IWWG ’15 Spring Conference

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International Women’s Writing Guild

Member Author Panel

2015 Spring “Big Apple” Conference

JLH Intro: From roughly 1983 to 2002, I worked as a Healthcare Computer Consultant. So basically this was from the dawn of hospital information systems (when people first started getting computer-generated bills) up until the dot-com/dot bomb era.

At the tail end of my Healthcare Computer Consulting career in 2001–when everyone was wondering what would come after the big Y2K push–the buzz around me was this: “Bandwidth is really cheap, so all the money will be going to go into content.”

I believed this (“Bandwidth is really cheap, so all the money will be going to go into content.”); why wouldn’t I? And that assumption–call it “Conventional Wisdom”–definitely influenced me when I decided to give up my road-warrior life and make the switch to freelance writing.

It made sense to me. I was living in Metropolitan Chicago back then, and every time I turned around, I saw a new Borders bookstore popping up. All these new Borders! All these new Barnes & Nobles! And they all had “content” in them: They were filled with books, magazines, and DVDs with “extras.” I didn’t question it. I just thought: “Well, someone must get paid something for creating all this content…” Right? Of course right!

So even though I knew for sure that I wouldn’t get paid as much as a writer as I had made as a Healthcare Computer Consultant, I still thought: “There must be an income path here.” PanelMembersWeb

So how do I answer Question #1: What surprised you?

What surprised me–what continues to surprise me–is how fast the publishing world has changed in the past decade. The market is forcing people en masse from staff positions into freelance roles. As a result, all these people are now pitching their own areas of expertise.

Here are some of the services I have purchased–as a self-publishing author–in the past few years: cover design, photo clearance, writing coach, text editor, text uploader, press kit preparation, press kit pitching (after learning the hard way that press kit preparation and press kit pitching are different areas of expertise), logo design, the development of graphic and collateral materials, etc, etc.

People are pitching their own areas of expertise, meaning they are looking for new ways to use the same skills that they used to provide to publishing companies, newspapers and/or magazines before they were “downsized.” But now all these services have been farmed out, and they are offered “freelance.”

The problem is that nobody overlaps. You–the writer–must be the “command and control” center for all these different areas of expertise… And nobody really has a clue what is going to happen tomorrow. BookSale

Question #2: What do you wish you had known starting out?

I wish I had known that I was not becoming a writer; I wish I had known that I was becoming an “authorpreneur.”

What is an authorpreneur? “An author who creates a written product, participates in creating their own brand and actively promotes that brand through a variety of outlets.”

Question #3: What advice would you give?

My advice is to stay skeptical when people pitch their “solutions,” and continue to follow your own star. Nobody–nobody!–really has a clue what is going to happen tomorrow, so don’t let anyone convince you otherwise on your own dime.

But most important, do not let all your time be sucked up in authorpreneurship. If you want to be a writer, then you must make sure you keep making time to write!

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Top Graphic: IWWG Member Profile for Jan Lisa Huttner. Follow this link to purchase Tevye’s Daughters: No Laughing Matter.

Middle Photo #1: Co-Panelists from left = Sreyashi Ghosh, Maryann D’Agincourt, Helen Leslie Sokolsky, and Jai Maa.

Middle Photo #2: Co-Panelist Jai Maa with Andrene Bonner.

(IWWG Photo Credits: Jan Lisa Huttner)

Bottom Graphic: Click HERE to learn more about IWWG = International Women’s Writing Guild.

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24 DAYS

WithFamilyThe harrowing but critically important French film 24 Days opens today in selected theatres including NYC & Chicago. Also available on iTunes. (JLH: 4/5)

When the 2014 Jerusalem Film Festival gave 24 Days their Lia Award celebrating films dealing with Jewish Heritage, they wrote: “This suspenseful drama manages to avoid clichés and intricately presents the experience of anti-Jewish violence in France. This is a film of great social significance that shows the tragic consequences that arise when violence is ignored and when racist stereotypes are accepted.” This statement from the JFF was released last July, well before “Je Suis Charlie” and the four murders at the Hyper Cacher kosher market in January 2015. So even if you don’t feel up to going, you know in your heart that you should go, if only to bare witness.

Director Alexandre Arcady wrote the screenplay with Emilie Frèche who helped write the source book 24 Days, The Truth about the Death of Ilan Halimi with Ruth Halimi (the mother of Ilan Halimi), so it is no surprise that the adaptation is told from Ruth Halimi’s point of view. Nevertheless the filmmakers (who also include award-winning screenwriter Antoine Lacomblez) have done their best to adhere to the facts of the case, adamantly refusing to make their story anymore “sensational” than it already is.

Briefly stated, the facts of the case are as follows:

On January 20, 2006, Ilan Halimi, a 23 year old cell phone salesman, is abducted. After Shabbat Dinner at his mother’s apartment, he leaves for a meet up with a young woman customer and never returns. Unbeknownst to him, she is working for a group calling itself “The Gang of Barbarians.” Ilan is hustled into a car and spirited away to a vacant apartment in Bagneux (a slum on the southern edge of Paris).

