Friday, January 25, 2008

Encino Sun Article

Categories: FEATURES
Date: Jan 24, 2008
Title: Yiddish Theater highlights struggle to preserve a dying art
BY S.A. DEDDO
The title of the 2006 documentary Yiddish Theater: A Love Story is, to a certain extent, misleading. Yiddish theater, a movement of plays written for and by Jewish artists in the Yiddish language, is not the star of this story. The “Love Story” part is the main focus.

Yiddish Theater highlights struggle to preserve a dying art

BY S.A. DEDDO

The title of the 2006 documentary Yiddish Theater: A Love Story is, to a certain extent, misleading.

Yiddish theater, a movement of plays written for and by Jewish artists in the Yiddish language, is not the star of this story. The “Love Story” part is the main focus – a passionate affair between the Yiddish stage and a seemingly frail little woman from the old country. Her name is Zypora Spaisman, and though you may not have heard of her, many have been moved by her inspiring life.

Dan Katzir, an Israeli documentary filmmaker, met Spaisman in December, 2000 while on holiday in New York City. He spent his weeklong vacation documenting Spaisman’s struggle to keep her critically acclaimed but financially faltering Yiddish Public Theater alive.

Katzir appears in voice only in Yiddish Theater: A Love Story, serving as both narrator and interviewer. So when he arrived in person at a special question and answer session January 18 following a screening of the film at the Laemmle Encino Town Center 5, audience members found the acclaimed Jewish filmmaker a young, handsome man – who didn’t even speak Yiddish himself.

“People have told me that I have an old soul,” he told attendees. “And I tried to tell Zypora’s story with a younger person’s eyes.”

Yiddish Theater: A Love Story documents the life of Spaisman, a feisty widow in her eighties and Holocaust survivor living alone in New York City. She’s trying to raise enough money to guarantee the survival of the theater she founded – the Yiddish Public Theater, one of the last of its kind.

Katzir is as passionate about getting his documentary out to the masses as Spaisman was about getting audiences into her theater. They both struggled with the same problem – Yiddish is a dying language.

But Katzir’s film has two advantages. First, it is told in English (with a few subtitles), and second, it is easily accessible to audiences across Los Angeles. Katzir’s main battle has been getting the word out about his film, and the audience focused on that during the Q&A, one of many he and producer Ravit Markus have been holding across L.A.

“Why don’t you get this film shown at Skirball [Cultural Center]?” asked one audience member.

“To them, I’m just another vendor trying to sell a product,” Katzir replied. “But if you called them and asked to see this film shown there, they would be more likely to respond.”

For a film that has gotten glowing reviews in newspapers across the U.S., including the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, Yiddish Theater: A Love Story seems destined for widespread recognition and “favorite” status among audiences Jewish and non-Jewish, young and old.

For more information on Yiddish Theater: A Love Story, visit the film’s website at www.yiddishtheater.net or www.myspace.com/yiddishtheateralovestory.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

LA WEEKLY
http://www.laweekly.com/stage/theater/when-theater-is-sanctuary-and-not-temple/18180/?page=2

WHEN THEATER IS SANCTUARY AND NOT TEMPLE
Dancing butterflies
BY STEVEN LEIGH MORRIS
Monday, January 21, 2008 - 12:00 pm
At a panel discussion among celebrated playwrights who had worked or were working at the Geffen Playhouse — which hosted the event for its subscribers — artistic director Randall Arney waxed a little too poetic about theater's primal essences and beauty before posing the opening question to any of the eight scribes parked on the stage: "So what draws you back to the theater?" Arney asked. Almost all of them have written for film or TV, where they make so much more money than on the stage.The strike," Neil LaBute quickly replied. (LaBute is the author of Your Friends and Neighbors, The Shape of Things and The Wicker Man.)

LaBute functioned throughout as resident cop, arresting anybody caught with even a few grams of self-importance or inflated entitlement, despite the stash he carries in his own hip pocket.

Jane Anderson, for example(Looking for Normal, The Baby Dance), is one of America's most widely produced playwrights, with a new work staged almost every year at the Actors Theatre of Louisville. She tried to suggest how painful it was for her to write, as though the Geffen's subscribers had paid 25 bucks to hear a wildly successful playwright complain about a labor that nobody asked her to undertake in the first place.

"Who likes to write?" Anderson asked, rhetorically.

"I do," LaBute piped in.

"Every time you write, the bar is higher," Anderson retorted, hoping we would share her pain.

"Not for me," LaBute shot back. "For me the bar gets lower."

Skepticism was in the air. Arney introduced Adrian Pasdar and Marcus Hummon, co-creators of the Geffen's critically excoriated Civil War musical Atlanta, and praised their creativity, adding that Atlanta was slated to close the following week.

"Not a day too soon," the gent next to me muttered to himself.

On the verities of theater, Pasdar remarked that "the closest thing to an empty theater is an empty church."

Donald Margulies (Dinner With Friends, The Model Apartment, Collected Stories) stepped in to bring down the rising hot-air balloon, but even he was not safe from Police Sergeant LaBute.

On teaching playwriting, Margulies said "there is no right way to do anything — sex, writing, anything. Everybody is going to find his own way."

"Actually, with sex there is a right way," LaBute interjected. "It was really helpful to learn. I've become a Casanova."

"I brought up sex," Margulies lamented. "I never should have done that."

"It's not a choice," said Joan Rivers of working in the theater. (Her autobiographical solo performance, Joan Rivers: A Work in Progress by a Life in Progress,opens at the Geffen next month.) "It's a calling. You just have to do this. Success is just, 'Fuck you, if the window is shut, I'll find the door. If the door is shut, I'll climb in under.'"

