Monday, May 12, 2008

Israeli Film Overview—“Israel @ 60”—is Presented by Film Society From May 28 to June 5

Preview Story by Brad Balfour

With various celebrations underway for the 60th anniversary of the founding of Israel, The Film Society of Lincoln Center will mark the occasion with a film series, "Israel @ 60," running from May 28 to June 5th, 2008, at the Walter Reade Theater.

Drawing on 15 films from the past decade of Israeli cinema, the program showcases some of Israel’s finest and most adventurous contemporary directors—including veteran Amos Gitai ("Disengagement), Oscar-nominee Joseph Cedar ("Campfire"), Giddi Dar ("Uzipishin"), controversial filmmakers Radu Mihaileanu ("Live and Become") and Keren Yedaya ("Or"), among others—and two of them—Gitai and David Ovek ("No. 17") will make appearances in New York as well.

Organized in collaboration with the Jewish Museum and Manhattan's Jewish Community Center (with a nod of thanks to the Consulate General of Israel, especially staffers Yoram Morad and Shani Hashaviah), "Israel @ 60" offers a unique overview of films emerging from and inspired by the Israeli experience—what Film Society Program Director Richard Peña calls, “the most remarkable decade yet for Israeli cinema.”

As programmed by Peña, the series is both a powerful reflection on the country’s history and a first-hand account of its ongoing conflicts. Said Peña, “Israeli films have confronted the complex and often painful issues that have shaped the nation’s first 60 years with sobering and, for some, upsetting candor.”

The series opens on the afternoon of Wednesday, May 28, with two looks at the country’s often explosive mix of cultures including the Sephardim and former Soviet Union immigrants: Dina Zvi-Riklis’s "Three Mothers" (at 2:00 p.m.) and Dover Koshashvili’s much-acclaimed "Late Marriage" (at 4:15 p.m.).

The most frequently examined subject—the relationship between Israel and Palestine—is highlighted in "Israel @ 60" through three films, "Avenge But One of My Two Eyes," "Checkpoint," and "The Inner Tour." These features address both the tumultuous history of the region and the current difficulties impeding reconciliation and resolution of the conflict.

Among the selections, Gitai’s latest film, 2007's "Disengagement," addresses the theme of national identity through the dramatic performance by lead actress Juliette Binoche, who plays a woman living in France brought together with her Israeli police officer brother and long-abandoned daughter after her father’s death.

Forecasting his Oscar-nominated success with last year's "Beaufort," director Cedar made his mark with 2004’s "Campfire." The film examines the life of a widow and her family within the controversial political atmosphere of Israel in the '80s, and now enjoys renewed attention by being part of this program.

The series also re-screens several much acclaimed Israeli films such as Dar’s surprise smash hit "Ushpizin," about an orthodox Jewish couple who grapples with a startling test of faith that confronts them during the Sukkot holiday. Winner of the Camera d'Or for best first feature at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival, Yedaya's "Or" is a riveting study of aging Tel Aviv prostitute Ruthie (Ronit Elkabetz) and her 18-year-old daughter Or (Dana Ivgy, who won the Israeli Oscar for Best Actress for her performance).
Filmmakers Anat Zuria and David Benchetrit capture other Israeli perspectives through non-fiction filmmaking. In "Purity: Breaking the Codes of Silence" Zuria offers a sensitive documentary examination of the laws and rituals that govern orthodox Jewish women’s lives. Benchetrit’s "Kaddim Wind: Moroccan Chronicles"—winner of the best documentary award at the 2002 Jerusalem Film Festival—provides a meticulous look at the obstacles immigrants to Israel face when coming from Muslim countries.

Among the other doc selections, two have had New York premieres at 2004 New Directors/New Films—"Checkpoint" and "No. 17." Filmed at various checkpoints from 2001 to 2003, Yoav Shamir's "Checkpoint" provides a powerful testament to the impasses that have been created for the Palestinians and is a chilling look at the destructive impact of the enforced boundaries on both societies.

