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Festival of Light

Fourth annual Jewish Film Festival

5:30 p.m.: The Flying Camel (Rami Na'aman, Israel, 1994, 95 min.) A screwy comedy about the begrudging friendship between an aging Israeli professor and a down-at-heels Arab engineer, The Flying Camel manages to be charming and winning without too much fuss. Professor Bauman is a widowed junk collector and architecture scholar who lives in relative squalor among his treasured things. After a brief trip to the hospital, he returns home to find Phares, an Arab trash collector, squatting in his bungalow. Before long, they've discovered how they might be of use to one another; a scheme to reconstruct a sculpture of a flying camel keeps them together. (A Greek tragedy this isn't.) Meanwhile, an Italian nun parks her van in the yard, joining the cause, and three major world religions are reconciled -- at least for now. The production values are shaky and an emotional center all but absent, but that's not really the point. Go, watch, enjoy. In Hebrew with English subtitles. (ML)

8 p.m.: A Letter without Words (Lisa Lewenz, U.S., 1998, 60 min.). A Letter without Words is a unique gem. In 1981, Lewenz discovered a box of films that her grandmother Ella Arnhold Lewenz had made, starting as a young Jew in Germany, entering the color-film era in 1929 and continuing through the rise of Hitler and a flight to New York City after Kristalnacht. Later she discovered her grandmother's diary as well and engaged a German lip-reader to help her subtitle the silent footage. Ella's home movies reveal an excellent independent filmmaker living through extraordinary times. Besides the German Jewish experience in the Nazi era, rendered with unprecedented subtlety and texture, her camera shows us Albert Einstein, seen as a family friend. (He was, we are pleased to learn, "a really sweet guy.") Lewenz's voice-over narrative is hampered by trite similes, but her patience with and love for her grandmother and art have given us a warm and revealing film. Followed by a discussion with Lewenz. (CK)

June 17
2 p.m.: Common Courage (Bob Gill, U.S., 1998, 80 min.) and "Dissolution and Resettlement" (Judith Doneson, U.S., 1987, 30 min.). There's nothing quite like Holocaust testimony -- harrowing, deeply unsettling and even unhinging, narrating a kind of horror for which we are often told there are no words. It's always hard to take; it's hard to open ourselves wide enough, and steadily enough, to become proper vessels for testimony of this kind. And yet, in Common Courage as elsewhere, Holocaust testimony can be miraculous -- they lived, after all; these people who tell their tales survived. Cataloguing the stories of four St. Louis survivors, Common Courage is a simple but deeply affecting film marred only by the unfortunate use of intermittent music, which occasionally plays behind the survivors' voices. Gill has selected two women and two men with discrete experiences -- one from Germany, two from Poland and one from Vienna; one who escaped to England, one who went to Auschwitz, one who hid in an underground bunker and another who fled to Italy and became part of the resistance. The result is an eloquent portrait of prolonged, intense suffering and ultimate survival. "Dissolution and Resettlement," part of a larger series about Jewish history, is a short documentary about Jewish refugees in the postwar period. The writing is not particularly eloquent, nor the composition artful, but the information's good: Who knew that 18,000 Jews went to Shanghai during World War II? Or that 50,000 Yemenite Jews were flown to Palestine (later Israel) in Operation Magic Carpet? After the horror of Common Courage, footage of the Israeli flag flying over the new state is a welcome sight. Followed by a discussion with Gill and Doneson. (ML)

5:30 p.m.: Delta Jews (Mike DeWitt, U.S., 1998, 57 min.). According to one witness, the story of Jews in the Mississippi Delta is "the story of fathers who built businesses for sons who didn't want them." At one time, 1,500 Jews lived in the Delta; fewer than 300 remain. Still, it may come as a surprise that there were ever any Jews in the Delta, and their stories (not to mention the way they tell them, with Southern accents thick as sludge) are fascinating. This documentary, slowly and simply rendered, traces the history of Jews in "the South's South" -- from arrival from Eastern Europe, to the establishment of Jewish farms and businesses, through the volatile civil-rights era, and up to the present-day exodus from rural South to urban North. Perhaps the saddest consequence of the dwindling presence of Jews in the South is the contemporary tension between Jews and blacks. According to one witness, the two communities used to be somewhat closely allied. Followed by a panel discussion featuring former Southerners Dr. Albert Barton, Rita Hirson, Claire Jacobs and Esther Lyss-Greenstein. (ML)

8 p.m.: The Golem (Paul Wegener and Carl Boese. Germany, 1920, 90 min.). The golden age of German cinema, post-World War I through the 1920s, produced landmark works immensely influenced by expressionism and the theater of Max Reinhardt. Stylistically characterized by exaggerated acting, deliberately distorted sets, high-contrast lighting, shadow effects and nightmarish themes of psychological tyranny teetering on the verge of chaos (think of 1919's Cabinet of Dr. Caligari), these films communicate distrust of power and fear of persecution. Wegener and Boese's remake of The Golem (first filmed in 1914) follows the Jewish legend of a clay figure that Rabbi Loew brings to life as a defense against a 16th-century pogrom in medieval Prague. Serving as co-writer, co-director and lead actor, Wegener breathes a humanity into the Golem, who falls in love with Loew's daughter. Used to save the ghetto after the Hapsburg emperor threatens expulsion of the Jews, the Golem moves toward his own betrayal. Though Wegener denied that he intended to make an expressionist film, The Golem shares many such characteristics while forging its own haunting appeal, including striking crowd scenes. The Golem, a silent film, plays with live accompaniment by guitarist Gary Lucas; for more information on Lucas, see next week's

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