Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Tonight is Opening Night!

Photo: John Aquino
The cast of "My Mexican Shivah" poses with director Alejandro Springall

Chronicles of a Professional Eulogist, My Mexican Shivah, Chronicle of a Jump, and 5 Days all premiere the evening of Wednesday the 10th.

“My Mexican Shivah” screened last night at the insiders’ opening party for the 16th annual New York Jewish Film Festival. There was resounding applause and free tequila.

Guests included this Grande Dame of New York, Joan Rivers...
Photo: John Aquino

John Sayles (Executive Producer, "My Mexican Shivah") chatted with the audience...

Photo: John Aquino

When the family patriarch dies, his shiksa mistress, orthodox, drug-dealing grandson, distractingly beautiful granddaughter, and more-than-vaguely troubled children get together to sit Shivah, or “chiva,” as the family’s domestic workers call it. There are also a mariachi band and Talmudic scholars to judge the soul of the departed. This is what Jews do. Come watch them do it in Mexico City, with a spirited soundtrack by the Klezmatics.

I spoke with Raquel Pankowsky, Sharon Zundel, and Ricardo Kleinbaum, all actors in “My Mexican Shivah.”

What was your greatest challenge in making “My Mexican Shivah?”

Raquel Pankowsky, Esther
I found the script so challenging, so good, that I became unable to perform, and Alejandro (Springall, the director) had to give me a pep talk. The pressure was so intense that I cried, and then it emerged, Ether’s sadness. Really, maintaining Esther’s level of emotion was the greatest challenge of the film for me.

Sharon Zundel, Galia
For me the entire role was a challenge. My character had so many conflicts, so many ways that she didn’t fit in, she was in such a panic of identity: unable to mourn her grandfather, unable to be a Jew and a Mexican, unable to love freely the only thing she really loved, Galia really admired her grandfather without liking him. This was a very challenging and rewarding role for me.

Mexico’s Jewish community can be closed-off, and it is difficult to be part of Mexican society and Jewish society in Mexico at once. I think that Galia’s predicament addresses this problem, but also goes more deeply to illuminate the human condition.

Ricardo Kleinbaum, Ari
This movie was neither intended as comedy nor drama. If it fits some genre, great, but as I played Ari, and as I saw his role in the film, “My Mexican Shivah” is about people and their reaction to great loss. When death interrupts the flow of life, you see the best and the worst in people. It is with this fact in mind that I approached Ari.

I also spoke with Ilan Stavans, who wrote the story “Morirse Está en Hebreo,” on which “My Mexican Shivah” is based. Here he is on the left, alongside his father, Abraham Stavans, who plays the lawyer in "My Mexican Shivah."

I asked Ilan Stavans about being Jewish in Mexico and about the process of watching one’s story transition from the page to the screen:

My original story was more subtle and more mystical. Alejandro (the director) used the story as a canvas, and thus, necessarily, some things get left out: my tools are words, his are images. But it would be foolish for a writer to be territorial. I really appreciate his interpretation of the story.

I wanted to communicate this sense of suffocation where the characters are bunched together in their own home, ostensibly their own realm, but still they are ill at ease, there is tension. They live, as Jews in Mexico often do, in the prison for the minority individual. Jews in Mexico cannot be protagonists in the history of their country, as Jews can in the U.S. Indeed, my view of on these issues, as with the story of “My Mexican Shivah,” is very much informed by the fact that I live in the U.S. now.

Mexican Jews are at once insiders and permanent outsiders, a bit like the family in the film. The very metabolism of Mexican society differs from the U.S.’s: Mexican society embraces foreigners without really allowing them to become Mexican; they are always other. But then again, the choice is theirs, it goes both ways; they choose to stay in the society.

Alejandro Springall, the director of “My Mexican Shivah,” and I will be speaking later in the week. In the meantime, stay tuned for more updates…
From left to right: Zohar Lavi (Chronicle of a Jump), Sarah Jane Lapp (Chronicle of
a Professional Eulogist), Andrew Ingall (The Jewish Museum), Aviva
Weintraub (The Jewish Museum/NYJFF Director), Kristi Jabobson (Toots),
Lucy Kostelanetz (Sonia), Steve Grenyo (Film Society of Lincoln Center),
Alejandro Springall (My Mexican Shivah)

Photo: John Aquino

Photo: John Aquino
Claudia Bonn, Executive Director, Film Society of Lincoln Center
Joan Rosenbaum, Helen Goldsmith Menschel Director, The Jewish Museum

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