Ofek's "No. 17" takes a look at the aftermath of one suicide bombing. After an attack outside Tel Aviv leaves 17 people dead, 16 victims are claimed and identified, yet weeks after the incident no one has come forward with information on the 17th body, a man mutilated beyond recognition. Ofek sets out to discover who he was and how he is identified and as a result creates a revealing, unsettling portrait of a society accustomed to living in the shadow of death.

Also included in the program is Mihaileanu's "Live and Become," the enormously popular Opening Night film of the 2006 New York Jewish Film Festival. This fiction feature opens in a Sudanese refugee camp in 1984, when an Ethiopian Christian mother urges her son to assume a Jewish identity in order to escape war and famine. As part of the Operation Moses airlift, Israeli adoptee Solomon/Shlomo begins a long and at times difficult process of find his place within Israeli society.

A series pass is available for Israel @ 60 which will admits one person to a total of five titles in the two series, May 16–27. They are $40; $30 for Film Society members, and available only at the Walter Reade Theater box office (cash only).

Single screening tickets for the series are $11; $7 for Film Society members, students and children (6-12, accompanied by an adult); and $8 for seniors (62+). They are available at both the Walter Reade Theater box office and online at A complete schedule and filmd escription can be found on the site as well.

Israel @ 60 Schedule at a Glance

Wednesday, May 28
2:00 pm Three Mothers, 106m
4:15 pm Late Marriage, 100m

Thursday, May 29
1:30 pm Live and Become, 140m
4:15 pm Campfire, 96m
6:20 pm Avenge But One of My Two Eyes, 104m
8:30 pm Three Mothers

Friday, May 30
2:00 pm Close to Home, 98m
4:10 pm Thirst, 110m
6:30 pm Disengagement, 116m
9:15 pm The Inner Tour, 94m

Saturday, May 31
2:00 pm Thirst
4:20 pm Live and Become
7:20 pm Campfire
9:20 pm Late Marriage

Sunday, June 1
12:00 pm The Inner Tour
2:00 pm Purity: Breaking the Codes of Silence, 65m
3:40 pm Close to Home
5:40 pm Ushpizin, 90m
7:30 pm Checkpoint, 80m
9:15 pm Disengagement

Monday, June 2
2:00 pm Avenge But One of My Two Eyes
4:15 pm Or (My Treasure), 100m
6:30 pm Kaddim Wind: Moroccan Chronicles, 255m

Wednesday, June 4
1:00 pm Ushpizin
2:50 pm Purity: Breaking the Codes of Silence
4:30 pm Or (My Treasure)
6:30 pm Live and Become
9:30 pm No. 17, 75m

Thursday, June 5
2:00 pm No. 17
3:45 pm Checkpoint

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Tina Fey and Amy Poehler Team Up to Make a "Baby Mama"

Feature Interview by Brad Balfour

Tina Fey and Amy PoehlerSaturday Night Live veterans and sketch comedy masters—are poised to challenge producer/writer/director Judd Apatow's hegemony on R-rated comedy as stars of "Baby Mama," the opening night Gala Premiere film for the 2008 Annual Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. Is Poehler and Fey this generation's Laurel and Hardy, or maybe, Abbott and Costello? Well, not quite, but they have worked together long and hard to establish themselves as the two leading ladies of modern comedy.

Through their stints on Saturday Night Live—Fey was even head writer until she went on to create and star in 30 Rock—and in such sketch comedy troupes as Second City and the Upright Citizen's Brigade, these two are reshaping the role women have in the world of comedy. Fey has become a successful award-winning filmmaker as well with her successful film, "Mean Girls" and Poehler has become a much-sought after film actor.

Now Fey and Poehler join up with writer/director Michael McCullers and producers Lorne Michaels and John Goldwyn for this shift from television to the big screen— and what a team it is. Fey plays successful and single businesswoman Kate Holbrook who has put her career ahead of a personal life. Now 37, she wants a kid of her own but discovers she can't really get pregnant so she turns to the steely head of a surrogacy center (Sigourney Weaver) to find her Baby Mama. The driven Kate allows South Philly working girl Angie Ostrowiski (Amy Poehler) to become her unlikely substitute.

