Category Archives: Film

“THE GERMAN DOCTOR”— A Mysterious Doctor

the german doctor

“The German Doctor” (“Wakolda”)

A Mysterious Doctor

Amos Lassen

 In Patagonia in 1960 a German doctor (Alex Brendemühl) meets an Argentinean family and follows them on a long desert road to a small town where the family will be starting a new life. Eva (Natalia Oreiro), Enzo (Diego Peretti) and their three children welcome the doctor into their home and entrust their young daughter, Lilith (Florencia Bado), to his care, not knowing that they are harboring one of the most dangerous criminals in the world. At the same time, Israeli agents are desperately looking for the German doctor to bring him to justice. The film is based on the novel by Lucia Puenzo who also the filmmaker. The plot follows Josef Mengele, the “Angel of Death,” a German SS officer and a physician at the Auschwitz concentration camp; in the years he spent “hiding”, along with many other Nazis, in South America following his escape from Germany. Mengele was considered to be one of WWII’s most heinous Nazi war criminals.

We immediately know that something is afoot—the music drones, there is a storm and the doctor sends off ominous vibes. We see the doctor become medically fascinated with Lilith. The looks that pass between the two are filled with mutual interest; Lilith is having her first crush while the doctor’s concerns are clinical to the point of inhumanity.

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The director is careful not to over-signpost the historical significance of a man who — with a crisp enigmatic mode of charisma delivered expertly by Brendemühl — seduces the family into letting him live with them. However the film loses some of its grip in the familial subplots. Enzo, the father is a doll-maker who wants to make all his toys perfectly identical.

In the opening scenes of this historical drama we see a distinguished looking German gentleman accosting a traveling family of 5 to ask if he may follow behind them as he is unsure about driving alone on the desolate dirt roads in the middle of the vast plains of Patagonia.  The family is heading south to the small lakefront town of Bariloche to re-open a Hotel that once was thriving concern when another generation of the family ran it.  The German never reveals much about his own destination or any of his plans for staying in this country far from home. This adds to the suspense early on. When they finally arrive the German, who the family learns is either a Doctor or Scientist, insists on renting a room from them and to overcome their reluctance sweetens his request by overpaying. He sensed that the family has little cash.  Eva the heavily pregnant mother is German speaking, as are so many of the local residents as the best school in the area was the German one, and she welcomes him into their home.  Her husband Enzo is a struggling doll-maker and although a man of few words and simple tastes, he is the only one in the family who is not impressed with the charm onslaught from this very creepy stranger in their midst.

The ‘Doctor’ is particularly “smitten with” Lilith the 12 year old of the family who has always been much smaller than the norm for her age ever since she was born 2 months premature.  Soon he is trying to persuade the parents that with the hormone treatment that he has been working on, he can improve Lilith’s growth rate dramatically. They are all initially reluctant to even consider this course of action but Eva relents after Lilith suffers another brutal day of taunting at her school because of her size.  However she insists that they keep the news of this change of heart from Enzo until at least Lilith starts gaining some height. Once the ‘Doctor’ gains Eva’s confidence he turns his attention to her, especially when he discovers that she is going to give birth to twins. (We eventually find out that he has some plans of his own for these yet unborn babies).

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 This filmmaker never hides the fact that the Doctor is none other than Josef Mengele the notorious Nazi who did barbarous and inhuman genetic experiments on the inmates of Auschwitz earning himself the nickname of “The Angel of Death”.  It was believed that after the War he, like so other high ranking Nazis, fled to South America where he continued his cruel work on pregnant women and children until his death in Brazil in 1979.

The story unfolds slowly and tension builds with the insinuation of what the doctor is really up to as he slowly worms his way into this family’s lives.  It is only the German School Archivist that suspects and confirms his true identity and she is anxious that he is caught and out in trial for his war crimes just like Eichmann who Israelis had recently captured. Unfortunately, a wide network of loyal Nazi Party supporters protects him so he will always manage to avoid this completely.  

