Category Archives: Boston Jewish Film Festival

“THE  VIGIL”— A Night With the Dead


A Night With the Dead

Amos Lassen

 Yakov Ronen (Dave Davies) recently left his Hasidic community and is in financial straits.. When his former rabbi asks him to be an overnight  shomer, and fulfill the practice of watching over the body of a deceased community member, he accepts. Shortly after arriving at the dead person’s house to sit the vigil, Yakov begins to realize that something is wrong. The film is filled with ancient Jewish lore and demonology and is a supernatural horror film set over the course of a single evening in Brooklyn’s Hasidic Borough Park neighborhood. 

In accordance with Jewish law, a shomer agrees to be a watchman over the body of the deceased until it is buried. And that’s what Yakov is, even though he recently left his insular Orthodox community in Brooklyn. Things go downhill as soon as he arrives at the house.

“The Vigil” consciously plays with the horror genre, interweaving deeper questions and themes  about religion, faith, intergenerational trauma, relationships  with the suspense and playfulness of supernatural horror.

We get a glimpse into a cloistered world few secular people know and it is authentic. “The Vigil” is directed by Keith Thomas.

“SHIVA BABY”— Meet Danielle


Meet Danielle

Amos Lassen

 In the Jewish religion, the immediate family of the deceased mourn for seven days and sit shiva at which they welcome guests into their home to talk about their loved ones who have passed away, share in their sorrows, and begin the healing process. Emma Seligman’s “Shiva Baby” begins with Danielle’s (Rachel Sennott) screams of pleasure that are followed by an exchange of gifts, and a hug goodbye from her lover Max (Danny Deferrari). Then Danielle’s mother (Polly Draper) calls her and tells her to come home to accompany the family to a shiva.

The room where the shiva is taking place is filled with food, complaints, family politics, and overbearing parents. People try to provide Danielle with food and opportunities but we see she is bothered by something. She wants to escape the situation and her anxiety grows as the film progresses.  As the shiva takes place, the blinds come down and the candles are lit, making the atmosphere claustrophobic and tension pervades the affair. She sees that Max is there (yes, that Max). Danielle did not know about Max’s family life and certainly did not expect to see him there just as he did not expect to see her there. The film becomes an exploration of what it means for women to hold the power.

The power continually shifts throughout the film, and every time Danielle seems to hold it, she loses and tries her to get it back. We see Danielle as an isolated figure in a room filled with people and we see her insecurities and her power.

Max’s wife Kim (Dianna Agron, TV’s ‘Glee’) seem to be everything that Danielle is not. Kim is a wife and mother who can do it all. There is mystery in the air and this takes a toll on Danielle.

‘Shiva Baby’ is a witty and fun film that has plenty of energy. It is an adaptation of the director’s short film of the same name. Danielle tries to fit in with the other Jewish folk, and represses her sex-positive attitude that do not fit with the conservative traditionalism around her.

It is hard not to become invested in Danielle especially when her childhood friend Maya (Molly Gordon) appears. She is initially seen as an antagonist, but when Maya gains some context into Danielle’s mood and independence, so do we.

“SUBLET”— Re-finding love


Re-finding love

Amos Lassen

Eytan Fox, the wonderkid of Israeli LGBTQ cinema brings us his first English language film, “Sublet”. Fifty-something Michael (John Benjamin Hickey) comes to Tel Aviv for a 5-day assignment for the New York Times. Michael is a writer for the paper and is preparing an article about the “real” Tel Aviv behind the touristy hot spots. He sublets an apartment of a young filmmaker, Tomer (Niv Nissim), who makes frequent trips back after Michael moves in.

On one of those visits, Michael learns that Tomer doesn’t have a place to stay that evening and offers him a spot on the couch in exchange for a few guided tours around Tel Aviv. Tomer accepts, and shows Michael the modern world of Israeli LGBTQ culture. Both men are gay, yet at different points in their lives. Michael is in a long-term relationship with a partner back in New York while Tomer eschews the idea of faithful exclusivity. The two men take turns learning from each other— Tomer gains a touch of maturity and perspective and Michael rediscovers a touch of his youthful daring and impulsivity.

Foxwrote and directed the picture. Having lived in Tel Aviv for many years (before the blossoming of gay culture there), I was glad that Fox give his film a distinct sense of place when it is not shot in Tomer’s apartment. When we are not inside, we see beaches, clubs, and streets that give Tel Aviv its nature.