When it's clear Angie is actually pregnant and not trying to scam Kate with her soon-to-be ex-boyfriend (Dax Shepard), Kate goes into nesting mode reading childcare books, baby-proofing the apartment and researching pre-schools. Much to conniving white trashy Angie's consternation, who shows up at Kate's doorstep with no place to live, Kate tries to structure Angie's life as well.

In a comic battle of wills, they struggle their way through prep to the baby's arrival and in turn make two new families. Though both Kate and Angie aren't exactly transformed into perfect moms, both find love and a new life along the way.

Q: Since you worked with director Michael [McCullers] on "Saturday Night Live" did he approach you to do this as a team; how did he approach you to do this?

TF: It's weird. We were coming out of the building and he was waiting behind a trash can and jumped out. No, he called through Lorne's [Michaels, SNL's executive producer and producer of "Baby Mama"] office. We had a meeting altogether right away. He came to us and to Lorne and said that he wanted to do a movie for the two of us.

AP: It was always kind of pitched as a two-hander for us to do together. So it was never turned down.

TF: It was never turned down by the following people...[pause]

Q: The scenes in the Lamaze classes and the birthing rooms were on the mark; were you lurking in other birthing rooms and such to get it down pat?

TF: Michael did a great job. We had some experts on set, who were these wonderful, very earthy women. This woman came up to me and said, "Are you thinking of having another child?" And I was like, "No." And she was like, "You should consider a water birth." [I thought] 'Did you hear the part where I said no?'

AP: The same woman was telling pregnant people in their ninth month...

TF: A lot of the other women in the class were very, very pregnant.

AP: ...were really, really pregnant. And she was explaining nice ways to make love. And women were like, "No." And the guys were taking notes.

TF: But by the end of it I did want to have a water birth.

AP: Yes, yes, you don't need to have a baby to have a water birth.

Q: Tina, Well you saw from the other side; you understood the perspective of someone from the outside of having a baby like the husbands...

TF: Michael wrote the movie and he's a father of three. And his wife actually had a baby, God bless her, had to pick up, move her, two kids, and her pregnant belly to New York. She gave birth in New York.

AP: While I spoke to her with a big pregnant belly that I took off at lunch. "I'm really tired, this belly is so heavy!"

TF: So he had a lot of perspective on all of that stuff.

Q: Tina you character seemed a lot like Liz Lemon the character you play on "30 Rock." When you saw this script what did you think about to differentiate her from Liz.

TF: Well, she is higher functioning than Liz Lemon. She is a successful business person. She is a more pulled-together and confident person. Renee Kalfus and I talked about, in the costume design, that this is a woman who, it's very subtle, but her clothes are different. She's sort of main line, Philadelphia, pulled together, old family jewelry.

I said, "I think that this character is waspy-er than I am in real life." I'm not waspy at all. I said, "We have to pretend like she really has straight hair." That's why I have my hair is like a giant bush. I think her speech is a little different. It would have been a disservice to the movie to go koo-koo far to make that distinction, because they are east coast white women in their late 30s. They are different.

Q: Tina, this film did a great job of capture the absurdity of the urban parenting culture. Can reflect on being a city parent?

TF: It is a different thing to be a city parent. There is a lot of pressure, like "What classes are your children taking?" My daughter starts pre-school next year so I just went through the process of taking her to her pre-school interviews. And you're just hoping like, "Please don't poop yourself during this time."

AP: Did she wear a little power suit and a teeny-tiny briefcase?

TF: She had a little teeny tiny resume. Made of candy. That you don't find in the suburbs, I don't think. She ate it.

AP: I like that moment where they say, "Wingspan and Banjo, do you want to play with Rumi and Cheyenne?"

Q: "Baby Mama" says some things about class in America as well. There was a groan in the theater when you call Amy "White Trash."