The movie succeeds first and foremost because of the very strong and sinister performance by Brendemuhl as Mengele and secondly because of the bleak setting of the film giving it a sinister tone throughout. Brendemühl exudes a “reptilian combination of charisma and menace. He is solicitous, attentive, and handsome, but with a posture that’s just a little too erect and a searching gaze that’s a little too clinical”. Lilith and her family never seem to realize quite who they’re dealing with, but we suspects early on that he is Josef Mengele, a suspicion that’s soon confirmed. That revelation is unveiled in an almost offhand way that’s typical of the film’s matter-of-fact take on even the most incredible events, a reflection of the sensibility of its smart but sheltered young narrator, who notices far more than she can comprehend.

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The story is a fictional account of an actual six-month period during which Mengele was on the run, living incognito to evade the Mossad agents who were extraditing Nazi war criminals for trial in Israel. For most of his 35 years in South America, though, the doctor hid in plain sight, often under his own name, and this film makes it easy to imagine how that could have happened.

It is unsettling to watch this pathologically self-assured sociopath worm his way into the heart of a sensitive girl and her family. The magnificent, sparsely populated settings underscore the family’s vulnerability, particularly in the beginning, when the doctor’s sedan glides behind their truck on an otherwise deserted highway. But the fictional story is too neatly predetermined to feel truly creepy. Much more unnerving is the nonfictional backdrop against which the fictional story unfolds. What really got to me was when admiring young German-Argentineans who often hovered near the doctor, offering their adulation and support to the man they know to be Auschwitz’s Angel of Death. When the doctor asked one of these eager acolytes for help in escaping the Israelis, the man was thrilled to be of service. “Anyone would be honored,” he said. Such is the world we live in.

“CASTING BY”— Meet Marion Dougherty

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“Casting By”

Meet Marion Dougherty

Amos Lassen

The casting director is one of the unsung heroes of the motion picture industry. In this film by Tom Donahue we learn of the importance of the casting director and we go back to a time when studios simply had to keep their contract players working and move up to today’s talent-based approach. The emphasis here is on Marion Dougherty who changed the role of the job and revolutionized casting by adapting it into the art of handpicking the best actor to fill a role. She has worked with some of Hollywood’s most recognizable talent, and here we get to hear about the time she cast her breakout role as well as her rejections.

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This is an esoteric film that seems to be made for lovers of film by film lovers. We get a fascinating glimpse into a seldom-considered part of the filmmaking process, and director Donahue does so with incredible archival footage, fascinating interviews, and crisp, stunning, colorized photos of Hollywood in its heyday. Marion Dougherty made a career out of giving actors a shot when she had a gut feeling about them. We need to give the film the same shot.

The film is a love song to Dougherty who is legendary in the industry. Before she came into her own, the major studios just cast the Actors they had under exclusive Contracts allocating them roles based on their availability rather than their talent. As that era ended New York based Ms Dougherty started persuading Directors to used real theater actors as opposed to movie stars, and when she engineered the breakthrough of a whole series of men that were far removed from looking like classic matinee idols such as Dustin Hoffman into leading men and casting was never the same again.

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We hear from actors such as Diane Lane, Robert Redford, Jim Voight, John Lithgow, Al Pacino to name a few and they testify not only did they get their first big breaks via her auspices, but it was often only after her sheer persistence persuading many initially reluctant Directors.  To their credit these same Directors testified how indebted they were to her sheer dogged determination to get an actor a role, because she was always right.  Martin Scorsese states that at least 90% of directing a movie is the casting. 

 Dougherty’s career spanned some 50 years and went from being independent in New York to being vice president of Casting at Paramount and then Warner Brothers in Hollywood.  And in a field dominated by women, many of today’s leading casting started their careers as Marion’s assistants.

 No matter how instrumental she was in the success of a movie it was years before she, and others, were ever given a screen credit for their role.  And even then, the Directors Guild, led by a very bitter Taylor Hackford, disputed their right to be called casting directors. It is the only major function in movie making that does not qualify for an Oscar (the Emmy’s acknowledge them), and the saddest part of the story is when there was a very impressive campaign by what is essentially Hollywood royalty pleading with the Academy to award Marion an Honorary Oscar for her lifetime achievement, the Board of Governors refused.

