My favourite part of working at the Toronto Jewish Film Festival is doing the research for our archival film programming.
Now in its fifth year, our Canadian archival series continues to revisit forgotten works, expanding the cannon of our country’s Jewish content film and television. This year, we honour actors Paul Soles and Harvey Atkin, and the stories of writer Morley Torgov, whose work has been adapted to film and TV. The biggest treat for me is the discovery of a forgotten 1978 CBC telefilm, The Making of a President, 1944, adapted from a Torgov story, starring Paul Soles and Harvey Atkin, alongside Melvyn Douglas and Nehemiah Persoff. It paints a very funny and empathic portrait of the divided and dwindling Jewish community of wartime Sault Ste. Marie. Working on this series also allowed me to re-discover the skill, presence and charm of actors Soles and Atkin, and acquaint myself with the unique sensibility—sensitive, yet with astute and funny observations—of writer Morley Torgov, whose work deserves to be discovered by a new generation.
I would like to draw your attention to an exquisite new documentary, The Museum, by one of the most impressive Israeli filmmakers working today, Ran Tal (Children of The Sun, Garden of Eden). Tal provides access to the daily life of the Israel Museum in Jerusalem; the meticulous work done by its historians, curators and preservationists, and the beauty of the preservation process. While inspiring philosophical questions about how history is told and received, the film shows how this Israeli institution not only reflects the narrative of its country, but, through the choices of which objects it makes available to the public, contributes to this narrative as well.
On a similar note, I wish to suggest that with the Festival’s rare archival film selections, we are allowing our audience the chance to not only see newly-discovered Jewish films, but to re-think the ‘assumed’ narrative of Jewish film history, which is based on what has previously been made readily available.
I am very proud that TJFF is screening the new digital restoration of E.A. Dupont’s 1923 Weimar silent film, The Ancient Law with live musical accompaniment. Professor Cynthia Walk, who served as an advisor on the restoration, points out that although many assimilated Jews worked in the German film industry at the time, The Ancient Law was one of the few films to explicitly address the topic of assimilation. Audiences will notice its influence on the Hollywood landmark film, The Jazz Singer, made four years later.
In addition, for our Israel @ 70 series, we are screening the little-known Italian drama, The Earth Cries Out. What’s so striking about this film today is its sober view of the early days leading up to the creation of the State of Israel, as it depicts Palestine under British mandate, and shows the lives of British soldiers, members of the Irgun, as well as Jewish refugees smuggled into the country from Europe. The Earth Cries Out has a complex narrative that allows today’s audiences access to the emotions and hopes of those days.
I am thrilled that we have the opportunity to offer you the new unique documentary, Cut to the Chase. Presented entirely without narration, director Noit Geva and producer Arik Bernstein have cut together tons of clips representing over fifty years of Israeli cinematic history, to reveal the narrative of Israeli masculinity, defined by traditional patriarchy and the country’s required military duty. It also shows the ways that women have been forced to find a place for themselves within these limiting social structures.
To leave you on a note of levity, and as a fan of old movies, I must draw your attention to Jamie Greenberg’s new comedy Future ’38, a love letter to the screwball comedies of the Hollywood Golden Age. It’s a real treat!