After 10 days and 80 films from 22 countries screened, many the United States or Long Island premiere, the 2018 Gold Coast International Film Festival came to a close and declared the winners:
The Audience Award Winner for Best Narrative was “The Lost Suit,” a bittersweet story made in Argentina and Spain by Pablo Solarz about an 88-year-old Jewish tailor who embarks on a long, transcontinental journey to try and find the man who saved him from certain death during the Holocaust. Heartfelt and charming, with a wonderful comedic flavor, the film reminds us of the importance of family, friendship, and keeping your word. Out of 230 audience-goers, 212 gave the film the highest ranking. “People were obsessed with it.” The Gold Coast arts center, which stages cinema series throughout the year, is hoping to bring it back.
The Audience Award Winner for Best Documentary Feature Film went to “Heading Home,” by Seth Kramer, Daniel A. Miller, Jeremy Newberger, a stirring underdog chronicle of the unexpected triumph of Israel’s national baseball team at the 2017 World Baseball Classic. With their Mensch on the Bench mascot by their side, the team laughs and cries as they discover the pride of representing Israel on the world stage. The screening featured a Q&A with Co-Director Jeremy Newberger.
The Audience and Jury Award Winners for Best Narrative Short Film went to “Stems” and Best Documentary Short Film award was won by two films, “Wendy’s Shabbat” and “One Small Step.”
A new award this year, Best Family Short Film, went to Rag Dolls.
Shorts film curator Alexandra Gil viewed some 2,000 submissions before making the selections for the festival.
The awards winners for the 8th annual festival were named at a gala lunch at the NM Café at Neiman Marcus Roosevelt Field, a major sponsor of the festival, which also supports youth arts programs. Other major sponsors included the Town of North Hempstead and Douglas Elliman Real Estate, which provided important seed money “when we were just an idea” and have kept up. Hofstra University is also a major supporter, offering film programs including internships.
Some 4,000 tickets were sold; audience goers came from 180 zipcodes. Audience goers get to see films that are rarely screened outside of independent theaters in New York City – the festival brings films to the suburbs. Many of the documentaries, like “Bathtubs Over Broadway,” an astonishing documentary about Steve Young’s quest to collect Industrial Musicals which sets him on a journey to meet the makers; and “Happy” Academy Award® nominated director Roko Belic’s film explores the secrets behind our most valued emotion, traveling from the bayous of Louisiana, the deserts of Namibia, the beaches of Brazil and the villages of Okinawa to a communal home in Denmark; and short films are only seen at festivals. There are also opportunities to hear from filmmakers and historians and engage in question and answers. One special program gives Young Filmmakers, from K-12, a chance to shine (and shine they did).
The 2018 festival kicked off with a Gold Coast Arts Center gala in Great Neck, Long Island honoring film and television star Robert Wagner with the second annual Burton Moss Hollywood Golden Era Award in recognition of his long, illustrious career that began in 1950. (See story.)
The stars shone over the Gold Coast Arts Center in Great Neck, Long Island as film and television star Robert Wagner was honored with the second annual Burton Moss Hollywood Golden Era Award in recognition of his long, illustrious career that began in 1950 with his film debut in The Happy Years. The award was presented at the center’s annual gala which also helped raise funds for the nonprofit Arts Center and its Gold Coast International Film Festival, which starts on Friday, November 2, 2018 on the storied Gold Coast of Nassau County’s North Shore, once home to entertainment legends including W. C. Fields, Paulette Goddard, Oscar Hammerstein, Alan King, Francis Ford Coppola, George Segal, and F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Joining Wagner at the gala were such luminaries as his wife, actress Jill St. John; his daughter Courtney Wagner, who co-hosts Boulevard, their new cable program about the movie stars of Hollywood; actress Sharon Gless (Cagney and Lacey) and her husband, producer Barney Rosenzweig; and Princess Yasmin Aga Khan, whose mother, the late Rita Hayworth, posthumously received the first Burton Moss Hollywood Golden Era Award in 2017.
Iconic talent agent, Budd Burton Moss, the award’s namesake, also attended the event in tribute to his childhood friend. Moss, the most respected and admired talent agent of Hollywood’s Golden Age, attended elementary school in California with Wagner, forging a relationship that has endured since.
Actress Diane Baker and noted radio and television personality Larry King sent along their best wishes via video. Also in attendance were Harriet Fields, granddaughter of the late W.C. Fields, and renowned film historian and film professor, Foster Hirsch, who moderated a candid, lively and informative discussion with Wagner before the presentation of the award.
Wagner may well hold the record for longest continuous career – he has been acting for 70 years, a fact acknowledged by tributes from Larry King and actor Diane Baker.
During the conversation with Hirsch, Wagner spoke of his mentors, who bolstered his career: actor Spencer Tracy, who “changed my life,” and film producer Darryl Zanuck, who basically discovered him, developed him and said of him, “You will be a big star.”