On January 21, 2006, the next day, Ilan’s family receives the first in a series of ransom demands. The first demand is for 450,000 Euros (approximately $500K) an amount incalculably greater than his family’s ordinary middle class resources. The family contacts the Police. Working under the assumption that they are dealing with a routine case of extortion, the Police instruct the family to keep the abduction as quiet as possible while they pursue leads and zero in on the perpetrators. HalimiFamily

On January 29, 2006, nine days after his abduction, Ilan is moved from the apartment to the boiler room of a neighboring building. In the interim, Didier Halimi, Ilan’s father, has become the voice of the family. Didier, extensively coached by a police psychologist, engages in numerous telephone negotiations with gang leader Youssouf Fofana. Ruth Halimi, on the other hand, is told to return to work and act in public as if everything is normal.

Unable to get money from Didier Halimi, Youssouf Fofana contacts a Rabbi who has had no prior relationship with the Halimi Family. When they demand ransom money from him, the Rabbi immediately contacts the Police. At this point, the Halimis realize their son was abducted because he was Jewish, but the Police continue to treat the case as extortion, rejecting any Anti-Semitic implications.

On February 13, 2006, twenty-four days after his abduction, Ilan is found in the woods near the train tracks at Sainte-Geneviève-des-Bois (about 15 miles south of Paris). He dies on route to the hospital.

On February 23, 2006, ten days after Ilan’s death, Youssouf Fofana is arrested in Côte d’Ivoire (his parents’ homeland). On March 4, 2006, Fofana is extradited to France.

On February 9, 2007, Ilan’s body–exhumed from the Cimetière Parisien de Pantin near Paris at the request of his mother–is reburied on Har HaMenuchot in Jerusalem.

On February 18, 2008, Youssouf Fofana and twenty accomplices are brought before the Criminal Court. Fofana is sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole for 22 years. Nineteen suspects receive prison sentences for kidnapping and assassination. Seven other suspects are sent to prison for obstruction of justice.

Rather than dwell on the gruesome physical details of Ilan’s captivity, the filmmakers focus on the mental torture of those who are desperate to save him. Zabou Breitman is riveting in the central role of “Ruth Halimi,” playing her most heartbreaking scenes with Pascal Elbé as “Didier Halimi” (an ex-husband from whom she has been divorced for decades) and Jacques Gamblin as “Commandant Delcour” (the skeptical head of the Police investigative team).

Elbé is also tasked with playing monkey-in-the-middle between Tony Harrison (blazing hot as “Youssouf Fofana”) and Sylvie Testud (icy cold as police psychologist “Brigitte Farell”). The fact that Sylvie Testud—winner of multiple César Awards and the best-known member of this cast—is in such a small role adds to the subtext. Even the best of us may think we know more than we do, and resist explanations that fall outside our comfort zone.

Syrus Shahidi, cast as Ilan, is only seen at the very beginning, but establishes himself easily as a sweet and loveable son. What is most important, in context, is his convincing portrayal of an “Everyman.” Ilan Halimi was just a guy with his whole life ahead of him, until that life was cut tragically short.

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For addition locations in the USA plus VOD link to iTunes, visit the Menemsha Films website.

Top Photo:  Zabou Breitman as “Ruth Halimi” with Pascal Elbe as her ex-husband “Didier,” plus Alka Balbir as their daughter “Yaël” and Audrey Giacomini as Ilan’s friend “Mony.”

Middle Photo: Halimi family members with“Commandant Delcour” (Jacques Gamblin) head of the Police investigative team.

Bottom Photo: Zabou Breitman as “Ruth Halimi” with Syrus Shahidi as her beloved son “Ilan.” Photos courtesy of Menemsha Films.

Photos courtesy of Menemsha Films.

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Was the murder of Ilan Halimi a case of Anti-Semitism? This may sound like a simple question with the obvious answer “Yes!,” and this is undoubtedly Ruth Halimi’s view. However, by bringing us inside the “Gang of Barbarians,” the filmmakers add much-needed complexity to a very difficult subject.

There is no doubt that Ilan Halimi was a “target” because he was Jewish, but the filmmakers make the case that the “Gang of Barbarians” was motivated by pure greed without consideration of nefarious politics or supposed principle. And thinking that a cell phone salesman would come from a family able to pay a ransom of 450,000 Euros was pure stupidity. So is the assumption that “All Jews are Rich” anti-Semitic or just dumb? I am honestly not sure.

SPOILER ALERT! When the police finally identify Ilan’s body, he looked much like a Holocaust victim and the Halimi family obviously made that association for very good reasons. But was that the intention of the “Gang of Barbarians”…? Did they torture Ilan because he was Jewish? Did they have in mind any images of their own of Holocaust victims? The filmmakers strongly suggest that the answer is no.