Tomer does not have much of a personality aside from as a “trick” who is filled with angst, and Michael comes across as past-his-prime non-adventurer. What these two opposites share has all been done before and while there is conflict, it is just not new. But Michael does have a bit of trauma that he manages to overcome because of Tomer’s prodding and there are surprises.

Michael is nudged back to life by Tomer.  He finds Tel Aviv to be “full of contradictions, chaotic and intense, but at the same time completely laid-back.” With this, he also describes Tomer with whom he has formed a surprising bond. We might have thought we were going to see a May-December affair but Fox and co-writer Itay Segal have something quieter in mind and they successfully balance underlying melancholy with a light mood and this is what makes the film so good. I am aware that until now I have been a bit hard in writing about the film but it does not only save itself, it becomes quite enjoyable. This is also a love letter to Tel Aviv and its street life. Older gay men will enjoy the film’s treatment of acquired wisdom and the introspection of aging

In the opening scenes Michael is established  as a slightly uptight, pensive man, with a bit of gray at the temples yet still handsome. We sense sadness which he later shares with us. Tomer is spontaneous as opposed to Michael being uptight and organized.

The film comes to us in five chapters representing five days and they follow the connection between the two men who move from being strangers. Through Skype calls with his husband David (Peter Spears) in New York, we learn that Michael is hesitant to continue with their plan to become parents and is irritated when he finds out David has begun plans for surrogacy without consulting him. Tomer admits that he Googled Michael and asks about his well-reviewed first publication, a chronicle of New York City in the AIDS years of the late ’80s and early ’90s when Michael lost his first boyfriend to the disease.

While at the beach, Michael admits that sex has become infrequent in his marriage, while sexual Tomer laughs at the idea of monogamous commitment. His free-spirit side comes into play on the third day after they attend an experimental dance recital and he’s high. He finds a hot local guy (Tamir Ginsburg) on a hookup app and the conflicting signals of curiosity, arousal, reserve and despondency come to the fore when Michael considers the invitation to participate play.  He feels awkward the next morning and tries to leave early, but Tomer stops him by insisting he comes to dinner with his mother Malka (Miki Kam) on the kibbutz where she raised him. That entire fourth day sequence has some of the film’s most affecting scenes (the quiet train ride the two men share, a dinner during which Malka draws Michael out on why he is sad.

Hickey gives a beautiful performance, showing suppressed feelings while also relaying the embarrassment of a man who is not used to talking about himself. Tomer begins to see him differently.

The sexual tension is understated through most of the film so that the drama is more about the effect on both men of their encounter that frees up what was in denial or held back by fear. The screenplay incorporates background about the Israeli-Palestinian divide through Tomer’s dancer friend Daria (Lihi Kornowski) and her relationship with her Arab boyfriend; Michael’s ambivalence toward his Jewishness; the challenges of being an alternative artist in Israel; and the temptation of a more liberal, cosmopolitan life outside of Israel.

“Sublet” is thoughtful queer melodrama that is satisfying, with the way it looks at the mutually beneficial intersection of two radically different lives. The interplay between the two leads is excellent and captures many moments of relaxed intimacy. Fox once again gives us an insider’s view of being gay in Israel  and shows how welcoming Tel Aviv is.

“MINYAN”— Coming to Terms with Judaism and Homosexuality


Coming to Terms with Judaism and Homosexuality

Amos Lassen

“Minyan” directed by Eric Steele is a gay coming of age story threaded together with a journey towards acceptance for David (Samuel H. Levine), a young man grappling with his own religious and cultural identity. David is a diligent Yeshiva student who is beginning to realize that he is attracted to men. Through his growing friendship with his grandfather’s elderly closeted gay and his connection with a handsome East Village barman (Alex Hurt) and the writing of James Baldwin, David gradually comes to terms with his identity as a practicing Jew, a Russian immigrant and a gay man. The film looks at a double awakening—spiritual and sexual.

Director Steele has been until now a documentary film maker and we see that here. We sense his research. Set in the mid-1980’s when AIDS hovers over the gay community, Steele puts emphasis on period and location. Based both on a short story by David Bezmozgis and on Steel’s own experience of coming out during the 1980, we are taken to the then predominantly Russian Jewish enclave of Brighton Beach and the gay scene in the East Village and find a persuasively gritty and unvarnished city.

David is closer to his clever, professionally-thwarted mother than he is to his ex-boxer father but he is closest to  his wise, recently widowed grandfather. In order to make sure that his grandfather gets past the waiting list for a Jewish retirement home, David is drafted as a regular at the same synagogue as gay pensioners Itzik (Mark Margolis) and Herschel (Christopher McCann). The title, Minyan, refers to the quorum of 10 men required for Jewish public prayer. David’s commitment to make up the numbers is as much about expediency as it is about anything else yet through it, his worldview is opened.

