Moscow Jewish Film Fest a Hit, Despite Tense Preliminaries

The Jewish Film Festival in Moscow got off to a flying start Saturday evening, following a tense week during which city officials first canceled the festival and then reversed their decision.

David Gamburg, a partner in the Los Angeles management firm that handled the eight months of negotiations with Soviet authorities, confirmed Monday that the screenings were on track as scheduled, according to conversations he had the previous day with festival organizers in Moscow.

Gamburg said that the sold-out opening had gone off smoothly, without any anti-Semitic demonstrations. Fear of such demonstrations had been cited by Moscow city officials as a major reason for canceling the eight-day festival.

The Moscow correspondent of the Los Angeles Times reported on the reactions of first-night patrons after they viewed the American film “Crossing Delancey.”

In the 1988 romantic comedy, set in New York, the thoroughly modern Jewish heroine tussles with her grandmother, the neighborhood matchmaker and her own conscience to decide whether to accept the proposal of a vendor of kosher pickles over the attentions of a conceited novelist.

What seemed to strike Moscow viewers most forcefully was the affirmation and naturalness with which the characters dealt with their Jewishness.

‘OK TO BE JEWISH’

Mikhail Shtein, a 24-year-old literature student, was quoted by the Times as observing, “It seems really OK to be Jewish. In the film, people recognize, of course, that they are Jewish. But this is not a burden, and they even celebrate it.”

Shtein said Soviet Jews were amazed that the characters in the film felt comfortable with their Jewishness. “They accept it, others around them accept it, and life goes on.”

Deborah Kaufman of San Francisco, director of the festival, told the Saturday night audience at the prestigious Rossiya Hotel theater, off Red Square, that the films were intended to “challenge all stereotypes and images of Jews.”

The message came through to one viewer, Roman Spector, a prominent Jewish activist in Moscow. “We Soviet Jews now have a real possibility to become acquainted with the life of Jews elsewhere — in Israel, in Europe and America, elsewhere in the Diaspora — from which we were cut off for so long,” he said.

The festival’s co-director, Janis Plotkin, said that a major goal in bringing the films to Moscow was to help Soviet Jews recover both their personal and communal sense of Jewish identity.

Through this Saturday, 29 feature and documentary films will be screened at three large theatres, with total attendance expected to reach 50,000.

Hollywood director Paul Mazursky will host the presentation of his film, “Enemies, A Love Story,” based on the novel by Isaac Bashevis Singer.

Among the other films are “Beyond the Walls” and “Hamsin” from Israel; “The Chosen” from the United States; and “Au Revoir les Enfants” from France.

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