world with good cheer and optimism.

The filmmaker, Oma’s granddaughter, observes them in various situations and obviously thinks highly of them.

Oma and Bella, from Lithuania and Galicia respectively, celebrate their food traditions, recall the Holocaust and the post-Holocaust era in displaced persons (DP) camps, get their hair done at a beauty parlour, play cards, take a boat ride and meet friends and family at a festive gathering.

In its essence, this is a film that celebrates life, for life is short.

Oma & Bella will be screened on Saturday, April 28, at 6:30 p.m. at the TIFF Bell Lightbox and Monday, April 30, at 4:30 p.m. at the ROM Theatre.


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