Reviews

"Hannah Arendt" – New York Jewish Film Festival 2013 Critic's Choice

The 22nd Annual New York Jewish Film Festival plays at Lincoln Center January 9-24, 2013. Senior film critic Kurt Brokaw samples 45 films from nine countries and presents his critic’s choices. Note: originally published on January 1, 2013, this story was republished May 31, 2013 with the addition of the Hannah Arendt review.

Hannah Arendt
(Margarethe von Trotta. 2012. Germany. 110 min.)

It would be fair to write that the sold-out Lincoln Center audience that first viewed von Trotta’s fictionalized account of the German-American political theorist’s life and times was polite and respectful. Hannah Arendt had its New York premiere January 24, 2013 as the closing night of the 22nd annual Jewish Film Festival, a prestigious honor conferred upon the drama by The Film Society of Lincoln Center and The Jewish Museum.

The Q&A with von Trotta, her co-screenwriter Pam Katz, actresses Barbara Sukowa (the director’s longtime collaborator who plays Arendt), Janet McTeer (the distinguished stage actress who acts novelist Mary McCarthy) and fest director Aviva Weintraub came off without incident or quarrelsome questions. But in the lobby and at the Broadway bus stops afterward, there were a fair number of grumpy remarks from older Jewish couples—not so much about the film but about Arendt’s original complex and probing insights on Adolf Eichmann. People remember. These New Yorkers were well up in years who live on Riverside Drive and other Upper West Side streets where Arendt lived, and who took courses at The New School where the chain-smoking Arendt was a professor on the New School of Social Research graduate faculty from the late 1960s until her death in 1975.

Some wounds will never heal, and thus the picture has a topical relevance not to be denied. Except for one important series of documentary scenes, Hannah Arendt appears to be a careful and objective dramatic examination and appraisal of four years of Arendt’s life, flavored with brief flashbacks to her life as an 18-year-old university student, and her love affair with the 35-year-old married German philosopher and anti-Semite Martin Heidegger (Klaus Pohl). The picture is likely to harden, not to change, any pre-dispositions you may carry regarding Arendt’s work in interpreting the Nazi war criminal’s role in the extermination of six million Jews.

For example, if you believe that Arendt was taken in as a love-struck college coed by Heidegger’s Nazi sympathies (such as wearing a brown shirt to his classes), just as she may have been duped by Eichmann’s feigned innocence at his trial which she covered for The New Yorker, the film won’t refute those feelings.

If you tend to share the attitudes of Arendt’s students that she opened new and previously unopened doors of inquiry into the philosophical essences of evil, von Trotta gives you any number of students beaming with understanding and empathy in her lectures—these act as crowd shots in movies usually do, prompting your agreement.

And if you believe the professor was a traitor to her people, a danger to students and that her classes should have been withdrawn, the film posits a prissy Greek chorus of outraged academic administrators determined to toss her out. (The one university where Arendt taught that’s visually referenced is The New School, though screenwriter Katz pointed out in the Q&A that the irate college execs are meant to be seen as “a composite” from many other major universities at which Arendt taught, including Harvard, Yale, Wesleyan, University of California, Northwestern, and the University of Chicago. (Arendt scholar Jerome Kohn has also verified that Arendt’s position during her years at The New School was never threatened.)

Von Trotta’s drama opens in 1960, when Eichmann, hiding in Buenos Aires, is seized by Israeli Mossad and Shin Bet agents, and returned to Jerusalem, where Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion announces his capture and charges him with 15 counts of crimes against the Jewish people. His trial lasted eight months, and 99 Holocaust survivors testified; Eichmann was found guilty and executed in 1962.

The director makes the bold and ultimately correct artistic choice of using black-and-white archival footage of Eichmann’s actual trial, intercut with Sukowa’s Arendt watching from the press room or in the trial chambers in full color. Any viewer skepticism while moving back and forth between an acted drama and real life footage is quickly overcome; we’re grateful to von Trotta for giving us the real weasel-like Eichmann, testifying from a glass cage, concocting the defense of a minion simply obeying orders. Eichmann positions himself as so far down the chain of command in arranging the transport of Jews to Auschwitz and other concentration camps as to appear irrelevant. These are striking scenes and we can easily sense Arendt (who was briefly interred herself at a French detention camp) beginning to sort through the seeds of what would become her banality-of-evil thesis.

