Jewish Movie and Theater

In the era when Yiddish theatre was still a major force in the world of theatre, over 100 films were made in Yiddish. Many are now lost. Prominent films included Shulamith (1931), the first Yiddish musical on film His Wife’s Lover (1931), A Daughter of Her People (1932), the anti-Nazi film The Wandering Jew (1933), The Yiddish King Lear (1934), Shir Hashirim (1935), the biggest Yiddish film hit of all time Yidl Mitn Fidl (1936), Where Is My Child? (1937), Green Fields (1937), Dybuk (1937), The Singing Blacksmith (1938), Tevye (1939), Mirele Efros (1939), Lang ist der Weg (1948), and God, Man and Devil (1950).

The roster of Jewish entrepreneurs in the English-language American film industry is legendary: Samuel Goldwyn, Louis B. Mayer, the Warner Brothers, David O. Selznick, Marcus Loew, and Adolph Zukor, to name just a few, and continuing into recent times with such industry giants as super-agent Michael Ovitz, Michael Eisner, Lew Wasserman, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Steven Spielberg, and David Geffen. However, few of these brought a specifically Jewish sensibility either to the art of film or, with the sometime exception of Spielberg, to their choice of subject matter. A more specifically Jewish sensibility can be seen in the films of the Marx Brothers, Mel Brooks, or Woody Allen; other examples of specifically Jewish films from the Hollywood film industry are the Barbra Streisand vehicle Yentl (1983), or John Frankenheimer’s The Fixer (1968). (Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jewish_culture#Cinema )

From Jerry Seinfeld to Steven Spielberg, Jews have come to dominate cinema as we know it. More importantly, Jews have landed starting roles in some of the most prominent films of the 21st century and continue to climb the ladder of success in the film industry. Familiar Jewish Hollywood names include Stanley Kubrick, Stephen Spielberg, Douglas Fairbanks, Billy Wilder, Carl Reiner, the Coen brothers (Fargo, the Big Lebowski, O Brother Where Art Thou, and others,) the Weinstein brothers (The King’s Speech, Philomena, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom,) and many more.

The 2014 Premiere of the Indianapolis Jewish Film Festival introduces nine different films examining facets of Jewish life not often explored. The Festival introduces humor with the “The Band’s Visit” (Link to description page) and “A Matter of Size” (Link); but also reveals the sensitivities of gay people in Hasidic community in “Trembling Before G-D.” (link)

To see the complete line-up, click here.

Jewish theater made its debut in the middle of the 19th century and thrived in America first as a primarily Yiddish activity. Until World War II, professional Yiddish Theatres could be found throughout heavily Jewish areas from London to Paris, to New York City.

The works of the Yiddish Theatre were written and performed primarily in Yiddish communities by the Ashkenazi Jewish immigrants of Eastern Europe. Yiddish Theatre has always provided an eclectic array of genres ranging from operetta to melodrama.
As nearly 3.5 million Jews immigrated to America in the late 1880’s, Yiddish theatre was a way of appealing to these mostly Yiddish speaking immigrants. Yiddish Theatre continued well into the roaring 20’s due to the founding of the Hebrew Actors Union in 1899, appealing to smaller more niche audiences. Only later in the 1930’s would Jewish theatre appeal to a more diverse audience.

Today, Yiddish theatre has transformed to major works of theatre, motion picture, documentaries and other forms of production.