The paradox of all this religiosity about doing theater comes from the chastening reality that we live in a commercial culture, and theater has almost always been a money-losing proposition. I doubt that in ancient Greece people talked about theater as a temple. They didn't have to. It was already part of a religious service honoring Dionysus. Do you hear football players talking about the Super Bowl as a temple? No need, it's understood.

On the way out, the gent next to me ran into a female friend, and they launched into a conversation in Yiddish — a blend of German and Hebrew widely spoken throughout Eastern Europe in the early 20th century and subsequently in New York, to which those persecuted Ashkenazi Jews emigrated. The woman spoke of the need to keep the dying language alive, adding that she has childhood memories of her grandmother speaking Yiddish.

Something similar happened in December 2000, on a New York subway, when Israeli filmmaker Dan Katzir struck up a conversation with 88-year-old Zypora Spaisman, who was struggling to keep her Yiddish Public Theater solvent. She'd founded the YPT in the Lower East Side after retiring at age 84 from New York's other Yiddish ensemble, the Folksbiene Theatre, where she'd been the troupe's leading lady for 42 years.

On the subway, Spaisman shamed Katzir for not knowing a word of Yiddish and encouraged him to film a documentary about the Yiddish Public.

The result is Yiddish Theater: A Love Story,Katzir's wistful and moving portrait of quixotically dedicated artisans playing to half-empty houses, struggling for solvency and relevance — which renders it not just a movie about a theater in particular, but about the theater in general.

In one scene, we see Spaisman slicing a boiled chicken in the kitchen of her tiny apartment as she answers the question of why she fled Eastern Europe: "It vas because of, [pause] vat's his name. He vanted to kill me, the German, you think he wanted to kiss me?"

That contrapuntal blend of heartbreak and humor propels the film, as it does the Yiddish tongue. Cross-fade to octogenarian Spaisman in a black coat, carefully negotiating icy streets on her way to the limelight in a dying theater that represents a dying culture. Though they would never admit it, a dying art form is what the discussion at the Geffen was really about, masked with references to temples and churches. But there's a larger point about an embattled art form, culture or tongue, which Katzir ruefully pointed out to me recently as we sat in a coffee shop outside the Sunset 5, where his film was being screened: "It can take a thousand years for a language to die." (For a YouTube trailer for the film, go to
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UzJynjw_4dw.)

Sometimes I think the theater is not so much a temple but a sanctuary where people try to save butterflies from the storm, to hold them in the cup of their clutched hands.

The memorial for Gar Campbell last week at Pacific Resident Theatre in Venice underscored the primal, human need to hold butterflies, as if they were spirits on the brink of slipping up and away.

"We just wanted to bring him back," said colleague Richard Fancy. There was no shortage of people on hand to remember the actor-playwright-director-teacher-photographer, who died of colon cancer on December 20 at age 64. The overflow crowd spilled into the adjoining studio theater, where the testimonies were broadcast. The assemblage — from aging hippies to teenage students packed cross-legged in the front of the hall — was evidence that someone like Campbell who avoids the spotlight can touch a theater community as profoundly as a leading player, if not more so. (Campbell stopped acting — and drinking — to pursue his callings as a teacher and director, what Fancy described as "service.")

A lifetime smoker, Campbell was a lanky fellow known for his headscarves and fedoras. Said longtime friend Andrew Parks, Campbell was so stylish, heads would turn when he walked into the 901 bar near USC, where they studied theater: "Women followed him like ducklings. He was a dark, bad boy, and I didn't work that side of the street."

He was known for a wry, sideways turn of his head — "as though he was adjusting to a good idea," Parks noted — when he was probably just trying to hear what was being said to him, as he'd lost hearing in one ear.

Campbell co-founded the Company Theatre on La Cienega, which was comprised of USC graduates and enjoyed a 12-year run from 1967 to 1979. It was an ensemble that possessed "a combination of talents and a creative force that has never been matched in Los Angeles," said former L.A. Times drama critic Sylvie Drake.

A stream of actors spoke of Campbell's skill at fathoming the mystery of a scene with a few succinct words.

Suddenly, the room was filled with the sweet, sardonic strains of Parks singing "Dancing Butterfly," a song Campbell had written for his play Creatures.

Parks and Campbell's partner, Marilyn Fox (who's also Pacific Resident Theatre's artistic director), read a scene from the play. One snippet of dialogue speaks volumes about all that's wrong with our theater, and all that can be right about it:

"I will spend my life writing poems for you," says Clem Caterpillar to his "dying" partner, Clara, as she slips away into a cocoon.

"One good one will do," she replies.

YIDDISH THEATER: A LOVE STORY | A film by DAN KATZIR, RAVIT MARKUS and YAEL KATZIR, directed by DAN KATZIR | Presented by NEW LOVE FILMS and LAEMMLE'S GRANDE | Visit www.newlovefilms.com for screening locations and schedule.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Israeli premiere: Yiddish Theater: a love story

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Review Journal.com
(Las Vegas)


Jan. 15, 2008
Copyright © Las Vegas Review-Journal

International Exploration

Film festival selections take audiences around the world

By CAROL CLING
REVIEW-JOURNAL

Wandering the desert has been a Jewish tradition since the Exodus.

And now, in its seventh year, the Las Vegas Jewish Film Festival is doing a bit of wandering too.

After six years at the Suncoast's 16-screen multiplex, the festival has moved -- to not one but two new, and smaller, venues.

