Edited by Sammie Purcell RoughDraftAtlanta.com
Reporter Newspapers A Publication FEBRUARY 2023 | A SPECIAL SECTION
By Kenny Blank
Storytelling is our most transformative vehicle for conveying the shared human experience. Good stories investigate life’s intricacies. Great stories unite us through empathy. At a time when we all need a great story, the 23rd Atlanta Jewish Film Festival is proud to showcase 60 world-class films. By curating and contextualizing these dynamic stories, AJFF seeks to entertain, educate, and inspire our wonderfully diverse city.
Karaoke, a delightful comedy helmed by emerging filmmaker Moshe Rosenthal and nominated for 14 Israeli Academy Awards, sets the festival tone as our Opening Night selection. Funny, heartfelt, and sharp, this cautionary tale of midlife ennui and selfdiscovery captures the poignant nuances of human nature, and the transcendent need to fulfill one’s aspirations.
Killing Me Softly With His Songs bookends the 2023 lineup with its tuneful tribute to songwriter-composer Charles Fox, joined on Closing Night by director Danny Gold. Featuring exuberant performances and an array of entertainers—Rita Wilson, Jason Alexander and Henry Winkler to
depictions of terrorism in Closed Circuit and Savoy.
Young Professionals Night, presented by AJC ACCESS, will bring Atlanta’s next generation of leaders to the Woodruff Arts Center for a reception and screening of French-Israeli comedy, Paris Boutique. Directed by Marco Carmel, this comedy of errors received six Israeli Academy Award nominations including a Best Actress nod to Nelly Tagar (Zero Motivation), one of Israel’s funniest talents.
Cinephiles, rejoice! A magnificent restoration of The Hourglass Sanatorium awaits. Other film-loving fare includes silent-era gem Broken Barriers, fully restored and complete with a live organ accompaniment by composer Donald Sosin. Movie lovers will also enjoy zany classic The Mad Adventures of Rabbi Jacob and the 45th anniversary of Girlfriends, with pioneering filmmaker Claudia Weill in attendance.
Roughly half of the festival lineup will also be available to access from home in our Virtual Cinema. Thanks to a generous grant from the Jewish Abilities Alliance, all streaming titles are available to view with optional closed captioning.
rapper-actor Common and rock band Barenaked Ladies, and more—this utterly engaging profile of a wildly talented yet humble artist showcases music’s unique ability to transcend languages, borders and genres…hitting a universal note.
Narrative highlights include courtroom saga The Accusation, the morality fable Farewell, Mr. Haffmann, Polish protest romance-drama March ’68, Yiddishlanguage arthouse masterwork SHTTL, Israel’s Oscar submission Cinema Sabaya, and character-dramas Where Life Begins, Barren, and America.
Unmissable documentaries include 1341 Frames of Love and War, Prophets of Change, and Reckonings, along with taut
Born from the pandemic and back by popular demand, our In Conversation series will focus on some of the festival’s must-see titles. With both virtual and inperson options, these interactive dialogues will focus on a wide range of themes, each facilitated and informed by expert voices from our community.
To AJFF newcomers, and everyone, we invite you to join our story. AJFF is for all of Atlanta, regardless of faith, politics or identity. Together, we look forward to indulging in curiosity, engaging in conversation, and experiencing a vibrant culture, one story at a time.
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Broken Barriers (Kahavah)
The Atlanta Jewish Film Festival:
What can’t you miss?
By Sammie Purcell
This year’s Atlanta Jewish Film Festival has a plethora of great films and events to check out. We know it can be hard to nail down where to be and when, and while you should definitely take a look at the lineup yourself and try to see as many things as you possibly can, we’ve got a few suggestions we think you can’t miss.
Director Moshe Rosenthal’s debut feature film is making its Atlanta premiere on opening night of the festival. The film premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival and was nominated for 14 Israeli Academy Awards, including Best Film.
The film follows a middle class couple who feel stuck in their marriage, when suddenly the mysterious bachelor upstairs offers a much-needed spark to their relationship. Starring Sasson Gabay and Rita Shukrun, both winning Israeli Academy Awards for their performances, the off-beat dramedy is a great pick for opening night.
The film will screen on Feb. 8 and Feb. 9 at the Sandy Springs Performing Arts Center. Both screenings include a Q&A session with Rosenthal.
The official Israeli entry for the Academy Awards is playing the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival this year. The Atlanta premiere of “Cinema Sabaya” will introduce audiences to a group of Arab and Jewish women who come together to learn self-expression through the power of film. The film was nominated for eight Israeli Academy Awards, with wins for Best Film, Best Director for Orit Fouks Rotem, and Best Supporting Actress for Joanne Said.
