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Melting pot of Jewish film

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Tali Borowski

WHEN Brad Slabe found out he was selected to showcase his film at this year’s Celluloid Soup film festival, it couldn’t have come at a better time.

“I’ve just been cramming for VCE studies and then I got the news, so I was very happy,” the 17-year-old Mount Scopus College student told the AJN.

Slabe’s claymation film, Short, features a character who faces a series of prejudices as he looks for a job after his lemonade stand is destroyed. Influenced by recent studies of the Holocaust, one of the film’s final scenes is eerily similar to a World War II concentration camp.

“I wanted my movie to be seen, because … any movie on the Holocaust is very important to get out there,” he says. “I’ve seen Schindler’s List and The Pianist, so I thought I could take a different approach.”

Short is one of 14 films showcased at Celluloid Soup, a festival of Jewish-themed short films which opens this week in Melbourne.

Promising to take the audience on a journey “from Cuba to Carlton, Hong Kong to Haifa, and back to the streets of St Kilda”, Celluloid Soup will feature works by first-time film-makers and seasoned professionals.

Dr Helen Light, director of the Jewish Museum of Australia, one of the festival’s main sponsors, says that Celluloid Soup is about “bringing the community together, fostering young talent and encouraging creativity”.

“Film is such an accessible medium and gives us all a chance to discover more about the cultural and religious experiences of the Jewish community,” Dr Light explains.

The theme of this year’s festival is, “The wandering Jew”, with films restricted to a seven-minute time limit.
Film-maker Pinchos Cylich believes his film, From Exile to FREEdom, fits perfectly into this year’s theme. His documentary portrays Jews from the former Soviet Union and their journey to rediscover their Jewish roots in Australia with the help of local organisation Friends of Refugees from Eastern Europe (FREE).

“A whole generation grew up barely aware of their Jewishness [and] for many, their awareness came from antisemitism,” Cylich explains. “When they came here, there was an opportunity to return to their roots and this is a story of many of those people [who] have gone through the whole journey back.”

Cylich, along with his wife, Feygl, and film editor Eyal Avraham, used archival footage and personal testimonies from FREE’s founder, Rabbi Chaim Elozor Gorelik, and other members of Melbourne’s Russian Jewish community for their film.

“I feel that this was a story that deserved to be told,” Cylich says. “Personally, I have many friends who have made that journey and I have the greatest respect for them … I am very proud that we could bring this to the screen.”
For Cylich, taking part in Celluloid Soup is important because it exposes Russian Jewry to the wider community, while Slabe hopes his participation in the festival will kick-start a career in film.

“I’m applying for the VCA [Victorian College of the Arts] and hopefully that will go well … There’s a lot of talent out in the community and I’m just happy my movie is being screened.”

Last run in 2002, Celluloid Soup is an initiative of the Jewish Museum of Australia, which hopes to encourage young Jewish film-makers to showcase their talents.

Along with Dr Light, this year’s judges include media personality John Safran, writer/director Pip Mushin, Oscar-winning producer Melanie Coombs and writer/producer Yael Bergman.

Celluloid Soup’s gala screening will be held on Sunday, November 26, at the Astor Theatre, 1 Chapel Street, St Kilda, at 6.30pm.

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