Woody Allen doco headlines Jewish themes in Sydney Film Festival 2012

The following article appeared in the Australian Jewish News on Thursday 31 May 2012:

For thousands of dedicated Sydney film-goers, the Queens Birthday long weekend is cold, dark and … the most exciting time of the year.  The reason?  The Sydney Film Festival (SFF), now in its 59th year, starts then. SFF is not Australia’s oldest (Melbourne wins that contest by three years), but is much beloved by successive generations of film aficionados.

Although the SFF does not have a “Jewish quota” (thank goodness), it does have an official “Jewish interest” category and each year introduces a number of unusual, intelligent and unseen new films that illuminate the world Jewish experience. In their own way, these films represent the latest Jewish currents, obsessions and antagonisms.

Undoubtedly the Jewish highlight of this year’s festival is “Woody Allen: A Documentary”, a feature-length examination of the New York Jewish actor, director, comedian and scriptwriter, directed by Robert B Weide.  This film serves as both an introduction to Allen’s personal journey and his extraordinary body of films.  It’s also a truly entertaining experience, lavishly illustrated by his work.  Allen’s films have ranged from the boyishly comic (“Bananas”) to the dreary (“Interiors”, anyone?) to the classic “(“Annie Hall”). And at age 76, he still captures the audience with hits such as the recent “Midnight in Paris”.

Allen singlehandedly has introduced his own Jewish screen stereotype: the nerdy, anxious, physically underdeveloped and intellectually overdeveloped, sex-obsessed Jewish male, to which almost all contemporary Jewish screen comics owe a great debt: think Ben Stiller, Jason Segel, Seth Rogen, Paul Rudd and Jonah Hill. “Woody Allen: A Documentary” tells us more about him than we thought possible, including interviews with his mother, sister, biographer, numerous ex-girlfriends, producers and managers. We follow his career from his early hard-working years as a terrified but game comic to his continued insistence on directing a film every year, writing his notes on long yellow paper and typing his scripts on an original typewriter.

This is the Australian premiere of the film, which first screened in the USA on PBS in November 2011.  You can view the trailer for the film below:

Since the documentary “Waltz With Bashir”, we are no longer surprised when Israeli film-makers produce captivating and truly original films. But still, “The Law in These Parts” manages to illuminate a surprisingly unseen aspect of Israeli political life. The film shows how IDF lawyers created a new “rule of law” in the occupied territories that has helped to enable the resumption of Arab lands and effectively assisted the expansion of settlements. “The Law in These Parts” is unashamedly a left-wing critique of Israeli society, however it does so not by polemic but by simply allowing retired Israeli army officers describe what they did and how they did it.  You can watch the trailer for this film by clicking on the link below:

By contrast, a different style of documentary film, “El Gusto”, illustrates some fascinating new currents in French Jewish life. Like the drama “Free Men” (featured in the French Film Festival in March), “El Gusto” portrays a world where Jews and Muslims not only co-exist, but do so with enormous shared culture. In this case, it’s “chaabi”, a unique form of popular music which Jewish and Muslim musicians created in Algeria in the first half of the twentieth century, and which was virtually obliterated by 1954 Algerian independence. This film follows reunion of these Jewish and Muslim musicians, culminating in emotional concerts.  Watch the trailer for this film by clicking below:

Other Jewish highlights of the festival include American-Jewish actor-director Josh Radnor’s romantic comedy “Liberal Arts”, Jason Segel in “Jeff, Who Lives at Home” and Daniel Martinico’s uncompromising “Ok, Good”. The Festival also features “Dead Europe”, the new Australian film directed by Tony Krawitz and produced by Emile Sherman, both official guests.

The Sydney Film Festival runs from Wednesday 6th through Sunday 17th June, at the State Theatre and other venues.


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