There will be three screenings of
Professionals Night to bring together community partners from across the Atlanta area to indulge in food, drinks, and of course, film. This year, the night includes a screening of the French-Israeli film “Paris Boutique,” a romantic comedy about a Parisian woman who finds herself caught up in a mystery in Israel. Tickets can be purchased online.
New movies aren’t the only reason to be excited about the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival. This year, you’ll have the opportunity to see some old favorites and hidden gems on the big screen.
Feb. 19. The film is presented in partnership with The National Center for Jewish Film, who discovered and restored the film.
This year’s festival will also celebrate the 45th anniversary of “Girlfriends’’ with a showing on the big screen. Originally released in 1978, Claudia Weill’s indie gem stars Melanie Mayron as a lonely Jewish photographer dealing with the aftermath of her roommate moving out of their New York City apartment. Christopher Guest and Eli Wallach give great supporting performances. This film has been digitally restored from the 16mm original, and is preserved by the National Film Registry. The film will screen at Landmark Midtown Art Cinema on Feb. 12 and includes a Q&A session with Weill.
You’ll also have an opportunity to
“Killing Me Softly With His Songs”
“Happy Days?” “The Love Boat?” “Wide World of Sports?” We’re guessing the song for each of those television programs popped into your head with ease. But you might not know the man behind the music.
“Killing Me Softly With His Songs,” a documentary from filmmaker Danny Gold about composer Charles Fox, is set to play closing night of the festival. The film will screen twice on Feb. 21, and both screenings include a Q&A with Gold. For $36, attendees can gain access to the final screening, Jury Prize announcements, and a dessert reception.
“Cinema Sabaya,” one on Feb. 11 at Landmark Midtown Art Cinema, one on Feb. 12 at Georgia Theatre Company Merchants Walk, and one on Feb. 17 at the Sandy Springs Performing Arts Center. Each screening will include a Q&A session with Rotem and AIB Network Community Engagement Director Audrey Galex.
Young Professional’s Night
Presented by ACCESS, the American Jewish Committee’s young professional group, the festival’s Young Professionals Night will take place at the Woodruff Arts Center on Feb.18.
Every year, the festival holds a Young
“The Hourglass Sanatorium,” the Polish masterpiece that won the Cannes Jury Prize in 1973, is celebrating its 50th anniversary. The film follows a Jewish man named Józef, who goes to visit his father in a strange sanatorium where he undergoes a psychedelic and mystical experience. The legacy of the Holocaust looms large over director Wojciech Jerzy Has’ film, and Polish authorities originally tried to suppress the film because of its sensitive material. The film will play at a special Late Night screening on Feb. 16, with a remastered soundtrack and frame-by-frame digital restoration by Martin Scorsese.
“Broken Barriers (Kahavah),” a 1919 silent film based on stories from Yiddish author Sholem Aleichem, is the first known American version of the author’s work. Decades later, the author’s tales would be adapted into the Broadway show and then movie “Fiddler on the Roof,” but this version doesn’t focus on Tevye. Instead, it centers on his daughter Khavah and her romance with a gentile boy named Fedka. Composer Donald Sosin will play live accompaniment on the Plaza Theater’s organ during a screening of this film on
celebrate the 50th anniversary of Gérard Oury’s French comedy classic. “The Mad Adventures of Rabbi Jacob” was a Golden Globe Best Foreign Film nominee, and will be playing the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival this year. The slapstick comedy follows two men – an uppity, rude businessman and a revolutionary – who disguise themselves as rabbis to escape from assassins. The movie will play at the Plaza Theatre on Feb. 18.
“In Conversation” Series
The COVID-19 pandemic forced the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival to pivot in certain ways. But not all of those changes were bad. This year, the AJFF will continue to hold their “In Conversation” series via Zoom, allowing audiences to participate in thought-provoking conversations from the comfort of home.
Register in advance online to join a discussion about the themes in the films below. All conversations begin at 9 a.m.
Feb. 16: “Converts: The Odyssey of Becoming Jewish” and “Stay With Us”
Feb. 19: “David Baddiel: Jews Don’t Count” and “The Conspiracy”
Feb. 20: “Everything Went Fine”
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Sasson Gabay and Rita Shukrun star in “Karaoke,” a film about a couple whose marriage sparks when they meet a mysterious bachelor upstairs.
“Cinema Sabaya” brings together Arab and Jewish women to learn about self-expression through film.
In “Paris Boutique,” a French-Jewish lawyer and Israeli hustler fall into step for a comedy of errors.
