Jewish cinema highlighted

By Anne Baker

Boston-area students were exposed to Jewish cinema culture when the 18th annual Boston Jewish Film Festival wrapped up its two-week presentation of modern films from around the world last week.

The festival featured more than 50 independently produced feature films, shorts and documentaries. Its location spanned seven venues in the greater Boston area, including the Museum of Fine Arts and the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline. This year’s festival included films from 16 countries, spoken in 18 languages. It featured four U.S. premieres and three world premieres.

Michelle Bablo, a senior English and cinema studies major, attended a screening of “The Rape of Europa,” a documentary chronicling the Nazis’ large-scale theft of European art from affluent Jews during the era leading up to World War II. She said the film had themes that ran beyond those of the Holocaust.

“It was just as much a lesson about how a person’s culture can be preserved,” Bablo said.

In addition to films, the festival also featured 30 artists, noted speakers and panelists and seven musical performances.

Northeastern also tapped into the world of Jewish cinema, hosting the first lecture in a year-long series on the Holocaust in film by Brown University Professor Omer Bartov titled “Villain-Victim-Hero: The ‘Jew’ as a Cinematic Stereotype,” last Wednesday. The lecture was based on Bartov’s book, “The ‘Jew’ in Cinema: From The Golem to Don’t Touch My Holocaust.” Bartov spoke to a packed room in the Egan Research Center about the typical Jewish stereotypes in filmmaking.

“These stereotypes are very simple,” he said. “They get recycled over time.”

Through use of 60 slides of still-frames from movies spanning the 20th century, Bartov argued his hypothesis that within cinematic representation there have been four main portrayals of Jews. He used slides from a variety of countries, delving into both the obscure and famous. He juxtaposed clips from “Schindler’s List” with the lesser-known “Singing Blacksmith.” Bartov was quick to point out that these notions of the Jewish people did not originate on the silver screen.

“These stereotypes do not begin with cinema; they predate cinema by a very long time,” he said.

Bartov said an understanding of Jewish culture and cinema should have a mass appeal.

“It’s a theme and issue that really speaks to a lot of people, whether you’re Jewish or not,” he said.

Northeastern Jewish Historical and Cultural Studies Professor James Ross, who attended the lecture, said he enjoyed the presentation.

“It’s really fascinating,” he said. “I think what he presented had some logic to it.”

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