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 Today movie making is all about money making by huge corporation and it is very unlikely that any casting director today will be able to launch another unknown Bette Midler or Glenn Close or Danny Glover into stardom, and that is sad. When Marion Dougherty died in 2011, her instinctive way of casting died too.

 Donahue’s documentary covers Dougherty’s prolific career from her beginnings as a casting assistant, to a casting assistant on television, to her own casting agency, to becoming President of Casting for some major studios.   While idolizing Dougherty, the documentary also provides an understanding of just what a casting director does.  “Dougherty was one of the best as many of her colleagues will attest.   Dougherty discusses her process from how she evaluates and remembers each person she meets, how she sneaks in her choices and wears down a director until they cast who she thought was right for the part and how she fought to get casting directors the credit they deserved.  It was only in the last forty years or so that casting directors began receiving a “Casting By” on-screen credit”.

“THE PROSECUTION OF AN AMERICAN PRESIDENT”— The Truth About George Bush

the persecution of an American President

“THE PROSECUTION OF AN AMERICAN PRESIDENT”

The Truth About George Bush

Amos Lassen

Vincent Bugliosi makes a powerful, explosive and thought-provoking case against George W. Bush, former president of the United States and this is reputed to be the lawyer’s strongest argument in his career. He gives us a well-researched case that proves that Bush was responsible for taking the United States to war in Iraq under false pretenses and he is therefore guilty of the murder of 4500 young American soldiers who fought and died there. This war cost the United States over a trillion dollars and caused us to alienate our allies and brought about the death of over 100,000 innocent Iraqi people—men, women and children. He is responsible for pushing a country that was at peace into civil war and having to deal with atrocities and chaos. Bugliosi is a prosecutor who is dedicated to seeking justice and here he delivers a non-partisan argument based on hard facts and pure objectivity. This is a  searing indictment of Bush and his administration. It outlines a legally credible pathway to holding our highest government officials accountable for their actions, thereby creating a framework for future occupants of the Oval Office. Bugliosi calls for the United States to return to the great nation it once was.



 

”There is no mistaking Mr. Bugliosi’s conviction, nor the thoroughness of his research … (he) reminds us of how American lives are used as political chess pieces and how agonizing it is when the game’s larger objective remains unclear.”- Andy Webster, The New York Times

“Here is the documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 dreamt of being.” – Dann Gire, Chicago Daily Herald

“Passionately sets out Bugliosi’s premise…he makes a terrific argument for his position.”
- William Wolf, Wolf Entertainment Guide.

Author Vincent Bugliosi’s illustrious career spans over 40 years and includes such bestselling titles as Helter Skelter (the biggest-selling true crime book in publishing history), Reclaiming History (the definitive study on the Kennedy assassination), Outrage (on the O.J. Simpson trial) and of course The Prosecution of George W Bush for Murder.

The extras on the DVD include Deleted Scenes (A Perfect Day for George W. Bush • Richard Garant, Brattleboro, VT • Vince Bugliosi’s Unique Logic • Vince Bugliosi at UCLA • John Turner at UCLA.

“DEGANIA— The World’s First Kibbutz Fights its Last Battle”— Privatizing an Institution

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“Degania – The World’s First Kibbutz Fights its Last Battle” (“Ha Krav Ha’acharon al Degania”)

Privatizing an Institution

Amos Lassen

For those of us who grew up in Zionist youth movements, the kibbutz was a symbol of Israel. Many of us felt called to go to Israel, live on a kibbutz and work the land like the original pioneers did. For years the kibbutz and Israel were synonymous but then it all ended very quickly. When privatization of the kibbutzim came into being there were those who went with it readily and there were those who felt that their way of life has ended. For me this is very personal since I lived on a kibbutz very close to Degania and I would visit there and in fact I taught the children of the members.