AP: That's a very interesting moment in the film, and actually we were kind of pleased that it got the reaction that it did, because there's a moment where they're being their worst to each other, and they know ways they can hurt each other, and that's the moment where Kate really decides to hurt Angie in that way. And she's very very hurt herself; she's been deceived, she's been tricked, so it's a way for her to strike out.

There's a lot of that in the film, which is the idea of, what makes a person successful? What are you good at, what skills do you have? What does it mean to be smart? All those kind of things are things that separate them, and they find obviously that they're more alike. I think the reaction is very interesting, because it means, to me, that people have bought into the hope that they're going to be friends.

TF: It's actually one of my favorite moments in the movie, even though I come off really villainous, but its interesting to me that people have such a strong response to it. The moment before my character has been incredibly hurt and betrayed, but the audience still...which is partly a testament to how much they like Amy's character and also just for some reason the class thing, but they still go "Oh!"

AP: Angie's really fooled her, and still they're rooting for her a little bit there.

TF: We are really happy that it stayed in because I think it is the nadir...

AP: Yeah, nice word.

TF: ...of their relationship.

Q: It was great that you picked the name "Stefani" for the baby; it was a hysterical moment.

AP: First it was Christina with an X.

Q: Actor parents have had a trend of choosing some strange names for their children yet you picked a very tradition name for your daughter.

TF: I like interesting names. My daughter's middle name is sort of unusual, but they're all family names. I do think when you have a kid, you've got to try and think, okay, when this kid is an adult, how is this name going to fit the person? I like the name Apple.

AP: I'm just gonna name my kids numbers. New dude, little dude, old dude, and eight.

TF: And George Foreman.

Q: There's a line when you're being wheeled into the hospital you say something about shitting a knife. Was that improvised; did you improvise on set and did you crack each other up?

AP: That was a fun day, when we shot that scene. We liked the idea of, there's always a lot of birthing movies that never really talk about how foul people's mouths get during it, so that was a fun thing, because we shot that and it was all one long shot, so as Tina was pushing me down the hall we got to do a lot of stuff and grab a lot of stuff, and there were real extras who were genuinely startled by me yelling stuff. So that was fun.

TF: I think the take that's in the movie was the last take of the night. We had done several and Amy asked Michael 'Is this the last take?' and he said, 'Uh-huh.' So she pulled the Christmas tree down, ripped an IV out of someone's arm; she wanted to make sure she was enough of an obedient good girl that she didn't want to wreck the props until the last take, and then she tore the place up.

Q: With "Knocked Up" and "Juno" pregnancy movies seem to be in vogue—what's up?

TF: I think it is a universal experience. There may be a generation of comedy writers that are hitting that age where they all have kids. It's guys who would have written dating fantasy comedies 15 years ago, are writing what they know. It might be a generational thing.

AP: And I think "Juno" is very different from "Knocked Up," and I think our film is very different from that too. Although they deal with the same topic, that's really where the comparison ends in some ways. I think our film is in the vein of "Knocked Up"—it's more of a straight-up comedy, with jokes.

Q: "30 Rock" and "SNL" are the favorite shows for lots of people, what are yours?

AP: I'm just a drama fan really, because when you get home from the office all you want to do is cry. So I was a big "Wire" fan—that to me was the best show I'd seen in the past 10 years. I watch "FrontLine," "Wire," "Oprah"—things to really bring me down. Oprah brings me up sometimes too.

TF: I really like "Arrested Development." I like "The Office," both British and American versions. I think the American version did a great job of finding its own voice because it's different. Then I also like, you know—I'm a 37-year old white lady. I like "Project Runway." I like "The Barefoot Contessa." I'm my own worst enemy; I watch a lot of "Food Network."

Q: What would a sketch about your life be titled?

TF: "Tired Times Talk Show?"

AP: Mine would be "What Are You Looking At?"

Q: What was it like working with Sigourney Weaver? And Amy, Do you plan on becoming a mother?

