The JCC’s Lenore Marwil Jewish Film Festival celebrates its 20th birthday with a diverse collection of films.
A Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright. A longtime baseball fan-turned-film director. An activist/actor.
These are three of the speakers appearing to spark discussions of films that showcase their talents at the 20th-annual Lenore Marwil Detroit Jewish Film Festival.
Paula Vogel, who won the Pulitzer Prize for How I Learned to Drive, will be talking about the PBS Great Performances production of Indecent, the filmed version of the Tony Award-winning play that recalls the controversy caused by the early-20th-century play God of Vengeance by Sholem Asch.
Jeremy Newberger, at the helm of many documentaries, experienced a special connection to Jewish American baseball players representing Israel in the World Baseball Classic. Heading Home: The Tale of Team Israel spotlights Josh Zeid, a former Tiger admired by the director.
John Maucere, who plays the title role in No Ordinary Hero: The SuperDeafy Movie, communicates about achieving career success on stage, television and film by emphasizing his capabilities, and he serves as a role model for achievement.
All three will answer audience questions.
Vogel — who will be introduced by Nicole Eisenberg, a local supporter of the arts and co-producer of Indecent on Broadway — will be watching along with the audience as Indecent fills the screen and calls attention to the arrest of a cast on obscenity charges based on a storyline that includes a brothel and a lesbian relationship (the play featured the first lesbian kiss on Broadway). She wants to take note of the responses to the film version after seeing it staged across the country.
“Both the play and television production have strengths, but the television production makes viewers feel we are on stage as scene partners,” says Vogel, who will be making her first appearance in Michigan. “It’s really an exciting time for me as a writer. In the next season, there are more than 15 productions of Indecent on stage.”
One recent production Vogel saw gave her a sense of the West Bloomfield JCC where the film festival is based April 15-26. Impressed with the creativity of director Wendy C. Goldberg at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, the playwright learned Goldberg had been active with the JCC as a Michigan resident.
“The script remains the same, but one of the exciting things of theater, that unfortunately film can’t do, is that it changes with every production and every theater,” Vogel explains.
With Indecent, Vogel aims to make Jewish audiences rethink their historical legacy and the different tools and costs of anti-Semitism.
“I hope we embrace — and many of us have never stopped embracing — the fact that the United States of America is the immigrant country,” says Vogel, who has taught at Brown and Yale universities and now guest teaches.
“I very much find that I embrace a Jewish aesthetic — in order to cry and grieve, we have to laugh, and in order to laugh we have to express our grief. I think people are often surprised that there are very funny moments in Indecent. I don’t keep to one tonality.”
Whether Vogel discusses issues or projects during her appearance will depend on the audience. She thinks of her presentation as a conversation. She will play it in the moment and is prepared to discuss the creation of the Indecent film project, historical research and whatever else the audience may bring up.
Newberger, who has talked about Heading Home at many film festivals, plans on offering a Q and A session after the screening. For him, the visit to Michigan will feel comfortable because of visits to the Tiger stronghold that were part of making the sports documentary.
Heading Home actually reaches back to the Jewish summer camp experiences of the documentary’s three directors, partners in Ironbound Films. Newberger, Daniel A. Miller and Seth Kramer were camp friends with Jonathan Mayo, who became a sports writer and much later suggested the project.
“We really got to know these guys,” says Newberger, who spent Detroit time with Zeid in 2015. A free agent this season, “Josh is the unsung hero of Team Israel’s success and the film. He’s the relief pitcher who brings Israel to victory against some really tough teams.”
In capturing the competition, Newberger describes the film as a roller coaster ride of emotions, the element he believes elevates the storyline.
“Getting to know Josh and his wife in Israel made it clear that he was very earnest and likable, but I had no idea, until we got to Korea, how pivotal his performance on the field would be to the victories,” says the director whose responsibilities include production and art direction. “When people see the film, they come away loving him the way they love other famous Jewish athletes.”
Newberger thinks of the film as very relatable to Jews of the diaspora, like himself, who feel a connection to Israel. That connection is especially meaningful for him because he lived there for a year and visits a brother and sister-in-law now residing there.
“Ironbound Films is the business of three Jewish guys, and this is our first Jewish film,” he says. “Heading Home has a very special place in our hearts and our work.”
Maucere also feels a connection to Michigan because of stage performances and a friendship with Sean Forbes, who heads up the Deaf Professional Arts Network based in Ferndale. Although Maucere is not Jewish, he feels comfortable in Jewish environments because his wife, Lauren Abbott, and children are Jewish.
“I am John Maucere, not a deaf actor or a deaf teacher or a deaf anything,” he says. “I am an artist, and I think this film is going to open people’s minds to think about diversity and acceptance of whatever a person is.
“I’m an actor as well as a deaf interpreter in the legal system as well as an instructor of deaf studies. The deaf studies program is the focus of the film, and I feel it’s part of my career to educate the public about communicating with individuals in their language and interacting with them in their own culture.”
Maucere started acting when he was 23. He had met an actress who opened his mind to acting as a career choice. School theater programs claimed his attention, and he worked with the National Theatre of the Deaf, touring the world for five years.
Maucere, who will be accompanied by an interpreter for his Michigan appearance, will be going to Israel in May.
“I’ve appeared on TV and in commercials,” he says. “I’ve been a spokesperson for a variety of corporations.”