 The drama surrounding the privatization of Degania, the world’s first kibbutz is an ironic allegory to current global crises as the world financial bubble bursts together with our strong belief in capitalist dream. This is Degania as she experiences the

bitter dispute over the privatization of the world’s first kibbutz. Degania was established 100 years ago on the banks of the Jordan River. It was the Utopian flagship of a Zionist-socialist experiment copied by 400 other kibbutzim.

 Its ethos was “From each member according to his ability, to each member according to his need”. Einstein, Kafka, Gandhi and Masaryk came to see and learn from it. Degania and other kibbutzim reflected a struggle between the ideals of cooperative life with shared responsibilities and values versus a community of individuals each responsible for his own destiny.

 The social fabric woven over a period of 100 years is torn to pieces as the ideological rift widens. This is a local as well as a universal story of the struggle between values of social responsibility against economic and individual freedom.

 Now Kibbutz Degania at the beginning of the third millennium struggles between a worldview of mutual responsibility and one of privatization and free market capitalism.

“LOOKING FOR JOHNNY: THE LEGEND OF JOHNNY THUNDERS”— Looking at Johnny

looking for johnny

“Looking for Johnny”

Looking at Johnny

Amos Lassen

 Johnny Thunders was the legendary hard-living rock and roll guitarist who inspired glam-metal, punk and the music scene in general. “Looking for Johnny” is a 90-minute film directed by Danny Garcia and that documents Thunders’ career from his beginnings to his tragic death in 1991.

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 When Johnny Thunders died in New Orleans on April 23rd 1991, he left behind a mystery. Though MTV and international broadsheets reported the guitarist’s demise, for many in the mainstream, Thunders was perceived as an enigmatic outlaw. He was adored by a legion of devotees and cited as an influence by at least three successive generations of musicians. Thunders refused to play the corporate game and was both elevated and damned for it.

 Danny Garcia was seized by a question that wouldn’t let go – “just who was Johnny Thunders?” He spent 18 months traveling across the USA and Europe, filming interviews with fifty of the people who were closest to Johnny, building a compelling narrative drawn from first hand testimonies.

 The film examines Johnny Thunders’ career from the early 70′s when he was a founding member of the influential New York Dolls, the birth of the punk scene with The Heartbreakers in both New York City and London, and later incarnations including Gang War and The Oddballs. It also explores Johnny’s unique musical style, his personal battle with drugs and theories on the circumstances of his death in a New Orleans hotel in 1991 at age 38.

 Interviewees include Sylvain Sylvain, Lenny Kaye, Walter Lure, Billy Rath, Bob Gruen, Terry Chimes, Alan Vega, Peter Perrett, Sami Yaffa, three of his late managers (Marty Thau, Lee Black Childers and Malcolm McLaren), and many others.

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 The film includes forty songs (including Born To Lose and You Can’t Put Your Arms Around A Memory) and historic film of Johnny with live performances from all periods, including unseen New York Dolls and Heartbreakers footage and photos. Cult filmmakers Bob Gruen, Don Letts, Patrick Grandperret, Rachael Amadeo and others contribute classic archive footage, helping illustrate the charisma, chaos and heartbreak inherent to the guitarist.

We see a brief snap shot of Johnny’s upbringing, raised in NY by his Italian mum and sister – the young John Anthony Genzale Jr. could have been a pro baseball player. Instead he formed his first band “Actress” and his musical career began.

The rock and roll roller coaster ride picked up speed when he joined the New York Dolls. They were an attention grabbing, cross-dressing, making up wearing, over the top at everything type of band.  Their fans loved them and matched their outlandish style.  This was radical and shocking for the time. Nowadays, this seems to be the blueprint for being in a band.  It certainly got them noticed by other musicians and probably laid a lot.

The Dolls were based loosely on the Rolling Stones –Johnny wanted to emulate Keith Richards and his lifestyle.  When those closest to Johnny attempted to curb his fondness for drugs, Johnny retorted that Keith Richards seemed to get away it but it was gently pointed out that Keith was famous before he was a junkie.