Whether carrying the Torah, studying at Yeshiva or in high school, or at home with his family, David’s eyes are constantly searching for something outside of the frame. Soon enough, his eyes lock onto those of another man, and he starts to understand the messages hidden in the loaded glances.

There are several motifs woven into the narrative including the covert draining and refilling of the ‘best’ vodka; the inspiring literature class; the score and klezmer infused jazz and these anchor David’s story to the traditions of his family. While the film might not be doing anything revolutionary with the gay coming of age story, but it is heartfelt and honest. And at times, unexpectedly hot.

David’s parents and grandfather take it for granted that he will participate in the prayers requiring ten men but David begins to live out the East Village scene very slowly and gradually questions the strict rules of his community. He also befriends two gay, Jewish seniors.

The trauma of the Holocaust, repressive Orthodox tradition, doubts about faith, homosexuality in a homophobic environment, family cordoning, alcohol problems and AIDS are the most prominent of the topics Eric Steel uses in “Minyan. The scene that Steel sets is one of shabby apartments, dull synagogues and the dilapidated streets of a lackluster East Village as if these are a pretext for litany of faith. These also lead 17-year-old David to non-binding sex, sometimes to his grandfather Josef (Ron Rifkin), for whom he organizes an apartment in a Jewish senior residence. He develops an unusual friendship with Itzik and Herschel, but it remains underdeveloped like David’s affair with bartender Bruno (Alex Hurt). Although he keeps a name list of his acquaintances who have died of AIDS, he has unprotected sex without hesitation. For his part, David doesn’t even seem to know anything about AIDS.

The drama here is presented in drab colors. David’s family hides the existence of homosexuality in the world and do not consider it worthy of their consideration. Thus David is totally on his own. The moralistic blinders David wears about HIV also limit the dramaturgical view.

The East Village of the 80s AIDS panic never looked more desolate than in this film. David, himself, is colorless especially when he mainly on the couch with seniors, who talk about life as an Eastern European Jews did back then. Th main problem that I had here is that the incompatibility of Jewish belief with the homosexuality of the main character is never problematized. You keep silent and feed donuts while the audience is hungry. Nonetheless, it is a start and while there have been better films that deal with the same issues, there simply are just not enough. It is so good that the door is finally being opened enough for us to look through it.

“THAT SUMMER”— The Prequel to “Grey Gardens”


The Prequel to “Grey Gardens”

Amos Lassen

During the summer of 1972, photographer Peter Beard and socialite Lee Radziwill, the younger sister of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, discussed making a film about the changes being caused by the rapid development occurring in East Hampton, Long Island and the history of Radziwill’s family. Upon arriving with their crew, they soon realized that the real story was already with Edith Bouvier Beale and Edith “Little Edie” Bouvier Beale, Radziwill’s aunt and cousin who were living in squalor and l isolation in the dilapidated mansion known as Grey Gardens. For unknown and/or unexplained reasons, the project was left unfinished but two of the members of the film crew, documentarians Albert and David Maysles, were so fascinated by the Beales that they returned later and made “Grey Gardens” in 1975. This documentary made cult figures out of the Beales and was responsible for the documentary “The Beales of Grey Gardens” (2006), a 2006 stage musical and a 2009 HBO movie staring Jessica Lange and Drew Barrymore playing the two women. Some four reels of 16mm footage from that original abandoned shoot were never shown and for years were thought to be lost. Having been recently discovered, that film is what makes up the new documentary, “That Summer”.

We wonder how could a blue-blooded mother and daughter have gone from high-society debutantes to feeding cats and raccoons in the attic? This is what makes Göran Olsson’s “That Summer” important. We see how the Maysles brothers came to decide on make their original documentary. Lee Radziwill, hired them to help film a documentary about her father, John Vernou “Black Jack” Bouvier III. To tell his story, she deigned to interview his sister, Edith Ewing Bouvier Beale, and niece, Edith Bouvier Beale, who were known as Big and Little Edie. But as I said, that film was not made but Maysles soon turned their fascination with the women into their own next project. The new footage in “That Summer” shows the Beales amid their cousins’ attempts to save the Grey Gardens estate from its fallen state.

