The Arty Semite

AIDS Crisis Through a Comics Lens

By Michael Kaminer

Joyce Brabner/Mark Zingarelli

“Joyce Brabner, best known as Harvey Pekar’s widow and collaborator, has released a graphic novel about early efforts in a New York gay community to fight the AIDS epidemic.”

So began a recent Cleveland Plain-Dealer review of “Second Avenue Caper” (Hill & Wang, $22), a deeply moving and bitingly funny new graphic novel authored by Brabner and drawn by revered comics illustrator Mark Zingarelli.

For a fan of Brabner’s work, the Plain Dealer’s praise feels double-edged. Three years after her late husband’s death, Brabner still gets tagged as his widow rather than a key comics figure in her own right.

Brabner’s actually been writing comics for decades, including 1989’s “Brought to Light: A Graphic Docudrama” and 1987’s acclaimed anti-war “Real War Stories,” drawn by legendary comics creator Alan Moore. She also co-wrote “Our Cancer Year” with Pekar, considered a touchstone in autobiographical comics.

Second Avenue Caper fits squarely in that tradition. Set in Manhattan in the darkest early days of the HIV/AIDS crisis, Brabner’s vivid script tells the story of a band of friends – her friends – who plotted to smuggle illegal drugs from Mexico to help beloved comrades desperately ill and abandoned by the medical establishment. The story unfolds through the account of Ray, a male nurse and drag-show producer; his Jewish partner, Benny, becomes a collaborator.

Characters disappear the way Brabner’s circle did at the height of the epidemic. Zingarelli’s realistic, classical style gives the story an unsentimental edge that only amplifies its power.

Second Avenue Caper is Brabner’s first solo project since her husband’s death. The writer spoke with the Forward from her home in Cleveland Heights, Ohio.

Michael Kaminer: Is it a stretch to say that in terms of fighting tragedy with humor, Second Avenue Caper feels like very Jewish story?

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Never Too Old to Dance

By Curt Schleier

The banging you hear in the background? That’s the drumbeat for an Oscar nomination for Gena Rowlands. Rowlands stars in “Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks,” a movie about the impact an elderly south Florida widow and a much younger gay dance instructor have on each other’s lives.

Rowlands plays Lilly Harrison, the former wife of a conservative Southern Baptist minister. Cheyenne Jackson is Michael Minetti, a former Broadway hoofer reduced to teaching old ladies to dance.

The film is based on a play by Richard Alfieri and is directed by Arthur Allan Seidelman, who also directed the original stage productions in New York and Los Angeles.

Seidelman, who is also an Emmy-wining television director, spoke to the Forward about how he switches from one medium to another, his famous Yiddish uncle, and being held captive in a Lebanese refugee camp.

Curt Schleier: You are a multi-hyphenate director, working in TV, theater and film. Is it easy to switch between various media?

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The Broadway Composer Critics Love To Hate

By Curt Schleier

Frank Wildhorn will be appearing at 54 Below this week.

For those who don’t know, 54 Below is a supper club located essentially underneath what was Studio 54 (where all the action used to take place).

For those who don’t know Frank Wildhorn, he wrote “Where Do Broken Hearts Go,” a number one international hit for Whitney Houston.

He also is the most successful contemporary writer of musicals on Broadway. In 1999, he had three shows on the Great White Way simultaneously: “Jekyll & Hyde,” “The Scarlet Pimpernel” and “The Civil War.” His musicals are hits all over the world.

When we spoke, he had just returned from Tokyo and Seoul, where he celebrated openings and re-openings of his work. In fact, it’s estimated that some 40,000 people attend a Wildhorn musical every day of the year. Everyone, it seems, loves Wildhorn’s work.

Except the Broadway critics. Wildhorn spoke to the Forward about the lack of love he gets from them, the Jewish project he promised his dad, and how he taught himself to play an instrument.

Curt Schleier: Critics don’t like you, do they?