Film Review: ‘Stay With Us’
The 2023 Atlanta Jewish Film Festival gives special attention to French cinema and includes a selection of 3 films. The French Films shown at the Festival are often very good, like “Stay With Us” from Gad Elmaleh.
questions faith and tackles spirituality? A movie where he confesses his intimate relationship with religion, as a Jew who fell in love, head over heels, for the Virgin Mary during his childhood?
beginning of the movie, and announces a manifest desire for dialogues, discoveries, and personal reflections.
By Martine Tartour
Let’s face it. For Americans, Gad Elmaleh, the actor and director of “Stay With Us,” is unknown. And yet, he worked with Steven Spielberg in “The Adventures of Tintin,” signed a Netflix special called “Gad Elmaleh: American Dream,” and shares a child with his former girlfriend Princess Charlotte of Monaco. Does it ring a bell? Let’s cross the Atlantic.
American viewers should be aware that in France, Elmaleh is a star! His stand-up comedy shows can bring together up to 50,000 people. When alone on stage, he can keep his audience laughing for two hours. Starring in more than 40 movies, he has also directed two hilarious films; “Chouchou,” where he plays a NorthAfrican immigrant who uses crossdressing in order to find his nephew; and “Coco,” where he stars as a flashy and ostentatious billi
onaire who dreams of doing the craziest bar mitzvah around.
So why has the undisputed French king of comedy suddenly decided to write and direct “Stay With Us,” a movie that
In the film, Elmaleh plays himself. After having moved to New York three years ago to kickstart an American career, he is back in Paris to visit his MoroccanJewish family. He has booked a room in a fancy hotel, but his family insists that he stays with them. The joy of the reunion is over-shadowed when his mother discovers a statue of the Virgin Mary in her son’s suitcase. And for a good reason: Elmaleh was planning on breaking the news to his family that he wants to convert to Christianity. This is when the usual expression, “Stay with us instead of going to the hotel, we barely see you,” turns into, “Stay with us, you are Jewish!”
The idea of addressing the theme of religion so frontally is audacious, and even more so is the subject of conversion. The Catholic Church in France tends to lose a significant number of faithful, but that does not prevent it from also attracting new converts. According to the Conference of Bishops of France, just over 4,000 adults were baptized in 2022. Six percent were Muslim. Very few were Jews. And yet, Elmaleh wants to convert to Christianity, at least in his movie. “Blessed is he who does not ask his way from someone who knows it, lest he risk getting lost.” This quote is highlighted at the
To understand and appreciate the film, one must understand that Elmaleh is a Moroccan Jew, which needs a little bit of explanation for Americans, even for those of the Jewish faith. Ashkenazim are the most populous Jewish group in North America. Their families came from East Europe. They keep the culture of matzah balls, black-hatted Hasidim, and Yiddish. But in France, 75% of Jews are Sephardic. Many of them (or their parents) emigrated from former French colonies (Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia), after those countries gained independence in the 1950s and 1960s. They hold onto the culture of the Sun, the East and the Exile. Much more exuberant than the Ashkenazi, superstition, folklore and joy are all values that persist in their faith.
In the movie, the confrontation of Elmaleh’s parents with Christianity is at times hilarious. When the mother recoils in horror upon the discovery of the statue of the Virgin Mary, she asks her husband to go get kitchen gloves to lift the statue: “It’s a sin to touch it with your hands.” Elmaleh laughs at himself and his loved ones, without ever giving in to
When casting the movie, Elmaleh originally thought of having Catherine Deneuve play the role of his mother, but quickly realized that only his own parents, David and Regine Elmaleh, could play these roles. And they became the true stars of the film. When asked by a journalist who compared the process of confessing his conversion to a kind of coming out, Elmaleh humorously replied, “A coming out would go much better, because the Jewish mother would respond: ‘As long as you don’t become Catholic!’”
Moreover, if the film is a journey, we will never know the end.
Did Elmaleh convert to Christianity? He admits right away that, “in the film there are some autobiographical parts” and “others invented.” But, “the spiritual quest, the search, the introspection are true.” He admits his total sincerity, even when it is embarrassing. Alone in his teenage room, Gad watches a Mass on his computer. His mother bursts in. He slams his computer shut, caught red-handed. There’s no way he can tell her that he is watching a Mass online. The torment of faith is an even more implacable taboo than porn!
Elmaleh’s comedy “Stay With Us” is packed with humor. This personal story could be relevant for any of us who are exploring our own spiritual and ideological choices. The subject is universal, as it has already gained interest from a North American movie distributor. Film Movement just bought the rights for an American version. Hallelujah!
Stay With Us (original title: Reste un peu), by and with Gad Elmaleh, David and Regine Elmaleh, 1H33mn
French-Jewish entertainer Gad Elmaleh goes on a spiritual journey in “Stay With Us,” a self-reflective film starring Elmaleh alongside his real family.