It is immediately striking how much less flighty and flirtatiously Little Edie is. In the other documentaries, we see that she had an intense crush on David Maysles, and that probably was why she welcomed his camera into her home but that is far less prominent in “That Summer.” Here Little Edie seems more conspicuously embarrassed by what her life has become. We see as much a lack of patience for her cousin Lee as she has for her mother and she thinks about what will happen to her if she spends one more winter in the Hamptons. We see Razdiwill as a helpful lifeline (but then the footage here was commissioned by her).

“That Summer” fills in the gap of the period when the Beales then became famous in the media for being the poor relatives of Jackie O. Aristotle Onassis and Radziwill paid for renovations of the mansion and helped with other bills. We see visits from the county health inspectors who threaten to evict the women, reporters and a lawyer who came to their defense, and contractors hired to make plumbing and roof repairs. Radziwill’s children, Prince Anthony and Princess Anna Christina, also show up and feed bread to the raccoons. There are also wonderful new things for us to see here.

We actually see the known, but never seen background to the women’s story. The film’s introduction shows Beard leafing through a book of his photographs of Andy Warhol and Mick Jagger and others, plus African wildlife, without explanation. Eventually it becomes clear that this is all set up for how Beard and Radziwill got together and came up with the idea for the project in the Hamptons. The voice-over narration recalls the experience of meeting and filming the Beales.

When Beard, Radziwill and the crew arrived at Grey Gardens, there had been no real visitors there in more than five years and the house and grounds had fallen into such disrepair that county authorities were threatening to evict the Beales. The presence of the film crew and past bad experiences with the local authorities upset the Beales. Edith was much crueler towards everyone other than Radziwill—at one point, she talks about how the many cats they have (including one she claims bears a resemblance to Ted Kennedy) get rid of all the vermin and snaps to her daughter “The only vermin here is you, Edie.” For Little Edie, there are moments in which a certain melancholia about her life comes through.

The footage in “That Summer” is more empathetic towards its subjects but they and their quirks are regarded by Radziwill with obvious love and affection and no small amount of admiration for the way that they have chosen to live life on their own unusual terms. Little Edie indeed publicly trashed Radziwill in later years.

“That Summer” is basically a prequel of sorts to a key Seventies movie that fills in a little of the back-story of a couple of its most notable characters.

“SCAFFOLDING”— Torn Between Two Worlds



Torn Between Two Worlds

Amos Lassen

17-year- old ASHER has always been an impulsive troublemaker. It’s hard for him to concentrate in class, and he is filled of rage and violence. He also has a lot of charm and street wisdom. His strict father sees him as a natural successor to the family’s scaffolding business but Asher finds a different masculine role model in his gentle literature teacher Rami and has a special connection with him. Asher is torn between the two worlds and looks for a chance for a new life and new identity. Then a sudden tragedy takes place and he has to take the ultimate test of maturity.

Director Matan Yair had once been a teacher who believed that he could inspire his pupils by letting them follow their own path of self-discovery. One of his students was Asher who was the inspiration for this film.

Asher (Asher Lax) doesn’t care much for education and makes little effort to prepare for his final exams. Besides being a student, he helps his father Milo (Yaacov Cohen) with his scaffolding business. Since Milo thinks that his son will take over the company one day, Asher doesn’t believe that he has any options for a different life available. But everything changes when Rami (Ami Smolartchik), a literature teacher, becomes his mentor and a role model. He helps Asher with his studies, and shows Asher that he has other options in life aside from his father’s business. Although the teacher gives it his all, he himself is also lost. One day, Rami suddenly disappears from the students’ lives and leaves them with nothing but anger and sadness. Asher has to decide if he will continue with what he has already set out to do and if it will give him enough inner confidence to try to find happiness and fulfillment.

This is a sincere and compelling portrait of a young man’s self-discovery. It is also an allegory for Asher’s life. Asher Lax gives an incredible performance and this is first shot at acting. Ami Smolartchik’s Rami is an honest, heartening performance. This Israeli-Polish co-production is a finely woven production with a profound ending.



“The Boy Downstairs”

Young Love

Amos Lassen

Diana is forced to reflect on her first relationship when she inadvertently moves into her ex boyfriend’s apartment building. She has just returned to New York after living in London for the last four years. Finding an apartment in the city can be a nightmare, so when Diana finds the seemingly perfect place, but unfortunately, after moving in, she discovers her ex boyfriend Ben (Matthew Shear) is her downstairs neighbor. We see that the two still have feelings for one another making this an interesting living situation.