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A Lost World in an Old Box of Film

By Jill Werman Harris

In 2009, writer Glenn Kurtz was sifting through a closet in his parent’s Florida home when he discovered a reel of 16mm Kodachrome color film in a musty cardboard box that had belonged to his grandparents, David and Liza Kurtz.

As prosperous Jewish American tourists, the Kurtz’s decided to take a six-week summer vacation through Europe in July 1938. With three friends they visited several European countries where they stayed in five star hotels, shopped, strolled and explored landmarks and art galleries. Traveling across France, Belgium, Switzerland, England and passing through Germany, they made a side trip to Poland, where David’s family originated.

Like many travelers, the Kurtz’s brought along their film camera but used it for only a fraction—in this case a scant 14 minutes—of the trip. The couple recorded scenes of their ocean crossing on the Nieuw Amsterdam, from Hoboken to Plymouth, England, and David filmed Liza and friends in the Grand Place in Brussels, taking in the sun in Cannes and feeding pigeons in Paris. But what captured their grandson’s attention was the brief three minutes of their visit to Poland that momentarily but critically documented Jewish life circa 1938 in David’s hometown of Nasielsk.

Kurtz initially worked to restore the film and then began a four-year journey to find out about the town and the people in it. After donating it to the Steven Spielberg Film and Video Archive at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM), he discovered that his grandparents unwittingly provided history with the only surviving film of Nasielsk, whose Jewish inhabitants numbered 3,000 before the war but plunged to just 80 afterward.

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Harlem, Self-Help and Hollywood

By Dorri Olds

Sylvester Stallone as gossip blogger Gerald in ‘Reach Me.’ Image courtesy Millenium Entertainment

Emmy Award-winning writer and director John Herzfeld wrote and directed the comedy drama, “Reach Me.” It’s about a neurotic widower, Teddy Raymond (Tom Berenger), who wrote an anonymous motivational book which becomes a phenomenon that attracts devoted fans including a rapper (Nelly), a fire-starter ex-con (Kyra Sedgwick), a trigger-happy undercover detective (Thomas Jane), his hard-drinking priest (Danny Aiello), and a golf-loving gangster (Tom Sizemore).

Sylvester Stallone plays Gerald, a goateed gossip blogger who wears funny hats and paints like Jackson Pollock.

The story begins when Gerald sends reporter Roger (Kevin Connolly) to blow Teddy’s anonymity. During the mission Roger falls for Kate (Lauren Cohan from TV’s “The Walking Dead”). Meanwhile, Danny Trejo plays a hit man and Kelsey Grammer does a cameo as a stone-cold scary guy.

The Forward caught up with Herzfeld to talk about actors, moviemaking and World War II:

Dorri Olds: What inspired you to write “Reach Me”?

The book that is the granddaddy of all motivational literature, “Think and Grow Rich” by Napoleon Hill from 1937. It’s not really about accomplishing wealth, though. It’s about training the mind and the laws of attraction. Napoleon Hill interviewed Henry Ford, Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, John D. Rockefeller, Theodore Roosevelt, F.W. Woolworth and William Rigley. He interviewed these great entrepreneurs, and asked, “How did you overcome the odds?” He became an advisor to Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

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Alan Dershowitz Talks Hamas, Terror and Abraham

By Curt Schleier

Alan Dershowitz spent 50 years on the Harvard University law faculty, including the last 20 as the Felix Frankfurter professor of law. In all that time, he didn’t just talk the talk. He walked the walk, too, representing a number of frequently unpopular clients — Mike Tyson, O.J. Simpson, Claus von Bülow — in frequently landmark civil rights and civil liberties cases.

He has also been a voluble defender of the State of Israel and Jews worldwide, most recently with his new book, “Terror Tunnels: The Case for Israel’s Just War Against Hamas,” his 31st tome to accompany dozens upon dozens of articles and opinion pieces for newspapers and magazines the world over.