Seven of the festival's nine screenings, which begin Wednesday and run through Sunday, will take place at the Summerlin Library's theater. The festival concludes Jan. 27 in the student union theater at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

There's a simple explanation, according to festival founder Joshua Abbey, who heads the Desert Space Foundation, which produces the festival. (The Jewish Community Center of Southern Nevada co-sponsors this year's event.)

Cinemark, the Dallas-based chain that now owns and operates the Suncoast multiplex, "didn't wish to maintain the sponsorship" of the festival established by the previous owners, Century Theatres, Abbey says. "It's a transitional year."

The festival's move to the Summerlin Library and UNLV student union theaters means more than a hundred fewer seats for each screening; the Summerlin theater seats about 290 and the UNLV student union's theater seats 300.

By contrast, the festival's previous home at the Suncoast has more than 400 seats "and we sold that out on numerous occasions," Abbey notes. (In other words, arrive early this year.)

The festival's new venues also mean all but one of the features will be shown on DVD; to compensate, five of the nine screenings will be presented free of charge.

The change in venues also enables Abbey to realize one longtime goal: "to have the festival on both ends of the valley," he explains. "There's been a lot of desire" among Green Valley residents "not to have to schlep over to Summerlin."

But the festival reflects a geographical diversity that extends beyond its dual Las Vegas locations.

The nine featured movies take audiences around the world, from Israel to Argentina, New York to the Ukraine.

"All the films are the top tier" of movies featured "at other major Jewish film festivals," Abbey notes.

That includes two 2006 features that shared Israel's Academy Award for best picture: "Aviva My Love" and "Sweet Mud."

Two documentaries now in theatrical release also highlight the festival: "The Rape of Europa" (short-listed for this year's Academy Awards documentary competition), a documentary about the Nazi plundering of Europe's art treasures during World War II; and "Yiddish: A Love Story," which focuses on a Holocaust survivor's efforts to keep America's last Yiddish theater going.

The festival also spotlights personal labors of love by everybody from Oscar-nominated filmmaker Paul Mazursky ("Yippee: A Journey to Jewish Joy") to Pedro Banchik, a chemical engineer from Buenos Aires, Argentina, whose family-reunion video project ("De Bassarabia a Entre Rios") has become an international success.

Naturally, there's a Las Vegas connection. (There's always a Las Vegas connection.)

It's Banchik's cousin Carlos, a local resident -- recent vice president of Midbar Kodesh Temple in Henderson-- who attended the family reunion in Argentina marking the 100th anniversary of their family's flight from anti-Semitism in the eastern European region of Bessarabia (now located in present-day Moldova) to a new life in Argentina.

Initially, Pedro Banchik intended to make a five-minute video to mark the occasion; instead, he wound up working "20 hours a day" on what became a full-length documentary.

"I didn't have any idea how to make the film," Banchik acknowledges in a telephone interview from his Buenos Aires home. "But when I started to do it, it was like an addiction."

Less than five months later, the finished product -- "a gift to my family" -- attracted such a strong response that Banchik received e-mails and telephone calls from around the world (including one from Israel's Beth Hatefutsoth Museum of the Jewish Diaspora) requesting copies.

It's since been featured at several international film festivals; Banchik plans to attend his film's Jan. 27 screening at UNLV. Argentine officials also have declared it of "cultural interest for the nation" and will be shown "in all the provinces" this year, he says. "I have recognition not only from the Jewish community but the wider community. I'm proud of that."

Unlike Banchik, a newcomer to filmmaking, veteran writer-director Mazursky (whose credits include "An Unmarried Woman," "Harry and Tonto" and "Down and Out in Beverly Hills") makes his documentary debut with "Yippee."

In it, the self-described "secular Jew" takes a "Journey to Jewish Joy" to a small Ukrainian town where thousands of Hasidic Jews gather annually to sing, dance and pray at a renowned rabbi's grave.

Mazursky was inspired to join them after his longtime optician told him the journey had changed his life.

"It was an overwhelming experience," acknowledges Mazursky, who made the journey accompanied by his optician, a Los Angeles rabbi -- and a Moroccan rock 'n' roll musician.

Together, they joined fellow Jews from around the world -- not only Israel and the United States but Britain, France, even India and Cuba.

"You might think they're crazy," Mazursky says of the participants, "but you'll be touched."

That's the reaction "Yiddish Theater: A Love Story" has triggered in viewers, notes director Dan Katzir.

"For me, it was a passion project," he explains, one prompted by a chance meeting on the New York subway with an octogenarian actress and Holocaust survivor, Zypora Spaisman, devoted to keeping America's longest-running Yiddish theater alive.

When Katzir saw Spaisman perform, "I never experienced so much emotions in one play," he recalls. And he told Spaisman, " 'I'm a broke filmmaker, but I want to help you.' "

He did so by documenting her quest with his home video camera. That was seven years ago -- and although the subject of Katzir's documentary didn't live to see its theatrical release, her passion lives on.

"You see her energy and fall in love with her energy," Katzir observes, noting that audiences are "thanking us for making them feel something."

That sort of emotion also marks the enthusiastic response to "The Rape of Europa," notes Neil Friedman, president of Menemsha Films, which is distributing the documentary about how the Nazis tried to plunder Europe's art treasures during World War II. (It was nominated for a Writers' Guild Award last week.)

It's "a real word-of-mouth success," says Friedman, noting successful runs in U.S. theaters from Salt Lake City to Chattanooga, Tenn.

"It's not about death and destruction and the Holocaust," he explains. "It's primarily a film about art."

