Archive for June, 2010

Democratizing Cinema

June 30, 2010

As a young boy attending Montreal’s Solomon Schechter Academy 30 years ago, Carlton Evans never imagined that one day serious filmmaking would be something anyone could do. Today, as the director and co-founder of San Francisco’s Disposable Film Festival, he is at the forefront of what he calls, “the democratization of cinema.”

When in 2007, festival co-founder Eric Slatkin showed him a one-time-use $20 digital camera that he purchased at a drugstore, Evans realized that making movies was no longer prohibitively expensive and predicted that, “everyone who wanted to become a filmmaker would become one.”

In the last few years, non-professional video cameras – from cell phones to webcams to flip devices – have become ubiquitous. These, together with film editing software that comes already loaded on new laptops, have made filmmaking a part of everyday life. “If you give people these tools, they’ll come up with whole new ways of thinking about films and making films,” Evans said.

Evans launched the first Disposable Film Festival in January 2008 to showcase the best of this emerging cinema. A call for works running 10 minutes or less and made with disposable media resulted in 100 submissions, with 15 ultimately being selected for the festival’s program. Two years later, there were 1,000 submissions, with 12 countries represented in the final program, including Canada.

The international nature of the festival is not limited to the origin of submissions. Although it is based in San Francisco, the festival travels to cities around the globe, including New York, Paris, Brussels, London and Beijing. Evans expects new partnerships to result in its reaching up to 20 locations worldwide by next year, possibly including Toronto, Montreal and Jerusalem.

Cartlon Evans (right) speaks with Oliver Nickels and Leslie Kennah from Vancouver at a DFF filmmaking panel in 2009.

Running this major effort has been Evans’s volunteer work. A graduate of McGill and Stanford (he has a PhD in art history, with a specialization in underground filmmaking in New York in the 1960s), his day job is working with noted filmmaker and emerging technology expert Tiffany Shlain at her Moxie Institute. He came on board specifically to work on her popular and award-winning The Tribe, an exploration of Jewish American identity through the history of the Barbie doll.

Evans is particularly excited and proud about the social values and awareness that he and his team are cultivating through festival programming and partnerships with sponsors such as Globe bikes. A recent outdoor bike-in movie event with bicycle parking valets and local sustainable food vendors was “a re-thinking of the whole culture around film-going,” according to Evans. “For an entire generation, cars and movies were inextricably linked. For us, it’s about how the world is changing. The generation involved in this new filmmaking travels by bike and takes public transportation. Similarly, there is no rule that says that you have to eat unhealthy, mass-produced popcorn and candy at the movies.”

Evans is pleased that his festival has been a bridge for aspiring, emerging filmmakers to be noticed by and move into the commercial film industry. But for him, it’s more about “building an organization that reflects the future of society and the world” and inspiring audiences to turn the seeming limitations of disposable media into artistic opportunities.

© 2010 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.

Note: This post first appeared as an article in The Jewish Tribune. Click here to read it there.

The State of Yiddish

June 27, 2010

The wedding of Yael Kornfeld and Avram Mlotek (photo: James Rajotte, NYT)

A wedding announcement in the newspaper caught my eye for two reasons. First, the bride is the sister of a woman who was my son’s teacher several years ago, but what also piqued my interest was that this was the marriage of two Yiddish speakers. The odds are not good these days that you would find two (non-Ultra-Orthodox) Yiddish speakers in their early 20′s, and the chances that they would fall in love with each other are even more remote. Or so one would think. It seems that Yiddish is a powerful force for bringing people together, as you can read in the “Vows” piece by Sandee Brawarsky that appeared a couple of days ago in The New York Times.

The groom is from the Mlotek family, Yiddish royalty – if there really were such a thing. Brawarsky quotes Sam Norich, the publisher of The Forward, as saying, “If Yiddish had a state, this would be a state wedding.” This statement keeps ringing in my mind for both historical and personal reasons.

I can only conceive of a Yiddish state as though in a fairytale. Yiddish is the language of the Jewish Diaspora, of dispersion. A yiddish (which literally translates as “Jewish”) state was, indeed, established, but Yiddish was not particularly welcome in it. Hebrew was the language of the post-Holocaust, “New Jew,” of the Israeli sabra.

Nonetheless, I do correlate Yiddish with state weddings. It was 29 years ago that I, at the peak of my Yiddish-speaking powers, was mesmerized by the lavish pomp and circumstance of Prince Charles’ wedding to Diana Spencer. Only a few weeks after delivering the Yiddish valedictory address at my junior high graduation ceremony, I was up at some ungodly hour watching the royal marriage ceremony on TV. Never since that time have I been able to converse in Yiddish at such a high level, nor have I seen (nor bothered to watch) such an elaborate nuptial display.

The last time I heard Sam Norich speak was at different sort of occasion. If I recall correctly, he was among the eulogizers at the funeral for my friend Leah Strigler‘s father, Mordechai Strigler, who was the editor of the Yiddish Forward. The funeral brought together all the remaining luminaries from the world of Yiddish culture, and from the age of most of the attendees and speakers, it certainly looked like the state of Yiddish was in severe decline.

So, it is a delight for me to read Norich’s musing from the recent wedding, a much happier lifecycle event, and one which looks toward the future of Yiddish, rather than its past.

© 2010 Renee Ghert-Zand.  All rights reserved.

Out Of Toronto’s Jewish Ghetto

June 26, 2010

Drake: The Toronto Blue Jays cap and the chai necklace scream "Canadian Jew!"

There seems to be a lot of Jewish musical talent coming out of my hometown of Toronto these days. While not everyone may know yet about Sara Kamin, you’d have to be almost comatose not to have heard of Drake, the hot hip-hop artist du jour. While all Canadians are duly proud of Aubrey Graham (Drake is his middle name, which he uses as a stage name in the mononymous tradition of Cher, Madonna, Seal and Sting), it’s the Jews who are doing the serious kvelling.

The way MOT’s are making a huge deal out of Drake, you’d think there were no other Jewish rappers. Matishyahu is no hip-hop chopped liver. And there are even other Jewish African-American hip hop artists, like Y-Love. But then again, only 23-year-old Graham has debuted at  # 1 on the Billboard charts.

Lots of Jewish publications have been quoting parts of a recent interview of Drake in Heeb magazine, in which he tells of his upbringing by his Canadian Jewish mother (divorced from his African-American father who moved back to Memphis and was not around much) in Forest Hill – an upscale, heavily Jewish neighborhood of Toronto; his less-than-comfortable experience in Jewish day school; and his bar mitzvah with a Backstreet Boys theme.

It’s more fun to listen to Graham himself (also an actor, who starred for several years on the Canadian TV show “Degrassi: The Next Generation”) talk about his Jewish identity. The fist video below is a candid interview before a show, and the second is of a slightly younger Graham showing the audience around his family’s home in Toronto. I love how it’s framed by his interaction with his white-haired, very white grandmother (whom he calls “Bubbe”) at the beginning and the end.

© 2010 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.


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