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Gad Elmaleh in “Stay With Us.”
Meet the Jury: The group tasked with awarding the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival
By AJFF Staff
Every film festival has awards – from the Golden Lion to the Palme d’Or. And subsequently, every film festival has a select group of people tasked with choosing those award winners, and making dreams come true.
The jury of the 2023 Atlanta Jewish Film Festival is filled with teachers, filmmakers, students, CEOS, writers, and more. Let’s meet the people who will be deciding the fates of many.
Narrative Feature: The Narrative Feature Prize is awarded to a feature length fiction film that is deemed the best overall.
Nominees: “America,” “Barren,” “Farewell, Mr. Haffmann,” “June Zero,” March ‘68,” “SHTTL”
Yacov Freedman: Freedman is the senior podcast producer of Turner Classic Movies’ documentary “The Plot Thickens.” He holds degrees in film studies from Northwestern and Emory Universities, and has worked as a producer for HLN, Entertainment Tonight, and multiple other television shows. Freedman has written about motion capture, blaxploitation, and auteur studies.
Bruce Goldstein: Goldstein is the founder and artistic director of New York’s Film Forum’s repertory division, as well as the founder and co-president of Rialto Pictures. Goldstein is also a filmmaker in his own right, with shorts like “Uncovering The Naked City” under his belt.
Harper Lazarov: Lazarov recently graduated from the University of Georgia and is completing a certificate with the Georgia Film Academy. Lazarov has experience working on film sets in various capacities, including camera, sound, and grip.
Documentary Feature: The Documentary Feature Prize is awarded to the feature length non-fiction film deemed the best overall.
Nominees: “1341 Frames of Love and War,” “The Devil’s Confession: The Lost Eichmann Tapes,” “Israel Swings for Gold,” “Reckonings,” “Savoy,” “The Wild One.”
Scot Safon: Safon is a marketing and branding expert who has worked and held leadership roles at companies like CNN, HLN, and TNT. He works as a consultant now, with clients that include Ford, Showtime, and Audible.
Steven Pressman: Before he became a documentary filmmaker, Pressman spent many years as a journalist. He holds a political science degree from Berkeley, and has directed and produced three films that have screened at the Atlanta Jewish Film
Festival: “50 Children: The Rescue Mission of Mr. and Mrs. Kraus,” “Holy Silence,” and “The Levys of Monticello.”
Caio Jardim: Jardim is a rising senior at Emory University looking forward to graduating in 2023. He loves both watching and producing romantic comedies and documentaries.
Short Film: The Short Film Prize goes to a film with a run time of 40 minutes or less that is deemed best overall.
Nominees: “Anne,” “Bourn Kind: The Tiny Kindness Project,” “The Caretaker,” “Fledge,” “The Record,” “The Victorias”
Dori Berinstein: Berinstein is a producer, director and writer. She is also a multiple Tony, Olivier, and Emmy Award winner, with credits that include “ShowBusiness: The Road to Broadway,” “Carol Channing: Larger Than Life,” and “Marvin Hamlisch: What He Did For Love.” Recently, she co-produced Ryan Murphy’s adaptation of “The Prom” for Netflix.
Felicia Feaster: Feaster is the co-founder of the Atlanta Film Critics Circle, and has years of experience as a critic. She worked as a critic for the Atlanta JournalConstitution and Creative Loafing, and also has writing credits in publications like Elle and The Economist. Feaster is also a managing editor at Warner Bros. Discovery.
Ikki Kaijima: Kaijima is a fourth-year student at Emory University studying film and media.
Emerging Filmmaker: The Emerging Filmmaker Prize goes to a rising creative talent.
Nominees: Gabriel Bier Gislason for “Attachment,” Stéphane Freiss for “Where Life Begins,” Tal Inbar for “Closed Circuit,” Moshe Rosenthal for “Karaoke,” Orit Fouks Rotem for “Cinema Sabaya,” Ady Walter for “SHTTL”
Julie Ann Crommett: Crommett is the founder and CEO of Collective Moxie. She has also held leadership positions at Disney, Google, and NBCUniversal. She has previously appeared on Hollywood Reporter’s 35 Under 35 list.
Todd S. Yellin: Yellin spent 17 years at Netflix as the company’s head of product, but later decided to pivot to filmmaking. His debut feature, “Brother’s Shadow,” played at the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival in 2006.
Tara Gause: Gause is a senior majoring in film production at Clayton State University. She made her first capstone short film in 2022, called “You Were Always My Favorite.”
Building Bridges: This award is given
to the film that most exemplifies the mission of the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival.
