Rabbi Zalman and the Making of Seeking the 36

In 2007 the two of us—novelist Stephen Billias and filmmaker Dennis Lanson—completed our collaboration on a screenplay entitled The 36 about the Lamed Vov, the Thirty-Six Just Men of Jewish folklore. While trying to sell the screenplay, we decided to make a separate documentary film called Seeking the 36 in which we would look for the Lamed Vov living in the world today.

The Spiritual Truth of JFK (As Movie and Reality)

To put the Kennedy assassination in a historical perspective that is both spiritual and political, we here reprint Peter Gabel’s brilliant article on the subject, “The Spiritual Truth of JFK (As Movie and Reality),” originally published in Tikkun in March/April 1992 in response to the original release of Stone’s film.

Woolf, West, and the Conundrum of Veterans

Arguably the two most immediate—and in my judgment, truest—books from the Great War, in spite of Hemingway’s assertion that there were none, were written by authors who not only never set foot on the battlefield; neither of them was a male.

Three New Movies: We Steal Secrets, Hannah Arendt, and Fill the Void

Hollywood hasn’t been igniting many intellectual sparks lately, but imports and indies are stepping in to fill the void, if I can borrow the title of a current movie. They vary in quality but share an urge to get audiences thinking and discussing. At a time when serious journalism is in crisis, some observers see documentary film as the best hope for putting crucial information and unpopular points of view before the public eye.

Film Review: Hannah Arendt and the “Banality of Evil”

Van Trotta’s film on Arendt and “the banality of evil” not only restores memory but also might remind us of contemporary violent conflicts, including the Israeli-Palestinian one. The narratives told on both sides promote an unremitting hostility that over the past century has stymied efforts to make peace. These narratives, combining personal memory with cultural tradition, have fostered distrust and demonization of the Other. As Rabbi Michael Lerner points out, both sides “embraced nationalist rhetoric …. Both sides were traumatized by their own history, and by outrageous acts of violence perpetrated by the other.”

The Good, the Bad, and the Oscars

The outcome of the recent Academy Awards sweepstakes was a very mixed bag. Argo, the winner of the best-picture prize, is a nice little movie with a timely theme, a feel-good ending, and reminiscences of the 1997 comedy-drama Wag the Dog. Yet while it’s ably directed by Ben Affleck and engagingly acted by a talented cast, it doesn’t have the artistic or emotional heft that distinguishes the best best-picture winners.

Lincoln: A Review

Lincoln comes from the cameras of Steven Spielberg, probably the most influential storyteller in modern cinema, and certainly one of the most vexing. But when the subjects aren’t pure make-believe, his movies tend to run aground on real-world complexities that flighty imagination can’t handle on its own.

Dark Days with the Dark Knight

We are the beneficiaries of the most advanced audiovisual systems ever known, capable of moving our emotions, challenging our ideas, and opening our imaginations. Is it right that the most technologically sophisticated and financially expensive products of this system are entertainments like the Batman movies, designed to deliver their gratifications not to the mind but to the gut?

Sociopaths Rule

A fundamental examination of the nature of our economy and its consequences is long overdue, and widespread distribution of Heist could go a long way toward making this happen.

Pinkwashed?

When people working for a good cause turn in directions that aren’t good—or might even be bad—do their virtuous intentions outweigh the unintended side effects of their activities? How far can the ethical standards of activists and philanthropists be trusted when people worship capitalism as blindly as many Americans do today?

Renouncing the Nuclear Idol

The film, The Forgotten Bomb, is a stark reminder of how we, as a people, have betrayed our trust in God and, for sixty-six years, have instead placed our trust in a nuclear idol.

Turning to the Past to Envision a Different Future: Family Accountability in Eliaichi Kimaro’s “A Lot Like You”

When I saw Eliaichi Kimaro’s documentary A Lot Like You premier at the Seattle International Film Festival this year, one of my first responses to this moving and complex film was to recognize it as a model for a personal and family accountability process. The film brings to life the complicated, messy, beautiful, and liberatory process of addressing harm and seeking healing within a family context.