The “Gang of Barbarians” appears to have been a very loose association of petty thieves who wanted to make a few quick bucks. As the negotiations dragged on, some people fled  and other people became enraged by their own impotence. None of these people had any experience caring for a hostage, and their treatment of Ilan appear to have been more a case of neglectful avoidance rather than demonic intention.

Does this matter when the result is so horrific? Only insofar as we judge the activities of the Paris Police in hindsight. If we look at the film from the POV “What did they know and when did they know it?,” then it becomes more difficult to blame them. “Commandant Delcour” (Jacques Gamblin) says: “If we pay the ransom, we will only encourage more kidnappings.” And as hard as that is to bear in any individual case (most especially for the member of the victim’s family), I am afraid that was–and is–the truth…

FINAL NOTE: At one point, “Commandant Delcour” (the skeptical head of the Police investigative team played by actor Jacques Gamblin) mentions “The Girl on the Train.” This was a true incident somewhat parallel to the Tawana Brawley case which dominated American headlines in the late 1980s, but the French girl in question falsely claimed an Anti-Semitic attack (whereas Tawana Brawley, who is African-American, claimed her attack was racially motivated).

There is a very good film about this case–called The Girl on the Train–by director Andre Techine. It was released in France in 2009. Here is the link to what I wrote about The Girl on the Train in the JUF News when it played in Chicago.

These two films The Girl on the Train and 24 Days combine to make a very powerful statement about the position of Jews in France at the dawn of the 21st Century. Should Jews stay in France? Should they leave France and go to Israel? These are very difficult questions which must be asked.

For more on 24 Days from the Feminist POV, read my post on The Hot Pink Pen.

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ANITA B

Opens tomorrow in NYC. Review coming soon.

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BODY & SOUL: THE STATE OF THE JEWISH NATION

Opens tomorrow in NYC. Review coming soon.

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CLOSER TO THE MOON

Opens tomorrow in NYC. Review coming soon.

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Beneath the Helmet

MekonenLBeneath the Helmet: From High School to the Home Front is fascinating look at five young men undergoing rigorous paratrooper training in the IDF (Israeli Defense Force).

Barely 18 years old and just out of high school, they are at a transformative moment in their lives. Who they meet along the way and how they react to the challenges that await will have a major impact on each and every future.

Beneath the Helmet is equally absorbing from two very different perspectives. On the one hand it is a very specific story about Israel and the people from many countries who make up the Jewish population of 21st Century Israel. How many non-Israelis know that a large number of Ethiopian Jews–like Mekonen Abeba (left)–now live in Israel? How many non-Israelis know that Jews from places as different as Peru and Switzerland join the IDF? If you think most Israeli Jews come from European backgrounds, then Beneath the Helmet will prove otherwise.

On the other hand, Beneath the Helmet is also a transnational, universal story about boys on the cusp of manhood, showing what motivates them, and how easily they can fall off track.

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Top Photo: Mekonen Abeba

Photo Credits: Jerusalem U

Q: Does Beneath the Helmet pass the Bechdel Test?

No.

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Felix & Meira

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Award-winning Canadian film written & directed by Maxime Giroux. Two sad-sacks meet one day in the middle of a slushy Montreal winter and begin a life-altering relationship. Fine.

But long, drawn-out scenes of them staring longingly at each other hardly compensate for total lack of backstory and character individuation.

Who are these two people? What have they been doing with themselves before their hearts burst into flames at the deli?

It’s not enough to show that “Meira” (Hadas Yaron) comes from a Hasidic family. Plenty of women from Hasidic families live very happy lives. If we are to believe that Meira wants something different, then we must know more about her. FelixSolo

And “Felix” (Martin Dubreuil) has returned to Montreal to sit at his father’s deathbed. Fine again. But where was he before that? How old is Felix and how long has he been away?

Sorry to say, I couldn’t get a handle on this moody mess. I watched to the end, even though I quickly became bored and restless within the first few minutes, because that’s my job :-( Not yet seen by Rich. (JLH: 2.5/5)

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Top Photo:  “Meira” (Hadas Yaron), a wife among other wives, wearing a proper dress and wig.

Middle Photo: “Felix” (Martin Dubreuil).

Bottom Photo: Meira at home with her husband “Shulem” (Luzer Twersky).

Q: Does Felix & Meira pass the Bechdel Test?

Not really. Besides Meira, the only female character with a substantive role is Felix’s sister “Caroline” (Anne-Elisabeth Bosse), but Meira and Caroline only have minimal contact with each other.

Meira also interacts with someone named “Ruth” (Melissa Weisz), but it hard to call these interactions conversations. Ruth mostly admonishes Meira, telling her to “straighten up and fly right” (as it were). Is she a relative? Is she someone related to Meira? Is she someone related to Shulem? Obviously Shulem trust Ruth because he leaves his child with Ruth when he goes to look for Meira… but no details are ever provided…

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