The Toronto International Film Festival screens many of the finest documentaries of the year, including those that can only be done full justice on the big screen. The Daily presents reviews of three of the most exciting documentaries at the festival.
Still from “When Jews Were Funny”. Courtesy of the Toronto International Film Festival.
“When Jews Were Funny”
There’s an interesting film somewhere inside Alan Zweig’s documentary “When Jews Were Funny,” but it has little to do with his thesis statement that Jews make the best comedians and that Jewish comedy is dying as Jewish oppression fades. The film is at its best when it starts to probe at what it means to be Jewish in the 21st century, now that secular Jews are more common than religious ones, Jews aren’t isolated in their own communities, and it’s fairly common for Jews to marry the “goyum”. Will this mean that the younger generation is less Jewish or unable to pass on the traditions? Through interviews with various Jewish comedians about their culture and what is special about Jewish comedy, the film suggests that it might just be the brand of Jewish comedy that keeps the culture alive. Unfortunately, the film gets bogged down by the director’s own personal issues – he’s 61 with a two-year-old daughter from a “gentile” wife and is concerned that his daughter won’t be a real Jew – and with a question that can’t be answered definitively, especially when the subjects interviewed are exclusively Jews, ignoring the broader context of 21st-century comedy.