Back in Manhattan, Arendt fashions her magazine articles and eventually a book, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. Both become anathema to much of the Jewish community because of her ambivalence toward Eichmann as well as her severe criticisms of the Jewish Councils for not doing enough to save their people. Arendt is supported by her loyal husband and Bard College professor, Heinrich Blücher (Axel Milberg), who she’s unfailingly loyal to (“A great philosopher can’t think without kisses”); her pal Mary McCarthy, who functions as her cheerleader colleague and does a lot of the heavy lifting in moving the plot’s exposition along; and legendary New Yorker editor William Shawn (Nicholas Woodeson, droll and piquant), who seems to have a greater penchant for deadlines on her five articles than challenging the journalist’s theories that Eichmann was “terrifyingly normal” and “simply unable to think.” On the contrary: We watch this monster standing in his glass box, unblinking, his voice soft and his eyes as empty yet as calculating as the mammoth Alaskan bear in Herzog’s doc, Grizzly Man, poised to attack and eat the documentarian who’s been trailing him for months.

When the articles break, reprisals are swift. Arendt’s literary crowd shuns and insults her, even with McCarthy running defense. The hate mail piles up fast; in her own apartment building, a neighbor sends a note, “damn you to hell, you Nazi whore.” Colleagues at a college where she lectures won’t eat at the same table with her. Administrators gang up, trying to bar her from teaching her classes. Her friend, and noted Zionist Kurt Blumenfeld (Michael Degen), dies in Jerusalem, unwilling to forgive her. Another lifelong associate, Jewish-German philosopher Hans Jonas (Ulrich Noethen), who attends her eight-minute lecture summary that closes the film, is cut to the quick by what he considers her betrayal of the Jewish people.

Arendt was candid about having a “love of the world” and certain friends, but not any one country or people. This, too, was evidently as grating for the couples taking the bus home from Lincoln Center up Riverside Drive after the premiere of Hannah Arendt as Arendt’s censuring the Jewish Councils and taking umbrage at the Israeli court for giving Eichmann the death sentence. Arendt based her ideas on practical reasoning, which ruled out blind obedience to anyone or anything. She was an acknowledged expert on totalitarianism, but argued it was more about consistency than killing Jews. To her, evil was the ultimate act of thoughtlessness.

Barbara Sukowa, who’s never without a cigarette in the course of this entire two-hour movie, plows through a bewildering litany of ideas and ideologies like a woman possessed. She never doubts her intellectual wisdom (and superiority), and a lot of her writings and lectures turn abstract philosophies into legal briefs. Arendt was something academics rarely become: a maverick who unleashed a firestorm of confrontations and built on them, fed on them, actually seemed to thrive on them. Von Trotta and her co-screenwriter Katz work hard, wisely inserting the Heinrich Blücher and Mary McCarthy characters as often as possible to soften and humanize a character who in lesser hands would be unbearable. Hannah Arendt is subject to debate from start to finish, which is perhaps the best reason to see and judge it yourself.

Koch
(Neil Barsky. 2012. USA. 95 min.)

In 2006 John Cameron Mitchell directed Shortbus, a seldom-seen dramedy about alternative lifestyles in Manhattan, including some hardcore sex scenes. One of them is set in a Brooklyn sex club filled with younger men and women of every possible sexual persuasion, in various gropings, embraces, and entanglements. The club host, a spectacular drag queen played by Justin Vivian Bond (far and away the most sophisticated and world-weary presence in the movie) comes chattering by. Bond is leading a tour through the various attractions lounging about, and he waves off most of them as “just like the 60s, only with less hope.”

One of those attractions, fully clothed, is a much older single man (he’s at least 75) who has been carefully cast to look and even sound like Ed Koch. He is introduced to a very young gay man as “the former mayor of New York City,” and goes into a long and sad lament of how he was unable to devote his full energies and efforts to combating the AIDS crisis. He is forlorn and apologetic. He lays his head on the young man’s shoulder and nearly weeps.

It’s safe to say director Mitchell (best known as Hedwig from Hedwig and the Angry Inch), won’t be first in line to see Neil Barsky’s full-tilt, probing and ultimately complimentary portrait of Ed Koch’s life and three terms (1977-89) in office. Barsky, a former Wall Street Journal and New York Daily News reporter, sets his agenda with spectacular aerial views of the city aglow at night with the mayor’s voice-over remembrance, looking down at Manhattan and musing “this belongs to me…thank you, God.” And this was before all 7,449 feet of the Queensborough Bridge were renamed The Ed Koch Queensborough Bridge in 2010.