Nominees: “Cinema Sabaya,” “Converts: The Odyssey of Becoming Jewish,” “Killing Me Softly With His Songs,” “Matchmaking,” “Prophets of Change,” “Stay With Us.”
Stephanie Guiloff: Guiloff is the director of internal communications and advocacy for the American Jewish Committee. Born and raised in Chile, Guiloff earned her MA from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. At the American Jewish Committee, she works to establish the organization’s priorities and goals.
Deidre McDonald: McDonald founded the BronzeLens Film Festival in Atlanta. She is an award-winning television and documentary producer, and has spearheaded a number of initiatives for Clark Atlanta University.
Rebecca Myers: Myers attends the University of Georgia and is completing her master’s in film, television and digital media.
Human Rights: This award is given to the film that best captures the perseverance
of those working in the face of bigotry and persecution.
Nominees: “Children of Nobody,” “The Conspiracy,” “Everything Went Fine,” “Exodus 91,” “Simone: Woman of the Century,” “Tantura”
Sharon Rosen Leib: Leib is an awardwinning columnist who regularly writes about combating antisemitism, her family’s history in Hollywood, feminism, and politics. In her prior career, she was a deputy attorney general in California.
Isaac Zablocki: Zablocki is the leading host of Israeli and Jewish films in America and directs the film center at JCC Manhattan. He previously worked at Miramax Films. At the JCC, he runs the Israel Film Center, Other Israel Film Festival, and ReelAbilities Film Festival.
Keshawn Morgan: Morgan attends Morehouse College and is a theater and performance major with a minor in Africana Studies. He is an actor and activist, and has appeared in several student-led theater and film productions. He also landed a role in HBO Max’s “Project Greenlight.”
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Re po rt er Ne wspa pe rs A Publica tion A tlan ta In to wn A Publica tion at la nt a
Late night at The Plaza
By Sammie Purcell
Cinephiles unite! This year, the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival is linking up with multiple partners for a couple of late night screenings at The Plaza Theatre that will blow your mind.
On Feb. 16 at 8:30 p.m., AJFF is partnering with Videodrome for a screening of “The Hourglass Sanatorium,” the winner of the Jury Prize at the 1973 Cannes Film Festival. The film, directed by Polish director Wojciech Jerzy Has, has been digitally restored by Martin Scorsese.
“One of the obvious pleasures of watching movies is talking about them with friends and fellow enthusiasts — and naturally Videodrome has always been a place for that. But sharing the experience of watching a movie together on the big screen is a joy on another level,” said Videodrome owner Matt Booth in a statement. “Curating fun & interesting films we’d like to experience with our customers and community has been both humbling and absolutely thrilling — and we can imagine no better partner or space than the Plaza Theatre.”
We’re expanding our warm welcome.
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“The Hourglass Sanatorium” is a surrealist masterpiece, following the journey of a young Jewish man who visits his ailing father at a strange sanatorium, where he encounters a mystical experience beyond the realm of reality. The film was originally suppressed by Polish authorities upon its release because of its political subtext relating to antisemitism and the Holocaust.
On Feb. 18 at 8 p.m., AJFF will partner with WUSSY Mag for a screening of “Attachment,” a new LGBTQ+ horror film from Danish director Gabriel Bier Gislason. When sparks fly between Maja, an actress, and Leah, a Jewish academic, an emergency forces the duo to go stay with Leah’s Hasidic family. Maja butts heads with Leah’s mother, and something dark lurks underneath the surface.
“WUSSY is so excited to co-host this suspenseful, sapphic modern horror romance with the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival,” said Jon Dean, editor of WUSSY Mag in a statement. “‘Attachment’ will satisfy any genre film fans and is an important addition to the Queer horror canon.”
Tickets for both of these late night screenings can be bought online.
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Meeting the parents goes wrong in director Gabriel Bier Gislason’s “Attachment.”
‘Israel Swings for Gold’
By Sammie Purcell
In 2021, protestors gathered outside a park in the northeastern United States where the Israeli baseball team was playing in preparation for the Tokyo Olympics.
The team – who was coming into its first Olympics as an underdog – was met with anti-Zionist protests at many junctures on its journey to Tokyo, as seen in the documentary “Israel Swings for Gold,” which will play at this year’s Atlanta Jewish Film Festival. Outside the stadium, one protestor shared his thoughts with the filmmakers.
“This movement of Zionism that this team is representing is a true embarrassment to our people, to the Jewish people, and it’s a desecration of our religion,” said Rabbi Dovid Feldman. “This occupation of Palestine, and of an entire indigenous people that live there, is forbidden according to Judaism. We are forbidden to kill, and they oppress an entire people.”