It also exemplifies the power of documentaries, Friedman says, to illuminate subjects "you may have heard a little bit about, but once you see it, 'Wow, it's all new!' "

That's a quality "The Rape of Europa" shares with "Yiddish Theater: A Love Story," "De Bassarabia a Entre Rios" and other festival features.

After all, Abbey points out, "just because it says 'Jewish Film Festival' doesn't mean it isn't for people" -- of any faith -- "who love good cinema."

Contact reporter Carol Cling at ccling@reviewjournal.com or (702) 383-0272.
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Tuesday, January 08, 2008

ASHLAND DAILY TIDINGS
http://www.dailytidings.com/2008/0105/stories/0105_bp_yiddish_film.php

January 5, 2008
Filmmakers do Yiddish theater a real mitzvah
By Rachel Abramowitz
Los Angeles Times

HOLLYWOOD — Dan Katzir was a thirtysomething Israeli filmmaker on vacation in New York City when he was accosted by 84-year-old Zypora Spaisman on the subway. The bird-weight octogenarian had been a star and director of New York City's Folksbiene, the oldest-running Yiddish theater in America, but when she met Katzir, she was in the midst of her last show, a production of 1916's "Green Fields," for the Yiddish Public Theater, which she founded in 2000.

The play was slated to close in eight days — on New Year's Eve — and Spaisman, desperate to prevent that from happening, was not above soliciting help from attractive young strangers on the R train.

She invited him to see her perform. "I told her I have no plan on seeing a show in Yiddish, but she said, 'Come, just see it,' " recalls Katzir, seven years later. "I just so fell in love with it."

Doing his bit to help, Katzir got out his video camera to document Spaisman's quest in "Yiddish Theater: A Love Story." The film opened in limited release at the end of November and, thanks to strong reviews, has been gaining a steadily larger following among the art-house set ever since.

"As one of the characters in the movie says, 'We live in a "Seinfeld" society,' where everything is fast and quick and edgy but not very emotional," Katzir says. "Meeting her and the (other actors), they're funny, but they're not cynical. This is an ode for this lost and disappearing culture, which still has something to teach all of us about the beauty of emotions."

It's easy to see why Katzir became entranced with Spaisman, who lost 150 family members in the Holocaust but resolutely says in the film, "Hitler couldn't stop me. Stalin couldn't stop me."

Age will certainly not prevent her from doing what she loves best: acting. "Retirement is a death sentence," she says in the film. "People have to live."

The documentary is filled with others caught up in her forceful will, including various other elderly stars of the Yiddish theater like Shifra Lerer (who played Woody Allen's character's mother in "Deconstructing Harry") as well as a young Israeli ingenue who learns her lines phonetically and a tattooed former Hassid from Williamsburg who wound up in his first play because he could speak Yiddish.

There's also the middle-class couple who plowed $70,000 of their savings into the production, and Spaisman's tireless producer, David Romeo, who trudges literally through mounds of snow, all across New York City, trying to raise the $50,000 or so it would take to allow them to move their well-reviewed production to another theater. It's to little avail, as Katzir documents the minute-by-minute expiration of a dream.

His own story has had a happier ending.

On a recent morning, the former paratrooper is sitting at a coffee house in Santa Monica with his producer, the energetic Ravit Markus, not far from a local film house, where their film has been playing for several weeks. Although Katzir has made 10 documentaries, including "Out for Love ... Be Back Shortly," which was a sensation in his home country and appeared on HBO here, getting "Yiddish Theater: A Love Story" seen has proved almost as daunting as trying to save Spaisman's production.

"It took eight days of filming, 40 days of editing and seven years of waiting," Katzir says. They were rebuffed in particular by countless Jewish organizations and film festivals, like the New York Jewish Film Festival, who told them that no one was interested in Yiddish theater.

"Yiddish was a valid culture for 1,100 years, and after World War II, so many Jews began hating this culture with a vengeance," Katzir says. "Maybe some Jews began identifying with Nazi propaganda and began seeing Yiddish culture the way the Nazis saw it, with this kind of contempt. That's sad, because Yiddish is a culture that brought out some of the greatest minds humanity ever had. Freud was a Yiddish speaker. Einstein came to see Yiddish plays. Sholem Aleichem. People forget all the great minds and great culture. They just see it as a culture that had 6 million members murdered, and people are maybe ashamed of it."

Katzir says that his own grandmother, as a child, was part of an organization that roamed the streets of Tel Aviv getting people to speak Hebrew instead of Yiddish. "Even today, a lot of the things that people identify as American Jewish humor, it actually comes from the Yiddish stage."

"They have this laughter through tears thing," says Markus. "Sad things are said in a humorous way, and humorous things are said in a sad way. It's part of the fact that for a lot of years, those Jews were living in a foreign country and they had to be subversive to say things, so it's all very understated. This is a culture of understated humor."

"Yiddish Theater: A Love Story" did wind up in a number of film festivals, and eventually the pair decided to forgo distributors and release the documentary themselves. Markus sent the film to Greg Laemmle, president of the Laemmle art-house chain in Los Angeles, who agreed to play it in his theaters if they could find a New York exhibitor.

A couple of days later, a programmer from New York contacted the pair through their MySpace page asking to see the film, and within days, the documentary was set to premiere at the Two Boots Pioneer Theater.

Sadly, Spaisman never got to witness the documentary's success — she suffered a fatal stroke when the theater closed — but she remains an inspiration to others, including Katzir.

"She was not in it for the money," he says. "She was into doing something she really loved and trying to do that as best she could. She didn't care if she had a full house. The point was being on stage. It was what gave her the reason to wake up in the morning."

