Jewish Film Fest in Carmel reveals comedy, despair in Jewish life, and provides solid schooling on Hava Nagila.
Thursday, March 7, 2013
Whether or not you’ve ever been hoisted high in a chair, by four somewhat inebriated men, to the tune of “Hava Nagila,” you’ve at least observed a boisterous dance to the tune at a wedding or bar mitzvah, in person or in a movie.
And that’s probably been enough to lodge the catchy tune in your head. It certainly was for Los Angeles-based director Roberta Grossman, whose new documentary, Hava Nagila (The Movie), explores the indefinitely hummable melody.
“And then, it happens—something lights up in your DNA,” Grossman intones over scenes of a bar mitzvah. “You’re pulled by this ancient Jewy force to the dance floor.”
As it turns out, Hava Nagila presents a window not just into ethnomusicology, but 150 years of Jewish migration, religious practice and Israeli history.
“It was there during the flowering of the Hasidic movement in Eastern Europe, and conscious creation of Jewish life in Palestine,” Grossman says. “Then it became a very good place for young American Jews in the ’60s and ’70s to rebel. It’s got a lot of layers.”
Some of those layers have more to do with pop culture than Judaism: Harry Belafonte (who appears in the film) became an important ambassador for the tune with a famed rendition at the Village Vanguard in New York.
Grossman traces the song’s obscure origins—a wordless prayer song in 19th-century Ukraine—with lots of comedy along the way, but also conflict. Two families each claim they’re descended from the composer, an unresolved dispute involving big sums in royalties.
Hava makes an ideal kick-off to the third annual Jewish Film Festival at Congregation Beth Israel (see schedule below).
“The purpose is to reach out to the community in general, to help educate them about various issues and Jewish culture,” festival Chairperson Susan Greenbaum says. Non-Jews made up about 20 percent of last year’s audience, and she sees the festival as an opportunity for schooling Jews and non-Jews on Jewish traditions, and correcting what she views as assumed inaccuracies.
Grossman’s there with in-depth archival research to perfect the record, and something more: “Hava Nagila had been a really important part of my childhood,” she says. “Those were very powerful moments for me, holding hands with my mother and my grandmother.”
THE JEWISH INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL screens at Congregation Beth Israel, 5716 Carmel Valley Road, Carmel. $10/members, $40/five tickets; $12/general, $50/five tickets; opening night reception/$10; closing night dinner/$15. 624-2015, www.carmelbethisrael.org
MIX OF SIX: JFF Movie Schedule
Hava Nagila (The Movie) | 7:15pm Sun March 10
(See story.) Rated G, 73 min. Opening reception begins at 6:30pm; Q&A with the director follows.
Noodle | 7:15pm Tues March 12
In this comic drama, an El-Al flight attendant’s well-regulated existence takes surprising turns after meeting an abandoned Chinese boy whose mother was deported from Israel. Directed by Ayelet Menahemi, rated PG, 90 min., Hebrew with English subtitles.
Arranged | 7:15pm Thur March 14
When an Orthodox Jewish woman and an observant Muslim woman meet as first-year teachers at a Brooklyn public school, friendship seems improbable. But they learn about surprising similarities. Directed by Diane Crespo and Stefan Schaefer, rated PG-13, 90 min.
The Day I Saw Your Heart | 7:30pm Sat March 16
Nothing like a neurotic, middle-aged Jewish dad to disrupt the romantic machinations of a 20-something woman who’s fallen for a shoe salesman. When she finds out her dad and his young second wife are expecting a baby, this comedy takes a melodramatic turn. Directed by Jennifer Devoldêre, rated R, 98 min., French with English subtitles. 6:30pm dessert reception.
Strangers No More | 4pm Sun March 17
The children at Bialik-Rogozin School in Tel Aviv have endured more hardship than most of us ever will: Coming together from 48 countries some of them have fled for poverty, oppression and violence. This winner of the 2011 Academy Award for best short documentary tells their stories. Directed by Karen Goodman and Kirk Simon, rated G, 40 min., Hebrew with English subtitles.
Beautiful Music | Sun March 17 double feature begins approx. 4:45pm
This documentary offers a glimpse of what peace could look like through the story of Devorah Schramm, an Orthodox Jewish pianist living in Israel, as she teaches piano to a 9-year-old blind and autistic Palestinian girl during the worst days of the Intifada. Directed by Richard Trank, rated G, 38 min.
Kaddish for a Friend | 7pm Sun March 17
This directorial debut tells the stirring tale of an elderly Jewish war veteran whose Berlin apartment is ransacked by a neighboring Palestinian refugee as the two then develop a fragile friendship. Directed by Leo Khasin, rated PG-13, 93 min., German, Arabic and Russian with English subtitles. Closing night dinner reception at 5:45pm.
• The piano is on a revival tour. Play Me, I’m Yours – Monterey 2013 is part of a 30-city public installation artwork by British artist Luke Jerram in which upright pianos are donated, painted and placed out in public for anyone to play at any time. Since 2008, there have been 700 such painted pianos. At 4:30pm on March 8, at Del Monte Center outside of Macy’s, Monterey’s 10 street piano locations will be revealed at a public kick-off event with local piano-man Michael Martinez. The public display of affection for the piano will last through March 24. And should you find one of the street pianos, you can record your interaction with it and share it at www.MontereyPianos.com or Twitter (#streetpianos), and add your accompaniment to the bigger story of the piano.
• One may want to refer to NBC hit show Parks and Recreation when thinking about the Monterey Peninsula Regional Park District. But it’s not an apt comparison next week when, March 14, they offer two-day, $200 Wilderness First Aid training for snake bites, heat stroke, falling off cliffs or broken bones for back-country trekkers five miles from a trailhead. It’s more geared for outdoor guides and pros than the general public; for the rest of us, we’ll have to tune in to another TV show that the event harkens to – Discovery Channel’s Dual Survival.
• Last Saturday the Creative Tech Expo, founded in 2008, unveiled a diverse assortment of gadgetry (like a remote-controlled five-prop hovering craft) and technology info from vendors like the Naval Postgraduate School and Salinas Public Library’s CoderDojo at Hartnell College’s vast Steinbeck Hall. About 150 students bussed in from Rancho Cielo to Alisal High to North County High soaked up the afternoon of inspiration, headlined by presentations by the Zero1 Festival ED Joel Slayton and CSUMB film chair Enid Baxter Blader. The tweet from student Betty Ramirez hit the main point: “had hella fun : )”
• The Monterey Institute of International Studies and the Monterey Museum of Art-Pacific are neighbors – just blocks away from each other – so it seems a natural synergy that MIIS students are getting a showcase there. De Nicaragua frames about 25 photographs and interview excerpts that MIIS students Natalie Alfaro and Karla Micheli brought back from their education and development work in the Central American country last summer. Nicaragua’s survived a hell of a few decades; here’s a revisitation at how it’s looking now in the areas of education, women’s issues, politics and economics. The work is up through April 14.
• The Independent Photographers, comprised of “both experienced and inexperienced photographers [who] meet to share prints and ideas,” convene 7pm Monday, March 11, at Outcalt Chapel of the Community Church of the Monterey Peninsula, 4590 Carmel Valley Road.