A few days before the theatrical release of his second film Glory in December 1989, director Edward Zwick came to town to headline a benefit screening at the Chicago Historical Society. Bounding up to the stage as the final credits rolled, the Winnetka native said: “I feel like I’m back at my bar mitzvah!,” thereby acknowledging an audience filled with familiar faces. Even though I wasn’t technically a member of Zwick’s mishpokhe, I was a fanatical fan of his TV series thirtysomething, and I applauded with enthusiasm. Therefore it gives me great pleasure to report that after five more feature films and several very successful television projects, Zwick’s social consciousness is very much intact. Blood Diamond, the new film starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Connelly, and Djimon Hounsou, is Zwick’s his best work to date.
DiCaprio (as Rhodesian mercenary “Danny Archer”) and Connelly (as American journalist “Maddy Bowen”) are both excellent, but the heart and soul of the film belongs to Hounsou. In Blood Diamond’s peaceful opening moments, “Solomon Vandy” (Hounsou) is introduced as a dedicated family man. His young son “Dia” is smart and sensitive, and Solomon believes that Dia is destined for great things. But his dreams are shattered when rebel soldiers invade their village. Solomon is sent to work as a slave in the diamond fields, while Dia is forced to take up arms and learn to kill in order to survive.
Blood Diamond is set in the 1990’s, when civil war raged in Sierra Leone, but wide-spread tribal and ethnic conflicts are just as real today. The mishpokhe has every right to be proud: behind this action/adventure movie beats the heart of a man who’s learned how to make commercially-successful films in the service of tikkun olam.
Ethical qualms about “conflict diamonds” need not concern you when you head up to Wisconsin to see the Racine Art Museum’s new exhibit “Women’s Tales :
Four Leading Israeli Jewelers,” co-sponsored by the Israel Museum, Jerusalem (IMJ). The four artists in question, Bianca Eshel-Gershuni, Vered Kaminski, Esther Knobel, and Deganit Stern Schocken, are all proponents of the “New Jewelry” movement, and are therefore more inclined to work with industrial materials and found objects than gemstones. In fact, the very phrase “Israeli Jewelers” is misleading to the novice, since many of the 130 pieces in the collection include baskets, wall hangings, and other items more sculptural than ornamental.
I have to admit that much of this was new to me, and some of Knobel’s painted tin necklaces left me cold, but the subject turns out to be fascinating and I was particularly intrigued by Kaminski’s work. “One basic purpose of jewelry, historically, is to hold precious stones that are set in metal,” runs one Kaminski quote from the catalogue. “In my work, I use simple Jerusalem stones. They are precious to me because Jerusalem is my home, my city.” I also found a tiny silver piece by Kaminski in the gift shop which is now the most elegant mogen david in my own personal collection.
The exhibit runs through January 21, 2007, but if you can’t make it to Racine in time, order the 126-page fully illustrated catalogue. In addition to large full color plates of many of the exhibit’s best pieces, the catalogue contains three interpretive essays by Alex Ward (the IMJ’s Curator of Design and Architecture), Davira S. Taragin (RAM’s Director of Exhibitions and Programs), and Helen W. Drutt English (America’s leading expert on contemporary jewelry).
For exhibit information, visit the RAM website:
To order the catalogue, visit:
Liz Mermin, director of The Beauty Academy of Kabul (one of last year’s best documentaries), has a new four-part series called Office Tigers which premieres on cable television’s Sundance Channel at the very end of December and carries over into January. Liz is currently working in London so we haven’t been able to speak real time, but she tells me via e-mail that Office Tigers is “set in an American-owned outsourcing company in Southern India which happens to have been founded and run by two Jewish boys from New York.” She describes it as “a darkly comic look at globalization and the spread of corporate culture.” I haven’t seen it yet, but after just having watched Beauty Academy again (newly released on DVD), I’ll certainly tune in.
For schedule information, visit:
TZIVI’S DVD COLLECTION
Daniel Mendelsohn’s long awaited second book (The Lost: a search for six of six million) was finally published in early September, and his various book tour appearances have since become a stable on C-SPAN’s Book TV. Unfortunately his one night in Chicago (October 23) was so poorly publicized that even those of us who were looking out for it barely had time to write it into our calendars, and the Harold Washington Library Center’s audience was absurdly small that night. While I don’t have space here to discuss Mendelsohn’s long, emotional, and unusually thought-provoking book, it has caused me to think anew about other recent accounts of Jewish-Americans returning to Eastern Europe to peek behind the formerly “Iron Curtain.”
In my March ‘06 column, I wrote about Liev Schreiber’s poignant adaptation of Jonathan Safran Foer’s award-winning novel Everything is Illuminated. Traveling around Ukraine in a light blue van with a huge yellow mogen david on its roof, the main character (played by Elijiah Wood) discovers a lush pastoral country far different from the desolate moonscapes of his imagination. Three intimate first-person documentaries I’ve seen recently go on similar quests: Divan (in which Pearl Gluck travels around the edges of the former Pale of Settlement looking for a precious family heirloom); Hiding and Seeking: Faith and Tolerance after the Holocaust (in which Menachem Daum searches for the Polish family who hid their family patriarch); and My Grandfather’s House (in which Eileen Douglas traces the remnants of a large extended family from Kovno).
These are very important journeys, even if most of us can only take them vicariously. Full reviews of all four films can be found in the “Columns” section of my website:
Tziviah bat Yisroel v’Hudah (Jan Lisa Huttner) is the managing editor of Films for Two: The Online Guide for Busy Couples (www.films42.com). Send comments and/or suggestions for future columns to Tzivi@msn.com.