Monday, January 07, 2008

We made it to indiewire's summary of the box office for the second weekend in 2007
See bottom of article for our mention.

xox
Dan

From INDIEWIRE.COM JAN 07

iW BOT | Black Gold: "There Will Be Blood" Is Box Office Gusher; "Persepolis" and "Chuck Close" Are Art Standouts; "Juno" Still Growing

Box Office coverage presented by Rentrak Theatrical
by Steve Ramos (January 7, 2008)

The combination of four National Society of Film Critics prizes, including Best Picture, Best Actor and Best Director, and the leading per-screen average of $25,905 created a gusher of good news for "There Will Be Blood," filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson's turn-of-the-century oil drama for Paramount Vantage. Close behind on the iWBOT, which ranks films by per-screen average, was "Persepolis," Sony Pictures Classics' feature animation based on Marjane Satarapi's graphic novels about growing up in pre-revolutionary Tehran. "Persepolis" hit a per-screen average of $10,981 from seven runs. "Juno," Fox Searchlight's teen pregnancy comedy, reached the number two spot on the overall box office charts with weekend earnings of $15,860,744 from 1,925 screens. Rounding out the inaugural 2008 iWBOT Top Five were Focus Features' World War II love story "Atonement" and "Chuck Close," director Marion Cajori's documentary about the acclaimed contemporary painter.

he iWBOT is based on per-theater averages reported by Rentrak Theatrical, the complete indieWIRE BOT weekly chart is available Tuesday afternoon.

Expanding to 51 runs in its second frame, "There Will Be Blood," a Paramount Vantage release and Paramount Vantage/Miramax co- production, hit a sky-high, per-screen average of $25,904 for a weekend total of $1,321,144. It was the second straight week that "Blood" ranked the highest per-screen average of all releases. With expansion plans for 125 runs in the top twenty-five markets Friday, Rob Schulze, Executive V.P., Distribution at Paramount Vantage, remained confident that the film's great reviews and the National Society of Film Critics wins will continue to build a wider audience. "My impression on what is motivating people is a combination of great reviews, visually stunning filmmaking, our marketing campaign, followers of PT (Paul Thomas Anderson) and Daniel Day-Lewis and the film's topic," Schulze said. "It feels like a classic American story. While historic in setting, the discussion of oil, power, politics and religion is at the core of all key world issues and this film charts the birth of an industry and the impact of one extraordinary individual. At the same time, PT transcends convention with an incredible sound design etc..." "Blood" reached cumulative box office of $1,829,285; already surpassing the domestic total of Day-Lewis' last film, "The Ballad of Jack and Rose" but still far behind Day-Lewis/Martin Scorsese collaborations "Gangs of New York" ($77,812,000) and "The Age of Innocence" ($32,255,440).

In its second frame, Sony Pictures Classics'animated drama "Persepolis" held powerfully at seven venues. The Golden Globe nominated film, based on Marjane Satrapi's four graphic novels about growing up in pre-revolutionary Tehran, earned $76,867 for a per- screen average of $10,981.

The top documentary on the iWBOT was "Chuck Close," an Art Kaleidoscope Foundation release, director Marion Cajori's examination of the artist credited for reinventing portraiture. "Chuck Close," playing exclusively at New York's Film Forum earned $9,046 for a cume of $24,195.

"Atonement," director Joe Wright's adaptation of Ian McEwan's World Way II love story and Golden Globes leader with seven nominations, entered the overall box office top ten for the first time with earnings of $5,064,577 from 583 runs for Focus Features.

Fox Searchlight Pictures reached the number two spot on the overall box office chart thanks to director Jason Reitman's teenage pregnancy comedy "Juno." Expanding to 1925 runs, a record release for Fox Searchlight, "Juno" reached a robust per-screen mark of $8,238 and a cume of $52 million. "It is entirely fair to say that "Juno" has exceeded our expectations," said Sheila Deloach, Senior Vice President Fox Searchlight Pictures. "The sky is the limit and we are keeping our fingers crossed for Oscar nominations. What's exciting is we expect to surpass "Little Miss Sunshine" in box office by Friday."

Just outside the iWBOT Top Five was "The Orphanage," director Juan Antonio Bayona's Spanish-language ghost tale for Picturehouse. "Orphanage" earned $500,671 from 69 runs for a per-screen average of $7,256, mild compared to the platform debut of Picturehouse's "Pan's Labyrinth."

While "Atonement," "Juno" and "Blood" followed aggressive expansion plans, "Honeydripper," director John Sayles' drama about the owner of a Blues club in 1950s Alabama who turns to a young musician to bring in the crowds, earned $7,376 for Emerging Pictures from 4 runs; a traditional art-house platform release. Emerging Pictures plans to expand "Honeydripper" to Atlanta, Boston and Chicago on Jan. 18.

Standing alongside "Honeydripper;" worlds apart from "Juno," was the documentary "Yiddish Theater: A Love Story," director Dan Katzir's documentary about actress Zypora Spaisman and her struggle to keep operating her Yiddish theater in New York. "Yiddish Theater" earned $2,033 from three runs in Los Angeles. Released with little financial backing and no marketing budget, the success of "Yiddish Theater," while small in box office, is just as significant as "Juno's" record- setting grosses.

