sundance 2007So Larry Mark is out at The Sundance Film Festival freezing his touchas off, and graciously volunteered to give Jewlicious the inside scoop on all the Jewish and Israeli films and happenings out in the promised land of Utah.

This is the first in a short series of Guest Posts by Larry Mark:

Jewish Film Opens Sundance 2007

After a stress-filled flight to Salt Lake City, served with a schmear of neurosis, it was relaxing to settle into my cinema seat and watch the opening film at the Sundance Film Festival, “Chicago 10.”

Chicago 10 is a documentary about some very long haired students, hippies, and yippies; and it kicked off the unofficial theme of this year’s Sundance, namely the ability to overcome adversity. Written and directed by Brett Morgan, “Chicago 10” looks back at the events of 1968: the three candidates at the Democratic Party convention in Chicago, and the arrests and trial of members of three political protest organizations, who later became known as the “Chicago 8” and later the “Chicago 7.” (The politically correct term is now Chicago 10)

Morgan developed this project as a reaction to the U.S. entry into Afghanistan and then Iraq, as a way to mobilize those who were born after 1968, just as he was. As the documentary premiered at Sundance on Thursday evening, he said, “The time was right to look back at the Chicago 8 and the anti-war movements of the Sixties to have an understanding of what it means to take a stand, to try and encourage people to take a more active role in protest… I just thought there should be some more participation.” His film attempts to succeed as both a vivid recreation of the period and an invitation to the importance of political activism, participation, and commitment.

chicago 10

The 1968 assassinations of Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., ghetto riots, student demonstrations in Paris and the U.S., and Tet offensive in Vietnam all reached an apex when the Democrats met in Chicago. So there is an overwhelming amount of archival footage from the events in Chicago, and over 14,000 photos from the 1968 convention and riots. But there were no photos of the 1969 court trial. Morgan’s innovation was to animate the courtroom scenes, creating an unusual documentary that mixes archival footage and photos with recreated animation. The result is entertaining, but also inspiring.

What’s so Jewish about a film about hippies and yippies? As if you need to ask? Most of the participants in the trial were of Jewish heritage. They included both Judge Julius Hoffman and Yippie Abbie Hoffman, defense attorneys William Kunstler and Leonard Weinglass, poet Allen Ginsburg, and some of the other defendants and alleged co-conspirators, including Lee Weiner (who later became a leader in the ADL of B’nai B’rith) and Jerry Rubin, who had spent time living in Israel before heading to graduate school and becoming active in the Free Speech Movement in Berkeley. Narrators in the film include Hank Azaria, Roy Scheider, and Liev Schreiber..

To me, the film can be seen as a tale of Jewish generations of Hoffmans, that of 74 year old Judge Hoffman facing off against the generation of Abbie Hoffman. Abbie comes across as a radical with the pacing of a Catskills’ Jewish comedian and theatrical impresario. The film is filled with his quips, speeches, testimonies, and radio interviews.

Although the film contains a sample of Abbie Hoffman’s trial quips, it is missing his infamous claim to Judge Hoffman that the trial was a “Shanda fur de goyim!”- “You disgrace the Jews for the sake of the gentiles!”

Watching the film, I was reminded of an essay by Pnina Lahav titled, “The Chicago Conspiracy Trial as a Jewish Morality Play.” In her essay, she crafted a tale of an establishment prosecutor and judge, a Jewish civil rights activist with a long record as a fighter for racial equality; and a philosopher clown, the self-appointed spokesperson for the counterculture. In her view, to Judge Hoffman, the law became a means toward assimilation, while to Abbie Hoffman, the law was a means toward exaggerating his outsider status.

While Morgan’s intention is to mobilize the youth of the country to take risks and speak out, the film mostly succeeds at presenting a freshly styled look at the energy and activism of 1968, and the failures of the antiwar movements to work together and organize to end the Vietnam war and force progress in civil rights.

Larry Mark is the editor and founder of MyJewishBooks.com and JewishFilm.com. He is also the founder of Schmoozedance, an annual Jewish film festival in Park City Utah. Jewishfilm.com is a site that collects information and reviews films of Jewish and Israeli interest. It is a resource for Jewish film festival producers. Larry has written about Jewish films and books for Hadassah Magazine, The Forward, and other Jewish publications, and he has freely consulted to several American Jewish film festivals on film selection and festival planning. Larry was born in the holyland of Scranton PA, resides in Manhattan, and has a special love for Rishon Lezion as well as the Hummus of Haifa and Afula.

About the author

Laya Millman

1 Comment

Leave a Comment