Oy Gevalt, What A Lineup!

This year’s pick of seven Jewish Film Fest entries were whittled down from 40 standout selections, all firsts for Hawaii audiences. Coming from far-flung locales including the Netherlands, Poland, New York and Israel, they portray unique facets of the Jewish experience both modern and historical.

Opening night’s Bethlehem has a pulse-quickening, emotionally complex plot about an Israeli secret service officer and his young Palestinian informant. It raked-in six top Israeli film awards, including best picture, and much of the tone and behavior of the characters is based on firsthand research by writer-director Yuval Adler, an Israeli film-maker, and co-writer Ali Waked, an Arab journalist.


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Wife (Ashley Nashaniki-Shankles) cradles Girl (Jessica Kincaid) in ‘Battle of Will’ Photo from Taurie Kinoshita

A couple of additional action-charged features are Aftermath and White Panther. The former looks at atrocities against Jews in a novel way, based on an apparently true incident in Poland. The subject matter is so controversial that many theaters in Poland banned the movie when it came out last year. Like an intellectual Memento, we go on a backward journey to learn horrifying truths about World War II era Jewish Holocaust. The film, brimming with tension, takes a searing look at the capacity of human cruelty and generational complicity.

Meet Israel’s skinheads in White Panther. Neo-Nazi skinheads, you ask in disbelief? Yes. In the 1990s, a million Jews arrived on Israel’s shores from Russia. Struggling to fit in, they opted for their own self-hating, insular circles. Panther re-creates the milieu in strapping Alex, who is torn between his gang of delinquents who are all hate and menace, and the mentorship of a compassionate policeman who sees potential in Alex.

Entertaining, lighthearted adventures are found in The Zig Zag Kid and Putzel. In the first, a teen with a vivid imagination unwittingly finds himself on a road trip with an international master of crime. Putzel, meanwhile, is a romantic comedy about a nerdy but engaging young man (Putzel) who has a sort of love-hate relationship with life. He loves the fish shop where he works, but it’s also a constant headache. He defers to his uncle, but the guy is a putz. He takes up with a woman, but she brings him even more confusion, while simultaneously bringing him hope.

Documentaries are When Comedy Went to School and AKA Doc Pomus. Comedy looks at the multiplicity of classic Jewish comedians, from the late Sid Caesar to Jerry Lewis, who kept the air filled with laughter in upstate New York. Their proteges, such as Jerry Seinfeld and Billy Crystal, weigh in. The heart of the festival is found in Doc Pomus, a tender, wholly satisfying ode to its title character. You can’t help but be as swept up and charmed by this portly, wheelchair-ridden Jewish music man as his beautiful lovers and fellow musicians (John Lennon, Bob Dylan) were. Battling the odds his whole life, beginning with paralysis from polio as a boy, he – a white Jew – became a blues singer and eventually one of the greatest lyricists of the early rock era, penning such treasured oldies as Save the Last Dance for Me – one of the era’s most famous dance songs, though he himself would never be able to dance – and This Magic Moment. This film is like a great big nostalgic hug.

the TICKET stub
When: March 1-14
Where: Doris Duke Theatre
Cost: $10 per general feature
More Info: 532-8701,honolulumuseum.org


Gritty Student Fare

Harkening back to my own student acting days, what a sublime thrill it was – those inaugural opening-night butterflies. Your weeks of studying, research, gut-searching, line repetition and tonal exploration while mirror-gazing about to pay off.

The time of reckoning for Windward Community College’s dramatic production students is Feb. 28, with shows of Battle of Will running through March 9 at Paliku Theatre (235-7310, etickethawaii.com). These student-actors perhaps bring fervor beyond that of seasoned actors to their performance because they are graded for their work. Director Taurie Kinoshita chose the play by French playwright Laurent Gaude to introduce the 10 students in the cast and four backstage students to realism.

“The play has engaging ganster-plotlines, nuanced characters, yet tons of philosophy,” says Kinoshita. “Sort of how Pulp Fiction is really about being your brother’s keeper and shepherding the weak, it’s the same with Battle of Will. The message is there in the action and some beautiful imagery, yet its mostly fun realism.”

Peopled with a racy assortment of gravediggers, killers, lost girls and more, the recommended audience is age 17 and older.