Steve Ramos is a Cincinnati based writer.

indieWIRE:BOT tracks independent/specialty releases compiled from Rentrak Theatrical, which collects studio reported data as well as box-office figures from North American theatre locations. To be included in the indieWIRE Box Office Chart, distributors must submit information about their films to Rentrak at studiogrosses@rentrak.com by the end of the day each Monday.
( posted on Jan 7, 2008 at 09:38PM | filed under Box Office, Lead Story )

Friday, January 04, 2008

FILM STEW

http://www.filmstew.com/showArticle.aspx?ContentID=16778

Breaking a Yiddish Leg
In the latest example of a little documentary that could, a movie with an esoteric subject matter and a long post-production curve is generating positive attention on both coasts.
Thursday, January 3, 2008 at 10:20 PM
By FilmStew Staff

Back in 2000, a revival of the 1916 Yiddish language play Green Fields got a rave review in the New York Times and was voted one of the Top Ten Off-Broadway Plays of the Year by the New York Post. Last week, a documentary shot at the time focusing on the woman mainly responsible for the production, 84-year-old Zypora Spaisman, was deemed one of the Top Ten Documentaries of 2007 by New York film journalist and About.com correspondent Jennifer Merin. Other critics have also been kind to Yiddish Theater: A Love Story, which has been packing them in since late November in New York, Los Angeles and Tel Aviv. All in all, it’s a fitting continuation of the spirit that drove Spaisman, a Holocaust survivor who came to the United States in 1950 and ran the legendary Folksbiene Theater from 1958 until 2000. Amazingly, after retiring at age 84 from that responsibility, she quickly decided to return to the show business game by working with the Yiddish Public Theater to produce and appear in the aforementioned production of Green Fields. Though the poster for Dan Katzir’s documentary does not necessarily emphasize this point, word of mouth surely has. And that is that this a film less about the Yiddish theater and more about Spaisman herself, the kind of person who, in the movies, is portrayed by Katharine Hepburn in On Golden Pond or Jessica Tandy in Cocoon. What the 80-minute film also makes clear is that after losing the love of her life, her husband, Spaisman found a surrogate replacement in the continuation of her Yiddish theater and Folksbiene activities. Yiddish Theater: A Love Story is a rallying cry for all those septuagenarians and octogenarians who claim they would die if they had to retire. Based on the final few years of Spaisman’s extraordinary life, it’s clear that for many who spout those words, this is indeed the case.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

VILLAGE VOICE JAN 02 2008
http://www.villagevoice.com/film/0801,vanairsdale,78747,20.html

YEAR IN FILM
5 Steps to a Better View
Resolutions to improve NYC film culture in 2008
by S.T. VanAirsdale
January 2nd, 2008 1:31 PM

As the editor of a website devoted to daily coverage of New York's film culture, I have my share of glee and gripes over how the city regards its cinema. On one hand, there's something inspiring about theatrical audiences rallying for three months behind a lost gem like Killer of Sheep; on the other, we, the moviegoers, increasingly seek the imprimatur of mainstream institutions to validate our tastes.

The critics' poll in this issue reaffirms the significance of both phenomena, but I witness dozens more trends and developments every day from my ground-level perspective online. And as thriving as it was in 2007—with more films in circulation than there were screens to hold them—New York can always improve in 2008. In no particular order, here's how:

Discover a festival
The temptation to visit the New York Film Festival and see No Country for Old Men a whole month before its local release date can be irresistible. But the same day that the cognoscenti camped out for the Coens, just a few blocks up Broadway, the South Asian Film Festival premiered new work from Queens (Deepti Paul's Browntown) to Mumbai (Rajshree Ojha's Crossroads) and everywhere in between. Meanwhile, downtown, a full slate of no-budget independents screened at the Evil City Film Festival.

It's anyone's guess how many festivals occur annually in New York (I counted at least 60 in 2007 and covered probably half of them), but the vast majority offer super-rare docs, shorts, and international titles unlikely to screen in town again—many for good reason, but a few of which you'll relish having seen when you had the chance. Moreover, at these ticket prices, the gamble's worth it—No Country will still be there when you're done.

That said, don't forget about Tribeca
I know, I know: "Tribeca?!? But it's a neighborhood-swallowing, star-fucking behemoth!" For the sake of argument, let's say it is. Even at its institutional worst, this year's Tribeca Film Festival featured strong programming like Alex Gibney's harrowing documentary look at torture, Taxi to the Dark Side; the woefully underappreciated family drama The Cake Eaters; and sleepers like Shotgun Stories, Blue State, In Search of a Midnight Kiss, The Grand—and those are just the domestic films, only a few of which have since wrangled distribution deals.

I've said it before: Tribeca is an easy fest to hate. No one can explain away $18 tickets, and its elbow-throwing premiere snobbery can plunge other, smaller festival lineups around the country into program havoc. But it's not going away soon, so ignoring the fest out of spite penalizes exactly one person: the filmmaker caught in the middle, who jumped at the only opportunity he or she may have to screen work and find an audience in New York. Maybe I'm unhip to say so, but we can do better.

Save the Pioneer Theater
As reported in this paper, the Two Boots Pioneer Theater's institutional infrastructure was built on the same slippery foundation that brought down Two Boots kingpin Phil Hartman's houses of cards at the Federation of East Village Artists and, eventually, Mo Pitkin's. Things stabilized a bit after 2004, however, when new programmer Ray Privett assumed day-to-day operations and began squaring up old accounts and re-establishing the Pioneer as one of New York's few venues for genuinely independent cinema.

Today the Pioneer is even less invested in the status quo, and thank God for that: Highlights among the theater's 2007 releases include diverse successes like Kamp Katrina, Trigger Man, Yiddish Theater: A Love Story, Glass Lips, and Daniel Kraus's revelatory Ken Vandermark portrait, Musician. Nevertheless it's still in danger, an undernourished stepchild in Hartman's troubled family of interests. For the sake of its community and the uncompromising films that call it home, let's hope 2008 brings the changes necessary to keep the Pioneer a vital, viable downtown player.