Dershowitz spoke to the Forward about Operation Protective Edge, the terror attacks and murders at a Jerusalem synagogue, and a recent client who has yet to pay his bill.

Curt Schleier: What is the case for Israel’s war on Hamas?

Alan Dershowitz: I was in Israel in mid-June and it was arranged for me to see one of the tunnels. It was recently discovered very close to a kibbutz kindergarden with 57 Israeli children. When I saw the tunnel and how sophisticated it was, with electricity and rails, it became crystal clear to me that we would have to send the troops in. A few days later, I had dinner with Prime Minister Netanyahu and I could see how reluctant he was to send in ground troops. But when Hamas used the tunnels and killed israelis he had no choice.

In the book I raised the issue: President Obama, [British Labor Leader] Ed Miliband [both of whom criticized Israel’s response], what would you have done with the tunnels? I make the case that under the law and standards of morality, Israel did the right thing. And I have some pretty strong people on my side. Gen. [Martin E.] Dempsey [chairman of the joint chiefs of staff] said Obama was wrong. Israel did everything it could to protect civilians. And Gen. Dempsey sent American troops to Israel to learn how to fight terrorists in civilian areas. President Obama ought to reconsider his views, particularly since we’re fighting ISIS using those tactics. I just wrote an article in the London Times challenging Miliband on what he would have done under the same circumstances. It’s easy to criticize. Much harder to come up with policy.

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My Year of Not Shopping

By Michael Kaminer

All images courtesy Sarah Lazarovic

Equal parts autobiography, treatise, art project, and social commentary, Sarah Lazarovic’s “A Bunch of Pretty Things I Did Not Buy” (Penguin Books) chronicles a year in which the author sublimated consumer urges by drawing things instead of purchasing them.

But the book’s much more than a visual diary. Lazarovic’s elegant, witty illustrations, and her gimlet-eyed text treatments, offer a delightful take on what it’s like to try to think for oneself in a society where we’re programmed to consume from birth.

An acclaimed illustrator, cartoonist and teacher, Lazarovic has also written about pop culture for Canadian newspapers like The Toronto Star and The Globe and Mail. (Lazarovic is also one of the artists in “Graphic Details: Confessional Comics by Jewish Women,” which I co-curated and the Forward sponsors).

“I didn’t want to write a stunt book about my year of not shopping,” she told the Forward from her home in Toronto, where she lives with her husband, National Post features editor Ben Errett, and their daughter Plum. “I wanted to examine how I got to that place. It’s my personal journey from voracious consumer to more thoughtful non-acquirer. The book is frothy and light, but underneath, there’s a secret covert message about not consuming so much.”

Michael Kaminer: Based on responses I’ve seen online, the book’s struck a chord. Why do you think people are reacting so strongly?

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A Freudian Detective in Texas

By Michael Kaminer

When San Antonio psychotherapist Dr. Nora Goodman’s patients start dropping dead, police tell her it’s a coincidence. But the good Dr. Goodman refuses to buy it, and hires a private detective to help figure out if someone’s targeting her practice. Could it be her despised ex-husband, a disturbed patient, or something more nefarious?

Author Diane Lawson — herself a therapist and a convert to Judaism — takes the plot in some unexpected directions in “A Tightly Raveled Mind” (Cinco Puntos). It’s hard to believe this is Lawson’s first novel; the dialogue crackles, the story hums along, and Dr. Goodman, a strict Freudian still haunted by her Talmud-spouting kook of a father, seems completely real. The only thing hard to buy about the novel is that San Antonio seems just as populated by neurotics as New York. The Forward caught up with Lawson by email.

Michael Kaminer: What did Nora’s Jewishness allow you do with that a non-Jewish protagonist wouldn’t have?

Diane Lawson: Since the inception of the field, a high (though diminishing over time) percentage of the practitioners of psychoanalysis have been Jewish. On that level, Nora’s being Jewish adds some degree of authenticity. Her being Jewish in San Antonio, of course, is simply another iteration of her life-long feeling of being an outsider.