As a first-time filmmaker, Bersky’s approach in Koch is newsy and conventional, covering history fast and tasking a salty, aggressive lineup of politicians, authors, clergy and heavyweight journalists to connect the dots between personalities and events. Koch was a seasoned, savvy, political infighter—a Polish Jew, World War II vet, and NYU law school grad who’d been a City Council member as well as a member of the House of Representatives (re-elected three times)—before he first ran for mayor. A lifelong bachelor, Koch defeated a formidable lineup of veteran politicos including Mario Cuomo, Percy Sutton, and Bella Abzug with a cunning dual strategy devised by adviser David Garth: he toned down his naturally jokey and bristling personality, and he squired about former Miss America Bess Myerson to squelch vicious homosexual rumors and slurs. (We view a very early clip in which he firmly supports same-sex marriage.)

Koch and countless New Yorkers had been stung by President Gerald Ford’s “drop dead” admonition to New York City as it sat poised on a precipice of financial ruin and despair. Koch immediately established himself as a fixer who could pry needed monies from Washington and revitalize the city’s sagging pride. He was a fiscal conservative with attitude, and a political liberal who wouldn’t be denied. When transit workers went on strike, Koch greeted and applauded thousands who walked across the Brooklyn Bridge into Manhattan to work. The Koch administration began cleaning up graffiti and launched a quality-of-life crusade that Rudy Giuliani would harden into repressive measures. Koch readily admitted his mistakes, like closing a hospital that served the poor (which earned him harsh censure by the Rev. Calvin Butts, who would, over time, eventually soften and revise his opinion of Koch).

The documentary digs into the mayor’s formidable years of transforming the city’s thousands of broken buildings into affordable housing (“this was better than the pyramids,” affirms one talking head) and cleaning up Times Square. This is contrasted against his inadequate response to the AIDS crisis and massive systemic corruption uncovered in city agencies. As assembled in this documentary, it’s a wobbly, uneven record that cost Koch a possible fourth term, as David Dinkins was elected New York’s first African-American mayor in 1989.

Like his subject, director Barsky’s doc can be rough-edged and erratic, unpredictable and oddly winning. We come to view the mayor as a thorny, fiercely dedicated and at times flamboyantly dramatic figure who turned “How’m I doin’?” from a sidewalk demand for affection into a cultural affirmation. Koch still makes his own breakfast, still looks out his Fifth Avenue apartment windows at Washington Square Park, still stubbornly refuses to confirm, deny, or even discuss his sexuality. It’s not surprising he’s reinvented himself as an author, a newspaper columnist, a judge on The People’s Court, and even as a film reviewer (see The Mayor at the Movies for yourself).

We watch him at age 87 being honored by Mayor Michael Bloomberg at Gracie Mansion, as the first overhead sign announcing the Ed Koch Queensborough Bridge is unveiled. Most New Yorkers already seem comfortable calling it The Koch Bridge. Like the loving family that surrounds him at Yom Kippur…like his longtime loyal and former chief of staff Diane Coffey who accompanies him to view his cemetery stone…like Rev. Butts who comes to view the man as maybe the best of the flawed, imperfect souls who’ve given their all trying to manage this impossible, wonderful town…Koch is one of us. He’s family. As is Neil Barsky’s film.

Koch will be shown January 10th at 1 pm and January 13th at 1 pm at the Walter Reade Theater in Lincoln Center.

Joe Papp in Five Acts
(Tracie Holder, Karen Thorsen. 2012. USA. 82 min.)

This documentary premiered at the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival and was a critic’s choice from that festival. It’s a delight to welcome it a second time into the New York Jewish Film Festival and revisit the original review, somewhat abbreviated:

As the founder and proprietor of the Public Theater, just a few blocks from The New School in lower Manhattan, Joe Papp touched a countless number of student lives through the 60s, 70s, and 80s. One was a student of this writer and New School professor, and this review might as well start with a personal glimpse into Papp’s real priorities.

In the late 80s, students taking the university’s basic advertising course were asked to write a term paper examining their favorite campaign. One theater major was charmed by Joe’s radio commercials for his plays; Papp always read all the copy with his usual enthused bombast and concluded with the memorable theme line, “The Public Theater…I Named It After You.” The student was shy about contacting him for a possible personal interview, and it was suggested she hand-write a passionate letter to Mr. Papp about the campaign, asking to speak with him anytime he might have a few minutes, and leave the letter at the box office with one red rose. She did, and the next day received a call from Papp’s office that he’d meet with her that week. Which he did, and spent over an hour pouring out history, statistics, anecdotes and scripts—almost more stuff that she could carry away. And, oh yes, the offer of a summer internship.

