Interview: Ilya Tovbis on the DC Jewish Film Festival

Posted on January 31, 2016 at 3:18 pm

Ilya Tovbis is director of the Washington DC Jewish Film Festival, which will take place from February 24-March 6, 2016. In an interview, he talked about what it means to be a “Jewish movie.” “It’s on one hand easy and on the other hand a much more complex question. The easy answer for us is that some aspect of the content has to be about the Jewish experience and that could be cultural or historical, it could be character driven but it has be something that has even if not the central characters of or the central theme of the film the film will not be the same without that element. So sometimes obviously it’s on the nose and very clear and it’s entirely about let’s say “Shtisel,” which is about an Orthodox family in Jerusalem, very clearly black hat Jewish through and through. And then there are other stories. This year we have a whole sidebar of films around artists and many of them are Jewish in a more cultural or secular way and perhaps not even the main driver of the art form they are making but without their Jewishness and Jewish identities that they bring to the artwork.

Tovbis said they reviewed around 1300 films, and, as happens every year, some themes emerge. This year happened to have several outstanding films about artists, so that became one of the categories selected for special attention. “The artist category is pretty broad, so we have dancers, we do visual artists, we have poets, we have some musical artists, graphic, novels, so it’s really a bit all over the map.” Another focus this year is LGBTQ films. “So something else is important to us and I think you would find this at most major Jewish festivals is a diversity of mission and so for us the notion of expanding and challenging what the Jewish identity is is paramount in everything we do. It’s really the core of what we do whether we’re looking at Diaspora Jews or visions of a Jewish identity that don’t conform to perhaps the norm that everyone would put out there.

Some of the films are perhaps more of what you would expect in LGBT lineup and other ones are more unusual. ‘Marzipan Flowers‘ is a sort of fun transgender relationship doesn’t really conform, even the way it’s made, very low-budget. I’m very excited to share that. We are presenting most of the films with some form of discussion though sometimes it’s more focused on other content in the film, sometimes it’s more focused on LGBTQ content. So we’re going to have with us for example for ‘The Good Son’ the director and producer Shirley Berkowitz. We will be having a professor speaking about “Sunday Bloody Sunday” because are looking at that in light of John Schlesinger’s entire career. Barney Frank is going to be here with his husband as well to discuss the documentary, ‘Compared to What: The Improbable Journey of Barney Frank.’ The discussion will be more about pushing legislative agenda and politics. This is Washington!”

One film of particular interest on the schedule is “A Tale of Love and Darkness,” based on the book by Amos Oz. It is the writing and directing debut of Oscar-winner Natalie Portman, who also stars.

“It’s a lovely film based a major pillar of modern Israeli literature, a very personal tale that deals with his mother which Natalie Portman plays in the film. There’s some elements where she takes liberties with the original material but it does stay pretty close to it and I think it’s a lovely film. I think there is some incredible assuredness. Natalie Portman has been around show business for a long time so even though it’s her first time directorial effort I think she takes a lot of risks. The story focuses on a mother making up these sort of fanciful tales in order to escape a bleaker reality which she finds herself in both in terms of a personal depression and what’s happening more broadly nationally as the state of Israel comes into a more modern being and then also she has some issues with her husband and so a lot of the tales are sort of interwoven with these really almost magical realism shots and stories and I think the way thats done is just exquisite and very gentle in the film.”

The festival’s visionary award will be presented to the actor Armin Mueller-Stahl, with a screening of his film, “Avalon,” written and directed by Barry Levinson, based on his memories of his family in 1940’s Baltimore. “Most of the event is really centered around a lengthy Q and A on stage really about the full body of work.” Another highlight is a musical program, a live musical performance that is a musical tribute to the jazzy soundtracks of animator Max Fleischer’s surreal, wacky and Yiddish-inflected Betty Boop and Popeye cartoons of the 1930’s. Tobvis says, “It’s a really fun zany kind of insane project I am curious myself to see.”

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Festivals Interview

SAG Awards: DiCaprio, Larson, Vikander, Elba

Posted on January 31, 2016 at 9:03 am

Leonardo DiCaprio, Brie Larson, Alicia Vikander, and Idris Elba won the Screen Actors Guild awards last night. Elba, who also won for his television series “Luther,” was not nominated for an Oscar (he should have been), but the other three are now likely to be taking home statues on Oscar night.

“Spotlight” won best ensemble, and television awardees included Jeffrey Tambor (“Transparent”), Uzo Aduba (“Orange in the New Black”), Kevin Spacey (“House of Cards”), Viola Davis (“How to Get Away with Murder”), Queen Latifah (“Bessie”), and ensemble awards for “Downton Abbey” and “Orange is the New Black.”

The highlight of the evening, though, was the lifetime achievement award for Carol Burnett, presented by Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, who said that their mothers got 90% of the credit for who they became, but Burnett got the other 10%.

Burnett spoke movingly about insisting on being allowed to host a variety show, even though the television executives told her only men could do it.
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Actors Awards

New on DVD — The Land Before Time: Journey of the Brave

Posted on January 31, 2016 at 8:00 am

Five best friends set out on a courageous rescue packed with laughter, thrills and music in the all-new animated movie, The Land Before Time: Journey of the Brave coming to DVD and Digital HD on February 2, 2016, from Universal 1440 Entertainment, a production entity of Universal Pictures Home Entertainment. In this exciting and heartwarming adventure, young Apatosaurus Littlefoot and his four dinosaur pals, Cera, Ducky, Petrie and Spike, embark on an ambitious quest to find Littlefoot’s missing dad, making new friends and learning valuable life lessons along the way. New to the hugely popular franchise is the Queen of Country Music, Reba McEntire as the voice of Etta. The Golden Globe and Grammy nominee also performs 1 of the 4 all-new songs in the movie, “Look for the Light.” “New Girl” and “Happy Endings” star Damon Wayans Jr. provides the voice for Wild Arms.

Our exclusive clip is here.

Inspired by the 1988 classic feature film produced by Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall, The Land Before Time: Journey of the Brave DVD will be available only at Walmart and In conjunction with this release, comes The Land Before Time compilation album. The album features some of the best-loved songs from all of the previous Land Before Time films and will be available digitally January 29, 2016, on Back Lot Music.

I have a copy to give away! Send me an email at with Land Before Time in the subject line and tell me your favorite prehistoric creature. Don’t forget your address! (U.S. addresses only). I’ll pick a winner at random on February 8, 2016. Good luck!

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