By Lee J. Green
The spotlight shines on the silver anniversary edition of the Sidewalk Film Festival, Aug. 21 to 27, and several Jewish filmmakers will have their works featured.
Southern Jewish Life magazine will sponsor “You Hurt My Feelings” from acclaimed Jewish director Nicole Holofcener, Aug. 27 at 10:30 a.m. at the Alabama Theatre.
This dramedy stars Julia-Louis-Dreyfus, who plays a Jewish novelist in New York named Beth. Her long-standing marriage is suddenly upended when she overhears her husband give his honest reaction about her latest book.
Israel native Elan Golod’s first feature documentary, “Nathan-ism,” focuses on the four years he spent with a Jewish artist in his 90s, Nathan Hilu. The film is sponsored by Marjorie Perlman and the Sidewalk Jewish Film Festival, which will be in November.
At the end of World War II, Hilu, an 18-year-old Jewish U.S. Army private from New York, was assigned to guard the top Nazi war criminals.
He documented those memories for the next 70 years with brutish lines and annotated pastel sketches. Golod proposes a documentary portrait of the aging artist, but what begins as a peek at a unique witness to history grows into an absorbing study of the function of art as both archive and invention.
“It was fascinating to hear his stories about interacting with the prisoners and some of his observances that no one else knew about,” said Golod. “An 18-year-old Jew having interactions with top-ranking Nazi war criminals.”
The 39-year-old filmmaker is from a suburb of Tel Aviv. He served in the IDF for three years and at the age of 22, Golod entered the New York University film program.
He spent most of his time as a freelance film editor, but he wanted to make a documentary. While searching for ideas, he read an article about Hilu’s art show in New York City about 10 years ago.
Golod met Hilu in 2015 and they would spend parts of four years together, until Hilu’s death at age 94 in 2019. “He had this childlike innocence and playfulness about him,” he said. “And in his drawings, Nathan would make colorful Crayola drawings about very serious subjects.”
“Nathan-ism” premiered this past April at a film festival in Toronto. It then played in a festival in Golod’s native Tel Aviv before premiering in the U.S. at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival.
“Recently we were invited to screen the film in the Nuremberg courtroom, early next year,” said Golod. “It’s important that these stories continue to be told… and we’ve been very pleased with the response the film has gotten.”
“Nathan-Ism” will be at Sidewalk Cinema B on Aug. 26 at 2:35 p.m.
Avery Hellman, a non-binary Jewish bluegrass artist who performs as ISMAY, finds their musical identity and original voice from their musical inspirations in the feature documentary “Finding Lucinda.”
Jewish writer/director Joel Fendelman, who lives in Asheville and whose cousin Barry Dreayer is an involved member of the Birmingham Jewish community, said Hellman contacted him in 2019 about doing a short film about Hellman’s inspiration, Lucinda Williams.
“It started small and turned into something bigger as we dived into it,” said Fendelman. “It became much more than a film about musical artists and finding inspiration. It’s about the journey of life and discovery… about finding your true voice.”
“I love music and I’m learning to play piano,” he added. “I think many of us can relate to the struggle and journey of creating art and how we express ourselves.”
Hellman’s grandfather, Warren, played in a band called The Wronglers and founded the famous Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in San Francisco. He was also prominently involved in the Bay Area Jewish community.
Warren passed away in 2011 when Avery turned 19. But to honor his inspiration, they and their father started a Lucinda Williams cover band called the Lake Charltons, named for Williams’ hometown of Lake Charles.
Hellman started performing solo as ISMAY in 2015 and released their first album, “Songs of Sonoma Mountain,” in 2020.
“I’m shy but through songwriting I found my identity and my voice,” said Avery Hellman. “We take from our inspirations then seek to tell our own story.”
They said they were inspired by their father, grandfather, Williams and the great Jewish poet/musical artist Leonard Cohen.
“Lucinda let the songwriting and storytelling lead everything,” said Hellman. “She really didn’t find success until her late 30s and early 40s. And Leonard Cohen was a profound poet, who didn’t find music until later in his life. I think your journey can inform your music. It’s about the struggle, overcoming and real life.”
They said that Leonard Cohen and their family inspired them to express how Judaism influences their music. They recently moved to the South Lake Tahoe area and has begun singing and performing with Temple Bat Yam.
