Yiddish cinema was the product of a changing world and a desire to hold onto traditions and ideals that were being questioned by the majority of Jews. In the 1920s, it was a showcase for Yiddish theater in Eastern Europe, evolving into a true film form through its Golden Age in both Poland and the United States in the 1930s. While Hollywood’s filmmakers presented a picture of the American ‘melting pot’ and their own desire to assimilate into American society, Yiddish filmmakers celebrated the beauty and particularity of Jewish life and culture. Most recently, there has been a renaissance of Yiddish cinema. The weekend seminar will celebrate and study Yiddish films and its impact on world cinema through screenings and post-screening discussions with filmmakers and academics.
Adaptations from the Yiddish Classics
(1997, 93 min., Hebrew with English subtitles, Israel), dir: Yossi Somer
Israeli writers Eyal Sher and Yossi Somer adapted S. Anski’s literary classic “The Dybbuk” into a modern story, set in Jerusalem. The 1937 Yiddish film classic finds new meaning in this adaptation when Somer transfers this magnificent drama of unrequited adulation, mysticism and superstition into a powerful contemporary story of a young couple, very much attached to each other, undeterred by forces around them from transcending all obstacles to consummate their love. Starring Yehezkel Lazarov & Ayelet Zurer.
SPEAKER: Director Yossi Somer
Yiddish Literature through Cinema
(2018, 76 min., Hebrew, English & Yiddish- English subtitles, Israel) dir: Uri Barbash
This film, made eight years after the death of Sutskever, considered one of the greatest Yiddish poets of all time, incorporates his life story with his work. The man who led the Paper Brigade underground movement that saved Jewish manuscripts from the Nazis, survived the war due to Stalin sending a private rescue plane, testified in the Nuremburg Trials, and immigrated to Israel in 1947 where he promoted Yiddish culture, while writing with astonishing intensity.
SPEAKER: Producer Yair Qedar
The Legacy of Sholem Aleichem’s Tevye der Milkhiker
(1939, 93 min., Yiddish with English subtitles, USA), dir: Maurice Schwartz
The adaptation of Sholem Aleichem's now classic story, made decades before "Fiddler On The Roof," in which one of the daughters, Khave, falls in love with and marries a Gentile. This intermarriage places Tevye's paternal affection in direct conflict with his deep commitment to religious tradition. The film was shot on Long Island, New York, but it truly looks like Ukraine. With Maurice Schwartz as Tevye. Also starring Miriam Riselle and Leon Liebgold.
SPEAKER: Dr. Eric Goldman
Emmanuel Finkiel is a child of Holocaust survivors, who is one of the few filmmakers today who has a deep love for Yiddish language and culture and who has represented that in some of his work, most recently inserting a Jewish character who sings a Yiddish lullaby in LA DOULEUR (2017), a film based on the novel by Marguerite Duras. We will have an opportunity to watch representative films and meet the French filmmaker, who will discuss his work, in conversation with Dr. Goldman.
(1995, 40 min., French and Yiddish with English subtitles, France) dir: Emanuel Finkiel
Elderly Jews, whose lives come converge, gather on a promenade in Cannes, where they reminisce and even flirt with each other. The interchanges speak to a Yiddish world that is steeped in history and memory. Winner of the César- France’s Academy Award- for best short film of the year.
(1999, 115 min., French and Yiddish with English subtitles, France) dir: Emanuel Finkiel
This is a movie with three separate intersecting stories, loosely tied together, of three Holocaust survivors as they travel the world in search of different kinds of closure. In one, Rivka confronts her loveless life that had been her existence. In the next, Régine is reunited after fifty years, with a man claiming to be her father. The last segment has Vera traveling from Moscow to Israel, in search of a lost cousin. Winner of the César for best first film.
(1936, 115 min., Yiddish with English subtitles, Poland) dir: Joseph Green and Jan Nowina-Przybylski
Joseph Green returned to his native Poland from the United States to make a film that would usher in “The Golden Age of Yiddish Cinema,” which would continue until the outbreak of the war. Molly Picon flew in from Paris to play a young woman who poses as a man in order to join a band of musicians traveling the Polish countryside. Yidl falls in love with one of her colleagues with delightfully humorous results. Filled with music and charm, Molly, in her greatest role, amuses and entertains. Also with Simche Fostel, Max Bozyk and Leon Liebgold.
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