A graduate of the California School for the Deaf, Maucere was the first deaf actor in ABC’s Talent Development Program. Acting has placed him in episodes of Law and Order, Brand New Life and Pacific Blue among other series. He communicated about access ability programming for Sprint over nine years. He’s also the founder of Deafywood, an ensemble for deaf entertainers. He’s currently working on part two of the SuperDeafy film.
The 20th-annual Lenore Marwil Detroit Jewish Film Festival runs April 15-26. See the below for a listing of films scheduled at the West Bloomfield JCC and off-campus sites. For a complete schedule and pricing information, go to jccdet.org. (248) 661-1900.
Below is the schedule for the Lenore Marwil Detroit Jewish Film Festival.
SUNDAY, APRIL 15
1 p.m. Sammy Davis Jr.: I’ve Gotta Be Me The entertainer is profiled, featuring interviews with Billy Crystal, Norman Lear, Jerry Lewis and Kim Novak.
4 p.m. Wendy’s Shabbat Jewish seniors hold their Shabbat dinner at Wendy’s fast-food restaurant.
Humor Me A struggling playwright (Jemaine Clement of comedy duo and band Flight of the Conchords) moves in with his father (Elliott Gould).
7 p.m. Indecent / On Broadway
MONDAY, APRIL 16
2 p.m. Mr. Predictable A passionate romance becomes transformational. In Hebrew with subtitles.
5 p.m. Remember Baghdad Home movies and archive news footage help tell the stories of the Jews who’ve lived in Iraq for 2,600 years.
8 p.m. The Cakemaker A young German baker travels to Israel seeking answers regarding the death of his married Israeli lover.
8 p.m. Doing Jewish: A Story From Ghana A remote community discovers they have been practicing Judaism for centuries.
TUESDAY, APRIL 17
2 p.m. The Testament A Holocaust researcher questions his mother’s identity.
5 p.m. Elay A brave soldier goes into battle.
Yom Hazikaron Ceremony The community ceremony is shown.
8 p.m. When the Smoke Clears: A Story of Brotherhood, Resilience and Hope Young Israeli soldiers cope with mental and physical injuries.
WEDNESDAY, APRIL 18
5 p.m. Four by Four A lie leads to travel and endangerment.
8 p.m. Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story (photo above) The “world’s most beautiful woman” was also an ingenious inventor.
THURSDAY, APRIL 19
2 p.m. Bye Bye Germany A charmer and his friends have escaped Nazi Germany and plot to get to America.
5 p.m. Doing Jewish: A Story From Ghana
8 p.m. Heading Home: The Tale of Team Israel
FRIDAY, APRIL 20
2 p.m. Across the Waters A family tries to escape Nazis in Denmark.
SATURDAY, APRIL 21
9:30 p.m. Blazing Saddles Directed by Mel Brooks and starring Gene Wilder, this 1974 Western satire is screened for Retro Saturday Night.
SUNDAY, APRIL 22
1 p.m. No Ordinary Hero: The SuperDeafy Movie
4 p.m. A Woman’s Story Three generational perspectives of genocide are revealed.
7 p.m. The Wedding Plan A bride-to-be trusts in fate when she is forsaken.
MONDAY, APRIL 23
5 p.m. Muhi — Generally Temporary The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is explored through a young boy from Gaza trapped in an Israeli hospital.
8 p.m. Scaffolding Winner of Best Israeli Feature at the Jerusalem Film Festival; a son and father differ in plans for
TUESDAY, APRIL 24
2 p.m. Look About You A family travels in a tiny RV through — and shows what real life is like in — Israel.
5 p.m. An Israeli Love Story Set during pre-state Israeli, the film is based on the true love affair between the son of the second president of the State of Israel and his fiancée.
8 p.m. Shelter This thriller forces two into hiding in Germany.
8 p.m. Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story
WEDNESDAY, APRIL 25
2 p.m. Between Worlds Israeli and Arab mothers bond after a terror attack.
5 p.m. The Invisibles Four Holocaust survivors tell of hiding in Germany.
8 p.m. An Act of Defiance Lawyer Bram Fischer steps up as lead counsel for Nelson Mandela and others resisting apartheid in 1963 South Africa.
THURSDAY, APRIL 26
2 p.m. Mr. Gaga A choreographer — Ohad Naharin, choreographer for the Batsheva Dance Company — redefines modern dance.
5 p.m. At Eye Level A boy searches for his father with unexpected results. The film is followed by a talk-back with actor and comedian Danny Woodburn, who raises awareness for inclusion.
8 p.m. 1945 Hungarian townspeople react to returning Orthodox men. Followed by a talk-back with Dr. Howard Lupovitch.
Before the films Indecent and Wendy’s Shabbat were made, Nicole Eisenberg of Bloomfield Hills and Abbe Sherbin of West Bloomfield had firsthand — but separate — experiences with the productions from behind the scenes.
The importance of Indecent was known by Eisenberg, a longtime Broadway show investor who co-produced the play by Paula Vogel and will introduce the playwright at the JCC.
“I’m proud to be making this introduction,” Eisenberg says. “This play brings to life what we’re going through today with many issues — anti-Semitism as well as discrimination against women and members of the LGBTQ community. I’ve shared my feelings on Facebook.”
Sherbin shared Shabbat at Wendy’s with her 94-year-old dad, Harry Binder, and his friendly group of seniors in Palm Desert, Calif., way ahead of the filmmaking that shows the cohesive and caring group.
“These are such sweet people,” she explains, noting that her dad is seen more in the outtakes. “They’ve created their own ritual, and I think that’s more important than where they practice that ritual.”