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Glimpses of Heaven

As a small child, Peter Gary lay helpless while his mother took the brunt of Nazi machine gun fire meant for both of them. Left to die in a desolate forest with only a handful of other survivors, Gary narrowly escaped his own extermination on a frigid Christmas Eve in 1941. During the Japanese invasion of China, Wayne Ngan fled to Canada with his mother at the age of 13. Unable to speak the language of his new land, and exposed to snow for the first time, Ngan was handed off to alcoholic grandparents who mirrored the environment's icy welcome. George Littlechild, a native Cree, was separated from his family as a baby simply because the Canadian government determined that indigenous people were incapable of providing for themselves. As a result, Littlechild's youth is marked by painful memories of brutal physical and mental abuse, perpetrated by the very white foster families that were assigned to care for him. Out of the destructive funeral pyre of their youths, each of these survivors emerged victoriously to create beauty and harmony in the present. Starkly shot and told directly from the source, Glimpses of Heaven is a testament to the resiliency and optimism of the human spirit.

"And Who Are You?"

The film examines the complex sense of identity of many Canadians, through the experience of four Canadians who share a Polish ancestral connection. Two of the characters are Jewish, but have very different feelings about their Polish roots. One, whose family left Poland several generations ago, is actively seeking to regain, for himself, some way of “being Polish”, and has gone so far as to study the Polish language and to research his family’s genealogy in Poland. The other is the son of Holocaust survivors and, while wants to confront and examine his Polish origins, decides, in the end, that being Canadian and Jewish is what really defines him. For the two Christian characters, Poland has not been a central part of their consciousness, throughout their lives, and the trip to Poland forces them to confront what it means to have Polish roots. One character is of mixed Polish and Canadian Métis heritage, and being Métis is far more important to her. Professionally, she is an aboriginal rights lawyer. Early in life, however, she was a dancer, and had been inspired by a Polish dance troupe she saw as a child. The other Gentile character had always associated being Polish with the poverty and hardship her grandparents experienced as immigrant homesteaders on the Prairies. The visit to Cracow and Warsaw opens her eyes to a Poland of great cathedrals and works of art, a country that was once a major power in Europe and has a long and glorious history. The film weaves together the stories of the four characters, both in Canada and Poland. In the end, it opens the door, for viewers, to a broader reflection on Canadian identity. In many ways, these four characters are very typical Canadians - Canadians who carry with them the baggage of multiple heritages. The film helps us to understand what those multiple strands in our identities could mean – if we took the time to explore them.

Half the Kingdom

“What is thy request? Even if it be half the kingdom you may have it” The Scroll of Esther (5:3) How much power do women have to change age-old religious and social structures? Will altering religious practices to allow fuller participation by women fundamentally change the fabric of the religion? In this provocative documentary film, HALF THE KINGDOM, seven remarkable Jewish women from Canada; the United States and Israel, strive to find common ground between religious and cultural tradition and contemporary feminist principles. The quotation from ‘The Scroll of Esther’, one of the rare books in the Hebrew Scriptures to bear a woman’s name, symbolizes the quest of contemporary women for equality. HALF THE KINGDOM addresses a basic issue faced by women in the majority of mainstreams religions. It concerns issues not only of feminism, but also of religious pluralism and civil rights. Whether Jewish or not, one will gain inspiration from the seven indomitable women portrayed in HALF THE KINGDOM. The women in the film include: Professor Alice Shalvi, Jerusalem; Politician Shulamit Aloni, Tel Aviv; Rabbi Elyse Goldstein Toronto; Professor Norma Joseph, Montreal; journalist and activist Michele Landsberg, Toronto Professor Naomi Goldenberg and writer Esther Broner, New York.

Song of the Lodz Ghetto

Song of the Lodz Ghetto, the new feature-length documentary by David Kaufman, is a comprehensive historical account of Poland’s “first and last” Jewish ghetto, established by the Nazis during the Second World War in Lodz, Poland’s leading industrial centre. It was the first closed ghetto established in 1940 and the last to be liquidated in August, 1944. The film has a particular focus on music in the Ghetto and is built around a selection of ghetto songs performed by the renowned Jewish music group, Brave Old World. The film is also the first documentary to feature extensive interviews with survivors of the Lodz Ghetto. The film tells its story partially through a focus on two historical figures: the controversial, despotic, Nazi-appointed Jewish leader of the ghetto, Chaim Rumkowski, who is reviled by many historians, and the Ghetto’s popular street-singer, Yankele Herszkowicz, whose remarkable songs lifted the spirits of the Jews of the ghetto when their lives were full of despair, and whose own tragic life mirrored the fate of Polish Jewry. Rumkowski was a Jewish community functionary, elevated by the Nazis to lead the Ghetto, who gambled on German economic self-interest to sustain the lives of the large, highly-skilled and productive Jewish labour force. Herskowicz was a poor tailor who had a genius for broadside lyrics and who sang, literally for his supper, to keep himself alive in the impoverished ghetto and who formed a one-man opposition to the corrupt ghetto administration. The film is also a feast of historical photography, three hundred images selected from 13,000 taken in the Lodz Ghetto, including many in colour. The film features interviews with many survivors from Lodz including Chava Rosenfarb, the renowned Yiddish writer who died recently, with Herszkowicz’s family, and with several historians.

The "Socalled" Movie

Inspired by Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould (François Girard, 1993), in The "Socalled" Movie, director Garry Beitel draws together 18 short documentaries, each with its own visual language and approach. The subject that binds these films is the multitalented Canadian music maker and all-around dabbler Josh Dolgin, whose artist name is Socalled. He acquired his pseudonym by chance, but it reflects something of his creative vision: ''I've always been a dilettante. I think that stops a lot of people. It just inspires me to work." Dolgin has countless outlets for that inspiration. As a musician, he is the Godfather of klezmer hop, a blend of traditional Yiddish music and hip-hop. He also experiments with klezmer funk under the auspices of his hero, the funk pioneer Fred Wesley, whose presence in The "Socalled" Movie underscores Dolgin's interest in past greats, forgotten or otherwise. Dolgin also dabs in magic and has ambitions for a career as a filmmaker - he even hijacks Beitel's film at one point. His zest for work is motivated by a deep appreciation of human creativity: ''How can you see all this stuff that humans have done with their time and brains, and not at least want to give it a try?"

Come Home: The Jews of Glace Bay

This documentary film takes an historical look at the Jewsih community of Glace Bay, Nova Scotia from the turn of the 20th century to their 100th anniversary in 2001. Interviews are done with remaining members of the Jewish community as well as others who have lived in the town and grew up together with them. The film tells the stories of community, struggle and achievement. It played at the 2003 Vancouver Jewish Film Festival.
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