Union Street - A Painkiller for Generation Hopeless

Union StreetDystopian fiction is on the rise again.

The last two peaks were around 1940 and around 1960. This is actually not surprising at all since both are times of war (WWII and the Cold War). These were times people were oppressed, felt unsafe, had so little - to no hope at all.
The bleak future dystopian worlds display are a shadow of our youngsters angst and despair.

So.. what's going on now? Is something terrible happening? Or are we afraid of something terrifying yet to come?

Generation Jobless - about 300 million 15 to 24 year-olds are not working, even if they received education and/or training - is becoming generation hopeless. It seems like they believe the world is progressing towards becoming a bad, bad place (if it isn't already..?).

So what planet does Matan Pinkas, director of the documentary Union Street come from?

Union Street is a small street in the center of Jerusalem. Junkies, homeless, vandals and all kinds of trouble makers mark their territory there with graffiti and defecation.
Pinkas decides to do something about it, since he lives there. He starts to run elections for "street mayor" with as first candidate: himself!

First reactions are disbelief, mockery, indifference. But very quickly things start to change.

Pinkas teaches us a huge lesson in perseverance, in hope, and in positive attitude. You can see him change people's mindsets for the better in every minute the movie goes.

This film is like a hope-pill youngsters should get on prescription.

It should remind them of their power to accomplish. Make something happen, no matter how small. Don't let anyone tell you you can't do it. Pinkas is no big hero walking on stardust. He is just an ordinary guy of whom most likely no one has heard before. It really could be you. It is you - If you would let yourself.
Are you willing to be the mayor of you own happiness?

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Lebanon Dream - Business in the Midst of War

Lebanon DreamIn 2000, when Israel pulled out of the security zone it had established in Lebanon, after nearly 20 years, it was a paradigm shift of power in the region. Israel withdrew to the internationally recognized border, with Hezbollah filling the void it left behind. Characteristic of clashes in the Middle East, both sides claimed victory. Hezbollah, in removing Israeli troop presence from Lebanese soil and Israel politically, both domestically and internationally. Caught in the middle of the withdrawal were members of the Israeli sponsored South Lebanese Army, who if they were lucky managed to be on the Israeli side of the border.

In Lebanon Dream, we meet Samir Farhat, a Lebanese businessman who takes advantage of the confusion of war. Several years before the withdrawal, he is in Israel buying TVs, radios, anything that he can turn a profit on, to import for sale in Lebanon. In the eternal ethos of the middle eastern bazar, he buys low and sells high, but just high enough that he doesn’t overprice himself. Using the connections he makes, over the years he build his business up to where he turns a tidy profit. And in 2000, he finds himself stranded on the Israeli side of the border, with nothing. His wife is in Lebanon, subject to the control of Hezbollah, along with nearly 4 million dollars’ worth of inventory.

However this is more than a simple tale of an everyman trapped between two larger, opposing powers. Where do his loyalties lie? Yes, he dons the uniform of the IDF and/or the SLA, but is it a matter of ideology, or practicality? Are his friendships genuine, or is he just the eternal businessman seeking opportunities to exploit? And once it’s all taken away, what is left for this man to profit from?

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The Orthodox Way - Jewish Dating With a Twist

The Orthodox WayIt’s never comfortable being set up on a blind date, each and every one seems like another step on a never ending downward spiral that only serves to depress you and turn you off from dating at all, and possibly relationships forever. But, no matter how terrible it is (and we all have that ONE really horrible dating story, ok, some of us more than one), we still jump back into the fire, because we all know, it only has to work once. And that’s all we’re looking for.

In The Orthodox Way, a simple mix-up looks like it’s heading for another one of these dating disasters. But sometimes the right people meet for the wrong reasons. A young man arrives to pick up his date, who, without a word, promptly gets in the car, and as they drive off another young woman comes out the door. Um… huh, wait, what just happened? What ensues is a classic bad date story, but with unintended consequences. Yes, we know they’re going to end up together, this is a romantic comedy after all, but it’s how they arrive at that realization that keeps us watching. With clever editing and a peppy soundtrack to propel the plot along, we can’t help but watch the mismatched couple on an unconventional first date that their kids and grandkids will roll they eyes at every time the story of how they met is told.

In the film, the Hebrew title of the movie is given perhaps a better translation as “The Jewish Law of Relativity”, AKA, “Jewish Geography”. That is, whenever two Jews meet up, they invariably find out that they are connected by no more than one or two degrees of separation. The film uses this to comic effect, implying that even in the most desperate of situation, it’s who you know.