The Dolls scored their first UK show by opening for Rod Stewart and it ended with the tragic demise of drummer Billy Murcia and Jerry Nolan quickly joining the band.  The bands close involvement with the UK punk scene is documented with rare footage supplied by Cult filmmakers Bob Gruen and Don Letts, including Malcolm McLaren’s misjudged theme for the band in red leather soviet branding.  Band members, albums, record companies, tours and dealers come and go, by the mid 70’s Johnny and the Heartbreakers replaced The Ramones and fame continued to come.

Garcia does not shy away from the tales of hedonism nor does he exploit them.  The drugs would have been impossible to ignore as they were in each of the various band incarnations.  Although some facts are still shocking to hear, somehow through this haze of indulgence they played on and created an influential body of work.

 The testimonials are often touching, amusing but punctuated with sadness.  Although this is low budget movie, Garcia has crammed a huge amount details into the time frame. Along with the unseen footage, the film is funny, thought provoking and poignant and a must see for all Thunders fans.

Yes, there are notable absences and refreshingly, there are not many celebrity talking heads— those that are present are the real deal and their stories give great insight to this charismatic man’s life.

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When Thunders died in New Orleans on April 23rd 1991, the police and media wrote this off as another junkie who checked out. The alleged circumstances are deplorable, Johnny was a sick man, who lay dying whilst all his possessions, money and guitars where stolen and this was never investigated.

This film captured Johnny Thunders’ chaotic life and applauds his creativity. This is a harsh and sad tale of a talented 38-year-old man.

Johnny would have been 62 years old on the 15th July.

“WETLANDS”— No Orifice Unexplored

wetlands poster

“Wetlands” (“Feuchtgebiete”)

No Orifice Unexplored

Amos Lassen

“Wetlands” is the story of Helen (Carla Juri) an eccentric eighteen-year-old. She narrates the story of her life, including stories about her preferred sexual practices that involve vegetables, her attitude towards hygiene, drugs, her best friend Corinna and her challenging childhood. The frame story takes place in a hospital where she is treated because of an anal fissure. During her stay she plans to reunite her divorced parents and falls in love with the male nurse Robin. Director David Wnendt and Juri leave no bodily orifice unexplored in this very smart film. Wnendt directed this in the style of MTV music videos and the film lets us know with the titles basically what it is going to be about. We first see the titles against the background of computer-animated renderings of toilet-seat bacteria. Then Helen’s first-person narration takes over for an extended discussion of vaginal hygiene (one of the film’s running themes), both her mother’s obsession with it and her own more laissez-faire attitude. In lieu of perfume, she prefers to dab a little “pussy mucus” on her neck to attract the attentions of the opposite sex — a quite literal “eau de toilette.”

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Indeed, there’s little that enters, exits or grows upon Helen’s body that doesn’t fascinate the budding young woman, including the bothersome hemorrhoids and Helen’s finger applying anti-itch cream to the affected area. If this film does nothing else, it can claim to showing a few images we’ve never seen on a movie screen (at least, not since high-school sex/education health class).

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When we are not looking at Helen’s body, we meet her divorced parents (Meret Becker and Axel Milberg), her introverted younger brother Toni, and BFF Corinna (Marlen Kruse), all drawn as broad caricatures. Then, a bout halfway through the film, an accidental slip of the razor lands Helen in the emergency room with her bleeding behind. It is also here that the movie slows down. Helen comes in and out of consciousness in her hospital bed, recalling various real and imagined traumas and other formative experiences from her past. Chief among them: the divorce of her parents, whom she imagines she can “parent trap” into a reunion if she prolongs her hospital stay (which, in keeping with the general spirit of things, hinges on Helen’s ability — or lack thereof — to deliver a post-surgical bowel movement). Now I know all of this sounds strange and that is because it is strange.