Wake up, Harvey
Who'd have believed in 2005, when Harvey and Bob Weinstein ditched Disney-owned Miramax Films for their upstart Weinstein Company, that Harvey would make awards-season headlines two years later primarily by getting remarried and threatening to put himself down (a suicide threat! In The New York Times!) if Cate Blanchett didn't get an Oscar nomination? Don't get me wrong: If Harvey's happy, I'm happy. But the reeling Weinstein Company—with its fusillade of misbegotten bombs (Grindhouse, The Nanny Diaries, Awake) and the underwhelming performance of top-shelf titles like Grace Is Gone, Control, and I'm Not There—has left a vacuum in the city's film culture.

Love him or hate him, Harvey symbolized a vision and cutthroat swagger that elevated the industry's game for the better part of two decades. "Page Six" cameos and middling genre sleepers like 1408 and The Mist are no substitute for the kind of monolithic moguldom that compels fear, respect, and inspiration among competitors and moviegoers alike. Maybe he's mellowed out; maybe he's just complacent. In any case, he's missed. New York needs a Weinstein hit almost as badly as he does.

Eradicate the Top 10 list
I salute the participants of this year's Village Voice critics' poll for taking the bold step of naming There Will Be Blood the year's best film. Of the hundreds of movies released theatrically in 2007 in New York, it took guts to step up and contribute the nth permutation of the 20 or 25 titles that you will find rejiggered on a zillion other lists this season.

Please. The top 10 list is perhaps the ultimate cancer on contemporary film, a backslapping orgy of hype that prizes propriety and capsule-sized cleverness over any sort of art, revelation, or insight. I'm told it's all in fun, in the spirit of discussion. Fair enough; let's discuss how loyal readers (in whose service these lists are ostensibly assembled) are forced to endure yet a thousand preening interpretations of predictable, studio-positioned prestige releases while scores of glowingly reviewed films they may have missed earlier in the year languish, relegated to some shadowy second tier of also-rans.

Whatever—as long as the listmaker has the most profound final word (or blurb) about Eastern Promises, his or her job is done. Are you having fun yet?

S.T. VanAirsdale is the editor of the Reeler, thereeler.com.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

About.Com: Top Ten Documentaries for 2007

http://documentaries.about.com/od/recommendeddocumentaries/tp/Top-Ten-Documentaries-of-2007.htm


Top Ten Documentaries of 2007

By Jennifer Merin, About.com
Filed In:

1. Recommended Documentaries

There were hundreds of documentary films produced during 2007, ranging from the relatively big budget Sicko and 15-years-in-production Lake of Fire to serious indictments of war in Nanking and No End In Sight. Some documentaries had healthy theatrical runs, others went straight to DVD. Of all, these, in alphabetical order, are my favorites:
1. The Body of War
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Mobilus Media
The Body of War present the heart wrenching story of how 25-year-old Thomas Young, a patriotic young man who enlisted in the military the day after the 9-11 bombings, became a victim of the Iraq War.
Read Review
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2. For The Bible Tells Me So
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First Run Features
In For the Bible Tells Me So, documentary filmmaker Daniel Karslake reveals the ways in which Scripture has been used to discriminate against homoexual men and women, and shows how literal — and oft inaccurate — interpretations of the Bible are causing widespread despair and the destruction of lives.
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3. Lake of Fire
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ThinkFilm
Filmmaker Tony Kaye took fifteen years to produce this searing investigation of the issue of abortion. The film introduces us to brutally aggressive right-to-lifers and to women who are determined to terminate their pregnancies. We witness right to life rallies and go inside abortion clinics. Some of the footage--especially that which shows the remains of aborted fetuses--is shocking. This film will make you reexamine your position on abortion, whatever it might be.
Read Review
4. Manufacturered Landscapes
Jennifer Baichwal’s Manufactured Landscapes (2007) follows photographer Edward Burtynsky to China to document the environmental effects of industrialization. Baichwal uses the camera to explore the photographer's monumental stills and then turns to the actual spaces captured in them, resulting in a provocation for viewers to explore their own relationship to art--the beautiful photographs, in this case--and the real world--the disturbingly destroyed environment, in this case--as passive observers.
5. My Kid Could Paint That
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Sony Pictures Classics
Questions of authenticity surrounding four year old Marla Olmstead's paintings occasion filmmaker Amir Bar-Lev's insightful investigation about media frenzy and public perception, and the very nature of nonfigurative art.
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6. Nanking
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ThinkFilm
Nanking sheds light on a Chinese holocaust that is little known in the West. Actors Woody Harrelson, Mariel Hemingway and Jurgen Prochnow portray heros who saved thousands of Chinese people from being slaughtered. Several survivors speak out about what they experienced and how it has effected their lives. A very moving and powerful anti-war film.
Read Review
7. No End In Sight
Political scientist Charles Ferguson gives us a blow by blow description of how America first became entangled in the Iraq War and how the government and military continue to compound the untenable situation.
Read Review
8. Sicko
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Weinstein Co.
Michael Moore applies his very in-your-face style of documentary filmmaking to the business of health insurance in America. Find out just how bad it is....
Read Review
9. Taxi To The Dark Side
Acclaimed filmmaker Alex Gibney's Taxi To The Dark Side follows the trail of American military torture of suspected terrorists from the disappearance and death of a taxi driver in rural Afghanistan to Abu Ghraib to Guantanamo. Gibney's evidence--footage and photographs of victims, interviews with families of those killed and with torture survivors, with former soldier interrogators, military top brass, John Yoo, JAG attorneys, and video clips showing the smug indifference of America's elected and appointed officials--is absolutely shocking. The film played festivals during 2007, and will release theatrically in January.
10. The Yiddish Theater: A Love Story
The Yiddish Theater: A Love Story is as charming, humorous, convincing, tenacious and relevant as its wonderful leading lady, the actress Zypora Spaisman, who fought heroically to keep her language and culture alive.
LA TIMES INTERVIEW JAN 01 2008

http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/news/business/newsletter/la-et-yiddish1jan01,1,1279998.story?ctrack=3&cset=true

