Jewish Film Fest serves Blocks and Docs & more

"Making Trouble," which profiles the careers of trailblazing Jewish performers Molly Picon, Fanny Brice, Sophie Tucker, Joan Rivers, Gilda Radner and Wendy Wasserstein, will be shown as part of the 4th annual Columbus Jewish Film Festival March 9 as part of the "Block’s and Docs" offering of bagels and documentary films, including "Orthodox Stance," below, about a champion boxer who refuses to compromise his faith. The film festival runs from March 8-13.

The fourth annual Columbus Jewish Film Festival, running March 8-13 at various venues, offers everything from punch lines to knock-out punches, hard-hitting dramas and documentaries to cutting-edge comedies from around the world.

"One of the highlights of this year’s film festival will be an entire day of documentaries at the Drexel Gateway on Sunday, March 9," said Emily Schuss, film festival director. "In addition, Block’s Bagels will be serving complimentary bagels during the event, which we are calling ‘Block’s and Docs.’ "

Making laughs & "Making Trouble"

One of the documentaries tell the stories of six Jewish women who aimed for the funny bone of the world over three generations.

When one thinks of Jewish comedians, the names of such performers as Milton Berle and Jerry  Lewis typically come to mind, one observer points out in "Making Trouble."

But over three generations, six Jewish women defied the conventions of their times and redefined what it means to be a woman and funny.

Interspersed with the ruminations of four leading contemporary Jewish women comedians, the film recounts the careers of Molly Picon, Fanny Brice, Sophie Tucker, Joan Rivers, Gilda Radner and Wendy Wasserstein.

In contrast to the stereotypes of Jewish women as pushy or possessive purveyed by the male clique of comedians, each of the performers profiled fought against those images in their acts and their personal lives.

"They had respect for themselves, and, in turn, the audiences respected them," offers comedian Judy Gold.

Molly Picon, remembered for her later portrayal of Yente the Matchmaker in the film "Fiddler on the Roof," began her career as "The Sweetheart of Second Avenue" and queen of the Yiddish theatre at a time when recent immigrants hungered for entertainment.

On stage and in films, she composed her own songs, complementing her talents as a musician, singer and actress.

In one film, she played a girl who dressed as a boy to accompany her father as a traveling musician, decades before Barbra Streisand’s "Yentl."

The film was shot outside of Warsaw, using many performers who would later perish in the Holocaust.

Picon returned to Poland after World War II to entertain the survivors. One woman told her that "my daughter has never heard laughter," and Picon made it her mission for the rest of her life to make people laugh.

Fanny Brice, like Picon the child of immigrants, found her fame in the Zeigfeld Follies after a long apprenticeship in vaudeville.

Brice’s looks, in contrast to the typical pert, blonde chorus girl, threatened to work against her in show business. But she made her appearance work for her.

"She couldn’t be the prettiest girl on the stage, but she could be the funniest," one biographer said. "She was the first woman willing to play the clown."

Sophie Tucker was known as "The Last of the Red Hit Mammas" and, like a Jewish Mae West, brazenly flaunted her sexuality, even though one commentator points out that she "was built like a truck, and loud."

"My songs aren’t about vice. They’re about sex," Tucker said.

She had to overcome the disapproval of her Orthodox family and community in Hartford, Conn., after leaving behind a failed marriage and a son to perform in New York City.

During her first trip back, she was ostracized, but she vowed to return a star, which she did, this time drawing adoring crowds and headlines.

Joan Rivers earned her comedy stripes when it was still primarily a men’s world, first in the Catskills and later in Greenwich Village clubs.

She made her mark by talking about real experiences that women could relate to.

She made her breakthrough with The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, becoming a TV regular.

After her husband’s 1987 suicide, Rivers returned to the clubs to talk about the loss, breaking another barrier about a previously taboo subject.

Gilda Radner, who made her mark as one of the original Not Ready for Prime Time Players on Saturday Night Live, is described as "compulsively candid" about everything from the eating disorder that tormented her to the cancer that claimed her life.

"The only weapon I have is my comedy," explained the woman who created such enduring characters as Roseanne Roseannadanna and Emily Litella.

She also defied the cliche of the homely Jewish comedienne, flaunting her looks in a photo spread by high-fashion photographer Richard Avedon.

Playwright Wendy Wasserstein went against the wishes of her traditionally Jewish family to study at the Yale School of Drama when it was still dominated by males.

She went on to become the first woman to win a Tony for best play in 1989 for "The Heidi Chronicles."

She found a fellow spirit in Madeleine Kahn, who performed in "The Sisters Rosensweig."

"She’s not a joke," Kahn told Wasserstein of her role. "I want to give this character her dignity," a mission that bound her to the playwright and the generations before her.

Other films being shown during "Blocks and Docs" at the Gateway Drexel Theater, 1550 N. High St., on the OSU campus:

•Souvenirs – A documentary about a father and son who take a road trip to retrace the father’s trail with the Jewish Brigade, with which he served during World War II and the "souvenirs" he may have left behind with the local girls. The 75-minute film is in Hebrew with English subtitles. Rating equivalency is PG-13. Film starts at 11 a.m.

