If you have been wondering why so many of the films in the first annual Boulder Jewish Film Festival, sponsored by the Millstone Evans Group of Raymond James, are about music, join the club. Even though I selected the films, and I do love music, I too questioned the preponderance of music films in the schedule.
Then I read an article about the prestigious New York Jewish Film Festival, held in late January, which noted the unusually large number of films with musical themes being shown at Lincoln Center.
It became clear. Many of the best Jewish films made in the past year happen to deal with music. I didn’t pick these films just because I love music, but because they are such good films.
The most obvious example is the irresistible “Hava Nagila (The Movie),” a celebration and exploration of the song that has been covered by everyone from Harry Belafonte and Lena Horne to Connie Francis and Elvis. This rousing documentary explores the origins of this ubiquitous song, and what it has come to symbolize.
“Let us rejoice, for here is a fun and informative documentary that traces the origins of Hava Nagila and its importance to Jewish culture,” the Palm Beach Daily News cleverly exclaimed. The filmmakers’ tagline is equally catchy: “The song you thought you knew; the story you won’t believe.”
“Hava Nagila” has been chosen as the opening or closing night of more Jewish film festivals this year than any other film. Our closing night presentation will be followed by a party with music by the Boulder Klezmer Consort and an old-style Bar Mitzvah buffet.
However, serving as the opening night film for Lincoln Center’s New York Jewish Film Festival, “AKA Doc Pomus” – the story of a legendary and unlikely rock & roll icon – has also been a huge hit on the festival circuit. Every time I played the trailer for my film festival committee members, there was unanimous enthusiasm. The songs alone (“Save the Last Dance for Me,” “This Magic Moment,” “A Teenager in Love,” “Viva Las Vegas”) are a great source of enjoyment, but the fascinating story of the complicated man who wrote them is equally mesmerizing.
As someone who loves musical theater, I was also captivated by “Broadway Musicals: A Jewish Legacy.” Again, the clips and songs are wonderfully entertaining, but the story of the Jews who created these memorable moments is richly revealing. Is Eliza Dolittle Jewish? You betcha. How about Porgy and Bess? The Sharks and the Jets? Absolutely. At least, these characters, and dozens more, are obvious stand-ins for the Jewish experience. This film explains how and why the songs and stories of musical theater convey utterly Jewish concerns.
And I could not resist a companion film, “From Shtetl to Swing,” which more closely examines the Jewish musical influence on American jazz, ragtime, blues, symphonic movie scores, and more.
Another must-have selection was “Orchestra of Exiles,” the story of famed Hungarian violinist Bronislaw Huberman, who saved close to 1,000 Jews – along with the musical heritage of Europe. The film tells one more inspiring story about music and the Holocaust, a subject we have been exploring for two years in conjunction with the Colorado Music Festival’s Rediscovered Masters series. As an added bonus, Jonathan Bein will be on hand to talk about Huberman, his grandfather’s cousin.
So for anyone who also loves music and movies, the Boulder Jewish Festival has five films you won’t want to miss. Click here for tickets.