Diana is an aspiring writer who works in a bridal shop to pay the bills, and in her spare time, she helps out her landlord, a retired actress (Deirdre O’Connell). Although she tries to use all these things as distractions, she can’t help but think Ben, despite her constant denial regarding the feelings she has for him. Ben has attempted to move on with his life and is dating a bitchy realtor who quickly sees the attraction between Ben and Diana and does her best to stop a reconnection from happening. Throughout the film, Diana looks for sage advice from her best friend Gabby (Diana Irvine) who has relationship troubles of her own.

Writer/director Sophie Brooks gives us a light, enjoyable romantic comedy that is a well-scripted, well-performed film. We see the magic and awkwardness of New York love through a strong dry humor and quirkiness. The screenplay is sharp, gritty, and real.

The best thing about the film is that aside from being a cute and engaging love story, it is sympathetic to audiences. It’s difficult thing to revisit past feelings, and Diana and Ben have a vulnerability that is very relatable.

“WINTERHUNT” (“WINTERJAGD”)— A Psycho Thriller

“Winter Hunt” (“Winterjagd)

A Psycho-thriller

Amos Lassen

One cold, wintry night, Lena (Carolyn Genzkow) shows up at the Rossberg family mansion. She claims her car has broken down, but her arrival is intentional. Lena is in pursuit of Anselm Rossberg (Michael Degen), an aged Auschwitz guard who lives with his daughter Maria (Elisabeth Degen). Anselm and Maria both deny Anselm’s past, but Lena is determined to get him to confess. At first Maria denies her father’s guilt. At the same time, the story of Anselm Rossberg is being dealt with in the media.

Maria tries to get rid Lena but Maria, who has been living in the shadow of her overpowering father and his controversial past for decades now wants to find the true motives of the young woman. And when Lena brings a horrendous charge against Rossberg at a relentless family court and Rossberg pleads for his life as his daughter faces a great moral decision.

The film by director Astrid Schult tells the story of three people and three generations.Anselm Rossberg is 90-years-old and at first Maria tries to defend him by saying that he is not at home. However, Lena finds him and threatens him at gunpoint. She accuses him boldly about his role at Auschwitz and we see that it is not only Maria who faces a moral dilemma but so do Lena and Rossberg.

The film is very tense and viewers sit on the edge of their seats as we too become part of the moral crisis.I find myself having great difficulty trying to assess the quality of the film since it affects us so deeply. This is not a film that is comfortable to watch but it is an important film as we realize that it is not always easy to understand another generation that was determined to see the end of the Jewish people.


“Etched in Glass: The Legacy of Steve Ross”

Finding a Second Life

Amos Lassen

We have had so many stories and films about the Holocaust that for one to have something new to say, it must really be special and special is “Etched in Glass”. The film is the real-life story of how one remarkable Polish man found a second life in America and dedicating his life to helping people. This is the story of Steve Ross who spent five terrible and horrific years in ten concentration camps when he was a child and then spent the rest of his life in the service of his adopted country, America, as he searched for the American soldier who helped free him from “the gates of hell” and the most terrible time in the history of the world. I do not know Steve Ross but I am still new to Boston but I have known stories like this as well as others from having lived with Holocaust survivors on my kibbutz in Israel. Perhaps that is why I opened this review the way that I did.   I am worried that too many stories could lessen the impact of what we have to know about German anti-Semitism during the period around World War II.

Steve Ross, along with others, tells us about his survival, his emigration to the United States and his resettlement in the Boston area. We meet Ross’ first and oldest friend in America who is now a retired surgeon and we learn how Steve coped with his first taste of American life.

We follow Ross from being a shy timid orphan to becoming a licensed psychologist. We see how he changed lives over and over again, by getting kids off the streets and away from crime. and into the classroom. We meet a man who was saved from a life of crime, urged to get an education and who became a successful attorney and who feels that he owes his life to Steve Ross, his mentor. Ross worked his own way through college are earned three degrees just so he could be an advocate and advisor to young, at-risk people who needed help most and this is what he has done for over 40 years. Steve Ross is also responsible for the founding of the New England Holocaust Memorial. We learn how it came about with the aid of former Boston Mayor Ray Flynn and the idea being fostered with tenacity by Ross.

There was initial opposition but the now-iconic memorial stands on Boston’s Freedom Trail and it is there in order to educate and enlighten thousands of visitors each week.

