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Wednesday, 24 September 2008

A Therapeutic Film

JERUSALEM REPORT : October 13, 2008
By Leora Eren Frucht

The film "Circumcise Me" was a sort of therapy for filmmakers Matthew Kalman and David Blumenfeld, both veteran news reporters who live in Jerusalem.
British-born Kalman, a reporter, and Canadian-born Blumenfeld, a photographer, have worked for leading media outlets, including Time, Newsweek and the Boston Globe.
"At the height of the intifada, David and I were doing a lot of work together, reporting mainly about guns, bombs, exploded buses and people dying," recalls Kalman. "We were also asked to produce other people's documentaries - and those were also about suicide bombings.
"After you've seen enough dead bodies lying on the pavement after a suicide bombing of a bus, you realize you're becoming inured to the shock. When you see people still fused to their seats inside this blackened shell, and all you're looking at is the camera angle, you realize that you're losing a bit of what makes you human.
"It got a bit grueling and depressing. So David suggested we do something of our own, something fun. Doing this film has enabled us as reporters to retrieve a little bit of our own humanity. Basically this has been just one big act of therapy."
On an evening in 2004, he recalls, "I went to the opening night of Off the Wall Comedy Club [an English-language comedy club in Jerusalem], and there was this haredi [ultra-Orthodox] guy standing in the corner. I felt like saying to him: 'You're in the wrong place - this is a comedy club. Can I direct you to Me'a She'arim [an ultra Orthodox neighborhood]?' And it turns out that he was the headliner."
Kalman, who founded a comedy club at his alma mater, Cambridge, was delighted. "I thought he was funny, talented, charismatic and found his story so compelling. It seemed like the obvious choice for a documentary. That night I called David and told him: 'We've got our subject.'"
Campbell readily agreed. "He had nothing better to do," quips Kalman as Campbell, seated nearby, nods in agreement.
The film is an abbreviated version of Campbell's standup comedy show which is itself a tapestry of his colorful life and observations about subjects close to his heart. The filmmakers shot six of his shows and conducted interviews with the comedian in different locations in Jerusalem. There is also footage of Campbell's father, a lapsed Catholic who remains perplexed but not bitter about his son's conversion. The movie is being screened at over a dozen film festivals in cities across the United States over the next few months (http://circumcise-me.blogspot.com).
"In a lot of documentaries, the filmmakers research the story, but in this case the story was right there," Kalman notes. He also says that he had grown tired of interviewing "cynical politicians" and terrorists, while ignoring what he regards as the real heroes of the story - ordinary people coping in an extraordinary situation. He wanted to show that side of Israeli reality, too.
"The fact is that even at the height of the intifada, people continued to laugh. There was still a life going on in Jerusalem against the background of this craziness. And as news reporters we never got to report that."
One segment of the film - and show - deals with Campbell's own intifada experiences, including the loss of two close friends killed in a terror attack at the Hebrew University cafeteria in July, 2002. He handles the subject with sensitivity, but doesn't refrain from telling jokes about terrorists.
"In this film, we wanted to tackle the intifada, but from a different angle," says Kalman. "We think it's the first intifada comedy."

Extract from an article in Issue 13, October 13, 2008 of The Jerusalem Report.

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