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Shabbos and Scathing Jewish Doc Win at Sundance 2018

THE STORY LIVES IN YOU.

That was the slogan for the 2018 Sundance Film Festival.

Among the highlights and awards winners were Shabbos… and a documentary on three Jewish children who were adopted in the 1960s.

First things first.

A Sundance Shabbat party kicked off the weekend at the Wasatch Brew Pub in Park City, Utah on the evening of January 19. It was organized by Rabbi Yonah Bookstein of Los Angeles’ Pico Shul and Shabbat Tent, who wished the sold out group of nearly eight dozen participants a “Happy Sundance,” a “Sundance Sameaj.” It garnered a tweet from actress Mayim Bialik. AFter Shabbat, a Havdalah party was held that featured singing and a performance by Dillz (Rami Matan); a band named “Shankbone,” and others.

Participants included the producers of American Animals and The Price of Everything; a VP of production at NBC Universal; as well as and actor-director Idris Elba and his friends. Rabbi Bookstein said the event was a chance for a “digital detox” at the celebrity-driven festival.

There was even a Shabbos drinks afterparty for those unable to score a seat at the dinner, and for those who live by the motto of #SingleAtSundance

Temple Har Shalom of Park City home of THS Ski Day, Ski Shul on the slopes, and Sundance Film Festival documentary screenings (and the past co-host of the SchmoozeDance Jewish Film Festival from 2000 to 2009), also served the needs of Jewish and other residents and visitors during the festival…. as did a nascent Chabad Group

As for the festival’s winners (let’s start with the award recipients)

A Special Jury Award for Storytelling went to “Three Identical Strangers,” a documentary directed by Tim Wardle. The film opens with a Freshman arriving at Sullivan County (NY) Community College in 1980. Its his first day, but so many classmates wave and shout out to him using a different name. It turns out, he has a twin brother (also adopted), who was on campus the prior year and has transferred out to a school on Long Island. Their story is picked up by the media, notably Newsday, a Long Island newspaper, and soon enough, a third brother appears. They were TRIPLETS, separated at birth, and adopted by three separate Jewish families in the New York City area. That is just the SETUP. It is a journey you cannot imagine. The documentary follows their story as their parents meets, the brothers become inseparable, they appear for a second in a Madonna film (Desperately Seeking Susan), and they open a steak house in SoHo/Manhattan together. But the film goes deeper… it turns out that the celebrated adoption agency which primarily served Jewish families… was secretly in cahoots with a researchers, purposely separated the three boys, placed them in economically distinct Jewish families (working class, middle class, wealthy), and studied each child each year to track their lives. A conspiracy? Three other groups tried to make the film, but were mysteriously closed down (by a Jewish group) during the production. It was a nature/nurture study, the results of which are sealed at Yale University for decades to come.

The U.S. Drama Prize for Directing was conferred on Sara Colangelo for her film: “The Kindergarten Teacher.” It stars Maggie Gyllenhaal, Parker Sevak, Anna Baryshnikov, Rosa Salazar, Michael Chernus, Gael Garcia Bernal, Daisy Tahan, Ajay Naidu, and Samrat Chakrabarti.
And it is based on Israeli director Nadav Lapid’s 2014 drama of the same title. Maggie Gyllenthal plays Lisa Spinelli, an unhappy empty-nested teacher for over two decades on New York City’s Staten Island who takes a large interest – nay, an obsession – perhaps a dangerous zealous one – in the life of her 5-year-old student, a prodigy in poetry. Or is it a crime to lavish praise on a student who is not receiving support from others? At the same time, she is studying poetry in adult ed, with a teacher played by Gael Garcia Bernal.

Other films of Jewlicious interest at #Sundance2018 included:

THE OSLO DIARIES, an Israeli/Canadian documentary by Mor Loushy and Daniel Sivan; was acquired by HBO which will broadcast it in the U.S. in 2018 for the 25th anniversary of Oslo. It was produced by Hilla Medalia and Ina Fichman, and executive produced by Guy Lavie, Koby Gal-Raday, Danna Stern, Dagmar Mielke, Barbara Dobkin and Jean Tsien. The doc details events in 1992, when Israeli-Palestinian relations were at an all-time low and any communication between the two countries was punishable with jail time. A small group of Israelis and Palestinians gathered secretly in Oslo for a series of meetings spanning 1,100 days that came to be known as The Oslo Accords.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was the subject of RBG, a doc by Betsy West & Julie Cohen. The Justice was at the premiere (though no opera was played). The film opens with a montage of insults people throw at the 84 year old judge. Audiences will disagree. “RBG” goes on to showcase Ginsburg’s life and successes.

The Catcher Was a Spy: The Moe Berg story is a film drama by Ben Lewin.

Generation Wealth, directed by Lauren Greenfield, looks at wealth, youth, narcissism, celebrity, indiscretion, bodies, faking it, youth and consumerism, and its export around the world (and gaudy bar mitzvah parties)

In “Studio 54” by Matt Tyrnauer … the lives of Ian Schrager and Steve Rubell are portrayed.

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