Read about the festival in Yiddish over at the Jewish Daily Forward!
About the Keynote Speaker
J. Hoberman is a film critic, published in the Village Voice for over 30 years, and cultural historian. He has taught at NYU, Harvard, and, for many years, the Cooper Union where he was Gelb Professor of Humanities. He writes regularly for The New York Times, Artforum, Tablet.com, and other publications and is the author, co-author, or editor of 12 books, including Bridge of Light: Yiddish Film Between Two Worlds, The Red Atlantis: Communist Culture in the Absence of Communism, and (with Jeffrey Shandler) Entertaining America: Jews, Movies, and Broadcasting. For more information, take a look at his website.
About the Films
The Cantor’s Son // Dem Khazns Zundyl (USA, 1937, 1h30)
This Yiddish feature film musical drama marks the screen debut of singer and cantor Moishe Oysher. Shot in Pennsylvania near the Pocono Mountains, the film features Oysher in the title role of a wayward youth who makes his way from his Polish shtetl to New York’s Lower East Side (the film includes rare glimpses of the Lower East Side and of 2nd Avenue Yiddish theater marquees of the period). While washing floors in a nightclub several years later he is “discovered” and becomes a well-known singer. Ultimately, Oysher’s character returns home to the Old Country and reunites with his parents and his childhood sweetheart.
I Want to Be a Boarder // Ikh Vil Zayn a Boarder (USA, 1937, 15 min.)
A small classic of Yiddish absurdism (made from outtakes from the Joseph Seiden feature I WANT TO BE A MOTHER) showcases Leo Fuchs’ comic virtuosity. Fuchs and Yetta Zwerling play a husband and wife who seek to reignite their marriage by pretending to be landlady and tenant in a flurry of comic role-reversals.
Tevye (USA, 1939, 1h36)
Maurice Schwartz’s adaptation of the classic Sholem Aleichem play centers on Khave, Tevye the Dairyman’s daughter, who falls in love with Fedye, the son of a Ukrainian peasant. Her courtship and marriage pit Tevye’s love for his daughter against his deep-seated faith and loyalty to tradition. The clash between tradition and modernity, parental authority and love, customs and enlightenment are foreshadowed by the antisemitism of the rural community. Tevye’s world is a microcosm of the larger world of Russian Jewry in the early 1900s.
A Cantor on Trial // Khazan afn Probe (USA, 1931, 10 min.)
This short gem features Louis “Leibele” Waldman playing three different parts – first an old-world Eastern European, then a German, each auditioning to be the synagogue cantor. Displeased with what they’ve heard and unable to agree, the synagogue committee is visited by Leibele’s agent who offers them a third alternative: a modern an American Chazan, with “pep and jazz” who can do Kol Nidre with a “two-step” and Netaneh Tokef with a “Black Bottom” (a popular 1920s dance).
Bar Mitzvah (USA, 1935, 1h15)
Believing his wife lost at sea, Israel remarries a scheming gold-digger. Shock, tears and laughs abound when his beloved wife returns on the eve of her son’s bar mitzvah after a ten-year absence. Starring Yiddish theater superstar Boris Thomashefsky in his only film performance, this musical melodrama is a masterwork of shund, the bread and butter of the Yiddish theater.
Mameleh (Poland, 1938, 1h40)
MAMELE belongs to Molly Picon, “Queen of the Yiddish Musical,” who shines as Mamele (little mother), the dutiful daughter keeping her family intact after the death of their mother. She’s so busy cooking, cleaning, and matchmaking for her brothers and sisters that she has little time for herself, until she discovers the violinist across the courtyard! Following their success with Yiddle with his Fiddle, Director Joseph Green and leading lady Molly Picon re-teamed for MAMELE, which like YIDL was shot in Poland. Set in Lodz, this musical comedy drama featuring Picon’s trademark song Abi Gezunt, embraces the diverse gamut of interwar Jewish life in Poland, with its nogoodniks and unemployed, nightclubs and gangsters, and religious Jews celebrating Succoth.
Film synopses and media courtesy of the National Center for Jewish Film.