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This is certainly not the kind of movie that you would got to see with your mother. This has to be one of the most outlandish and grossest movies ever made and then shown to the public yet even with all the bodily fluids and muck, there is a surprisingly heartwarming story here and credit goes to an amazing performance by Carla Juri. While in her hospital bed, we learn more about Helen, what makes her tick, and how she ended up the way she did.  We discover Helen is hiding some dark secrets, and will need to confront them in order to achieve any type of normalcy.

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We are always aware that this is a movie that tests limits with scene after scene of nauseating grossness. But there is a rich familial drama within “Wetlands”.  As the story moves forward we see the complexities of Helen and her family and how she developed into the woman she is, and why she has such idiosyncratic behavior.

“REFUGE”— Responsibility and Private Life

refuge

“Refuge”

Responsibility and Private Life

Amos Lassen

Amy (Krysten Ritter) is a young woman raising her two, slightly younger, but needy siblings. She tries to balance her personal life with her responsibilities. However, when Sam (Brian Geraghty), a young handsome stranger comes to town, he becomes entrenched in the family while he and Amy begin to create a life they never thought possible when all odds are stacked against them. We have had many movies about drifters that come into town but “Refuge” does not use that premise as others have and instead director Jessica Goldberg concentrates on the escapism that this stranger brings with him.

Nat (Logan Huffman), Amy’s brother is of legal age, but he has considerable complications that have arisen from a brain tumor. Amy’s sister, Lucy (Madeleine Martin), is a high school student weathering the usual problems of truancy, light drug use, and, much more alarmingly, self-inflicted physical abuse. Amy loves her siblings, but she feels trapped, and escapes, she thinks, by drinking at a local bar and then going home with anyone who even looks at her. This is her cry for help and it leads her to Sam. Sam is an unemployed wanderer with family issues who’s even more screwed up than Amy and her sibs.

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Here is a low-budget American film that defines its characters by their poverty and in that it is an attractive film visually. But there is really nothing at stake in the film because the characters have already given up before the film began. What we see is “a fatalist reconfiguration, of a party of the damned, that mostly appears to be beside the point”.

The camera is hand-held, the setting a nondescript blue-collar town and the characters are broken, dead-ended, indecisive, and inexpressive. Even when they do make a move, it’s usually impulsive (bar fights, bingeing on ecstasy).

The suspense is in whether Amy will embark on an endless road trip with Sam, potentially fracturing family ties. The performances are sweet natured and sometimes surprising especially Martin who gives an amazing performance. The dialogue is clever and often funny, sometimes intentionally so.

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This is a film about young people searching for meaningful relationships. Sam doesn’t even know Amy’s last name until halfway through the film, and when either asks about anything deeper than what’s for dinner, the other changes the subject. The film presumably is trying to end with the promise of a brighter future for all involved, but reality isn’t nearly that simple. I really hate seeing a film that has so much unused potential and that is perhaps what bothers me the most about this film.

KABBALAH ME”—- Opens August 22 in New York, Opens September 5 in Los Angeles

First Run Features presents

Opens August 22 in New York
Opens September 5 in Los Angeles

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

First Run Features is proud to present the theatrical premiere ofKabbalah Me, a new documentary feature directed by Steven Bram and Judah Lazarus. The film will open on August 22 in New York City and September 5 in Los Angeles.

Kabbalah Me follows a personal journey into the spiritual phenomenon known as Kabbalah. Rooted in the Torah and Talmud, Kabbalah has been studied by leading Judaic scholars for many centuries, but many Jews are unaware or uninformed about Kabbalah and its significance. The film tells the story of how co-director Steven Bram, feeling a spiritual void in his life, immerses himself into the world of Kabbalah.

Raised in New York as a secular Jew and without much interest in organized religion, Steven grew up to lead a conventional life – marrying a nice Jewish woman from the suburbs, fathering two beautiful daughters, living on the Upper West Side, and working at a sports and entertainment company. But after 9/11, he felt a longing for a deeper and more fulfilling spiritual life. This longing leads Steven on a five year journey that includes reconnecting with his Hasidic family members, studying with Judaic scholars, and taking a pilgrimage to Israel, where he immerses himself in the history and traditions of the Holy Land and meets with charismatic Rabbis, Talmudic scholars and spiritual leaders.