“In Texas, as in most of the country, Jews are well enough regarded, as long as they’re doctors, lawyers or accountants,” Nora says. Could you elaborate?

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Filming the Wives of Bali

By Dorri Olds

Courtesy of Elemental Productions

Filmmaker Robert Lemelson’s “Bitter Honey” is a documentary about polygamy and violence towards women in Bali, Indonesia. Lemelson filmed three families — three husbands, 17 wives and 20 children — over a seven-year period. Many were tricked into being co-wives and are psychologically manipulated and physically abused by their unfaithful and often cruel husbands once they are married. Feeling trapped for economic and cultural reasons, they remain with their husbands despite their grim conditions. It is fascinating and heartbreaking to watch them open up to Lemelson about their ongoing plight: their fear and sadness.

Lemelson, 53, has been making documentary films in Indonesia for two decades. The New Jersey native is also a professor of anthropology at the University of California, Los Angeles, with a specialty in Southeast Asian studies, psychological anthropology and transcultural psychiatry. He was a Fulbright scholar in Indonesia and holds a master’s degree in anthropology from the University of Chicago and a doctorate in anthropology from University of Califaronia, Los Angeles.

The Forward’s Dorri Olds caught up with him in New York City, at the Clinton Global Initiative, with which he has been involved for the last 5 years.

Dorri Olds: How did a nice Jewish boy from New Jersey end up in Indonesia?

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Hit Man to Las Vegas Rabbi in 'Gangsterland'

By Michael Kaminer

David Cohen’s the new rabbi at Temple Beth Israel in Las Vegas. He’s a learned guy who drops pearls of Torah wisdom for admiring congregants. And he’s overseeing both preschool and funerals for the growing shul.

Oh, Rabbi Cohen’s also Sal Cupertine, a ruthless Chicago mafia hit man who’s had to assume a new identity after getting set up for the murder of FBI agents. And in Tod Goldberg’s laugh-while-you-cringe new novel “Gangsterland,” he’s one of the most compelling, and repulsive, crime-fiction protagonists in a long time.

The director of an MFA writing program at University of California-Riverside’s Palm Desert campus, Goldberg’s been a prolific novelist and story writer, with a raft of compulsively readable paperbacks based on USA Network’s hit series “Burn Notice” under his belt as well.

The Forward caught up with Goldberg from his office.

Michael Kaminer: David Cohen is a mask for Sal Cupertine, but you also get the feeling the new identity has changed Sal for real. Did you want the reader to walk away with a sense of awe around the transformative power of the Talmud and Midrash? Or was the character’s disguise just a device?

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When Investigative Reporting Turns Deadly

By Dorri Olds

Writer Peter Landesman seems the only good choice to have written “Kill the Messenger.” The movie is about Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter Gary Webb (Jeremy Renner) who broke the story that the CIA, during the Reagan administration, was part of a conspiracy that looked away while gobs of cocaine was smuggled into the U.S. and the money from drug sales funded weapons for the rebel forces in Nicaragua. The influx of coke was also at the root of the 1980s crack epidemic.

In an almost parallel universe, Landesman wrote an expose for The New York Times magazine in 2004 called “The Girls Next Door” about the horrors of America’s sex trade. Like Webb, Landesman was accused of inaccurate reporting and wild exaggerations and had to fight for his reputation.

Gary Webb died in 2004. His life had been destroyed. He’d suffered depression, substance abuse, lost his marriage, his career, his credibility and then his life. His death was ruled a suicide. But how do you shoot yourself in the head twice?

The Forward caught up with Landesman to talk about the movie and the dangers inherent in uncovering “stories that are too true to tell.”

Dorri Olds: Did writing the screenplay for “Kill the Messenger” hit close to your own experiences?