That generosity of heart and spirit is reflected throughout Tracie Holder and Karen Thorsen’s clear-headed, revealing documentary of Papp’s impact and influence on all he encountered. The portrait that emerges is of a man admired, respected, even beloved by the unending series of faces, forces, institutions, and establishments he pushed against his entire career.

The concept of dividing Papp’s life into five acts has an ominous ring, suggesting the film might run longer than Long Day’s Journey Into Night. But Joe Papp in Five Acts is a trim, fleet 82 minutes; each “act” is introduced by Kevin Klein, reciting a few lines of Shakespeare, then segues to a chorus of testifying actors, playwrights, producers, and wives, supported by 433 boxes of archival material from the New York Public Library’s Billy Rose Theater Collection.

We first see Papp armed with a provisional charter from New York State in 1954 to found and run The Shakespeare Workshop as an educational project, with a mission statement of bringing live theater to the largest public audiences. “I felt charging even a quarter would be too much,” Papp says as he hits the streets, touring Brooklyn neighborhoods in a 35-foot former Sanitation Department truck complete with attached platform stage, then mounting early works like Julius Caesar at the East River Amphitheater and the Emmanuel Brotherhood on East 6th. The producer, barely 33, is looking for a home.

Papp lets CBS-TV fire him from his daytime stage manager job for refusing to name names to the House Unamerican Activities Committee (HUAC), searching out Communists in the arts. He petitions Parks commissioner Robert Moses for open-air theater space in Central Park. Moses has zero interest in free shows or theatergoers trampling his neat lawns with their “keep off the grass” signs, prompting scores of irate New Yorkers to send packets of grass seed to City Hall. Papp brushes aside protests by Jewish rabbis over George C. Scott’s performance as Shylock in The Merchant of Venice, and brashly tells newspaper theater critics to “bring their brains” if they’re going to review his shows. The producer insists on fully integrated theater companies and has no hesitation casting the young Diane Venora as Hamlet. Working with Papp on his play No Place To Be Somebody, Charles Gordone becomes the first black playwright to win a Pulitzer Prize. In 1965 Papp buys the old Astor mansion on Lafayette street, which was once a shelter for homeless Jews—this will become the Public Theater for new voices in the theater, just as the Delacorte theater in Central Park will become Papp’s base for free Shakespeare in the park.

With his producing partner Barnard Gersten (who functions as an able and affable on-camera narrator), Papp launches the careers of actors like Colleen Dewhurst and Meryl Streep, Martin Sheen and Raul Julia, playwrights like Ntozake Shange and Liz Swados. He backs his directors, writers and actors. When Michael Bennett can’t jell the staging of A Chorus Line, Papp tells him to take the time he needs to get it right. Larry Kramer is given total freedom to put The Normal Heart through a massive amount of rewriting.

Papp watches Hair, the first non-Shakespeare play he produces at the Public in ’67, become a hit there as well as in its uptown move to Broadway (running 1,700 performances), and this begins a pattern he never dreamed could happen. Papp turns Shakespeare’s Two Gentlemen of Verona into a Hair-like, full-tilt follow-up that transfixes Broadway audiences. He moves his 1971 Central Park free staging of The Pirates of Penzance revisited as a rock musical with Klein and Linda Ronstadt over to Broadway, winning the Tony as Best Musical. Finally he workshops A Chorus Line from humble origins on Lafayette Street up to Broadway, where it runs an unprecedented 3,389 performances and earns The Public 39 million dollars.

Papp pays a price for this success. Gail Merrifield Papp and Peggy Bannion Papp, two of the four women he married, speak evenly and without regret of his 24/7 commitment to theater, of how he came to live in what he called “splendid isolation,” of how even his Jewish roots stayed hidden from his closest associates for many of his 37 years running a theater. We sense he often wore his impoverished Brooklyn roots as a one-time newsie and chicken-plucker like a heavy garment, and when he sings “Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?” in close-up at a UJA benefit, the pathos is chiseled in his face and voice like granite. He seems to be a man who made time for everyone but himself, even as he worked with several full-time archivists near the end, organizing the history of the Public. It’s a terrible irony that, in 1991 at age 71 and shortly following the passing of his son Tony from AIDS, Papp died from prostate cancer.

