The Jewish Film Festival 2019


Festivalgoers appreciate solidly made documentaries. And, if the documentaries are portraits of significant men and women who have made their mark in history, so much the better.

This year there are several such documentaries.

One to challenge conscience and consciousness is called Avenging Evil.  It is a story of the Nazi invasion of Lithuania, concentration camp imprisonment and escape, of Abba Kovner who wanted revenge on the German people, establishing a network of like-minded former prisoners, planning the death of 6 million Germans. The facts about this plan, which did not eventuate as intended, were revealed in 1985. He we have footage from the period, interviews with the survivors and the children of the plotters, and some re-enactments of the revenge attempt.

By contrast, the documentary The Advocate, is a portrait of Israeli lawyer, Lea Tsemel, still working as an advocate but defence counsel for Palestinians. While she is a strong-minded and powerfully expressive advocate, she does not always win, but makes strong stances for justice. The film outlines her biography, her reaction as a student and fighter in the Sixth Day War, a change of consciousness, challenges, imprisonment, a supportive husband and children, and a study of two cases in recent times and her most diligent work and pleading.

There are also to Australian stories amongst these documentaries. The first is a portrait of the founder of Westfield, Frank Lowy, What Will Become of Us. I we himself, at 87, about to sell his company to European interests, collaborated with the film, ready to answer any questions, taking the filmmakers back to his wartime past in Slovakia and Hungary, migration to Israel, arriving as a poor migrant in Australia in the early 1950s, marrying Shirley (a 65 year plus marriage, saddened by Shirley’s Alzheimer’s). He had three sons who eventually joined him in the building of his empire, an extraordinary successful self-made man saga – and not forgetting his lifelong interest in football, soccer.

Psychologist and filmmaker, Eve Ash, was the daughter of Polish migrants who both suffered in World War II. As a child, she was conscious that she did not look like her sister and fantasised that she was adopted or had a different father. This is a rather determined detective story, even looking at her mother’s extensive film footage, getting the collaboration of her sister and her nieces, curious about a man who appeared in some of her mother’s films, it is he who is the title Man on the Bus. There are indeed some complications – but the audience is invited to go along with the detection and its consequences.

But, back in the United States, two more biographies. We have all heard of the Pulitzer Prize but may not know much about Pulitzer himself. Once again, here is a self-made man, migrant from Hungary at the time of the American Civil war, fighting, getting jobs, obtaining stories for the newspapers, buying papers, building up an empire and shaping a lot of late 19th century and 20th century journalism and newspaper publication. And, just as we were wondering about William Randolph Hearst, he also makes an appearance, vying with Pulitzer. Pulitzer was a very strong-minded man, eventually going blind, but giving his name to the prestigious Prizes.

Not seen in Australia is a feature film, The Catcher was a Spy, with Paul Rudd as Moe Berg. The Spy on the Home Plate is a documentary portrait of Berg, renowned baseball player, top catcher, a celebrity with high IQ, appearing on radio and television programs – but, after his baseball career, employed by the American government, part of the OSS during World War II, going on several successful missions, especially in connection with scientists and the Manhattan Project. The first 30 minutes are for the baseball fans. The rest of the film is for everyone.

Peter Malone MSC is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.

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