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Why Judd Hirsch Almost Turned Down ‘Taxi’

By Curt Schleier

Judd Hirsch has packed a lot of success into his 79 years on the planet. He is of course known as Alex Rieger, cabbie extraordinaire in the long-running television sitcom “Taxi.” The role earned him four Emmy nominations and two wins.

He’s also starred in a number of other successful series, including “Dear John” and, more recently, “Numb3rs.”

That’s only television. He’s appeared in 20 feature films, ranging from his role as a psychologist in “Ordinary People” (Academy Award as Best Supporting Actor) to playing himself in “The Muppets,” which garnered him no awards but the affection of thousands of young people.

Then there is his true love, theater. He’s appeared in three Broadway productions, was nominated for three Tony Awards as best actor in a play and won two — for “I’m Not Rappaport” and “Conversations With My Father.”

Hirsch spoke to the Forward about his latest project, the new ABC series “Forever,” how he almost didn’t want to take “Taxi” and why he’s still doing the grind of a TV show at age 79.

Curt Schleier: Getting ready for this interview, I was taken aback by how much you’d done and how much I’d forgotten. What a career! What’s your reaction to my ignorance?

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Ben Feldman on 'Mad Men,' Playing Jews, and Why He Never Had a Bar Mitzvah

By Curt Schleier

Photo: Trae Patton/NBC

The last time we saw Ben Feldman, he’d just cut off one of his nipples. Now, he’s head-over-heels in love with a girl he spied — but never met — years earlier at a rock concert.

Perhaps an explanation is in order.

For the last three seasons, Feldman has played Michael Ginsberg, the somewhat acerbic, somewhat crazy Jewish copywriter on “Mad Men.” Ginsberg chose a most unusual way to declare his love for a co-worker.

Starting October 2 (and every Thursday forever thereafter, he hopes), he’s Adam Laughlin on “A to Z,” the besotted bachelor who believes in destiny and true love and a more traditional approach to wooing. The object of his affection is Zelda Vasco (Cristin Milioti), an attorney whose hippie, multi-partner mother soured her on the idea of romance.

The show’s pilot, at least, is funny and sweet and if nothing else an antidote to television zombies. It is also more than a little reminiscent of “(500) Days of Summer,” a similarly themed romance that at least in the cinema ended badly.

According to the voiceover here though, Andrew and Zelda go out for “eight months, three weeks, five days and one hour.” After winning kudos for her role in the Broadway musical “Once,” Miloti went on to become the title character in “How I Met Your Mother,” an issue that took nine seasons to resolve. So it may take a while to find out what the end of that near nine-month period has to offer.

In the meantime, Feldman spoke to the Forward about “the one,” defending a Jewish character’s right to be a little nuts, and going all-in on a bar mitzvah or not having one at all.

Curt Schleier: Do you believe in “the one”?

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Conversations With Ed Koch

By Curt Schleier

That Neil Barsky selected Ed Koch as the subject of his first film was far from an accident. Barsky spent his formative years in New York during Koch’s mayoralty (1978-1989), both as a high school student and later as a journalist.

The city was in the midst of desperate times. Crime was rampant and the Big Apple was running out of cash and time. Koch ran as a “liberal with sanity” on a law and order platform shortly after the 1977 blackout and ensuing riots; he easily defeated a passel of more liberal Democrats (Bella Abzug and Mario Cuomo, among them) for his party’s nomination and then won the election handily.

Koch was brash and combative in a New York City kind of way — at least in the way New Yorkers like to think of themselves. Barsky is a former journalist — he wrote for the Wall Street Journal and the New York Daily News — and he comes to filmmaking by a circuitous route. He ran a hedge fund, Alson Partners, named for his children, Alexandra and Davidson, but “retired from the hedge fund world” in 2009 when the market collapsed. After a brief stint teaching college-level economics, he self financed “Koch,” his first foray into the world of documentaries. The movie opened to near unanimous praise last year and will be broadcast September as part of POV’s 27th season on PBS.

