My Coffee with Jewish Friends: A Film by Manfred Kirchheimer 2018
Distributed by Grasshopper Film, 12 East 32nd St., 4th Floor, New York, NY 10016
Produced by Manfred Kirchheimer
Directed by Manfred Kirchheimer
DVD, color, 88 min.
High School - General Adult
Date Entered: 09/21/2018Reviewed by Sheila Intner, Professor Emerita, Graduate School of Library & Information Science, Simmons College GSLIS at Mt. Holyoke, South Hadley, MA
In this film, Manfred Kirchheimer, who is a documentary filmmaker and professor of film at the School of Visual Arts in New York City, captures a splendid set of interviews in which he explores questions about Jews, Jewishness, and Judaism with a wide variety of (mostly Jewish) people. Although one might think it would be boring to see scene after scene of talking heads, in fact it is fascinating. His subjects include his longtime friend, celebrity classical pianist Gilbert Kalish, a female Reform rabbi, a psychologist, four college students from different places, and a number of film/video industry colleagues, also from different places, as well as two physicians, a dentist, and a few spouses. Some subjects were born and grew up outside the U.S., some have a non-Jewish parent, some have a non-Jewish mate. All willingly share their thoughts with Kirchheimer.
Always bearing his signature cup of coffee, Kirchheimer asks the subjects what they know and think about Judaism, how they feel about being Jewish (or partly Jewish), how they were raised, what they believe, and what they think about it all, gently touching on troubling issues such as the establishment of Israeli settlements, womens’ worship at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, and other social and political matters.
Perhaps because of his personal expertise and talent, the interview scenes flow smoothly from one person to another and from one topic to another. Interviewees are always identified at their first appearance and, sometimes, a second time when they reappear after Kirchheimer speaks to other people. Four married couples appear together as do the four college students, but most of the conversations are one-on-one. Kirchheimer is a good questioner, soft-spoken but managing the conversation successfully.
One technical quibble: The DVD should add closed captioning – a few of the speakers drop their voices at critical moments, or speak so softly at times that they are hard to hear.
One content quibble: Kirchheimer never asks his subjects whether they believe Jews are a race, or a religion, or both – or something else. Several refer to the Jewish people, but whether that means the same thing as a racial or ethnic group is not addressed. Perhaps he will explore this question in another film. Few 21st century Jews would call themselves “Israelites,” even those born in Israel. They are “Israelis.” Recalling spirited debates about the issue she overheard among adults during her childhood, this reviewer can’t help but wonder whether differences in the meaning of those terms are significant, impacting how these and other Jews see themselves.