The players on the Olympic team were not unaware of the controversy surrounding them. How could they be, with protesters at games, or with other countries’ athletes refusing to engage in pin trading, a sacred Olympics tradition, with Israeli team members? But many of the team’s players were Americans who had obtained Israeli citizenship, and so the question remains: how many of them had a solid understanding of Israeli history, or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and why people might feel motivated to protest a baseball game?
“Players that are new to Israeli politics were interested to know, why is this happening? We use it as an opportunity to create a real dialogue within the team.” said pitcher Shlomo Lipetz, one of the players who was born in Israel, in the documentary. “That’s what you get when you put a group of Jews in one bus. You start talking about stuff that’s maybe beyond the normal dialogue on a baseball team.”
While “Israel Swings for Gold” offers an interesting look on the country’s attempt to make baseball more mainstream in a place where it has historically been unpopular, it doesn’t spend too much time interrogating what exactly that dialogue that Lipetz mentioned looks like. In a little over an hour, audiences are given a first-hand experience of what it entails to be an Israeli athlete at the Olympics. But unfortunately, the film only glosses over the most interesting aspect of that equation –the conversations that happen on the path to citizenship.
The film is a combination of footage taken from inside Olympic Village in 2021 (outside media was not allowed, so these
are videos the players took themselves) and interviews compiled after the fact reminiscing on the experience of “the Jamaican bobsled team of baseball.” Going into the Olympics, Israel was ranked #24 in the world. The next lowest ranked team that qualified was the Dominican Republic at #7. This is a true underdog story, one that began in 2018’s “Heading Home: The Tale of Team Israel,” which serves as a prequel for this new documentary.
The most interesting parts of “Israel Swings for Gold” deal with the players’ experiences as Israeli team members, particularly in relation to the Munich Olympics massacre. During the 1972 games, 11 Israeli athletes were killed by a Palestinian militant organization, Black September. The documentary places a lot of emphasis on the extra security measures afforded to the Israeli team, as well as the fact that the Tokyo Olympics was the first time since 1972 that the team hung an Israeli flag outside their building, therefore marking where they would be staying.
The documentary also lends a significant amount of its runtime to a minor TikTok scandal the team found itself embroiled
in during the games. Throughout the Olympics that year, a number of athletes took it upon themselves to test out the durability of the now famous Tokyo cardboard beds in humorous ways. When the Israeli baseball team joined in on the fun – testing out how many Israelis it takes to break a cardboard bed – there was some backlash.
The TikTok section of the documentary is probably the most fascinating. The team member who posted the video, Ben Wanger, said he did not expect this type of response. In his defense, the video is fairly inoffensive. But this moment tugs at the strings of a conversation the documentary never fully enters, harkening back to Lipetz’s comment about educating players new to the country about its history. Wanger is one of many Jewish Americans on the team who obtained Israeli citizenship to play. He could be one of the players Lipetz was referring to. But the film only touches on the broad strokes of those conversations, never letting us see how they might play out.
In one interview, General Manager Peter Kurz makes a comment that while the
government hasn’t gone in the direction he would’ve hoped, he still believes in Israel. But just as the film offers us that small nugget of information, it moves on, not taking the time to explore complex feelings of national identity. There’s a short scene where we see players going through the citizenship process, and some commentary from a few players on why they chose this path, or what reservations they had. But those moments are gone in a flash, and never run deeper than a couple of sentences. We’re told this team had conversations about Israel’s complicated history and its place in the world. But if we’re never shown, we’ll just have to take the documentary’s word for it. There’s a great underdog story present in “Israel Swings for Gold,” and the film lends more than enough time to that Cinderella tale. But that part of the story is often undermined by how much we’re left thinking about what’s going on off screen.
“Israel Swings for Gold” is directed by Seth Kramer, Daniel Miller, and Jeremy Newberger. It will have its world premiere at the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival on Feb. 11. Tickets can be purchased online.
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In conversation with composer Charles Fox
By Sammie Purcell
“The Love Boat.” “Happy Days.” ABC’s “Wide World of Sports.”
I’m willing to bet the theme music for each of those television programs just popped into your head. Music in television shows and movies has a way of burrowing itself into our heads, taking us back to a specific time and place. But the same cannot be said about the creators of said music.
You may have never heard the name Charles Fox before, but you’ve heard his music. In addition to everything listed above, Fox wrote the music for “Monday Night Football,” the television show “Love, American Style,” movies like “Barbarella”
relationship with Nadia Boulanger and her impact on you. How do you think a good mentor/mentee relationship affects a composer, and what are some of the most important things she taught you?
