'Outrageous Sophie Tucker' opens 10th L.A. Jewish Film Festival

 'Outrageous Sophie Tucker' opens 10th L.A. Jewish Film Festival
Sophie Tucker (Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival)

The 10th edition of the Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival opens Thursday evening with the L.A. premiere of "The Outrageous Sophie Tucker," a new documentary produced by Susan and Lloyd Ecker about the risqué comedian, singer and actress known as the Last of the Red Hot Mamas.

Mamie Van Doren, who worked with Tucker and appears in the documentary, will be part of a panel discussion after the screening, to be held at the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills.


"I want to remember Hollywood as it was and how it's impacted today," festival director Hilary Helstein said, citing Tucker this year and tributes last year to Carl Reiner and Sid Caesar.

Tucker, Susan Ecker said, has influenced decades of woman, from Mae West to Jean Harlow to Sarah Silverman.

"They are doing things Sophie did in 1906 — getting up on stage and pushing the boundaries," said Ecker, who also has written the fictional memoir "I Am Sophie Tucker" with Lloyd, her husband.

"She was a woman who was in the business that was predominantly run by men, and yet she was her own manager," Susan Ecker said. "She called her own shots. I think the message that she sent to audiences back 100 years ago is a message that resonates today. She was a heavy woman, but she used it. She said I'm fat but I'm proud of myself. She had a confidence about her body that I think women today, at least, could maybe latch on to."

Helstein, a documentary filmmaker ("As Seen Through These Eyes"), has worked to make the L.A. Jewish Film Festival thrive in the last decade.

"It's hard to build something in Los Angeles," she said, crediting the festival's growth to creative thinking and careful curating.

"I will sit there and think, 'What would I want to see?' " she said. "Not everybody has the same taste as me, but I try to create as an eclectic mix that I can."

She works with consulates to get films from other countries, then builds programs around the work.

"I have brought films that have never been seen in the United States," she said. "I also like to give local filmmakers the opportunity to have their films seen. We like to bring in as many speakers as possible."

This year, the festival is showing 25 narrative features, documentaries and shorts. Several of the films, including "Sophie Tucker," will receive repeat screenings at theaters that include Laemmle's Music Hall 3 in Beverly Hills and Town Center 5 in Encino.

"We do a night in South Bay, a night in Pasadena," Helstein said. "We have expanded to a few other areas like the Laemmle's Royal in West Los Angeles."

Among the highlights are the Los Angeles premiere of the British comedy "Dough," starring Jonathan Pryce as an old Jewish baker who hires a Muslim refugee as his new apprentice; the French thriller "The Art Dealer," set in the world of Nazi-looted art; "Zemene," a documentary about a 10-year-old Ethiopian girl with severe curvature of the spine who meets an American doctor who can save her; and "Touchdown Israel," a documentary about American-style football leagues in Israel featuring about 600 amateur players including Muslims, Christians and Jews.

"Touchdown" director Paul Hirschberger, who played soccer in high school, said he read a story about the leagues in the New York Times five years ago. "It just tickled me," he said.

The film covers the 11 teams of the Israeli Football League and their quest for the Israel Bowl championship. Differences that players have off the field are set aside once the uniforms go on.


"If you are going to be successful in football, everybody has to be on the same page," Hirschberger said.

These players aren't getting rich. It is not a professional league, so participants spend a lot of money to play, Hirschberger said.

"Football uniforms happen to be expensive," he said. "Each team will attempt to get a sponsor, but the teams are responsible for paying the insurance for the entire league."

The festival is also commemorating the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II with a sidebar of Holocaust-related programming, including the family film "Belle and Sebastian," the drama "Auf das Leben! (To Life!)" and "Secrets of War," a drama about two childhood friends in the Netherlands who find their relationship tested when the Nazis occupy the country. Following the screening of "Secrets of War" will be a Q&A with veteran actor Curt Lowens, who is a Holocaust survivor and was a member of the Dutch resistance.

The festival concludes May 7 at the ArcLight Sherman Oaks with the Los Angeles premiere of the pilot and second episode of "Prisoners of War," the acclaimed Israeli TV series that was the basis of the Emmy Award-winning "Homeland." Series creator Gideon Raff will conduct a Q&A after the screening.

"I want people to leave these films and think about them, engage in thoughtful discussions and talk to other people about them," Helstein said. "I think that is what had helped lead to our success over the years."

Twitter: @mymackie


Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival

When: Thursday to May 7

Where: Various locations

Admission: $6-$13 per film, $40 for opening night, $15 for closing night