As Steven’s spiritual journey progresses, the mystical and complex world of Kabbalah, with its varying interpretations and myriad rituals and lessons, slowly unfolds, leading to profound changes in all aspects of his life.

KABBALAH ME Opens August 22 at the Quad Cinema in NYC
Co-Director Steven Bram will be in person at select opening weekend shows.

KABBALAH ME Opens September 5 at Laemmle Theatres in LA
Co-Director Steven Bram will be in person at select opening weekend shows.

Steven Bram has been the COO of New York-based Bombo Sports & Entertainment, LLC since its founding in 1999. He has produced over 50 sports films for television, DVD and digital release. Steven also sits on the board of the Aish Center in New York.

Judah Lazarus is a music video director whose work includes videos by AZ, Reakwon of the Wu Tang Clan and Trick Daddy. As an actor Judah played opposite Tim Robbins in Noise. Judah also developed the Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner The Believer, starring Ryan Gosling. Judah and his partner Moshe Lazarus now run High Line Productions, which is developing a TV series about Brooklyn’s Hassidic Hipster subculture.

KABBALAH ME 
80 minutes, English, Documentary, 2014
Produced & Directed Steven E. Bram
Directed by Judah Lazarus
Edited by Neco Turkienicz, Adam Zucker
Associate Producers Ilana Ellis Klein, Rina Perkel
Original Music by Jamie Saft
Original Story by Steven E. Bram, Rabbi Adam Jacobs
Story Consultant Jack Youngelson
Written by Steven E. Bram, Judah Lazarus , Adam Zucker

 

“IN BETWEEN SONGS”— Against All Odds

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“In Between Songs”

Against all Odds

Amos Lassen

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“In Between Songs” looks at how one Aboriginal family must fight to save their legacy. Djalu Gurruwiwi, and his sister are community elders and “they strive to shepherd their clan through countless internal and external pressures, while searching desperately for new custodians to safeguard their musical and cultural legacy”. Their community is the small Australian Aboriginal group of Nhulunbuy. (I have a strong feeling that spell check will not like this review).

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 Djalu Gurruwiwi, a famed traditional didjeridu craftsman and player, alongside his sister, Dhanggal, strain to keep Galpu clan traditions safe from numerous internal and external forces. When Djalu’s son, Larry, proves to have limited interest in continuing the clan or instrument’s legacy, the elders are forced to turn their attention toward the Gurruwiwi grandchildren. There is a complication with the Rio Tinto bauxite mine that is a multi-billion dollar industry. Brother and sister try to move the family out to traditional homelands deep into the bush but this is not easy because of the limited infrastructure and lack of formal schooling for the youth. While attempting to shepherd their clan through economical, environmental, cultural and social pressures, Djalu and Dhanggal Gurruwiwi remain firmly resolved in their mission to maintain tradition. The film follows their struggle to survive and to keep their traditions.

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Newly initiated boys in the tribe have limited long term vision and maturity and often become victims to the peer pressures of drugs and alcohol. The modern distractions of computers and video games, made available to them even in this remote community, compound their lack of drive and consistent adherence to traditional life.
 Alcohol and drug use from mining personnel frequently spills over into the traditional clan groups.

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The environment has implications for generations to come because of what the mine is doing to the land. visible and highly lethal environmental impacts from the mine’s presence will certainly have lasting implications for generations to come.
 The costs involved for transportation and supplies in this remote region greatly diminish the plan of moving the clan. James Cromwell narrates this film about family life and culture as it tries to find a balance between the ancient and modern world.



