An Unlikely Documentary Subject, but . . . .

The internal connivings of state legislators are seldom a subject for surprise. (Hey, another power in the NY State Senate is facing indictment, according to today's 'papers.) But a little corruption is preferable to a completely rigged system, and that is what most state legislatures are aiming for in the year after a new census. Gerrymandering of congressional districts isn't exactly a new subject either; Eldbridge Gerry, who gave the term his name, was governor of Massachusetts in 1812 when he signed the first blatantly crooked redistricting scheme in that state's history. Anyone who watched the machinations of Tom "The Convicted Felon" DeLay vis-a-vis the Texas state legislature has an inkling of what is at stake and what can happen to the most elementary rules of fair play. Still, it's an unikely subject for a documentary film, which makes Jeff Reichert's new film Gerrymandering a wild card. Typically, the film has not found a theatrical distributor, but it is turning up in community venues around the country and is available on DVD from the filmmakers. The latest public screening is scheduled for New York City on Thursday March 17, 6 p.m. at Congregation Rodeph Sholem (7 W. 83rd St.). A panel discussion will follow. The event is hosted by two New York state legislators who have been very involved in this issue, State Senator Adriano Espaillat (coincidentally, my state senator) and Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries.

I always berate people who don't vote by noting that at any moment somewhere in the world, someone is -- literally -- dying for the right that they are neglecting. Of course, if the deck is stacked, the meaningfulness of that right is diminished, if not destroyed.


Meanwhile, back in the relatively benign world of motion pictures (Hey, we don't got no Charlie Sheen or Galliano in MovieWorld. Just Mel Gibson), allow me to pull your coat to a lovely little documentary on a more visually compelling subject than state legislatures, avant-garde art, its suppression and preservation. The Desert of Forbidden Art, which opens tomorrow, is a frequently ravishing and often amusing tale of the unlikeliest cache of great art in modern times, a back-of-beyond collection saved from Stalin by a failed-painter-turned-archeologist-turned-art-dealer. My review is here, and I recommend the film wholeheartedly.

Ronit Alkabetz, the excellent Israeli actress, is something of a work of art herself, a star-in-the-making who channels the unconventional spirit of the great Barbara Stanwyck in her best work. Alkabetz is the center of this year's Sephardic Jewish Film Festival, and you can read my take on her and it here.