“Peace and War: Facing Human Conflict,” the theme of this year’s Chicago Humanities Festival,” could not be more timely. Running from Saturday October 28 through Sunday November 12, this year’s CHF will squeeze more than 150 programs into a two-week period, and topics of interest to Jewish audiences are simply too numerous to catalogue here.
Forced to choose from this plethora of great options, I called Richard Whelan’s Brooklyn office to learn more about his biography of photojournalist Robert Capa. The man we now think of as a towering American war correspondent was born in Budapest in 1913. His parents named him Endre Erno Friedmann, but according to Whelan “Capa seems to have understood that to get his work out he had to become something of a celebrity.” Constantly moving west as conditions in Europe deteriorated, Capa created a uniquely 20th century life on the fly and often under a hail of bullets. “Friedmann knew that it was very useful to become ‘Robert Capa,’ but he didn’t let it go to this head. He had a wonderful sense of humor and perspective on himself.”
“Like so many people and especially Jews in the 1930s, what was foremost in Capa’s mind was to see a world without fascism and all that fascism stood for. He was willing to take any risk to put an end to fascism, to make great photographs that would enlist the sympathies of an ever-larger part of the world’s public. At the end of World War II he talked about having business cards printed up that would say ‘Robert Capa, War Photographer Unemployed.’ Alas, it took a very short time to become disillusioned.”
Why, I asked, is there so little mention of the Holocaust in Whelan’s biography? “Capa knew for sure that many members of his extended family, many friends had to have died in the camps, but to cover the camps, to photograph them was simply more than he could bear. But in 1948 he was traveling with Theodore White, and they went to the Auschwitz–Birkenau complex, which had just been opened as a memorial. People were beginning to make pilgrimage, to see this terrible place and to remember. So that was the point, I now believe, of Capa’s coming to terms. Capa was by no means alone among Jewish photographers in finding himself unable to visit the camps. Most of the photographers who made the great images of the camps were not Jewish.”
Did the trip to Auschwitz occur after Capa left Israel? “Capa photographed the establishment of the state of Israel in May of 1948, and his trip to Eastern Europe was in the Fall. In fact, I’m just now beginning to work with an Israeli screenwriter who came to me with the idea of doing a theatrical film about Capa’s experiences in Israel. This new project is beginning to look very real.”
In addition to the film project, Whelan told me he was working on a revised edition of his book (to be released as a multimedia CD-ROM). It will be available next September in conjunction with a new exhibit at Manhattan’s International Center of Photography.
To read one of Richard Whelan’s most fascinating articles, visit the PBS website, and look for Robert Capa in the “American Masters” series:
For more information about this year’s Chicago Humanities Festival, visit:
October’s 42nd annual Chicago International Film Festival included many outstanding new films, five of which (Aviva My Love, Day Night Day Night, Family Law, Flannel Pajamas, and The Fountain) were directed by Jewish filmmakers. Family Law, Flannel Pajamas, and The Fountain all have US distributors and will be coming to theaters in metro Chicago later this year. Aviva My Love won six “Ophir” awards from the Israel Film Academy in September (Best Film, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Editing), so we’ll no doubt have more chances to see Aviva as well. I met with filmmakers Darren Aronofsky (writer/director of The Fountain), Jeff Lipsky (writer/director of Pajamas), and Shemi Zarhin (writer/director of Aviva), while they were in town. For more details on the creative visions behind these three films, visit:
The big surprise was Day Night Day Night by newcomer Julia Loktev, which received the FIPRESCI Prize in the “New Directors” competition. This intensely-compelling film follows a suicide bomber for 48 hours as she prepares to detonate a back-pack full of explosives in Times Square. The character has no name, no backstory, and no explicit convictions. As Loktev explained during the Q&A session I attended: “I like movies that don’t tell the audience what to think. I kept her motivations hidden so if you identify with her, you will feel bad about it. She believes in what she’s doing, but we can’t understand what or why.”
For the first 24 hours, we live through the planning phase; in the next 24 hours, we live through the execution phase. What seems well-defined and precise inevitably turns chaotic as the would-be bomber leaves her ideological bubble and re-enters the booming, buzzing confusion of real life. The FIPRESCI jury called Day Night Day Night “pure and innovative cinema.” It is shocking, sobering, and completely heart-breaking.
TZIVI’S DVD COLLECTION
Of the five films by Jewish filmmakers shown at this year’s Chicago International Film Festival, my personal favorite was Family Law, the third part of a trilogy by Argentinean director Daniel Burman. The first part, Waiting for the Messiah, is not available in the United States, but the second part, Lost Embrace, was shown in local theaters and is now available on DVD.
Burman is close in age and sensibility to Zach Braff and like Braff’s debut feature Garden State, Lost Embrace is a low-key charmer. Marketing mavens who compare Burman to Woody Allen are way off-base. Jewish family life is depicted in such affectionate and gently-humorous terms that the characters become Ashkenazi archetypes. Once Bubbi (marvelously played by Yiddish theater star Rosita Londner) begins to sing, we quickly forget that the characters are speaking Spanish. Clearly one of Sholem Aleichem’s literary great-grandsons now lives in Buenos Aires.
Family Law will open in theaters in December. To read my full-length review of Lost Embrace, visit:
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.