At the Q&A following the film’s world premiere at Tribeca last spring, Larry Kramer opined that we’ll probably never see his like again, and vigorously challenged Oscar Eustis, the current Public Theater head since 2004, to “keep making me mad, just like Joe did.” Liz Swados fondly recalled how much Papp “loved his big cigars and his three playwright Davids—David Hare, David Rabe, and David Henry Huang.” Mandy Patinkin, choking back tears, told the audience how much he looks forward to owning a DVD of this documentary “that I can watch for the rest of my life.”

Joe Papp in Five Acts will be shown January 14th at 1:30 pm and 6 pm at The Walter Reade Theater.

AKA Doc Pomus
(Peter Miller, Will Hechter, Sharyn Felder. 2012. Canada/USA. 99 min.)

“You can dance ev’ry dance with the guy
Who gives you the eye, let him hold you tight
You can smile ev’ry smile for the man
Who held your hand ‘neath the pale moonlight
But don’t forget who’s taking you home
And in whose arms you’re gonna be
So darlin’, save the last dance for me…”

In a move as unexpected as it is strikingly original, the NYJFF fest curators have chosen for opening night a portrait of Jerome Solon Felder. You know him better—if you know him at all—as Doc Pomus, a Jewish, Brooklyn-born singer/songwriter who contracted polio as a child, came of age in the 1940s and migrated (on crutches and eventually in a wheelchair) from Greenwich Village clubs where he played with sax legend King Curtis up to Broadway’s Brill Building in Times Square, finally settling further uptown on West 72nd street where he held court to a world of visiting legends in music. Pomus (1925-1992) is one of the few lineal links between rhythm-and-blues, Latin, doo-wop, pop ballads, and soul music. He’s arguably the most important songwriter to bridge urban blues and delta blues. This doc tells Doc’s story—a rags-to-no-riches blues story if there ever was one—with a wallop that may leave a lump in your throat.

If you were throwing nickels into jukeboxes in your shallow youth, you probably have a clearer sense of Pomus, who spent nearly a lifetime shrugging off his limitations and writing songs that became hits for an amazing array of singers. Consider “Can’t Get Used To Losing You” (Andy Williams), “This Magic Moment” and “Save the Last Dance For Me” (The Drifters), “A Teenager In Love” (Dion and the Belmonts), “Lonely Avenue” (Ray Charles), “A Mess of Blues” and “Suspicion” (Elvis Presley), “HushABye” (The Beach Boys), and “Young Blood” (The Coasters). Or more specialized ditties and collector’s gems like “Piney Brown Blues” (Big Joe Turner), “There Must Be A Better Place Somewhere” (B.B. King), “Ecstasy” (Ben E. King), “Gris Gris” (Dr. John), “Someone To Watch Over Me” (Jimmy Scott) and “Just to Walk That Little Girl Home” (Mink Deville).

If you want to go really deep, there’s Doc’s own version of the seminal “Alley Alley Blues” and a tune “There’s A House In Harlem For Sale” that was popularized by the trumpet ace Henry “Red” Allen, who once blew this writer away at The Metropole at 52nd and Broadway in 1960. All told, Pomus wrote some 2,000 songs, 60 of which made it onto Billboard charts, and sold an astonishing 250 million recordings. Nearly two dozen became hits for Elvis.

AKA Doc Pomus works as an opening night headliner in part because it’s a family-owned-and-operated enterprise, aided and abetted by a tight and protective circle of boldface names. Doc’s daughter Sharyn Felder is one of three co-producers and anchors the narrative along with his brother Raoul (the well-known NY divorce attorney) and a son, Geoffrey, who helps run the estate’s licensing. Doc also has two more close resources, both of whom shape the early (and happier) half of this film—Mort Shuman, his pianist and Tin Pan Alley writing partner, with whom he shared an office in the Brill Building, and Willi Burke, his devoted wife and a musical theater luminary in her own right (“Fiorello”) who provided much of the stability that helped mainstream Doc’s workflow.