“ILO ILO”— The Family and the Maid

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“ILO ILO”

The Family and the Maid

Amos Lassen

Set in 1997 in Singapore, we meet the Lim family and learn about their relationship to their maid Teresa who has recently arrived in their country and in their home. Teresa is a Filipina who has moved to the city in order to make a better life for herself but her presence in the family weighs on them in addition to the troubles that they were already dealing with. Jiale, the son is young and seemingly made of trouble but he and Teresa form a bond and Teresa becomes almost a member of the family. The Asian financial crisis was also beginning to have an affect on the family and on others as well.

The film won this years Camera d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival and is a wonderful account of one family trying to survive economic and domestic struggles in Singapore.

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Because she is a Filipino immigrant, Teresa is an outsider not only in the family but in society as well. Her job includes managing Jiale’s behavior and the bond between them brings Teresa to the status of an unspoken member of the family but when the financial crisis hits the family all of the relationships are at risk.

Filmmaker Anthony Chen based the story on his own family’s live-in maid and her contributions to his life as a child. I understand that they lost touch but with the international release of the film, they had the chance to catch up on all that they missed. I grew up with a maid although she did not live with us and we became quite close. Then I left the states for more than twenty years and during that time my parents died. When I came for a visit we had a family reunion and Dell was there and it was wonderful. I firmly believe that we do not know the value of what we have until we no longer have it.

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The beauty of Chen’s portrait of family life in 1997 is that he manages to capture an entire period within one intimate slice of life. “Beautifully acted and precisely observed, ‘ILO ILO’ is an amazing debut, full of heart and intelligence.”

The film is filled with love, humor and heartbreak. T focuses on the bond between a ten-year-old boy and his Filipina nanny as the family struggles with the financial crisis. Chen depicts class and racial tensions within a household and his accessible style enabling the characters’ underlying decency and warmth to emerge unforced. Chen describes the predicament of so many Asian children who are placed in the care of foreign maidswhile their parents work to maintain a double-income lifestyle. Keng Teck Lim (Chen Tian Wen) has lost his sales exec job, but hasn’t found the courage to tell anyone; his wife, Hwee Leng (Yeo Yann Yann), is pregnant, but still woks as a secretary even though this drains her mentally. Jiale (Koh Jia Ler) is starved for attention and has become a troublemaker at school, forcing the Lims to hire domestic help Terry (Angeli Bayani), who hails from Ilo Ilo in the Philippines to keep an eye on him.

At first Jaile bullies Teresa and we see him as the rambunctious brat that he is but Terry is not willing to take his abuse and eventually the two begin to really care about each other. This is beautifully filmed at a point when Jaile notices that Teresa is not at a family banquet and he offers her his soup and says that it is very expensive and he really doesn’t like it.

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Director Chen tells his story simply and the movie is driven forward by the characters and sketches of home life. We get a moving picture of the father who has a hurt ego after losing his job but maintains his good-natured personality. The mother tries very hard to keep the family together in spite of bossiness and spite of Teresa. We see her jealous of the relationship her son has with the maid and this is a reflection of the uneasy interdependence between working women and the nannies that become surrogate mothers to their children.

Teresa radiates dignity even though her character is neither martyr nor saint. She is a pragmatic woman who will lie a little to survive and she wonderfully radiates emotions. However the film belongs to Jaile who is a dynamic young actor who does not have to try to be cute. He allows us to see the humorous, fiercely loyal kid beneath the obnoxious pranks and wild temper. The relationship between Jiale and Terry is interwoven with the Lims’ financial woes, which loom larger in the second half.

Chen is more interested in the people than plot and his excellent screenplay is delivered in a low-key docudrama style with no contrivance and melodrama. He creates a slice of life with a genuine feel for family politics and local culture, deftly and subtly revealing a little more about his subjects and the way they live their lives with every scene.

The relationship between Teresa and Jiale is at the film’s heart, and we see the boy as good-hearted but with other tendencies, while the maid mourns the child she left behind and isn’t going to stand for any nonsense. Together they form a strong mother/son bond that has a few layers of ‘something’ more on top. Chen is equally adept in his portrait of a marriage and shows the very real pressures of a lower-middle-class marriage and trying to survive  financial pressures.