The number one movie at the box office last week starred a talking dog.
If you’re looking for something a little more…human…starring talking people from around the world, check out The 44th Chicago International Film Festival, playing in the Windy City from Thurs., Oct. 16- Wed., Oct. 29. This year’s festival, presented by Cinema/Chicago, features special appearances by international actors and directors along with a line up of more than 175 films total—116 feature films, 38 short films and 18 documentaries from around the globe.
Jesse Berkowitz, a Chicago transplant from Los Angeles, has always been a movie fan, and now he’s translated that love for movies into a career with Cinema/Chicago, which presents the festival. He is responsible for coordinating and scheduling the documentary and short subject films for the festival.
Berkowitz, who is half-Jewish, discusses why his chosen film genres appeal to him. “Documentaries are an art form that comes from something that’s raw and real. There are really interesting ways to make raw footage into feature films. I also like films that deal with real-world issues directly,” says Berkowitz. “What I like most about short films is the simplicity of them. The best short films are the ones that convey a message without muddling too many themes and factors.”
In selecting films for the festival, he strives to look for movies that will appeal to Chicago audiences, and he looks for a balance between films created by established masters in film and new filmmakers on the scene.
The film festival kicks off this year with The Brothers Bloom , a comedy about the last great adventure of the world’s best conmen. The film is directed by Rian Johnson and starring Oscar-winner Rachel Weisz (The Constant Gardener), Oscar-winner Adrien Brody (The Pianist), Mark Ruffalo (Zodiac), and Oscar nominee Rinko Kikuchi (Babel) and features a red carpet arrival, on Thurs., Oct. 16 at the Harris Theater in Chicago.
One Israeli film plays in this year’s festival. Lemon Tree/Etz Limon (Israel/France/Germany), directed by Eran Riklis, a dramatic true story, uses the lemon grove as a metaphor to illustrate the Israeli/Palestinians conflict. Israel’s newly elected defense minister declares Palestinian widow Salma’s lemon trees, straddling the Israel/West Bank Border, as a haven for terrorist infiltration that must be chopped down. She must rely on unlikely allies, including the defense minister’s wife, to help save the trees. The film is in Arabic and Hebrew with English subtitles.
The film festival’s Milton Glaser: To Inform and Delight , (USA), a documentary directed by Wendy Kay, also has a Jewish theme. The movie tells the story of the famed Jewish cofounder of New York Magazine and artist, Milton Glaser, who has revolutionized the world of design.
Other festival highlights will include honoring the Oscar-winning director Mike Leigh with a Career Achievement Award before the screening of his film Happy-Go-Lucky and honoring Oscar-winner Sidney Poitier with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the annual Black Perspectives Tribute and Reception.
This year, the festival also launches “Green Screen,” an initiative presenting movies that illuminate pressing environmental issues. The program works with environmental groups throughout Chicago to promote the films and to raise environmental awareness.
After watching seven hours of documentary and short subject films a day, sometimes Berkowitz wants to lose himself in an action flick. Other times, he prefers a more compelling movie-going experience and hopes others will too. “It’s important for people to challenge themselves to enjoy a certain type of cinema that they might not normally consider,” he said. “It’s always fun to discover a genre that you really love. Our festival provides our audiences an opportunity to do that.”
Most of the films from this year’s film festival will be presented in downtown Chicago at AMC River East 21 and AMC 600 N. Michigan, while a few films will play at the Music Box Theater in Lakeview and the opening and closing nights will take place at the Harris Theater in Chicago. For film festival passes and tickets, visit www.chicagofilmfestival.com or www.ticketmaster.com or by calling (312) 902-1500. For more festival information, call (312) 332-FILM or visit www.chicagofilmfestival.com .
It is a classic love story with a twist. Kim and Scott Holstein met at a Richard Bach book signing in 1994. Kim was obsessed with pretzels. Scott was obsessed with Kim. The following year, they launched a gourmet pretzel empire out of their Lincoln Park studio apartment. Kim and Scott have since upgraded to a 25,000 square-foot factory west of the Loop and added three kids to the mix, but the key ingredients haven’t changed – a passion for pretzels and for each other.
If you are in the mood for a handmade pretzel stuffed with spinach and feta or with chocolate, visit Kim and Scott’s Twisting Café at the Kohl Children’s Museum, tune into QVC, check out their website, or stop by coffee shops and grocery stores across the country. Through Pretzels for Peace and other creative philanthropic initiatives, Kim and Scott plant trees, feed the hungry, empower kids and fight breast cancer.
So, whether you crave omelet pretzels in the morning, think poodles and golden retrievers should mate more often, or pray at the greenest synagogue in town, Kim and Scott Holstein are Jews You Should Know.
1. What did you want to be when you grew up?
Kim: Weather woman, Today Show anchorwoman, and rabbi
Scott: Astronaut and Vet
2. What do you love about what you do today?
Kim: So much! I’m crazy about pretzels and coming up with new flavors and products. I’m passionate about children’s health and developing healthy grab and go products for kids. Having three kids of our own and a café inside a children’s museum is a demonstration of how our lives and passions are twisted together – like a pretzel.