On Veterans’ Day at the ceremony at Boston’s State House on November 11, 2012, the film ends emotionally. It is there that Ross finally meets the family of the soldier who liberated him from Dachau after a 67-year search (thanks to an episode of “Unsolved Mysteries” found on You Tube by the granddaughter of the soldier). This is an amazing and touching story not only about Steve Ross but also about the union of 2 families who were brought together by the good deed of a soldier who showed kindness to a teenage boy near death. Like other Holocaust films, this is a story of survival, perseverance and hope. Unlike other Holocaust films, this has Steve Ross.

“BANG! THE BERT BERNS STORY”— Music! Music! Music!

“Bang! The Bert Berns Story”

Music! Music! Music!

Amos Lassen

“Bang! The Bert Berns Story” is narrated by musician and actor Steven Van Zandt and the first part is interesting in that it is not at all interesting as compared with Berns’ later years. His early years are somewhat pedestrian and it almost seems that he willed himself to be creative so he could escape his ordinary background.

Growing up in the Bronx, Berns was exposed to a wide variety of music in his youth and Manhattan was nearby, which meant that that there were plenty music publishers. aplenty were available to reject him. Eventually one recognized his potential and he began working as a songwriter in 1961 and his first hit came in the following year. Among his earliest hits, the most famous is probably “Twist and Shout,” which he co-wrote. He quickly learned about the power of record producers, and realized his own limitations as a singer so Berns became a producer as for a variety of labels.

That led to further opportunities with the famed Atlantic Records. By the time Berns came along, the label was in need of hits, and Berns delivered. His titles included Solomon Burke’s “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love” and the Drifters’ “Under the Boardwalk,” which he produced, though he did not share in the writing of the latter. The records he made influenced young British bands like the Beatles, who recorded their own version of “Twist and Shout,” and the Rolling Stones (“Everybody Needs Somebody To Love” ).

As Berns’ career skyrocketed so did his reputation. Those interviewed in the documentary all speak warmly about their working relationships.(But then he co-directed this with his son so of course we hear only good things). Berns preferred encouraging his recording artists rather than demeaning them or shouting at them, and helped to produce good recordings.

The documentary is filled with great stories. Berns befriended a good variety of people in his lifetime, and his more criminally minded friends proved to be extremely helpful when it came to certain business dealings — all of which is remembered in an amusing tone. As a child, Berns began suffering from a heart condition, which would plague him periodically through the years and eventually cut his life short. His musical career lasted less than ten years and it is quite amazing to see how deeply the music he wrote and/or produced still continues to resonate.

Berns was known in some musical circles as “the white soul brother” and I learned that Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones was in awe of his songwriting talent. Janis Joplin covered “Piece of My Heart” and caught all its heartbreak. “Hang on Sloopy” has been loved by many through the years and other notable songs include “Here Comes the Night, ” “Cry Baby,” and “Cry to Me.” He was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame but many are still unaware of Bert Berns, a Jewish kid from the Bronx who lived a fast and furious life and who died 1967 at the age of 38.

During his youth, Berns spent years in isolation after rheumatic fever scarred his heart. He used the time to learn to play piano and guitar. Early on, he discovered the high cost of making a mark in the music business— it was a business filled with power plays, violence, pay-offs, and more. We see the ease with which the creative people involved celebrate the rock & pop vitality of his songs. We hear from greats including Van Morrison, Paul McCartney, Keith Richards, Ben King, Cissy Houston, Brenda Reid, Solomon Burke and others.

His career only spanned eight years but in that time he completely remade music in his image. In the 50s he fell in love with Cuban music, particularly the mambo and he brought his love of Latin rhythms into his music. He began working as a $50 a week songwriter for a tiny New York publishing firm and wrote a couple of songs that got mild airplay that eventually caught the attention of Atlantic Records, then the giant of R&B music.

The documentary is definitely a labor of love, co-directed by his son Brett. The film is largely a parade of talking heads interspersed with archival stills but that’s largely a necessity. There wasn’t a lot of behind the scenes footage taken back then and performance video wouldn’t become a regular thing until the MTV era.

We hear from those who worked with Berns, from performers to engineers. We also hear from his siblings and most importantly, from his wife Ilene – a former go-go dancer. The music business is full of sharks and Berns rapidly learned to swim with them. He nurtured and developed the careers of Neil Diamond and Van Morrison; he also was one of the most prolific and successful producers in the history of Atlantic Records and he remains one of the few people who ever partnered with the main trio of Ahmet Ertegun, Jerry Wexler and Nesuhi Ertegun in founding Bang Records, a subsidiary of Atlantic and the namesake of the documentary.

His legacy is mainly in the music and the soundtrack is packed with it.