Charles Fox: Well, that’s a wonderful way to start. Nadia Boulanger has been a very important part of my life, to this day. I was 18 years old when I went to Paris. I had taken piano lessons from the time I was eight or nine. I studied composition in high school. I went to a high school called The High School of Music & Art, and so I was really well grounded in all sorts of music subjects.
music that are consistent. Music is harmony, melody, counterpoint, orchestration, rhythm.
I can’t speak highly enough of how important it is if someone is fortunate enough, as I was, to be able to work with an extraordinary person in that field. You asked me about mentorship, the same could be true in art, you know? It could be true in literature, to have the right teacher who shows you that there’s something deeper underneath the skin to look for. In her case, it was the truth. Literally, the word truth. She was always interested in what became so firm in your language of what you’re writing that it wasn’t just nice, it wasn’t just good – it became the truth, in sort of a deeper sense. That all stays with me to this day.
In the documentary, you mention something she told you that has stuck with you: “Play it your way or play it my way. Don’t compromise.” Why do you think that particular insight has stuck with you for all these years?
Fox: Because in our lives, especially when we are taking what is our art form and we’re trying to make commercial sense of it too … you’re constantly being asked to compromise with what you really want to do.
Norman was brilliant, he was brilliant, and his words were fantastic. In our case, mostly, he gave me the words first.
I was going to ask about that. Is there a certain way you like to operate, as far as if music or lyrics come first?
Fox: That’s how we did it. Sammy Cahn had a wonderful line about that, and I worked with Sammy Cahn too. Sammy Cahn’s line was, “People always ask, what came first, the music or the words?” And he said, “The phone call.” [Laughs] And that’s true of most of my work. Most of my work was to do a film, to do a show.
[Norman] gave me the words mostly, maybe a start of a song, maybe a title, and then I would come back and I’d add to it, and sometimes extend his words. Sometimes, he would say I’m driving him crazy because he had it just perfect, and I would go ahead and double up to the line, maybe triple up to the line, because I needed that musically to make it better. And he would say, “Now I’ve got to think of new things!” But he always came up with it. The man worked both ways.
and “9 to 5,” operas, ballets, and everything else under the sun – including the Grammywinning hit, “Killing Me Softly With His Song.”
A new documentary from Danny Gold, “Killing Me Softly With His Songs,” is playing at the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival and offers an inside look at the prolific composer’s career. Fox talks openly about his life and music, particularly his relationship with his mentor, Nadia Boulanger.
Boulanger taught a number of the 20th century’s most important musicians, including Aaron Copland, Philip Glass, and Quincy Jones. Boulanger taught Fox at Fontainebleau, France as a teenager, and then later gave him private lessons in Paris.
“She was just a completely dedicated woman who taught some of the great composers of the century,” Fox said recently in an interview with Rough Draft Atlanta.
Rough Draft Atlanta spoke with Fox in anticipation of the film, which will play two screenings on Feb. 21 at the Sandy Springs Performing Arts Center. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
You spend a lot of time in this documentary talking about your
I specifically was interested in composition, orchestration, arranging, harmony, and all that. I went for the summer to Fontainebleau. France, in the palace. It changed my life, to be honest with you. [Boulanger] was such a dynamic, loving, extraordinary musician, and she took me under her wing. I only went over the summer, but she said, “No, please come to Paris with me.” So I ended up being in Paris with her for two years.
It was a very rigorous learning period for me. I was always interested in classical music, and opera and ballet. But I was also interested in jazz, and Latin music and all that. She was, of course, strictly classical music. But through her, I absorbed things about music that were extraordinary. For her, the essence of music and teaching was to bring out in each student who they were, what they were. She wasn’t interested in molding you into something that she wanted you to be. She wanted to mold you in terms of learning the rudiments of music, harmony, counterpoint, development of music, you know? I absorbed all that, and all that training led me to feel very comfortable and work in many different forms of music, from say, rock and roll, to latin, to jazz, and all that. There are certain elements of
That doesn’t mean that you have to do it my way or the highway. It just means that you have to learn to adapt to whatever it is. You could be standing in front of an orchestra, and for some reason something doesn’t work. You have to know how to make it work. That’s not compromise, that’s just dealing with an orchestra within a particular set of notes with an instrument that may be difficult to play.
I think what it does – the word compromise, and don’t compromise –reaches to a deeper sense of what you’re doing. Underneath the skin, we all have a love and a desire to make the best of what we do, in my case music, composition. So not giving into compromise is not to give into some outer influence that you may not control. On the other hand, if you write out of a musical range for a flute, you’re not going to get the notes. [Laughs] You have to know what the notes are.
