Film | God Told Me To Come to Toronto!


And when God tells Shtetl to go West, baruch hashem (enshallah), Shtetl obeys. Especially if she, the almighty one, is commanding me to sit in a dark room and injest movie after movie. Some call it the cave, some call it the burning bush, here they call it The Toronto Jewish Film Festival.  And they even have a focus on horror films with virgin births, sacrifices to Moses and Jesus and a showing of The Kaddish episode of the X Files.


On the Megabus ride here I sat beside an older woman with a leather Harley Davidson jacket from Cornwall. She had a very distinct accent and as it turned out she was a Jewish lady from N.D.G. in Montreal who remarried a trucker and moved to Ontario. There’s hope for us all!  Behind me on this late night bus was a young  man with headphones- not sure why ’cause he played his music at full volume but kept his headphones around his neck instead of wearing them. He was doing a lot of out-loud swearing and weird breathing. No one asked him to keep it down. I can’t say it was much worse than the time I took the overnight Hassidic bus to NYC and that one man with electric peyot (side curls) went absolutely meshugenah in Yiddish to the point the bus had to stop and we waited 45 minutes for someone to come pick him up from the gas station. Alas, these are the perils when a Jew travels to the big city for adventures in culture.

I’m writing this from the Rustic Owl cafe on Bloor and a quick perusal of the film fest schedule takes you around the world from Canada to Israel to China to Russia and beyond.  And nearby there are the most amazing Ethiopian, Korean, Mexican restaurants one glutton could desire. Toronto is the land of multiculturalism. large_you_are_me

So it has been pretty jarring to go from film to food to subway all the while reading Marci McDonald’s new Walrus article about Canada’s right wing anti-refugee warrior Jason Kenny. An absolute must-read!  I could have sworn that the headphone guy from the Megabus was sitting beside me at the screening of You Are Me – a British short about a meeting between a Holocaust survivor and an African refugee.  With all the out-loud swearing during the screening I was shocked that the man beside me in the “Fuck abortion rights!” t-shirt was in fact Jason Kenny.  I tell ya, this film fest attracts all types.

Yuriy Gurzhy and Vladimir Kaminer

Yuriy Gurzhy & Vladimir Kaminer at Russendisko in Berlin.

On a sweeter note, this year Shtetl has had a special focus on Berlin. We’ve aired a few shows on the subject of Jewish life, arts and culture in the trendy German capital (Gypsy,Jewish & Gay,  Next Year in Berlin and a few others).  One of our more hectic interviews in Berlin was at a storied bar called Kaffe Burger where Vladimir Kaminer and Yuriy Gurzhy regularly DJ a night called Russen Disco. The drunken dance soiree is named after Kaminer’s famous and very funny book documenting his life as an immigrant from Moscow to Berlin.  The film based on Kaminer’s book Russian Disco brought us into the Berlin of the post-Wall 90’s where Germany was giving citizenship away like hot cakes to Jews from the Soviet Union. Apparently Russians of the gentile variety were converting their wieners to Jew dogs just for the privilege of staying in bohemian Berlin.  Went to see this flick with Lainie Basman- my radio-bashert (soulmate) and co-producer of the Shtetl Berlin audio docs. We capped off the night with a lemon drop shot at Disgraceland- the Toronto pub where I experienced my first ever deep fried pickle! YUM!!!

We also went on a pilgrimage to Jewish feminism at Esther Broner: A Weave of Jewish Women.  Broner convened the first ever women’s Passover seder with ladies like Bella Abzug and Gloria Steinem. She was a writer and ritualist and has truly shaped modern North-American Judaism. No surprise that not many folks know her name. But if you’ve ever been to a woman’s seder or heard of Miriam’s Cup…Esther Broner is the incredible lady to thank. (Warning: This movie is a tear jerker if you’re a softy and can’t control your crazy hormonal emotions.)

There are tons of great films to check out on the last weekend of this year’s festival- including a retrospective on talented Iraqi-Montrealer Joe Balass.  But personally, I’d rather watch TV.  Especially if it’s the addictive kind like Shtisel.  If you’re not into crack (mind you with Rob Ford at rehab there’s plenty to go around in Toronto) but you want to get the Breaking Bad-type of TV rush- believe it or not- the life of an ultra-Orthodox family in Jerusalem totally delivers.  Hot Hassidic men,  no-touch flirting in a bright hotel lobby that’s 50 shades hotter than most of the explicit hanky-panky you’ll see on HBO, Kierkegaard jokes, epic family drama, the beauty and tragedy of tradition…You’ll get it all in Shtisel.  I saw the first three episodes today at the festival and it’s gonna be pretty frickin hard to stay away for the last three episodes this Sunday.  It’s beautifully shot, deep, and Shtetl’s favourite pick at the festival so far.


And on a more controversial note- this year TJFF is showing two films that either star or were directed by the current baddest boys of Jewish movie making. There’s John Turturro’s film Fading Gigoglo starring Woody Allen (woops) and Roman Polanski‘s cult classic of comedy horror Fearless Vampire Killers. They both look pretty awesome but in light of all the recent debates…is it an averah to go see them?  Shit. Shtetl won’t judge, but maybe ask your rabbi first!

May the force be with you and gut Shabbes!