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The Rabbi's Daughter - Strong Bonds Transcend

The Rabbi's DaughterThere is an inherent dilemma in being the child of a public figure. Are you just an extension of your parent’s public persona, or does the opportunity exist for you to create your own identity? And what if that identity is counter to the belief system of the parent?

These and other issues are explored in The Rabbi’s Daughter. Director Racheli Wasserman, herself the daughter of a rabbi, explores the bond between her three characters and their relationships to their fathers, and their fathers’ work.

Each has chosen their own path, different from that in which they were raised. Here is the underlying conflict of the film, is their choice a rejection of their fathers? Or is it more complex than that, that the ability to go your own way demonstrates a strength that is the true legacy these women have been given?

It would have been easy to make a film with the religious conflict at the forefront. However the more subtle rendering of these complex issues has resulted in a film that belies its short running time. In avoiding the specific religiosity of the relationships, it expands the dilemmas to be applicable to anyone with parents who operate in the public sphere. The lessons learned here, and the love and respect between the parent and child transcends Judaism and becomes universal.

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A Visit to my Parents - Sometimes You Can't Go Back home

A Visit to my ParentsImagine moving to a different country than the one you were raised in, where they spoke a different language. Now imagine doing the same on your own and then not seeing your family for more than seven years. In A Visit to My Parents, director Alon Rabinovich, a graduate of Ma'ale film school, goes back to Russia to visit the family he left behind all those years ago.

It’s not just that Rabinovich has changed, he has. He’s been married and divorced. He’s served in the Israeli army. And he’s even forgotten how cold Russian winters can be (a physiological shock demonstrating how much he is no longer at home in the land of his birth). But it’s how much hasn’t changed within his family in the intervening years.

Rabinovich’s reasons for going home is ostensibly to restore a broken family. His father, having become an increasingly religious Jew, has never forgiven Rabinovich’s sister for marrying a non-Jew. Their marriage, as the happy and fulfilling one the parents never had, defies the father’s rejection. And in immigrating to Israel, Rabinovich has left all the tension behind. So, to what purpose does he come back?

As a one man crew, Rabinovitch uses the camera to capture what his eye sees. He is rarely in the shot, only briefly do we see him when he sets the camera down and enters the frame. While this was probably a matter of circumstance, the intimacy of him shooting alone allows him access to the cramped spaces in which his family dwells. From his father’s cabin in the middle of (even for Russia) nowhere, to his sister’s small urban apartment, he seeks out the tension that he left behind, but the rest of the family have already come to terms with.

Sometimes you just can’t go back home.

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Element 112: The Marinov Affair - Super Heavy Politics of Science

Element 112- the Marinov Affair When I used to daydream in science classes, I'd spend an inordinate amount of time studying the poster of the Periodic Table of Elements that hung on the wall. It didn't really matter what science class it was, or where I was studying, the Periodic Table was a ubiquitous piece of the science lab scenery. I found a serene peace in its structure, the way both the columns and rows worked together logically in family groupings of likeminded elements. What fascinated me as much as anything else were the outliers… that strange double row of elements that hung below the main body of the table, that were both part of its logical structure, and yet outside of it. Even more so, were those atomic elements with the larger numbers at the end. Even at the tail end of the Cold War with the threat of a nuclear war waning, it was the ominous Plutonium and Uranium that attracted my eye. I'd recall the history of the creation of the atomic bomb, and how these elements were "discovered". I suppose I'd always assumed that the table was immutable, after all, aren't the elements part of nature? How could they be discovered? Can they still be discovered? How many more are there to add to the Periodic Table?

"Element 112, The Marinov Affair" documents the apparent discovery of element 112 by Israeli Nuclear Physicist Amnon Marinov. I say apparent, because as the film relates, he has not officially been given the credit for his discovery. Even though he managed to discover it nearly 20 years earlier than the team that eventually was credited with it, the politics of the scientific community worked against him.

Born in Jerusalem to immigrant parents in 1930 Professor Marinov quickly rose to the top echelons of his field. Like many others, he researched the so called "heavy elements", those higher numbered elements on the Periodic Table, that didn't even exist yet. As with his scientific colleagues, the race was on to see who could not only bring these elements into existence, but have them maintain stability for more than a few milliseconds, a criteria for being awarded credit as discoverer. Professor Marinov used a highly unorthodox method to not only create element 112, but have it stay stable for days on end. His colleagues interviewed in the film presume this was the impetus for denying him the credit. He essentially took what was a piece of waste (re: garbage) material, and created the element from that. Years later, the scientific authority invested with the power to adjucate creation rights, wrote the acceptance criteria for a new element, largely based on the findings of the later team. This effectively froze out Professor Marinov for good. There was no way his method would be accepted, and therefore no way that he could conceivably get the credit.

