Every frame in Rachel Loube’s “Every Tuesday: A Portrait of the New Yorker Cartoonists,” now screening at the Boston Jewish Film Festival, together with “The Art of Spiegelman,” threatens to dissolve into cliché. There is the premise itself: Every Tuesday, New Yorker cartoonists, young and old, submit their work, and then go for lunch. It is a beautiful, invisible New York tradition, the kind that Gay Talese would have celebrated in luxurious prose, the kind that the media is intent on reminding us no longer exist. The restaurant is appropriately shabby. The food scenes are all set to jazz.
Art Spiegelman just wants to be left alone. Or, rather, he would really like it if parts of his career and biography were minimized, and others celebrated more. The central tension, both in the long conversations he had with University of Chicago professor Hillary Chute, the germ and base level of “MetaMaus” (2011), and now in Clara Kuperberg and Joelle Oosterlinck’s new documentary, “The Art of Spiegleman,” is the anxiety of success. Spiegelman is painfully self-aware that he will be forever known (and, often, only known) for the path breaking Maus (1980-1991); fearful that he will become the “Elie Wiesel of comics”; and worries that he cannot seem to escape the autobiographical voice. Somehow, some way, his career turned from the one he imagined and he’s never been able to get the old one back.
Both Jonathan Lee’s “Paul Goodman Changed My Life,” a biography of the now obscure New York Intellectual, and Pony Brzezinski and Lina Chaplin’s “Writing as I Should,” a documentary about the late Israeli author Batya Gur, make you want to read more of their subjects’ work, though for opposite reasons. The two films screened November 3 as part of the Boston Jewish Film Festival, which was the initial grounds for comparing them. But watching these two very different takes on two very different writers made me wish that there was a dialogue between them — that “Paul Goodman Changed My Life” had some of the revealing nearness of “Writing as I Should,” and that “Writing As I Should” had more of an outside perspective on the meaning of Gur’s work.
The craft of acting, like writing, is a very difficult thing to talk about without sounding like a dallying idiot. Perversely, it’s also one of the hardest topics to stop talking about once you’ve started, since it’s rife with irresolvable quandaries about “intent,” “truth,” and the nature of Little Red Riding Hood’s relationship with her mother. Like all shop talk, it’s a conversation that gets tiresome very quickly for the non-actors in the room.
A tragic event can provide a filmmaker with compelling material for a movie, but simply presenting calamity on the big screen doesn’t necessarily result in a good story. In director Fabian Hofman’s semi-autobiographical “I Miss You” (“Te Extraño”), which screened in November at the Boston Jewish Film Festival and will be shown on January 22 and 23 at the New York Jewish Film Festival, he comes close to making this mistake.
In the aftermath of Israel’s victory over Egypt and Syria — key Soviet allies — in the 1967 Six Day War, the Soviet Politburo, which had already barred Jews from positions in the Communist Party, seized on the war as a way to weaken Poland’s opposition movement and purge what they labeled the Jewish “fifth column.” As a result, many Poles — regardless of whether or not they were Jews — were branded as Zionists and stripped of citizenship. “Little Rose,” a film set in Warsaw in the days leading up to 1968’s student riots, tells the story of one of them.