Previewing universal themes

By Alexis Tomrell


Oakland University kicks off the Lenore Marwil Jewish Film Festival tonight and tomorrow at Meadow Brook Hall, with a preview of four specially selected films chosen to delight a diverse Oakland audience, Jewish or not.

The four films, picked from over 40 being shown at the film festival, which will run later this month, were selected upon input from OU faculty, who will facilitate discussion after the preview screenings.

Michael Pytlik, lecturer in sociology and anthropology, will review “The Beetle,” filmed in Israel and Jordan. Pytlik, who is taking a group of 13 OU students to Jerusalem this summer to work on a dig sponsored by Hebrew University, said he reviewed three movies and chose “The Beetle” because he wanted a movie that would be “sort of modern, less war/terrorism, a little more positive, be meaningful but not overly serious.” Something that would be relatively light, that would appeal to college students “or whatever,” he said.

“The Beetle,” is about a young husband, with a pregnant wife, obsessed with his Volkswagen Beetle. His wife begs him to get rid of the “bug,” but he struggles to trade in his old life for fatherhood.

The man begins a journey to trace the history of the old car through its previous owners and by virtue of that, Pytlik said, “We get to look at their lives, how many kids they had, their memories too.” Then he sets out on a “little adventure” to find parts for the car. 

This trip lets viewers see “modern people in Israel doing real things, not obsessed with security and war and all that other stuff we sometimes get saturated with,” Pytlik said.

He said one of the interesting things about the movie was that the man’s search for parts leads the Israeli across the border into Jordan, something some people may not think Israelis can do. He explained that Israel isn’t so isolated.

“Wow, Israel and Jordan, well they have relations you know. They are not at war … I can speak for this because I’ve been there,” said Pytlik, who is Jewish. “The Jordanian people are very friendly … just average people.”

Kellie Hay, associate professor of communication and journalism, will lead the discussion after “The Syrian Bride,” Wednesday at 4 p.m. One of the classes Hay is teaching this semester is “Women’s Liberation Movements in the Middle East.” She’s giving extra credit for her students who attend, calling it relevant and important.

Hay said the movie takes place in the Golan Heights region of Israel. “The Golan Heights is very interesting to me,” she said. “Especially the Druze community within it, because they are very split between having Syrian identities and commitment, and between kind of conforming to an Israeli mode of identity.”

Hay said that the film is a “border film” about the Druze community and all the pressures of occupation and questions that split the community, paralleled by “this wedding where all these issues come through.”

“There are issues about marrying someone in an arranged marriage that you just don’t know. It’s going to be about husbands and wives, and wives resisting sort of a patriarchal way of thinking about marriage. It’s going to be about young lovers who are separated from one another because one family has a Syrian identity and the other family is called an Israeli collaborator.”

In the movie, “Goyband,” a member of a non-Jewish band down on his luck takes a gig at an Orthodox Jewish casino. 

“It’s a fish out of water story,” said Kyle Edwards, assistant professor of English and director of cinema studies. “It’s about a character that isn’t Jewish, (his) experiences with different characters that are, so it goes to both sides of our cultural divide.” 

Eric Lumberg, a Birmingham lawyer and chairman of the JFF, said that the festival is expanding their movie-going base by doing new things, like sponsoring the event at OU, in conjunction with the movies at the festival. 

Lumberg said that there were only maybe a half dozen films the first couple years, and then the festival started to grow to regular movie theaters in the area — Birmingham, Commerce Lake, Ann Arbor — “not just the Jewish Community Center.” He said that now it’s a two week festival.

Selecting movies for the festival, they like to “mix it up” thematically. “We always have a lot of movies that deal with Jews that live in other places … there’s always Holocaust-themed movies, that’s inevitable,” he said. “But we don’t want to have all Holocaust-themed movies.”

This year’s festival includes one movie called “Size Doesn’t Matter,” about a group of Israeli men that train to become Sumo wrestlers and “City of Borders,” about the only gay bar in Jerusalem. The JFF will sponsor an event after “Borders” featuring local GLBT panelists comparing life in Israel and the Arab world.

The Oakland University Jewish Film Festival preview is at Meadow Brook Hall on Wednesday, April 14 and 15 at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m.

Oakland students get in free with ID.

Regular tickets are $7 each or $10 for a double feature.

For advance tickets, contact Kristen Clark, 248-370-3650 or [email protected].

The Lenore Marwil Jewish Film Festival runs April 25-May 6. For more information visit