Sunday, July 08, 2012

Tales of the shmatte business and one family’s RV vacation 

Sunday, July 8, day three of the Jerusalem Film Festival, offered a mix of movies focusing on Jewish America and Israelis vacationing in the US.

11:30 am brought me to the Cinematheque for the festival’s first of three showings of “Dressing America: Tales from the Garment Center,” a nearly hour-long documentary about how entrepreneurial Jews helped build New York’s garment business, known to many as the shmatte business. I had starred this movie during my first perusal of my now-worn screening guide, because I tend to be interested in anything dealing with the fashion industry, whether Israeli, American or European.

The documentary offers a fairly comprehensive look at the industry’s growth in New York, from the Lower East Side sweatshops of the last 19th century to the gradual creation of retailers and designers that form the bulwark of today’s fashion industry. It doesn’t delve into the development of department stores, an interesting facet of the fashion world at one time, nor did the filmmakers snag interviews with the Jewish titans of the fashion world, Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein or Donna Karan, who all got their start in the simpler side of the shmatte business. But the movie is enjoyable nonetheless, and elicits more than a few laughs.

I was back at the Cinematheque in the evening — the main theaters being used for this year’s festival are the Cinematheque, the Begin Center across the street and the relatively nearby Smadar theater on Lloyd George Street in the German Colony — for the showing of “Family Time,” an intensely personal documentary by Nitzan Gilady about his family’s RV trip to the Grand Canyon over one long Passover week.

In spite of the fact that the audience was filled with family members, friends and members of the production team for this first-time screening, it was impossible not to be drawn into this intimate portrait of an Israeli family of Yemenite descent. There are certain indelibly Israeli jokes, such as their ritualistic cracking of sunflower seeds or the can of Elite instant coffee that is brought along on the trip, but there are the common family themes as well, from the way the parents and three adult sons poke fun at one another to the difficult conversations that are held over the course of the week. And in typical Jerusalem Film Festival form, Gilady got his time at the podium, handing out flower bouquets to his parents, brothers and production team.


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