Tag Archives: Toronto Jewish Film Festival

Operation Wedding

In 1970, Anat Zalmanson-Kuznetsov’s parents had tried to leave Leningrad several times, and several times they’d been refused. Out of legal options, they decided to flee. They and their friends dreamed up Operation Wedding, in which they’d fill a plane full of people ostensibly on their way to a wedding, and once in the air, they’d have the pilot change course. Lacking the 200 conspirators necessary for this plan, they set their sights on a smaller plane, and their group of 16 bought up all the tickets. They planned to leave the operation-wedding-2016-i-movie-posterpilots behind on the tarmac and would use their own pilot; the border was just 15 minutes away and the plane would be empty save for those wishing to escape. Anat’s parents never made it onto the plane, caught by the KGB mere steps from boarding. Her mother was sentenced to 10 years in the Gulag. Her father received a life sentence. This is their story.

The programmers at the Toronto Jewish Film Festival have done an excellent job of presenting some very interesting stories at this year’s festival, but this one may take the rugelach (I know-forgive me).

Even today, Russia remembers them as terrorists. But who were they terrorizing? They simply wanted to leave the USSR. that was their crime. They knew the risk they were taking and were prepared to pay the price if caught; most preferred death. In court, they openly declared their wish to leave, and refused to beg for mercy. Two of the sixteen were sentenced to be executed by shooting, the first time the death sentence has been invoked in a hijacking case, plot foiled or not.

Israel held protests: the entire state stood still for those who may be put to death for a crime they didn’t even commit in the end. Jewish organizations in other countries joined in. Hunger strikes were held. And behind the scenes, Golda Meir was secretly pulling strings so that Spain’s “Franco the Fascist” would commute the death sentences of 6 cop killers, thinking that Brezhnev the Communist would try to out-humane Franco the dictator.

The documentary uses archival footage and primary-source interviews, but it’s Anat’s family connection that really brings it alive. When she visits the gulag cell where her mother did time, the bleak reality overwhelms her, and it moved me to tears as well.

Operation Wedding screens as part of TJFF

Friday 5 May, 1:00 PM – Alliance Francaise

Sunday 7 May, 1:30 PM – Cineplex Cinemas Empress Walk 6

Director Anat Zalmanson-Kuznetsov will be in attendance.



Like a Lotus Flower

like a lotus flower

Like a Lotus Flower is both a memorial to a lost mother and an example of how death can decimate a family.  The story is told in a way that keeps the viewer guessing and even though that is frustrating at times, that choice definitely made me pay total attention to this film in order to figure out how each person fit into the narrative.

At base, this is Eliya Swarttz’s story.  She lost her mother, Hedy, to breast cancer at a very young age.  Eliya wrote and directed Like a Lotus Flower, and reflects on her past through a combination of home video footage, interviews with the other family members, excepts from her childhood journals, and animated sequences.

The artwork in the animated sequences is a highlight.  Tonally, the art is an extension of the title, the visual equivalent of a flower blooming from the mud.  It is beautiful, somehow bright and sad at the same time, and ties the interviews and video footage together nicely.

It’s quite a puzzle to figure this family out, particularly when Eliya’s first father figure is her dad’s brother, who not only introduced Eliya’s parents to each other but also professes a deep and complex love for Hedy.  He refers to their relationship as being one between two emotional cripples who were trying to save each other.  For reasons that are not really explained, Eliya’s biological father is noticeably absent from the film and Eliya’s life in general.

There are also other notable and unexplained absences that will leave the viewer guessing, but perhaps that is the point.  There is no rhyme or reason to life and death, and this film captures the ebb and flow of people entering and leaving our lives as we grow.  Asking why Eliya’s mother died or why her father is absent is as effective as shouting into the wind.  These events happened and Eliya dealt with them (and is clearly still dealing with them in making this movie), and she bloomed out of a difficult situation.

By the end, Eliya is able to admit to herself and her family members how difficult her adolescence truly was despite her brave face, and when she does it feels like a breakthrough.  Like a Lotus Flower allows the viewer to participate in that therapeutic process as Eliya reconciles with her past, and does so in a way that is interesting and relatable.

Like a Lotus Flower is part of the Toronto Jewish Film Festival, screening May 10 at 3:30 p.m.


Monsieur Mayonnaise

Only a few minutes into Monsieur Mayonnaise, my brain’s got an itch. Something about this feels familiar but it can’t be the movie as it’s making its Canadian premiere at the Toronto Jewish Film Festival. Rather it’s the man himself, artist Philippe Mora, who I’ve lately seen in Three Days in Auschwitz, about how his mother narrowly escaped being MonsieurMayo2-750x506sent to Auschwitz. Philippe Mora is an artist of all mediums; while he did not direct this particular documentary, he did write and illustrate the graphic novel of the same name.

Monsieur Mayonnaise is about Mora’s father, a member of the French resistance. He earned the code name Monsieur Mayonnaise when he suggested the resistance smuggle important documents inside sloppy, mayonnaise-filled sandwiches, after he observed Nazis avoiding greasy foods in order to keep their pristine gloves clean. His father’s position allowed him to protect and shelter the family of the young woman with whom he was quickly falling in love. After the war, fearful of another, Mora’s parents fled to Australia, where they made their home, raised a family, and opened several restaurants which would feature hand-made mayonnaise prominently.

