Summer is associated with big movies and outdoor screenings. Beyond the blockbusters that hit theaters every summer, it is also the season for breakthrough art-house films that try their luck at creating buzz and reaching film fans that still appreciate quality storytelling and human drama beyond big special effects. In the competitive film market, art-house films often get overlooked. They open with little fanfare and are never discovered by the mainstream. Fabulous movies will quickly disappear to the dusty shelves of VOD and do not get the attention they deserve.
Art-house films open doors for more diverse, progressive visions that Hollywood still has not caught up with. The beauty is when these films reach beyond their niche and relate on the mass level. The classic example of a small independent film that delighted the summer box office beyond the niche is My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Despite being a story about a specific minor ity, it had a universal appeal that delighted a wide audience.
More recently, Presenting Princess Shaw is another example of a film that can potentially speak beyond its obvious niche. This gem had a short run in New York theaters and is a universal documentary, a fairytale of the internet age that celebrates connections in the age of the internet. It follows the Israeli musician Kutiman, who remixes songs from found recordings on the internet. When he discovers incredible music of a down-on-her-luck dreamer who goes by the name Princess Shaw, both their lives are forever changed. Despite Magnolia Pictures and Participant Media being behind this remarkable movie, it received a small theatrical release and was missed by audiences. You do not have to be a fan of YouTube remixes to connect with the story of following your dreams and friendship in a modern disconnected world. Anyone can relate.
The Jewish Niche is a huge market. According to the Jewish Film Pres enters Network, there are over 200 Jewish film festivals throughout America - a market with great impact. This is a film-loving audience that is not afraid of challenging material or subtitles. A diverse and impactful community that appreciates the communal experience of film. And best of all, it is a well-organized community that knows how to get the word out.
This summer, JCC Manhattan is presenting a slew of fantastic films that reach beyond the niche. Opening in theaters this week is Septembers of Shiraz by Wayne Blair which tells the story of a Jewish family in Iran just as the revolution starts in 1979. It's based on a NY Times bestselling novel and boasts an impressive cast including Adrian Brody and Salma Hayek. The story of victims of the revolution has been told in film (most recently in Argo) but this film allows a more personal perspective to be appreciated. Through the story of one family, the drama is made relevant and reminds us of the power o f love and the importance of family ties.
Releasing in July by Kino-Lorber is The Tenth Man from Daniel Burman, the acclaimed director of Lost Embrace. This film follows the son of a major Jewish community foundation leader in Buenos Aires creating a thrilling and entertaining story that engages the audience by taking us into this unique community. Burman is a true talent and creates a visual experience that is like no other.
Most anticipated is James Schamus' adaptation of the Philip Roth novel Indignation. Although hardly Roth's most known book, this Sundance favorite is one of the best adaptations of his novels and captures much of the essence of Roth's work. In many ways, this story goes back to Roth's roots and paints a captivating picture of the changing America of the 1950s. The film follows a hyper-intelligent young Jewish man from Newark, attending a Christian college in Ohio. In the shadow of the Korean War, his intellectual, emoti onal and sexual awakenings challenge the politics of the time. This rich movie not only captures the period with beautiful visuals and brilliant acting and dialogue, but also manages to find a way to make the story timely and relatable to all. Beyond the innocence of youth, the film is a philosophical and ethical journey that speaks to any evolving person. The presentation is meticulous and the dialogue manages to not only transport the audience into a different time, but to make the 1950s approachable even for those who did not live then. It speaks in almost a timeless fashion. This film is a great example of when visual effects are replaced by strong dialogue.
Another fascinating film is The People vs. Fritz Bauer by Lars Kraume (released by Cohen Media Group). This German film tells the story of the prosecutor who brought the Nazi war crimes committed in Auschwitz to justice by the German court. A different perspective on these groundbreaking trials was recently presented by Sony Pictures Classic's release of Labyrinth of Lies. This often forgotten piece of history contends with Germany's post-war trauma and the general tone of the time. All of these films have more to offer than the superhero movies that seem to be flooding our theaters. I believe that art-house films drive us to create a more ethical society and truly bring the impact of film to the public. Help support these visions and take a break from binge watching or the latest blockbuster for thoughtful cinematic experiences.
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