Hellman said they love the south and learning more about the birthplaces of the Southern blues, bluegrass and country. During the filming of “Finding Lucinda,” they travelled to Austin, Louisiana, Mississippi and Nashville.
Their sister-in-law used to live in Birmingham, and Hellman is looking forward to visiting for the Festival. They will also play a set of music at 4:05 p.m. on Aug. 27 at Sidewalk Theatre A, and the movie will screen at 9 p.m. at the Kress Building Ballroom.
The Last Flight Home
Jewish filmmaker Ondi Timoner had made many movies in her 31 years in the industry, but none as personal as the tribute to her father — “The Last Flight Home.”
In the 1970s, Eli Timoner founded Air Florida, the fastest-growing airline in the world. He loved his family and was a “man we could all emulate,” she said.
But when the family found out in 2020 that he only had a few more months to live, Ondi wanted to do a film with him and about him that they could have once he was gone.
“I wanted the film to be therapy for me and something others could relate to whether they knew my dad or not,” she said. “It was a most transformative experience. Making “The Last Flight Home” was such a difficult but important experience.”
The film has been described as “one of the most enlightening… and beautiful meditations on morality in the history of cinema.”
Timoner said her sister Rachel is a rabbi in Brooklyn and she brought Jewish rituals to her father’s bedside. “There is such wisdom and beauty in the rituals she shared. It has always been important to our family, but it became even more important to my father as he approached the end… and it helped us to find console in our grief.”
Timoner also has two other films in the Sidewalk Film Festival. Her latest is “The New Americans: Gaming a Revolution.” It’s a visceral, meme-driven journey into the intersection of finance, media and extremism that encapsulate the effect technology and the internet have had on modern-day America.
Sidewalk is also bringing back Timoner’s first “breakthrough film.” The documentary “Dig” (2004) examines 10 bands about to get signed to record deals and the at-times hilarious, at-times deranged rivalry between The Dandy Warhols and The Brian Jones Massacre.
“Last Flight Home” will be at First Light Church on Aug. 26 at 2:45 p.m. “Dig” will screen at 5:20 p.m. in the Kress Building Ballroom on Aug. 26. “The New Americans” will be on Aug. 27 at 12:50 p.m. at the Alabama Theatre.
“Antisemite” examines Jewish identity internally and what it means. The short narrative film is written by Etan Marciano.
In the movie, college senior Seth meets an Orthodox Jew named Isaac on the streets. The man asks Seth if he was Jewish. Seth’s parents rejected Judaism, so he didn’t know much about his religion and what it meant to him. Isaac takes him into his synagogue and the young man comes to understand before becoming the victim of a tragic act.
“I wanted to do something that we can relate to not just as Jews, but others who are living their beliefs while also examining the horrors of antisemitism, racism and prejudice,” said Marciano.
Director Michelle Bossy is Catholic from a Mexican-American family and could relate to Seth’s journey.
Marciano grew up in Brooklyn (his dad is from Israel and his mom is from New York) and he now lives in Los Angeles. Marciano lived in Tel Aviv for a “life-changing year in which I learned Hebrew… a lot about myself and it compelled me to become a screenwriter.”
“I grew up Conservative and my father grew up Orthodox. I went to a Jewish Day School growing up and it has always been a big part of my life,” he said. “I think many of us on some level continually explore our Jewish identity and what it means to us. It’s a reminder to be proud and celebrate your Judaism.”
Marciano’s wife is African-American and was raised Baptist in Texas. She converted and they are raising their 14-month-old son Jewish.
“Antisemite” has been screened in several locations across the U.S., Israel, Germany and Africa. Marciano said the next step is to develop it into a full-length film.
“I know we have more story to tell. It has opened some important conversations and the feedback we have gotten have helped to shape where we want to go next with this passion project,” he said.
“Antisemite” will screen as part of the Saturday Narrative Shorts on Aug. 26 at 12:40 p.m. at the BJCC Theatre.
Sidewalk Film Festival has been named as “one of the top 10 film festivals in the nation.” For its 25th anniversary year, the Festival is bringing back some favorite titles from its history along with new features, documentaries, shorts, discussions and celebrations of film. For more information and to purchase tickets, go to www.sidewalkfest.com.