When Burke leaves the marriage and the film, life takes a downturn. Doc resorts to a sedentary life as a gambler in that apartment on West 72nd. Lou Reed, whose early career was nurtured by Pomus, steers the darkening narrative from Doc’s journals. Dr. John, struggling with a heroin addiction for years, becomes Doc’s writing partner, along with contributions by Phil Spector. The veteran producer Joel Dorn advises Doc on a producing career, and Pomus records albums by A Roomful of Blues and The Fabulous Thunderbirds. Singers Joan Osborne and Shawn Colvin contribute vivid anecdotes, as does performing artist Penny Arcade. Bob Dylan, Bette Midler, and John Belushi drop in. Pomus’s official biographer, Alex Halberstadt (Lonely Avenue) stays a steadying influence. Doc swells to over 300 pounds in his wheelchair and continues smoking four packs of Chesterfields a day. When he’s eventually hospitalized with lung cancer, he doesn’t last long, even with his teenage idol Joe Turner at his bedside. The memorial service at Riverside Chapel is bittersweet.

“I look at music in one way: it’s either soulful or it’s not,” Doc once said. AKA Doc Pomus is a stirring and soulful opening night for any film festival on earth.

AKA Doc Pomus will be shown January 9th at 3:15 pm and 8:45 pm at the Walter Reade Theater.

Numbered
(Dana Doron, Uriel Sinai. 2012. Israel/USA. 60 min.)
Audition
(Udo Prinsen. 2011. The Netherlands. 6 min.)

In Numbered more than a dozen Holocaust survivors share their experiences in Auschwitz and other WWII concentration camps. As they’re all in their 80s and 90s, the lingering impression left by this moving documentary is that this could be among the last films of its kind. Artfully conceived and elegantly framed, it’s paired in this fest with a lushly colored and animated short film of a child auditioning for a camp orchestra to save his life from a firing squad. Together, the two films provide the long and short of the Holocaust’s indelible and most enduring message to global audiences: Never forget.

Numbered surveys the widely varied responses to the numbers that were permanently tattooed on prisoners’ arms with pins and iodine. A woman speaks of her feeling that the camp’s printed legend at its gate “Work Shall Set You Free” combined with the tattooing, gave her a sense of reassurance as a child that she wasn’t going to be killed. Another tells of always being cold, always being hungry, and her sadness that “my mother never knew I survived.” A third woman confesses to becoming something of a compulsive shopper in her later years, “buying myself a sense of sanity because I can.” Three men, reunited after many years apart, proudly display their sequential camp numbers on their arms. All of the subjects are filmed in tight, full color close-ups that are intercut with formal, black-and-white, Avedon-style portraits. Cameras click and old-fashioned flashbulbs pop throughout the interviews, but they don’t irritate; rather, they seem to underscore and honor the directors’ intent of filmically bookmarking each survivor with her or his own permanent page.

The film also demonstrates how the tattooing practice is being passed on to children and grandchildren of survivors. A middle-age female journalist and college-age grandson show a relative’s number they’ve paid the local tattoo parlor to duplicate on their arms. And when the elderly subjects we’ve watched in individual vignettes all turn up at Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day, held annually a week after the 7th day of Passover), everyone hoists their arms in triumph. “Life is a one-time gift, and we won,” beams a woman.

Audition, the six-minute animated short, posits a boy with a face that’s only a smudged fingerprint, in a snowy Auschwitz courtyard surrounded by a Nazi firing squad. The young teen is auditioning with trumpet to join a four-piece camp orchestra, who stand silently to one side watching, as does the boy’s father from a cell. Yellow searchlights scan the campgrounds as the boy plays, and plays well—he’s lifted magically into tranquil skies and puffy clouds that gradually are punctured and shattered by the Nazi lights. Shivering with cold and fright, the boy is permitted to join the orchestra.

The director Udo Prinsen, a graduate of the School of Arts in Utrecht, Netherlands, told the fest audience he based Audition on Trompettist in Auschwitz: Herinneringen van Lex van Weren by Dick Walda, a real-life account of camp musician and survivor Lex Van Weren. Prinsen’s face of the boy, a fingerprint, was inspired by the art of Jozef Szajna (1922-2008), a Polish painter and stage director who survived Auschwitz as a cleaner of SS latrines. The charcoal animation is lustrous and reminiscent of Crulic, a recent animated feature from Romania. Kudos to The Jewish Museum and The Film Society of Lincoln Center not only for including the six-minute-and-four-second Audition but also giving its young filmmaker a full Q&A with an appreciative audience.

Numbered and Audition premiered January 14th and will screen again on January 20th at 8:15 pm at the Walter Reade.

Visit this site for the complete line-up.

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