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Yiddish: A Tale of Survival: Montreal Review

Yiddish: A Tale of Survival - H 2013

The Bottom Line

Amateur doc doesn't do justice to its subject.

Venue

Montreal World Film Festival, Documentaries of the World

Director-Producer

Abigail Hirsch

Abigail Hirsch clumsily celebrates those working to keep Yiddish a living language.

A well-meaning but lifeless doc about efforts to keep the Yiddish language from fading into history, Abigail Hirsch's Yiddish: A Tale of Survival features interviews with three subjects who, however important they are in the recent history of Yiddish culture, seem chosen mainly because they were in Hirsch's hometown of Montreal and weren't too famous to talk to her. Though the dull, poorly photographed film might contain enough biographical detail to be used educationally in Jewish cultural institutions, that will be the extent of its value.

Hirsch, who appears in an onscreen introduction to tell us that "the story of Yiddish is my story" -- and we care about your story why, exactly? -- chops the film into three discrete sections: Holocaust survivor Shmuel Atzmon recounts how he gave up a career in Israel's contemporary acting world to start the nation's first Yiddish repertory theater; Montreal's Bryna Wasserman talks about her career in theater and that of her mother Dora, whose Yiddish Theater not only staged plays written in the language but translated modern works by Arthur Miller and others; and singer Milena Kartowski, who "started her odyssey with Yiddish" just two years ago, speaks of its importance with youthful enthusiasm.

Though some of the vintage performance clips Hirsch offers have historical appeal, many are home videos that were shot from audience seats, framed poorly, and selected for no clear reason. Background on the language itself -- its aesthetic pleasures and sociological significance -- gets very little time compared to crowd videos shot at Montreal's International Yiddish Theatre Festival, leaving any uninitiated viewers to watch a celebration of a culture they haven't yet been convinced to appreciate.

Production Company: Ask Abigail Films

Director-Producer: Abigail Hirsch

Directors of photography: Sergei Krasikov, Lior Cohen, Daniel Lanteigne

Editor: Azra Rashid

No rating, 62 minutes