3. What are you reading?
Kim: I love to read lots of books at once. Right now, I’m reading The Answer is Simple by Sonia Choquette, one of my favorite writers and mentors. I’m also reading Meatball Sundae by Seth Godin, a book about marketing and its transformation in the age of the internet, and Ellen Tebbits by Beverly Cleary for a book group I am in with my 8-year-old daughter, Sonia.
Scott: The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan and Marley and Me by John Grogan. We have a new golden doodle.
4. What is your favorite place to eat in Chicago?
Kim: I have to honestly say that I’m a huge fan of our Twisting Café at the Kohl Children’s Museum. With a healthy menu of pretzel sandwiches and salads, I can’t get enough of it. I also love Blind Faith Café in Evanston. Their vegan chocolate cake is the ultimate!
5. If money and logistics played no part, what would you invent?
Kim: A single ingredient that cures cancer, grows more wheat to feed the hungry (and has ultra-powerful vitamins for nutrition), and ironically can also be diluted and used as a fuel alternative.
6. Would you rather have the ability to fly or to be invisible?
Kim: Invisible. You can always fly in a plane, but to be invisible could be a valuable ability.
7. If I scrolled through your iPod what guilty pleasure would I find?
Kim: I love meditation and songs for yoga, peace, relaxation and reflection, so you’d find a ton of these kinds of songs and guided meditations. I also have my classic favorite songs from Peter Gabriel, Elton John and 10,000 Maniacs.
Scott: Last season's 30 Rock -- the best sitcom!
8. What’s your favorite Jewish thing to do in Chicago? In other words, how do you Jew?
Kim: We belong to Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation in Evanston. It’s an incredible community, filled with activities and services that are meaningful and spiritual--a place where we feel connected to Judaism at many levels. For the past two years we have gone on the synagogue family retreat and had a blast together. Also, we enjoy Shabbat every Friday night and Jewish holidays, whether it’s with other families, or just our gang.
Growing up, I didn’t really think anything of the way my socks were put away, each pair bundled together into a perfect ball, arranged in rainbow order (yes, people wore colored socks back then) in my top drawer. In my closet, clothes were arranged by season and color and every hanger and seam faced the same direction. My mom did laundry (several loads) every night and putting the clothes back into the drawers sometimes took five tries to get the folding just right. The cleaning lady came once a week and my mom cleaned thoroughly both before and after her visits. The house was always spotless. We never ate Cheetos and got wiped down with paper towels after every meal. I learned never to spill.
Then I got older.
Suddenly, it became incredibly irritating that I couldn’t just leave a single pair of jeans out over night (I was just going to put them back on in the morning) and that I had to make my bed every morning (I was just going to get back into it that night). And that even after putting everything away, having been told repeatedly, my mom would still come in and refold the jeans and remake the bed herself—I could never (and would never) get it just right.
In college, my roommates knew that my parents coming to visit meant it was time for some serious cleaning. We scrubbed and scrubbed until we thought our apartment was spotless. But when my mom arrived, cleaning supplies in hand, without fail it was never clean enough.
My mom isn’t trying to drive me crazy—and she doesn’t really want to refold my jeans any more than I want her to. My mom comes by her OCD honestly. It’s there with her, through every single moment of every single day, and though it sometimes gets the best of her, I admire her strength in fighting through her urges and not letting them rule her life.
I wasn’t always so sympathetic. I’ll admit that growing up, I just didn’t quite get what my mom was going through. Instead of being understanding and considerate, I breathed a sigh of relief and thanked G-d for sparing me my mother’s obsessive compulsiveness and allowing me to be the laid back person I was. As far as I could tell, I was as easy going and relaxed as they come. I could travel with ease, not even school stressed me out and while I was no slob (I had been trained very well), I was totally cool with leaving a pair of jeans out overnight.
These days I have a much better understanding of what my mom is going through—thought I never really wanted to understand quite so well.
I entered the “real world” and it hit me like a ton of bricks.
You know how a bar or bat mitzvah is supposed to mark the Jewish coming-of-age when a young Jew must start taking on responsibilities for herself? I think this occasion should actually be marked about eight years later when she has to get a job, moves out and the real responsibilities kick in—we could call it the Jewish coming-of-neuroses.
As much as I tried to fight it, the older I got and the more stressful life became, I felt aspects of my mom’s disorder starting to creep out. It started with some minor anxiety and stomachaches, and then, one day I found myself scrubbing my bathroom shower for over an hour thinking that I just couldn’t get the tub white enough. I realized I had a little more than just a few bad cases of the nerves.
No, I do not arrange my socks in color order, and it’s entirely possible that the clothes in my closet are not all facing the same direction, but I am definitely guilty of some obsessive-compulsive behavior, and often times my anxiety gets the best of me.
This is something I struggle with every day, battling the anxieties in my head, never knowing what will set me off or when. I am learning to take on each new challenge as it comes, and to never let my neuroses stop me from living my life.
We all know the stereotype of the Jew as neurotic, as portrayed by Jewish mothers everywhere and Woody Allen, and this one, I’m afraid, isn’t too far from the truth. I think we all know someone who is a little neurotic, or nervous, or obsessive about something—everyone has their shtick. How could we not, with a religion that tells us to question everything, repeat this line three times and wash our hands before every meal?