Besides the political maneuvering, another issue floated in the background. To verify findings and gain the credit, another research team needs to replicate a given experiment. However, who wants to copy another's research, and only be listed in the footnotes of scientific history? Considering Professor Marinov used such a controversial method in the first place, it would seem to be the safer bet to try and create Element 112 through more acceptable means and take the credit.

Held hostage by the conservatism of the scientific community, recognition of Professor Marinov's discovery has to this date not been recognized. One would think that among peers, scientific curiosity would trump all and bring together the community for the good of scientific research. But egos and honor hold sway among the scientists just as much as any other profession. As "Element 112" relates, a brilliant, and in many ways, humble man, who thought differently, has yet to find the recognition that his research deserves. Only time will tell if the scientific community can overcome its bias and give Professor Amnon Marinov the credit that the film makes the case for.

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Pizza in Auschwitz - Traumatic Comfort Food

Pizza in Auschwitz

Pizza. In. Auschwitz. There is an inherent incongruity in the combination of these words together to make up the title of a film. And yet, there it is. If Auschwitz, is representative of the Holocaust, one of the greatest evils of the 20th century, if not the greatest, then what are we to make of it standing side by side with pizza, one of the great comfort foods of the post war generation? How are we to reconcile these two seemingly polar opposites in tone and meaning? It would be a dishonor to the memory of those killed at Auschwitz, and really, to all the victims of the Holocaust to trivialize their deaths by pairing a symbol of the depravities to which man is able to inflict upon fellow man with that of a fast food dish that can be ordered to your door within 30 minutes. However, this odd couple is appropriate for the film which it titles.

In Pizza in Auschwitz survivor Danny Hanoch takes his son and daughter on a trip to Europe, to retrace the journey he took from camp to camp. Danny's fortitude is impressive, he faces the ordeal he experienced with humor, reflecting on his education, he quips that he received a "B.A.", or "Bachelor of Auschwitz", and was tended by his "personal" physician Dr. Mengele. But this is a narrative that he has created for himself to deal with the trauma. And it is one that he has carried for years, to the dismay of his grown children. For us, the viewer, we are charmed by him and we laugh at his jokes, but to his children who have grown up hearing the same jokes over and over, they have worn thin years ago. This is the crux of the conflict in the film, the "pizza" in "Auschwitz". In many ways Danny has made peace with what he went through, but at the expense of his children who over the years have become irritated by his repetitive antics.

In Tom Segev's seminal book The Seventh Million, he tells the story of the pre-state Yishuv, and later State of Israel's, relation to the Holocaust and survivors. What emerges is a complex relationship between the two. The oft repeated mantra is that those who were in Europe "went like sheep to the slaughter". Why couldn't they fight back, why didn't they? At the same time, they had no conception of the hell the survivors went through, whether in the camp system or otherwise. For many years, the voice of the survivor was silent in Israeli society, the native born didn't want to hear it, nor did the survivors feel comfortable relating it. The systematic destruction of European Jewry had no historical precedent, there is really no way to encompass what they went through. No one can truly understand their experiences except those who experienced them.

For Danny's daughter, Miri, she's had enough. While the viewer is enamored of Danny, she can no longer take his behavior. She has suffered with it all her life. As much as this is a film about Danny Hanoch, it is as much or more about the effects of the Holocaust on the second generation. About those who grew up in the shadow of its effects on the survivors and lived with them day to day as parents. While it can't compare to what their parents went through, there is ample evidence that the trauma has scared the next generation as well. Despite this, Miri sees through her father's charm, and eventually we do too.

Danny believes that as a survivor he is entitled to a certain respect, particularly in Auschwitz, where he was a prisoner. His demand that he spend the night in the bunk where he was a prisoner, while being filmed, is met with resistance by the memorial authorities. We are exposed to the side of him that his daughter has known all her life, the "Auschwitz" in the "pizza", when he essentially bullies the woman in charge to tears. But he learned his life lessons the hard way and refuses to back down. Eventually the relent, and he gets his way. Danny Hanoch, former prisoner of the Third Reich at Auschwitz, returns as a free man with his children to spend the night in the same bunk where he was imprisoned and "celebrates" with pizza. The inherent incongruity in the film's title is revealed as the ultimate revenge on those who tried to exterminate one whose personality encompasses that incongruity. However, there is still a price to pay, as the traumas echo through the generations.

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