Hey, for those of you who didn’t know this, San Francisco has the oldest Jewish film festival going. I’m a major fan and multiyear devotee, despite the balagan of long lines and anxious ticket holders. I love the lineup of weird little documentaries, new Israeli features and especially, the films from around the world looking at Jewish stories through Mexican, French, Egyptian, and Russian lenses.
I missed much of the festival this year due to travel, but caught two films. The first was 9 Star Hotel, an overly long but totally compelling Israeli documentary about the lives of Palestinian workers hiding out in the hills near Modi’in to make a living building that city. Ido Haar’s film showed you the human side of these illegal workers without any angry posturing about the conflict or who’s right and wrong.
The unbelievable thing to me was that he made this film without any knowledge of Arabic. During the Q&A, Haar talked about how the subjects didn’t really start relaxing around him until he stopped bringing his translator along, so he was forced to just shoot hours and hours of footage and work with a translator in the edit. Wow. Painful.
Then last night, I saw the closing film in the festival, Making Trouble: Three Generations of Funny Jewish Women, a montage-and-talking-heads nostalgia piece profiling six Jewish women in comedy, produced by the Jewish Women’s Archive.
This film relied on talking heads in a way that generally puts me to sleep, but did its job admirably: exposing me to the riches of the Archive – clips of old Yiddish theater and film, and rare filmed performances shot “before the war.” The vignettes of six women were inserted between clips of a Katz’s Deli schmoozefest of contemporary women comics, including Judy Gold, who revved up the crowd at the Castro with a short set of gay, Jewish, and born-to-a-negative-mom jokes before the film.
Obviously, the producers could have looked at any of hundreds of women comics. They focused on Molly Picon, Fanny Brice, Sophie Tucker, Joan Rivers, Wendy Wasserstein and Gilda Radner. With the exception of Wasserstein (whom I’m going to go out on a limb and call a playwright), these were excellent choices. I’m embarrassed how little I knew about the insouciant Picon and the hilarious Tucker, and my familiarity with Brice was limited to Streisand imitations. The audience was crazy for the Gilda sequences (it seems that it might be illegal, or at least inhuman not to love Gilda Radner) and the film gave me the heart-wrenching back-story on Joan Rivers. I’d had no idea why she is so fierce (and so weird) until I saw the often very sad and surprising story of her life. More please!
More or less a good time. Sure, I could have done without the line wrapping to Noe Street, the cranky volunteers who didn’t believe I was with the press (too sexy, huh?), the inconsolable bitch at the end of my row too busy shushing people to watch the film, the male editor on the stage who took most of the Q&A before Heather Gold called him out for hogging the mic from his three women colleagues, and the general oh-my-g-d-there-aren’t-going-to-be-enough-seats anxiety level that my fellow Yidden supplied.
Here’s my question: What will we be watching from the Archive when *I’m* a senior? (Please don’t tell me it’s going to be a white-haired Sarah Silverman telling doodie jokes.)