Barsky spoke to the Forward about his life journey, why there was a time when Koch refused to speak to him and the Yiddishkeit in his life.

Curt Schleier: How did you go from hedge fund entrepreneur to filmmaker?

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Forging Art for Fun and Philanthropy

By Dorri Olds

Art forger Mark Landis is the subject of the documentary “Art and Craft,” directed by Sam Cullman, Jennifer Grausman and Mark Becker. The film focuses on Landis’s history of art forgeries and the process he went through to create and donate them. The film also features Matthew Leininger, a museum registrar from Cincinnati who discovered the fakes and made it his mission to track down and stop Landis.

At the age of 17, Landis took the death of his father very hard. He was sent to a mental hospital for treatment and diagnosed with schizophrenia. Later he took art classes at the Art Institute of Chicago and worked on repairing damaged paintings. He bought an art gallery but it went bust. At 30, he went back to live with his mother.

In an attempt to honor his father and please his mother, Landis donated a Maynard Dixon painting he’d copied to a California museum. After that went well, he continued to paint dupes and donated them to 60 museums over a 20-year period. Most times he approached the museums impersonating a priest.

Landis said, “I liked being a priest and being kind to people. I remember once I was at a bus station and saw a family who had everything they owned tied up in boxes so I watched all their things for them when they wanted to go off and do something. Then, when they came back I gave them a blessing and sent them on their way. I’ve also comforted people at airports, with marital problems.”

In 2007, Landis offered a few paintings to the Oklahoma City Museum of Art. The museum’s registrar, Matthew Leininger, investigated the pieces and discovered that one of the paintings had already been donated to the SCAD Museum of Art. Leininger dug deeper and found out that Landis had tricked more than 60 museums in 20 different states. It became Leininger’s mission to stop Landis from deceiving museums. Landis did not sell any of the paintings, so he has never faced legal charges for the fakes.

We talked to directors Cullman and Grausman about meeting Mark Landis, authenticity in art, and what will be in the DVD extras.

Dorri Olds: How did this project begin?

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How Isabel Rose Went From Acting to Writing to Music

By Curt Schleier

The first song on Isabel Rose’s new CD is “Lot of Livin’ To Do,” an especially appropriate choice. She has already packed a lot of living into her, uh, years on planet Earth.

“I don’t want to distract people,” Rose said about her age. In a phone interview with the Forward, she added, “I prefer they not focus on whether I look good for my age. That is too much of a preoccupation, too much of a distraction from a person’s work.”

As it happens, Rose has an extremely lengthy and varied body of work for a person of any age. She acted at the Williamstown Theater Festival, landing a main stage production just weeks out of school; she’s written a best-selling novel (“The J.A.P. Chronicles”) that she subsequently turned into an off-Broadway one-woman musical; she wrote the screenplay and starred in an independent film (“Anything But Love”); and, now, her new album of standards, “Trouble in Paradise,” which drops September 16.

Rose spoke to the Forward about her family — she’s the scion of the wealthy, influential and charitable New York real estate clan — about Friday night Jewish song fests, and what she wants to do when she grows up.

Curt Schleier: I read somewhere that your family prefers a low profile and wasn’t thrilled with your career choice.

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Israel Horovitz on Paris and the Movies

By Curt Schleier

Israel Horovitz is the author of over 70 produced plays, most famously “Lebensraum,” his “Fountain Pen” trilogy, and “The Indian Wants the Bronx.” But, as he explains, “I was turning 75 and I thought that would scare the hell out of me.”

The “that” that he refers to is directing the film version of “My Old Lady.” One of his plays, “North Shore Fish,” was filmed in 1997. He’s written original screenplays. And he’s directed a documentary that ran on Bravo. But this is first time he’s taken on all the forms at once.

“My Old Lady” is set in France, where Horovitz spends much time. He is kind of a literary Jerry Lewis, whose work is appreciated and much honored there, including the recent award of a Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters.