But whether my tendency toward OCD is dictated by my religion, my genetics or too many Woody Allen movies doesn’t matter much. What matters is how I’m going to choose to deal with it going forward--whether I can get myself out of the bathtub scrubbing frenzy and move on with my day.
I know that the stress of grown-up life will never fully go away. So in the meantime, I plan to take lots of deep breaths, sign up for a yoga class and get through one day at a time. Luckily, I have someone close to me who has been through it all, to help me push through and keep things in perspective.
Yael Naim isn’t upset about being known as, “the chick that sings the song in the Apple commercial.” Instead, the Israeli-raised, Paris-dwelling singer/songwriter is grateful. “You can’t be unhappy if people know only one song, I’m so happy and I’m thankful for every good thing that has happened,” Naim says.
And lots of good things have happened to her since the song, “New Soul,” popped up in the ad last January. I called Naim in her Paris apartment 10 days before she set off on her US tour—which includes an October 23 stop at Chicago’s House of Blues.
“One week after the commercial first played, we were number one in single downloads in the US. But the album was in the top five, so we could see that people were also curious about the rest of the songs too,” she says.
It’s hard to pinpoint what exactly hits people about “New Soul,” but I have seen it happen dozens of times myself: The MacBook Air commercial comes on, the noise in the room drops and people listen. Some describe it as “haunting,” but to me, “New Soul” sounds more like light on water—joyful, pretty and simple.
An Israeli in Paris
When she started writing the songs that would become the album Yael Naim & David Donatien, Naim was homesick, fighting through a transitional period, and the down tempo feel of most of the album reflects this mood. But “New Soul” is different. “All of these other songs on the album were written in a melancholy period, only “New Soul” was written while David [David Donatien music partner and co-collaborator on Naim’s album] and I were working on the album—and that was such a happy period,” she says.
“New Soul,” Naim says, is about looking back at that darker time. “Before, I thought I was an old soul and that I knew life. But [having come through adjusting to my new life in Paris] I realized that I don’t know much about life and it’s probably my first time on earth, so I am a new soul. I have realized that nothing has to be so perfect—it’s okay to have a lot to learn.”
And while it may seem that Naim came out of nowhere, the 30-year-old artist has been learning about music and life since she was a child in Israel.
As a high school student in Tel Aviv, Naim went to see jazz great Wynton Marsalis at a club the city. She found a fan in a saxophone player from Marsalis’ orchestra and every time he appeared at the club, he brought her up to sing jazz standards.
After high school, she continued her career as a soloist in an air force musical troupe in the Israeli Defense Forces. During that two-year stint, she performed a few benefit concerts in Paris and was discovered by a French producer. In 2001, EMI released her first record, In a Man’s Womb. The album didn’t sell and Naim, filled with doubt, was lonely in Paris, removed from her life in Israel, her family and her then boyfriend.
It was that homesickness that inspired her to begin writing in Hebrew and ultimately led to her current success. “It was only when I was in Paris that I missed home and felt the need to reconnect with Israel; I found myself writing in Hebrew for the first time. It’s a very intimate language,” Naim says. “Paris,” the first song on the album is sung in Hebrew—a purely artistic decision. She assumed, because of the disappointing results of her first record, it would only be heard by an intimate group.
Yael Naim’s Sweet, Happy Life
One of the first people to hear that song, as well as about 200 others she’d been working on, was West Indian drummer, David Donatien. The two started playing together and he encouraged her to continue writing in Hebrew. “I wasn’t thinking about [whether Hebrew songs would appeal to a French audience] because I never thought the song would be in an album and then, even while working on the album, we didn’t think it would be released in Paris. We had something to say and didn’t think about whether it would work, to tell you the truth. David and I recorded the music as we liked without compromise to connect to people,” Naim says.
She describes the time working on the album as, “three and a half years of constant happiness.” She and Donatien would get started playing and recording around 11 am every day and then, in the evening, friends—musicians and artists mostly—would drop in and out of her house, she’d make something to eat and they’d talk about music. “It was an amazing time and a dream come true because I could be at home with friends and music all day.”
This fun, bohemian atmosphere comes to life in the video for “New Soul,” which reflects the blissful time she experienced making her album. “My experience with my first album made me not expect anything. Usually you have huge expectations or you’re worried about money or pleasing a music company and so you don’t always follow your heart,” she says.
Despite her success with this album, Naim says that she will not let the pressure to be commercially successful creep back in when she and Donatien, who she is quick to say deserves as much credit for the album’s success as she does, finally get the chance to get back to recording new music next January.
“I see that taking the time and doing what you love really works. It was a great lesson not to think too much. I know that life is sometimes up and sometimes down so even if the next album isn’t a huge success, it’ll be okay,” she says.
See Yael and David perform live October 23rd at The House of Blues—and get discounted tickets from Club 1948!
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- Nominations now open for the fifth annual Chicago Jewish 36 under 36 list
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- Third annual JCC Chicago Jewish Film Festival opens March 10