Filmmakers do Yiddish theater a mitzvah

'A Love Story' documents a vanishing culture.
By Rachel Abramowitz, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
January 1, 2008
Dan Katzir was a thirtysomething Israeli filmmaker on vacation in New York City when he was accosted by 84-year-old Zypora Spaisman on the subway. The bird-weight octogenarian had been a star and director of New York City's Folksbiene, the oldest-running Yiddish theater in America, but when she met Katzir, she was in the midst of her last show, a production of 1916's "Green Fields," for the Yiddish Public Theater, which she founded in 2000.

The play was slated to close in eight days -- on New Year's Eve -- and Spaisman, desperate to prevent that from happening, was not above soliciting help from attractive young strangers on the R train.

She invited him to see her perform. "I told her I have no plan on seeing a show in Yiddish, but she said, 'Come, just see it,' " recalls Katzir, seven years later. "I just so fell in love with it."

Doing his bit to help, Katzir got out his video camera to document Spaisman's quest in "Yiddish Theater: A Love Story." The film opened in limited release at the end of November and, thanks to strong reviews, has been gaining a steadily larger following among the art-house set ever since.

"As one of the characters in the movie says, 'We live in a "Seinfeld" society,' where everything is fast and quick and edgy but not very emotional," Katzir says. "Meeting her and the [other actors], they're funny, but they're not cynical. This is an ode for this lost and disappearing culture, which still has something to teach all of us about the beauty of emotions."

It's easy to see why Katzir became entranced with Spaisman, who lost 150 family members in the Holocaust but resolutely says in the film, "Hitler couldn't stop me. Stalin couldn't stop me."

Age will certainly not prevent her from doing what she loves best: acting. "Retirement is a death sentence," she says in the film. "People have to live."

The documentary is filled with others caught up in her forceful will, including various other elderly stars of the Yiddish theater like Shifra Lerer (who played Woody Allen's character's mother in "Deconstructing Harry") as well as a young Israeli ingenue who learns her lines phonetically and a tattooed former Hassid from Williamsburg who wound up in his first play because he could speak Yiddish.

There's also the middle-class couple who plowed $70,000 of their savings into the production, and Spaisman's tireless producer, David Romeo, who trudges literally through mounds of snow, all across New York City, trying to raise the $50,000 or so it would take to allow them to move their well-reviewed production to another theater. It's to little avail, as Katzir documents the minute-by-minute expiration of a dream.

His own story has had a happier ending.

On a recent morning, the former paratrooper is sitting at a Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf with his producer, the energetic Ravit Markus, not far from the Laemmle Monica, where their film has been playing for several weeks. Although Katzir has made 10 documentaries, including "Out for Love . . . Be Back Shortly," which was a sensation in his home country and appeared on HBO here, getting "Yiddish Theater: A Love Story" seen has proved almost as daunting as trying to save Spaisman's production.

"It took eight days of filming, 40 days of editing and seven years of waiting," Katzir says. They were rebuffed in particular by countless Jewish organizations and film festivals, like the New York Jewish Film Festival, who told them that no one was interested in Yiddish theater.

"Yiddish was a valid culture for 1,100 years, and after World War II, so many Jews began hating this culture with a vengeance," Katzir says. "Maybe some Jews began identifying with Nazi propaganda and began seeing Yiddish culture the way the Nazis saw it, with this kind of contempt. That's sad, because Yiddish is a culture that brought out some of the greatest minds humanity ever had. Freud was a Yiddish speaker. Einstein came to see Yiddish plays. Sholem Aleichem. People forget all the great minds and great culture. They just see it as a culture that had 6 million members murdered, and people are maybe ashamed of it."

Katzir says that his own grandmother, as a child, was part of an organization that roamed the streets of Tel Aviv getting people to speak Hebrew instead of Yiddish. "Even today, a lot of the things that people identify as American Jewish humor, it actually comes from the Yiddish stage."

"They have this laughter through tears thing," says Markus. "Sad things are said in a humorous way, and humorous things are said in a sad way. It's part of the fact that for a lot of years, those Jews were living in a foreign country and they had to be subversive to say things, so it's all very understated. This is a culture of understated humor."

"Yiddish Theater: A Love Story" did wind up in a number of film festivals, and eventually the pair decided to forgo distributors and release the documentary themselves. Markus sent the film to Greg Laemmle, president of the Laemmle art-house chain in Los Angeles, who agreed to play it in his theaters if they could find a New York exhibitor.

A couple of days later, a programmer from New York contacted the pair through their MySpace page asking to see the film, and within days, the documentary was set to premiere at the Two Boots Pioneer Theater.

Sadly, Spaisman never got to witness the documentary's success -- she suffered a fatal stroke when the theater closed -- but she remains an inspiration to others, including Katzir.

"She was not in it for the money," he says. "She was into doing something she really loved and trying to do that as best she could. She didn't care if she had a full house. The point was being on stage. It was what gave her the reason to wake up in the morning."

rachel.abramowitz@latimes.com