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Life in Stills

2011
Distributed by Nancy Fishman Film Releasing, 610 16th Street, Suite 507B, Oakland, CA 94612; 510.290.0255
Produced by Barak Heymann
Directed by Tamar Tal
DVD, color, 60 min.
College - General Adult
Aging, Domestic Violence, Judaism, History, Photography, Homosexuality


Reviewed by Neil M. Frau-Cortes, University of Maryland

Highly Recommended  Highly Recommended   
 
Date Entered: 4/2/2015

Miriam, a lady in her nineties, is the owner of a photography shop she opened with her husband, the late Rudi Weissenstein, a well-known photographer whose customers included the leading personalities of Tel Aviv and Israel. As urban development threatens her ability to keep the shop open, Miriam teams up with her grandson Ben, who is in charge of reviving the old shop and rescuing his grandfather's impressive work from oblivion. As the story develops we are made aware of a hidden history of family violence, generational gap, love and hate. Nevertheless, Miriam is able to remain courageous and hopeful in the face of a world that is transforming at an ever changing, fast pace. She is learning new ways and technologies in the preservation of Rudi's work, and even learns to accept Ben's male partner and their relationship.

One of the merits of this documentary is that it includes a notable array of archival images related to the history of Tel Aviv, particularly about the foundation of the city and the birth of the state of Israel. All the pictures in the film are taken from Weissenstein's negatives and constitute an invaluable portrait of the country's early years. The resiliency of the protagonists becomes a metaphor for both the resiliency of Israel and that of the Jewish people, always struggling to embrace progress without forgetting the richness of their past. Facing new realities with courage, even in spite of old age and their differences, Miriam and Ben find the strength of reinventing themselves. The featured characters are tender, very expressive, and display a genuine love for each other, for their craft, and for their heritage, both familial and national.

Life in Stills is a deeply moving film with beautiful visuals and a good narrative rhythm. The script skillfully develops the story at a nice pace as we discover the family's darkest secrets. The production team makes excellent use of archival images, conveniently interspersed throughout the documentary and often contrasted with contemporary footage. This contrast is serene and poetical, an ode to the passage of time, to lives lived to the fullness of their potential, and to the hope of new beginnings.

This documentary would be a great choice for film discussion in a variety of settings, from photography courses to Jewish studies and LGBT forums. It is equally suitable for college and non-academic adult audiences.

Awards

  • Winner, Ophir Academy Award for Best Documentary, Israel 2012
  • DocAviv International Documentary Film Festival Best Film Award and Best Editing Award
  • Dok Leipzig International Film Festival, Talent Dove Award
  • Bar International TV Festival, Grand Prix Best Film in Festival, Montenegro
  • Doc Edge Film Festival, Best Film in Generation Category, New Zealand
  • Krakow International Film Festival, Audience Award
  • Shanghai TV Festival, Audience Award
  • Berlin Jewish Film Festival, Audience Award
  • Vancouver International Women in Film Festival, Best Documentary