Stefanella's Drive Thru

Israel, U.S., conflict, war, peace, humor, travel, romance, fashion, fun

Israeli Oscars September 27, 2009

Last night I slipped into a little black dress and a pair of heels and made my way to Haifa for Israel’s version of the Oscars: The Ophir Awards.

Attending Israel’s upscale events is always an interesting venture. Because, compared to the U.S., they’re pretty scaled down and lacking pretense. Dress codes don’t rule and most anyone can get away with whatever their personal interpretation of gearing up or down might be.  That includes nominees, as demonstrated here by Best Actor winner Sasha Avshalom Agronov for his role in The Loners. Dig the hat.
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Also glaringly absent at these affairs are hulking bodyguards (unless government ministers are present). Sure, there’s security at the entrance but once inside, the press mingles with celebs and it’s a sort of everyone hangs out with everyone free-for-all at the bar and buffet kinda thing.

Which is why I was able to walk straight up to Ajami Producer Mosh Danon, congratulate him on taking best film and wish him luck at the Hollywood Oscars. I grabbed this shot of the film’s Israeli director Yaron Shani as he was being interviewed for radio.  His Arab co-director Scandar Copti was, unfortunately, in Europe.     IMGP0047

I also shook Lebanon film director Samuel Maoz’s hand and congratulated him on his Venice win.  I felt truly sorry that his film didn’t clinch the top seed.  Because imho, the movie based on his personal experience as a soldier during the 1982 Israel incursion into Lebanon, would have been a serious Academy Awards contender for best foreign film.  I’m not sure about Ajami, a story about the crime ridden mixed Arab-Israeli neighborhood of the same name in southern Tel Aviv.   Yes, it’s a microcosm of the Israel-Arab flashpoint conflict at large but it somehow feels too local.

But then, I’ve seen neither  and am basing that rather broad opinion on trailers,  discussions with colleagues and the reception for Lebanon thus far in the world arena.

Here’s a clip.  A reportedly super intense film, it takes place entirely inside an Israeli tank  in Lebanon.  Last night the movie nabbed top honors for Best Supporting Actor, Best Soundtrack, Best Cinematography and Best Design.

A few notes about the ceremony:  The high point was seeing Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Assi Dayan take to the stage.  A legendary Israeli actor and director, he has been plagued by negative press throughout his career for drug abuse, mental instability and domestic violence.  But he is talented.  And his peers gave him a standing ovation.

Heart wrenching, on the other hand, was witnessing producer Uri Segev’s widow and two young children take to the stage to receive an honorary award in his name.  46-year-old Segev died last year of heart complications during the wrap of  Lebanon. The audience, on their feet again, applauded warmly as his wife and children stood at the podium. And there was neery a dry eye in the house as his wife thanked the film academy with broken voice and his 8-year-old daugher sobbed quietly beside her.

A final note to self:  MUST SEE A Matter of Size – a film about a diet club support group that decides to start up their own Sumo Wrestling team.  It looks poignant, funny and visually beautiful.  And Best Actress recipient Irit Kaplan made a distinct impression upon the uber looks-conscious crowd by advising in her acceptance speech that we all go beyond exteriors and start digging deeper to the core where it really counts.

Lacking pretense, indeed.

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Art’s Passion August 8, 2009

For a long time I thought my overwhelming “museum feelings” were linked to certain sites or specific pieces of art.

The type of feelings that envelop with totality and without warning when viewing works of art.   

Like the time tears welled threateningly while glimpsing the Venus de Milo at the Louvre.

Or when my heart swelled wildly while touring Tutankhamun‘s tomb treasures in Cairo.

Perhaps the love affair with art began when I was in high school;  I chose French Renaissance Art as my subject for a term paper which meant spending weekends – quite willingly – in Cincinnati’s Art Museum Library conducting research.  My instinct, however, sez it started years before.

Nonetheless, I find that whenever I frequent museums or art happenings – Burning Man included – there’s usually a painting, sculpture, fixture or installation that renders me “struck”.  I get a lump in my throat and my vision goes blurry.

Yesterday’s SFMOMA visit was no exception; I was struck several times by vastly different exhibits.

Initially touring the permanent exhibits, I was quite surprised by Paul Klee early works described as “monstrous figures.”  I love Klee’s sweeping grandness and color but I was taken aback by this dark, detailed material.

Then I felt a swell of gratitude taking in originals by Dali, Diego Rivera, Magritte and Warhol.

The day, however, belonged to cutting edge fashion and portrait photographer Richard Avedon, whose career spanned 50+ years.

Avedon’s 1950’s-1960’s photos of Twiggy, Brigitte Bardot and Katharine Hepburn oozed natural beauty and starlet material.   But his image of Marilyn Monroe seemed to capture the icon’s mix of blazing sex symbol & confused nymph that would be her legacy.  THAT image presented an emotional moment for me.

Equally moving were Avedon’s images of Louis Armstrong, Igor Stravinsky, Nureyev’ “En Pointe” and Merce Cunningham who died two weeks ago.  His politicians spanned decades and worlds removed from Kissinger to Carter to Obama as Senator.  

