In recent years I’ve had some bad experiences with San Francisco Jewish Film Festival opening nights – even when the movie was excellent. Long waits, late starts, longer introductions, and horribly uncomfortable seats in the Castro balcony.
This year, I’m glad to say, everything went well. We got great seats in the 4th row (I realize that not everyone likes to be that close). The show started on time at 6:30 with a collection of previous years’ festival trailers – all very funny.
This year’s trailer, which I can’t find on the Internet, is more than just funny. It deals with the big question: What makes a film Jewish?
Jewish Film Institute Executive Director Lexi Leban kept her introduction lively and, best of all, brief. The movie, Fiddler: A Miracle of Miracles, started at 7:05. I think that’s a record…and a good one.
Max Lewcowicz’s documentary about Fiddler on the Roof makes a good argument that the 1964 Broadway hit was a feminist work well ahead of its time. Tevye’s daughters choose their own life paths rather than accepting their father’s choices. Clips from different productions, including one in Japanese and, of course, the 1971 movie, show the many ways the characters can be interpreted. In telling the play’s story, Lewcowicz touches on everything from the Hollywood blacklist to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s wedding. It made me want to see the show, revisit the movie, and buy the album.
I give this documentary an A-.
After the movie, Lewcowicz came on stage to answer questions. Some highlights, edited for clarity and brevity:
- On the original short stories: It’s amazing how powerful that Shalom Aleichem stuff is.
- There were a lot of songs that were dropped. One was about the lame horse.
- On finding various productions: There’s a licensing company in New York called MTI. They license all the Broadway shows all over the world. [Fiddler] gets played in majestic opera houses in Vienna and in small schools.
- About the blacklist: The FBI pressured Director/choreographer Jerome Robbins to name names. Back then, if you were known to be homosexual, your career was over.
- On the current New York production in Yiddish: I asked a cast member if he knew what he was saying. He said “No.”
This was the only screening of Fiddler at the Festival. However, it will open in theaters in the near future.