The question of compromise is interesting when it comes to partnerships with other musicians or writers. You had a long and successful partnership with Norman Gimbel. How do you work towards maintaining a working relationship with someone for so long?
Fox: Trust. Trust in each other’s work, to put it into a single word. A good collaboration is made of trust. I’ve had many collaborators. Norman and I wrote songs for 30, 35 years.
It comes down to first of all appreciating each other’s work, and trusting that you’re dealing with someone who has his own deep sensitivity to what it is. Now of course, I work with different people. I worked with Paul Williams, I would give him melodies. That’s true with the Bergmans, I worked with Alan and Marilyn Bergman, I wrote the melody first. Truth be told, I prefer working to the words.
Why is that?
Fox: I know exactly why, because I look at the words of a song and I hear melodies. Most of the things that I’ve done I’ve been for characters, either in shows, in a stage show, where each one has a personality, and there’s a meaning for the song. There’s a reason, a raison d’etre, for the song. Or just for a singer, who has a certain range or sings a certain kind of song. So I’ve usually written, in my case, many television theme songs. So there’s always a reason for it, it’s not just writing a nice song.
The notes never stop for me. I always hear the music. Is it good enough? That I have to arrive at. I learned to trust my instincts to know what I have is just right for me. Sometimes it can be the first song I do, sometimes I can work on a song for a week or two until I’ve shaped it up. I know for me, if I sit and play and sing a song I’ve written, if it’s not right I’m so bored by the end of the song. I can’t wait for the song to be over. And when I have it right, I feel like singing it again.
You’re working on a couple of new projects, like a new ballet,
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“Killing Me Softly With His Songs” tells the story of composer Charles Fox.
and in the documentary you also mentioned that you’re working on a new musical. You’ve had such a long career with such a plethora of output. I wonder if you ever feel yourself running out of steam or feeling burnt out, and if so how do you push forward?
Fox: Well, it hasn’t happened yet. It just hasn’t. You get writer’s block and things like that – I hear about it [laughs]. My enthusiasm hasn’t waned.
It’s what I do. Sometimes people say it’s what I am. No, what I am is a member of my family, my wife of 60 years and my children, we’re all very close. And my friends, who are part of my family. But what I do is music. So no, fortunately I haven’t gotten burnt out. I still have a lot of projects.
My new project is a musical that I’m working on with Alain Boublil, who you also saw in the film. Alain wrote “Les Misérables” and “Miss Saigon.” So we have a new show, called “Ain’t That Jazz.” It’s a wonderful premise for the show, and it’s about life, and
jazz, and death, and romance, and Paris, and New York! It’s about a lot of things that are kind of combined for a very interesting, new story. We’ve been working for quite a while. We just finished, and we’re going to the studio now to make demos of the songs.
You’ve composed for so many different mediums and genres –television shows, ballets, classical music, rock. How does composing for each compare, and are there different ways that you approach them?
Fox: In a sense, they’re the same. Because in a sense, I come into my studio every morning, and I go to my piano over there or my keyboard back there, filled with what I have to do or what’s on my mind. You know, the process of writing music is the same thing, whether it’s a ballet or a theme song for a new television show. I have to live with the character.
When I did my first ballet, “A Song For Dead Warriors,” it was about Native
Americans. [Michael] Smuin and I did a lot of research. We actually spent a weekend with the Flathead Indians of Missoula, Montana. I read books on the subject, I listened to a lot of [American] Indian music, I went to films dealing with Native American subjects. At the point that I thought that I was familiar enough with what I was dealing with, I put that all aside and I went to write my own music … I just let the influences of what I knew seep into my work. And it came out how it came out. I think it’s the same process when I see a “Happy Days” show. I see the characters on the screen, and what they are, and their relationships, and I find the music to work with. There’s always a motive for it, and I’ve done a lot of different kinds of projects.
I live with the film. Usually, I would see a film five, six, seven, eight times. I break it down in my mind, where the music is –where I think I can help, what would be the purpose of the music. Music for me becomes a character in the film. It’s not just the background. There’s an old adage that was, a
good score – if the picture’s great, you didn’t notice the music. I don’t feel that. I feel that the music is a character, very much present.
A lot of the documentary centers around your love for Latin music, and salsa music. What is it about that genre in particular that draws you in?
Fox: I know exactly what it is. It hit me when I was quite young. It’s joyous music. It’s simple music, even though it may sound intricate, with overly complex rhythms, it’s not. The complexity is because we get all these people doing things together, who come together and produce one sound that’s joyous. It’s rhythmic, it’s dynamic, it’s percussive, and on top of that, the music is fun.
“Killing Me Softly With His Songs” will play twice at the Sandy Springs Performing Arts Center. Tickets can be bought online.
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