Equally moving was the series of photographs documenting his father’s losing battle to cancer and the commissioned body of “In The American West” works portraying faces of middle America.  What a career span and what an incredible talent.

The MOMA also featured works by Georgia O’Keefe and Ansel Adams which presented yet another revelation.  Georgia didn’t do it for me.  She used to but not anymore. That’s just the way it goes, I guess.  But the Ansel Adams works spurred  awe and yet another throat lump over his Sand Dunes gelatin silver print.

After touring, I sat on the museum rooftop in the sun beside the large installations basking in the afterglow of appreciation.

Museums are magical places; I am oh-so-lucky to have the mobility, eyesight and wherewithal to visit them.

 

Crying on the Job May 6, 2009

I think I committed a faux pas.  But I’m not 100% certain.

I cried during an interview.

The interviewee didn’t seem to notice – I didn’t wail or tear at my hair or anything.  My face simply went screwy and got hot and a few tears spilled over my lower eyelids.

That’s probably not something you’re supposed to do if you’re a truly professional journalist.

It happened when I was out on assignment for my Manhattanite book-author friend who I’ve been helping on his latest project.  I interview concentration camp survivors living in Israel in their Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, etc. homes asking questions e-mailed by my friend.

So far the work has been incredible:  hearing stories, witnessing two survivors compare numbered arm tattoos,  looking through old photo albums…

Spending time with survivors I realize how very privileged my life has been and how honored I am to sit with them and document their lives.

But maybe I’m hardened.  Because in all the years I have covered all sorts of stories nothing has reduced me to tears.

And there have certainly been moments.  Like interviewing a man hours before he was to attend the double funerals of his wife and daughter, both killed in a Tel Aviv suicide bombing.  Or witnessing an elderly man sitting despondently in the rubble of his just-bulldozed home.  Or sitting with an inner city teen who stared blankly into space in the aftermath of his sibling’s shooting death.  Didn’t cry.

What did it for me yesterday was a certificate.

To be exact:  The Certificate of Liberation i.e. the “Provisional Identification Card for Civilian Internee of Buchenwald.”

On April 22, 1945 the survivor I interviewed was liberated from Buchenwald Concentration Camp by the American army.  He has held onto the wallet sized, brown leather-bound document signed by American General Bertel something or other  for 64 years.  It’  states that “Herr (blank blank in the interest of privacy) was kept in captivity from 16.4.1944 to 22.4.1945 in Nazi-German concentration camps and was liberated from the concentration camp of Buchenwald.”

It blew me away to see the authentic signed military document.  I traveled in my imagination to the place and time  that document was received and imagined the officer handing it to the survivor and the incredulity on both parts.  The significance of holding onto that document for six decades struck a chord.

I know, though, that I’m not the only journalist who has ever broken down on the job.

Some years ago B.Z. Goldberg’s documentary Promises was shown in cinemas worldwide. In what was the film’s most poignant scene, Palestinian and Israeli children are shown sitting together in the West Bank living room of one child’s home after having spent the day playing, laughing and getting to know each other.  Separated by politics and army checkpoints, they live a mere 20 minutes apart but would have never met had the filmmaker not brought them together.

Suddenly, one of the Palestinian boys begins crying.

What’s wrong? director B.Z. queries.

They’ll go back to Israel today and then we’ll never see them again, the boy answers, knowing all too well the reality of his situation.

The camera then pans to B.Z. who is also crying.

I was awed by that scene because  B.Z. allowed himself to spontaneously shed tears and he kept the shot in the film.

It was nominated for Best Documentary Oscar in 2001.

So about the crying thing…I dunno.  Mypersonal jury’s still out.

 

Oscars Anyone? February 15, 2009

Oscars are a week from today.  I haven’t watched the ceremony in yeeeaaaarrrsss but I always follow the results.

This year, however, I’m changing it up by synching my local Israel time to U.S. ceremony time (read: It’s gonna be an over-nighter Sunday) to watch it live.  I admit: I’m a sucker for the red carpet, the hoopla, the speeches, the controversy and I particularly love seeing trailers from the contenders.

This year I have selfish interests at heart as well: I want to see if Israel’s nominated entry Waltz with Bashir wins in the Best Foreign Language Film category.

I FINALLY got around to seeing Waltz this weekend.  And it far exceeded my expectations.  The use of animation was really apt on many levels.  Also, because the subject matter it addresses has been so very controversial for so long, the film was quite poignant.

Because Director Ari Folman’s animation is a personal testimony to one of the major events that happened in Israel’s 1982 Lebanon War/Invasion, it is tough to dispute what some have denied vis a vis Israel’s role in that event.  I’m being vague, I know.  I don’t want to spoil it.

Watch the trailer.  French Foreign Film Contender The Class also looks quite good  – haven’t seen it yet.   I’d say it’s between the two.  But Waltz With Bashir’s timing in terms of what we just saw happen in Gaza may give Folman the edge…