AP: To Sigourney Weaver—yes. I would love to cradle Sigourney Weaver at night and tuck her in, and whisper to her quietly and sing to her. I would love to sing to Sigourney Weaver every night. And give her a bath.

TF: She was incredibly delightful. We were so shocked and pleased that she agreed to be in the movie. She is really funny and very warm. I think on screen she plays a lot of strong cold characters, but she is very warm. She got to improvise a lot in the movie and really enjoyed it.

AP: "Working Girl," actually, was a film we talked about a lot, because it was another example of kind of class division and the idea of a strong working woman. I know Michael and I talked about that a lot, so it was really great to have her there after studying her stuff in that film.

Q: How did you two first meet and what did you think of each other; obviously you have great chemistry together—did that evolve over time?

AP: I was like, I finally found the woman I want to marry.

TF: And then I had to break it to her that that's not legal.

AP: We met in 1993 in Chicago. I had heard about Tina; I heard about Tina on the streets before I met her. We were both new improvisers who had moved from where we were going to college to study improv, and we performed together on an improv team named after a bad porn movie called "Inside Vladimir."

TF: A gay porn movie.

AP: Gay porn movie. Not necessarily bad.

TF: No, excellent.

AP: So we were the two women on that improv team and that's where we met. So we knew each other when we were just big-eyebrowed, poor, badly dressed {dumplings}.

TF: I also had heard of Amy before; we were in separate classes, and I'd heard, "Oh, she's really good, she's so great." And then we were on the same team together. We really hit it off, it was a really nice group of people on that team. We all hit it off. I think we've have always had a mutual respect for each other. We both took improv super-seriously at the time.

AP: Yeah, we did.

TF: And we still kind of do.

AP: And we still kind of do. And that time in Chicago, for us at least, was a time when there was a lot of really fertile talent coming out of Chicago. I know that [Stephen] Colbert, [Steve] Carrell, Amy Sedaris, all these people were performing...

TF: They were on the main stage when we were students.

AP: Yeah, and Rachel Dratch, Horatio Sanz, and all these people, and Adam McKay, were all coming up at the same time. So it was an interesting time to be there.

Q: Writer Christopher Hitchens recent wrote a Vanity Fair column on why women can't do comedy—did you want to hit him with the business end of a funny bone?

TF: I've never read the article. First of all, I don't have that kind of time, I can't read a Vanity Fair article. It's like 15 pages. Also, I'm sure I disagree. So, I sort of did a President Bush on it: "I'm not gonna read that. I'm not gonna like it."

AP: You Bushed it? Nice. It's like, "Oh, white men can play basketball." It's a boring story. I think it's an old story. It's the same as when people ask us if SNL's a boy's club. It's like, it's not. It hasn't been for a long time.

TF: I usually find if someone is drifting towards writing about that topic, it always says, "Oops, somebody didn't have an idea this week. They went to the old file-o-facts."

Q: There was a story in the New York Times about "30 Rock" pushing the Family Hour boundaries. Do you want to say fuck on the show or what?

TF: No, I take great pride in operating within the boundaries of the standards rules. I think it's harder to make comedy when you can't curse. I don't think I realized how shocked people might be by the term 'MILF Island'. The New York Post would not print the word "MILF".

AP: They'll print "Bloviator" though.

TF: They will print a five-page spread of the glamorous side of a prostitute. I was surprised. But no, it is not our intention to ruin family time. Often times in our writer's room I'll say, "Oh, this is going to be on at 8:41 p.m.—lets back off of it a little bit."

AP: I love ruining family time.

Q: What kind of play would you write if you worked together to do it?

AP: We're gonna do a dramatic musical. We're gonna play two of the three Pointer Sisters.

TF: There are a couple other Pointer Sisters musicals in development, so we can't go into details.

Q: Have you thought about writing theater?

TF: We have written sketches together.

AP: I think Tina and I are lucky in that every couple months or years we keep being able to come back and work on stuff together, which is really a pleasure. And I know her phone number and I know where she lives. She can't hide from me.