Monday, November 26, 2007


Yiddish Theater: A Love Story (2006)
Fight to Keep a Language on the Stage

Published: November 21, 2007
When the Israeli filmmaker Dan Katzir met Zypora Spaisman, the Polish-born “Yiddish diva” and onetime mainstay of the Folksbiene Yiddish Theater (today called the National Yiddish Theater-Folksbiene), the result was a project he had never planned to make.

Filmed in real time during the freezing winter of 2000, “Yiddish Theater: A Love Story” tracks eight days in the failing life of the Yiddish Public Theater, founded by Ms. Spaisman (who died in 2002) after her separation from the Folksbiene in 1998. But as we watch the dwindling audiences and desperate fund-raising attempts, the survival of the theater becomes the gateway to a passionate argument for the survival of an entire culture.

Peopled by famous names from the Yiddish stage — Felix Fibich, Seymour Rexite — the film is by turns cranky, funny, wistful and resolute. Jack Lebewohl, the owner of the original Second Avenue Deli, proudly shows off the Yiddish Walk of Fame, while the salty Mr. Rexite (who also died in 2002) rushes us through the invaluable archive of the Hebrew Actors Union. Hoping for more discourse, his director encouragingly mentions the 1,000-year history of the Yiddish language. “I know that; I wasn’t there at the time,” is Mr. Rexite’s priceless response.

That language, and its abandonment, is the melancholy heart of “Yiddish Theater,” lending the film direction and depth of purpose. When asked why so many Jews voluntarily relinquished it, the author Nahma Sandrow is clear: “It was the language of the dead.” Ms. Spaisman would have furiously disagreed.


A Love Story

Opens today in Manhattan.

Directed by Dan Katzir; written (in English and Yiddish, with English subtitles) by Mr. Katzir and Ravit Markus; director of photography, Mr. Katzir; edited by Neta Dvorkis and Adam Shell; produced by Ms. Markus and Yael Katzir; released by New Love Films. At the Two Boots Pioneer Theater, 155 East Third Street, at Avenue A, East Village. Running time: 1 hour 20 minutes. This film is not rated.

by Ella Taylor
November 20th, 2007 1:14 PM
Yiddish Theater: A Love Story
Directed by Dan Katzir
Two Boots Pioneer November 21 through 28
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Yiddish Theater: A Love Story
Tracking Shots by Ella Taylor

It took seven years for Israeli filmmaker Dan Katzir to raise funds for a documentary about one week in the death of New York City's last surviving regular Yiddish theater. Focused on the iconic Folksbiene troupe as it performs the legendary play Green Fields to great notices and next to no audience, Yiddish Theater: A Love Story offers a tribute to the perseverance of 84-year-old Zypora Spaisman, a Polish Holocaust survivor and all-around great dame who did more than most to keep the theater's flame burning. Behind her story is a sadder tale of Jewish cultural decline and the limits of the vaunted Yiddish revival, as Spaisman and producer David Romeo strive quixotically to raise enough money to open a new theater on Broadway. Lively talking heads lay out the reasons for the decay of Yiddish culture—just as the Holocaust and Soviet anti-Semitism killed off seminal Yiddish writers, creeping secularism and Israeli ambivalence about cultural heritage replaced Yiddish with modern Hebrew. What's missing from this gentle homage—perhaps for budgetary reasons—is a sense of the joyful heyday of Yiddish theater, and the richness it brought to the artistic life of Manhattan. A bissel Molly Picon couldn't hurt, could it?

We're all over NY city press.
Here are but a few of those great reviews:


Chronicle of a difficult season for New York's longest-running Yiddish theater
Wednesday, November 21st 2007, 8:51 AM
Yiddish Theater: A Love Story
At the Pioneer (1:20). NR.
In 1915, there were more than a dozen Yiddish theater companies in New York City. In 2000, when Dan Katzir filmed this touching, if uneven, documentary, just one of those was left - and its future was, to say the least, bleak.

As the movie begins, the heart and soul of the Folksbiene Theater is Zypora Spaisman, a Holocaust survivor who serves as star, ticket taker, and, when necessary, stage sweeper. Though in her eighties and facing nearly-empty houses every night, she refuses to give up, spurring everyone else in the company to similar optimism.

Katzir is an accomplished Israeli director, but this film feels hastily assembled, and is not helped by his awkward narration. Certainly, there are other movies (like “The Komediant”) that offer a richer history of Yiddish theater. But this is an important New York story, and Spaisman makes an inspiring subject - so inspiring, in fact, that the Folksbiene is currently celebrating its 93rd season.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

One more Jewish weblog wrote about us: Jewcy. And so they wrote:

new film by award winning Israeli filmmaker Dan Katzir ("Out for back shortly") opens theatrically in NYC.

Katzir's new hip film about the edgy old Yiddish diva who kept Yiddish theater alive in the US.
Katzir, an unsentimental Sabra stumbles across a troupe of some of the last legends of the Yiddish stage. They annoy him and he annoys them back.
Slowly Katzir falls in love with the magic of this endangered culture. Katzir, in his famous first touching person point shows the humour and sadness in making Jewish culture in the US today.

From the Press:
"The story of how important life is and how beautiful it can be"