These are the reminiscences that inspired the colourful artwork that makes up Monsieur monsieur-mayonnaise-2Mayonnaise, both the comic and the film. Director Trevor Graham films the madcap artist as he careens around the world, meeting up with heroes, villains, and the ordinary people still alive today because of his father’s efforts – teamwork improbably involving Marcel Marceau – smuggling Jewish children across the border.

Mora is practically a subject unto himself, and if his flightiness is mirrored in the documentary, so too is his exuberance.

You can catch a screening of this film on the following dates:

Thursday 11 May, 3:30 PM – Alliance Francaise (Director Trevor Graham will Skype in for a Q&A)

Sunday 14 May, 1:00 PM – Cineplex Cinemas Empress Walk 9

30 Years of Garbage: The Garbage Pail Kids Story

I was probably too young for Garbage Pail Kids. I was possibly too young for Cabbage Patch Kids too, for that matter, but had one anyway, given to me when I was 2 years old and my dumb Mom replaced me with a brand new baby. My Cabbage Patch Kid was named Maud (they came pre-named, with a birth certificate) and she had red yarn hair. My babyGPK_8a_adambomb sister also got one, a brunette named Valerie, which I felt was unfair because she’d done nothing to deserve it besides poop and scream and steal my parents’ love.

Cabbage Patch Dolls were a huge phenomenon in the 1980s, and so too, eventually, were the little trading cards that parodied them. Topps bubblegum did Bazooka and other candy store staples. They’d paired baseball cards with bubblegum for years, and were expanding to “non-sport” cards as well. Failing to secure rights to do a legit Cabbage Patch line, they decided instead to do a “fuck you” line that would skewer these saccharine-sweet dolls.

30 Years of Garbage introduces us to the brilliant, twisted minds behind this idea that was obsessively collected by kids and doggedly censored by parents and principals. Jacques Cousteau, for some reason, cautioned parents that their Garbage Pail loving kids would inevitably end up on cocaine! I may have been too young to appreciate os4_132athis stuff at the time, but I have certainly been aware of them in retrospect. These bubblegum comic artists tapped into a vein of childhood rebellion and ended up making lasting work.

I was shocked to learn that a Garbage Pail co-creator was none other than Art Spiegelman, who wrote Maus, a deeply moving graphic novel about the Holocaust (he uses cats and mice effectively – if you haven’t read it, you simply must). I shouldn’t be surprised that I’d never known the connection – his publishers worked hard to keep it that way!

30 Years of Garbage provides equal doses nostalgia and insight. You don’t need to love the product to find this documentary compelling: who got screwed, who got sued, who won the war between the First Amendment, and Product Disparagement?

But it’s also interesting because I see this fad repeating itself. My little nephew Brady is into something called Shopkins, which as far as I can tell, is a really stupid “toy”. It’s a tiny rubber thing, shaped like some grocery store item, about the size of a pencil eraser. cards21n-2-webHe’s got a bag of rice, and a bag of flour that looks almost identical to the bag of rice. How these are fun toys I have no idea. We usually pile them on Lightning McQueen and race. But Brady’s own counter culture is already budding at 5 years old: Shopkins are parodied by the Grossery Gang, the same basic shitty toy, but disgusting (ie, mouldy cheese). I don’t get it, but adults aren’t meant to. It’s kind of cool that he’s got his own little act of rebellion, but if you’re in the mood for some throwback rebellion, here’s a hint: the Garbage Pail Kids are back.

30 Years of Garbage is playing at the Toronto Jewish Film Festival this Sunday, May 7th, 5:30pm at Innis Town Hall.

An Israeli Love Story

Margalit meets Eli on a bus and – zing! – for her, it’s love at first sight. He takes a little convincing, his head already crowded with ideas and responsibility. The catch in this little love story is that it’s Israel 1947. Things are…complicated.

Eli (Avraham Aviv Alush), son of the second President of the State of Israel, lives on a kibbutz where he works all day every day. When Margalit (Adi Bielski) pursues him An-israeli-love-story-1-1024x576there, she finds that he’s also helping the Palmach to smuggle Holocaust survivors into Palestine. This only makes her love him harder, but his reality is very different from hers, a drama student and theatre lover who is reluctant to give up a life of creativity. Her love is strong enough to make the necessary sacrifices, but the turbulent state of things in Israel means that love will not be enough to overcome all.

This is the true story of the love affair between Pnina Gary (who contributes to the script) and Eli Ben-Zvi. The film sets this passionate love story amid the political turmoil of pre-state Israel.

An Israeli Love Story makes its Canadian premiere as part of the Toronto Jewish Film Festival. Check below for dates and times – added bonus: director Dan Wolman will be in attendance.

Through the presentation of international and Canadian films, the Festival aims to be both a window to and a mirror of Jewish culture.  The Festival strives to be inclusive of all aspects of the Toronto community, regardless of age, affiliation or income.  We undertake to show films for their contemporary, popular value, and for their ability to address the subject of Jewish identity.  That is, to be a Jewish Film Festival, and not a film festival for Jewish people.


TJFF screenings for An Israeli Love Story:

Thursday 11 May, 6:15 PM – Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema

Saturday 13 May, 9:00 PM – Famous Players Canada Square 2