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.