By Marc Glassman
April 17-25, 2010
Screenings at the Bloor Cinema (Bloor near Bathurst); the Al Green Theatre, Miles Nadal JCC (at Bloor and Spadina); Cineplex Odeon Sheppard Centre Cinemas (Yonge-Sheppard); SilverCity Richmond Hill Cinemas (8771 Yonge Street).
93 films from 18 countries; 28 Canadian Premieres
The Toronto Jewish Film Festival (TJFF), now in its 18th or “chai” (happy life) year, has become a major event on the cultural calendar of Toronto. Recognizing that Jewish identity is both specific to people in the diaspora–outside of Israel–and those within that country, the Festival smartly plays to those who enjoy the cultural aspects of modern Jewry and those who are engaged in the politics of the Holy Land. From a curatorial perspective, that means programmers can pick half the films from countries as diverse as Poland, Mexico and the US while still offering quite a range of cinema from Israel and, of course, Canada.
Just as intelligently, the TJFF has doubled their screening facilities in recent years. While still maintaining a downtown presence at the Bloor Cinema and the Miles Nadal JCC, the festival places their films in North Toronto at the Odeon Sheppard Centre Cinemas and up in Richmond Hill at that town’s SilverCity. The strategy is immensely practical: much of Toronto’s Jewish community has undergone its own disapora, moving from the traditional Spadina/College hub to the north. Not only Jews but also Torontonians across the GTA (and beyond) who love cinema from docs to drama are able to see films at TJFF.
Festivals are often recognized for their innovative sidebar presentations and the TJFF is no different. After all, every festival wants premieres and new cutting-edge works. It’s in the sidebars that programmers can make an impact. Curator Ellie Skrow has created a superb program entitled People of the Comic Book, which concentrates on the contribution of Jews to commix, illustration and the graphic novel. The creators of Superman (Siegel and Shuster), the Fantastic Four (Lee and Kirby), Mad Magazine (Kurtzman), Maus (Spiegelman) and the first graphic novel (Eisner) were all Jews. So was Al Hirschfeld, whose witty illustrations of Broadway stars graced the NY Times for over half a century. Films in Skrow’s program include The Line King, a well-made doc on Hirschfeld’s surprisingly bohemian life, American Splendor, based on Harvey Pekar’s curmudgeonly reminisces, Portrait of a Sequential Artist, a bio portrait of the brilliant Will Eisner, whose graphic “memoirs” brought comic books into a higher intellectual plane and Canadian Ron Mann’s overview on the subject Comic Book Confidential.
FilmMatters, an educational outreach program has a worthwhile docudrama as part of its series: The People v Leo Frank. Made for TV, it earnestly recreates the terrifying events that led to the lynching of the Jewish pencil factory manager Frank—falsely accused of the rape and murder of a young Southern girl–by an angry Atlanta racist mob in the 1910s.
Jaffa, the Orange’s Clockwork, the latest doc by Israeli Eyal Sivan is an enjoyable, radical deconstruction of the meaning of a delicious (and highly profitable) fruit over the past century. Marketed 100 years ago as an Arabian delicacy, the Jaffa orange has been promoted as a symbol of Palestinian-Jewish brotherhood during British colonial rule, then the beloved product of the Israeli project to “make the desert bloom,” to finally, becoming a metaphor of Israel’s repression of Palestine. Told though advertising, songs and oral testimonies, this is documentary filmmaking at its best.
The Opening Night Film is that rarity, a truly funny Israeli comedy. A Matter of Size takes on a difficult idea: how do you cope with life if you’re an XL in a world of tiny, perfect bodies? Herzl is a big man with a big heart, who is a flop in fitness programs. But he finds happiness as a sumo wrestler—as do many of his “outstanding” friends. A plea for tolerance, this film is a feel good movie, one you can enjoy—and then go out and eat a hearty dinner.