A Busy Weekend

The Israel Film Festival kicks off in the coming week, with the usual full slate of films and guest appearances by filmmakers, actors and the like. I interviewed Meir Fenigstein, the founder of the festival and still its director after nearly a quarter-century, and preview the first batch of features in this week's Jewish Week.

Amos Gitai, still the best filmmaker to come out of Israel, is the subject of a mini-series dedicated to several of his documentaries, virtually unseen here, at the Museum of Modern Art. I chatted with MoMA curator Larry Kardish about the series here. The trigger for the event is a week-long run of Gitai's most recent documentary, News From Home/News From House. Both the series and the new film open today at MoMA.

Gitai began his career as an architecture student, largely as a tribute to his recently deceased father, Munio Weintraub Gitai, a Bauhaus alumnus who was instrumental in the creation of Israel’s first architectural education programs. But he was even more interested in becoming a filmmaker and for a decade after he completed studies at UC-Berkeley, he made a wide range of short documentaries for Israeli television. His world was spinning on greased grooves until 1980, when he decided to make a 51-minute documentary about the rebuilding of a house in West Jerusalem. Abandoned by its Palestinian owner in the chaos of the ’48 war, by 1980 the house had been acquired by an Israeli professor with definite ideas about transforming it into a showplace. Gitai focused as much on the Palestinian construction workers, the original owners and the neighbors as on the professor, never hiding the tensions on the worksite. The result was his first encounter with government censorship as the network refused to broadcast the film.

Eighteen years later, Gitai revisited the house for a second film, “A House in Jerusalem,” and last year, he made one more pilgrimage to the building for his most recent documentary, News from Home/News From House, a handsome and intelligent rumination on more than two decades of uneasy living in the middle of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In truth, although Gitai has used the house as a lens through which he views the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the house is actually more interesting as a vehicle for Gitai to explore the lives of the workers and inhabitants than as a metaphor for the Middle East. I suspect that familiarity with the two earlier films would help an audience to appreciate the final chapter of this trilogy, but it is compelling even without such knowledge.


In a very different vein, I have to recommend an excellent, educational and very entertaining talk on a somewhat unlikely subject of obituaries. If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know that my wife, Margalit Fox, is a writer for the New York Times in their obits section. Contrary to most people's expectations, the job is neither morbid nor dull, and on Wednesday, October 29, she'll tell you why, if you are in midtown Manhattan at 6:30 p.m. The event takes place at the Mid-Manhattan Library.

"Come On Over to the Dark Side: The Obituary as Social History" is the title of her presentation and I can tell you -- and I am, honestly, an unbiased observer -- no, really I am -- having heard her deliver it twice, that it's fascinating and quite funny. For more information, go here.

If you are one of those folks who is obsessed with seeing what your favorite bloggers are really like, I'll be there too, so you can find out.

(For some reason that reminds me of a famous exchange between Ralph Kiner and Mets catcher Choo-Choo Coleman. Kiner asked Coleman where he got his nickname, to which he replied, "I don't know." Kiner, no doubt thinking that this wasn't going real well, tried an even more innocuous question, "What's your wife's name and what's she like." Coleman replied, "Her name is Mrs. Coleman and she likes me." Indeed. Well, as Casey Stengel said when asked why the Mets' first choice in the expansion draft was Hobie Landrith, said, "You gotta have a catcher or you'll have nothing but passed balls." Coleman was about as useful a choice as Landrith.)