Here, Mathias Gold (Kevin Kline), a down-on-his luck New Yorker, inherits a lavish Paris apartment from his estranged father. He intends to sell it, but discovers he has tenants, Mathilde Girard (Maggie Smith) and her daughter Chloe (Kristin Scott Thomas), who can block the sale under a complicated French real estate law known as viager.

With nowhere else to go, Mathias moves in as well, and uncovers secrets about his family and theirs. The film is funny, intense, romantic, and the principal actors are exceptionally well cast.

Horovitz spoke to the Forward about how the film came about, the anti-Semitism he faced growing up and why some of his children were raised secular and some Jewish.

Curt Schleier: When you write, do you think of your plays cinematically?

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Leonard Maltin's Last Movie Guide

By Curt Schleier

The word is out. Leonard Maltin’s annual movie guide has fallen into what, in Hollywood speak, would be called “developmental hell.” First published in 1969 and annually since 1986, the new 2015 edition is its last. Like newspapers and other print media, it has fallen victim to the Internet, where much of the information is readily available, easily accessible and free.

The story behind the series is probably more interesting than the average “Transformers” film, however. Maltin was a high school student who published a fanzine. An English teacher impressed with his work put him in touch with a publisher, who was similarly awed.

The first edition of was to become “Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide” was called simply “TV Movies.” It “is a terrible title,” Maltin said in a telephone interview. “A competitor used up a better title, “Movies on TV.” It was actually Maltin’s suggestions for improving that book that convinced the publisher to sign the high school senior.

“I suggested adding a more extensive cast list, the director’s name, and indicating if it was in color or black and white, which was more important then.”

Maltin spoke to the Forward about being a high school nerd, his favorite (and least favorite) films, and davening with Theodore Bikel.

Curt Schleier: Were you a nerd in high school?

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Looking for Kabbalah at a Rangers Game

By Elyssa Goodman

“I was going through a quote-unquote midlife crisis to some extent,” says documentary filmmaker Steven Bram, whose spiritual journey is the focus of new documentary “Kabbalah Me,” which he co-directed. A series of traumatic events, among them losing his brother-in-law on 9/11 and the financial crisis of 2008-2009, caused Bram, a born-and-bred New Yorker who runs a sports film production company, to have some seemingly unanswerable existential questions. “I kept asking, is there more to life than just going through the motions?”

One day, a friend who took him to a New York Rangers game suggested seeking out a rabbi for help. “I never really thought of a rabbi as a therapist like that,” says Bram, who had lived a secular life to that point. One rabbi followed another, and today, he is actively spiritual and has a documentary to show for it. Elyssa Goodman spoke with Bram about documenting his quest for spiritual enlightenment in “Kabbalah Me,” and the role Judaism and Kabbalah now play in his life.

Elyssa Goodman: Why did you decide to make a documentary out of this experience?

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The Murder Trial Will Be Televised

By Dorri Olds

“Captivated: The Trials of Pamela Smart” is a documentary about the 1990 media spectacle of the first televised murder trial. Reality TV was in its infancy. Pamela Smart, 21, was accused of plotting the murder of her husband. The young men who carried out the murder got reduced sentences for serving her up as a black widow. The film explores the impact of TV on the case and on public opinion. The jury was not sequestered and it seems Smart was tried and convicted in the media.

Filmmaker Jeremiah Zagar investigated Pamela Smart’s trial and questions arose about the nature of justice, fame and storytelling. Was this trial fair? We talked to Zagar about the role the media played in the outcome of the trial.

Dorri Olds: What was it like visiting Pamela Smart in prison?

Jeremiah Zagar: Meeting her convinced me to make the film. She was different in person than any of the archival footage I’d seen. She’s incredibly smart, funny and warm, not that wooden, cold person on TV. I thought I’d make a film about this person you’ve never met before. The film became about how the camera changes people and changed her trial.

Do you mean she had stage fright?

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