•Orthodox Stance – A documentary about Dmitriy Salita, a champion boxer and an uncompromising Orthodox Jew. The 82-minute film is in English and rated PG-13. Film starts at 1 p.m.

•5 Days – A gripping documentary that captured history being made when the Israeli Defense Force moved to evict the 8,000 remaining Jewish settlers from their Gaza homes. The 94-minute film is in Hebrew with English subtitles. Rating equivalency is PG-13. Film starts at 5 p.m.

Films to be shown, venues, and event details during the Columbus Jewish Film Festival include:

Opening night – Saturday, March 8, at the Columbus Museum of Art, 480 E. Broad St., downtown:

•My Mexican Shiva – a dramatic comedy about how the death of a man results in the celebration of his life. The 102-minute film is in Spanish, Hebrew and Yiddish, with English subtitles. Rating equivalency is PG-13. Film starts at 7:30 p.m.

The Opening Nigh Party, complete with Mexican food and drinks, will begin after the first film ends at around 9 p.m. During the party, this year’s Distinguished Arts Award will be given to Dr. Wayne Lawson, Director Emeritus of the Ohio Arts Council.

•The Bubble – a drama about three young Israelis who share an apartment in Tel Aviv’s hippest neighborhood; when one of the men falls in love with a Palestinian man, he and his roommates conspire to help his lover stay on in Tel Aviv illegally. The 117-minute film – most recently selected for both New York’s Tribeca and Berlin International film festivals – is in Hebrew and Arabic with English subtitles. Rating equivalency is R for graphic sexuality. Film starts at 10 p.m.

On Monday, March 10, at the Drexel Theater, 2254 E. Main St., Bexley:

•Gorgeous! (Comme Ty Es Belle) – A romantic comedy set in Paris that celebrates the au courant Parisian woman, with tons of wit, smarts and not an insignificant amount of sexiness. The 84-minute film is in French with English subtitles. Rating equivalency is PG-13. Film starts at 7:30 p.m. A pre-film reception will be held at 6:30 p.m. at Michael Garcia’s A Salon, 2440 E. Main St., Bexley.

"Greensboro: Closer to the Truth," a documentary about the Nov. 3, 1979 murders of five Communist Workers Party members by the Ku Klux Klan and the American Nazis in Greensboro, N.C., will be shown, along with panel discussions aan address by the filmmaker, March 11 at the Wexner Center for the Arts.

On Tuesday, March 11, at the Wexner Center for the Arts, 1871 N. High St., on the OSU campus:

•Greensboro: Closer to the Truth – A documentary about the Nov. 3, 1979 murders of five Communist Workers Party members by the Ku Klux Klan and the American Nazis in Greensboro, N.C., and how – 25 years later – the horrific event has changed the lives of witnesses, spouses, and the murderers themselves. Directed by Adam Zucker, the 83-minute film in English was produced in the United States in 2007. Rated PG-13. Film starts at 6 p.m.

Following the film, a light dinner will be served at 7 p.m., with discussion leaders facilitating small group conversations based upon the evening’s theme "Can Confronting the Past Heal a Community?" At 7:45 p.m., Greensboro director Adam Zucker will give a keynote presentation, followed by a panel discussion and question-and-answer session at 8 p.m. Panel members include Prof. David Goldberger of the OSU Moritz College of Law, OSU Prof. Hasan Kwame Jeffries, and Jane Ramsey, executive director of the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs.

On Wednesday, March 12, at the JCC of Greater Columbus, 1125 College Ave., Bexley:

•The Champagne Spy – A documentary about Major Ze’ev Gur Arie, a Mossad operative drafted in 1960 to penetrate the circle of German scientists developing weapons of mass destruction in Egypt. While his father was away, his son, Oded, was told that he must never speak about this secret because his father’s life depended on it. He didn’t – until now.  The 90-minute film is in Hebrew with English subtitles. Rating equivalency is PG-13. Film starts at 7:30 p.m. Following the film, Oded Gur Arie will be on hand to greet filmgoers during a dessert reception.

On Thursday, March 13, at the Arena Grand, 175 W. Nationwide Blvd., downtown:

•Sweet Mud – A feature about a 12-year-old boy, Dvir Avni, who lives on a kibbutz in southern Israel in the 1970s with his mentally ill mother, Miri. In this closed, unique society, bound by rigid rules, Dvir navigates between the kibbutz motto of equality and the stinging reality that his mother has, in effect, been abandoned by their collective community. The 100-minute film is in Hebrew with English subtitles. Rating equivalency is PG-13. Film starts at 7 p.m.

•Only Human – A wonderfully twisted Spanish comedy about the unfolding comedy of errors that occurs when a hyperactive Jewish family’s elder daughter brings home her Palestinian fiancé. The 85-minute film is in Spanish with English subtitles. Rating equivalency is R for some sexual content, nudity and language. Film starts at 7:30 p.m.

To see a complete film and event schedule, order tickets, or view film trailers, visit the film festival web site at

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