Clark Gable got him a screen test at MGM, but that didn’t work out, and got a contract with 20th Century Fox ($55 a week), where he stayed for 20 years, a part of the studio system.
“The studio system worked well for me. People at 20th Century Fox looked out for their people.” His departure coincided with the collapse of the studio system.
“I owe my career to Darryl Zanuck,” he said. “He knew scripts, stories, believed in the people around him. He really cared about me.. Darryl was watching me. When he left [the studio], it was a different situation.”
He joked that he wasn’t happy doing “Prince Valiant,” revolutionary for being one of the first movies filmed in Cinemascope. “It was the wig – it got in the way. Dean Martin talked to me for 10 minutes; he thought I was Jane Wyman.”
He reflected on his transition from film to television – something that wasn’t done at the time. “Lou Wasserman said to me, ‘I want you in this magazine – TV Guide. I think this medium is for you.” Wasserman proposed making a pilot for “It Takes a Thief,” and promised that if it wasn’t picked up, he would make it into a movie. It wasn’t picked up; he made the movie, and then it was picked up.”
“It started mid-season,” Wagner related. “That’s death. I thought my career was gone. But the audience liked it.”
Fred Astaire was his co-star. “There was nobody like him. A meticulous man. I asked him to play my father. I knew him when I was a kid – I went to boarding school with his son. Who asked me over for the weekend at his house. Astaire picked me up, put me in the back seat of his convertible – I was 7 or 8 years old. I didn’t know who Astaire was at the time. I spent a lot of time with him over the years.”
Hirsch pressed him on how his mentors seemed to all be father figures because his own father was “rather difficult.”
“My father was a product of that era. He did things his way. I was programmed to go into his business – steel. I always wanted to be actor in movies, from time I saw my first movie.”
He spoke of the many “marvelous leading ladies” he worked with: Audrey Hepburn, Sophia Loren, Bette Davis, Elizabeth Taylor, to list but a few,” writing about them in his book, “I Loved Her in the Movies,” one of three Hollywood memoirs he has published.
“You can’t be a leading man without a leading lady.”
And he spoke lovingly and admiringly of his wife, the actress Natalie Wood, whose real name was Natalia Nikolaevna Zakharenko, a child of Russian immigrants. She made her debut before she was five years old in a 15-second scene in the 1943 film, “Happy Land,” and at the age of seven, played a German orphan opposite Orson Welles and Claudette Colbert in “Tomorrow is Forever” (1946).
“They dyed her hair blond and taught her a German accent… She had God-given talent.”
He said that he doesn’t believe “West Side Story” would have been made without Wood. “She was so good at accents. She was good at everything.”
In the audience was his wife, Jill St. John, “the first Bond girl,” with whom he performed “Love Letters” on the stage, criss-crossing the country for nine years.
“The performances had to be different, otherwise they would have had to take me away with a net. We had to keep it different.”
Wagner’s numerous film credits includes With a Song in My Heart, Broken Lance with the legendary Spencer Tracy, Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, The Pink Panther, The Curse of the Pink Panther, Midway, The Towering Inferno, Banning, Harper, Prince Valiant, The True Story of Jesse James, and All the Fine Young Cannibals. He re-created his role of Number Two, the villainous henchman to Dr. Evil, the archenemy of Mike Myers’ title character in Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me.
On television, Wagner has starred in three long-running hit series, It Takes a Thief, with Fred Astaire, Switch, with Eddie Albert and Sharon Glessand Hart to Hart, with Stefanie Powers. He also starred in the top-rated miniseries Windmills of the Gods, based on Sidney Sheldon’s best-selling novel; with Joanne Woodward in A Kiss Before Dying; and with Elizabeth Taylor in There Must Be a Pony. He also appeared in the memorable Seinfeld episode, “The Yada, Yada, Yada,” as Dr. Abbot.
Named for the man who has represented some of Hollywood’s finest stars, the Burton Moss Hollywood Golden Era Award pays tribute to film legends who may not have been honored adequately during their lifetimes, and whose names and legacy are in danger of becoming forgotten by newer generations of filmgoers. The award itself, an original work of art,was created by celebrated sculptor Edwina Sandys, who also attended the event, is a granddaughter of Sir Winston Churchill.
Presenting the award to Wagner, Princess Yasmin Aga Khan, who had received the first award on behalf of her mother, Rita Hayworth, said she had devoted her life as a spokesperson for the Alzheimer’s Association, working for a cure, andnoted that among the many programs offered at the Gold Coast Arts Center (programs “from womb to tomb” in art, music, performance) are Making Memories a program that serves those with Alzheimer’s and memory impairment.
Proceeds from the benefit support the Arts Center’s outreach projects including Making Memories, as well as ArtReach, a program that brings Arts Center faculty and programs to underserved schoolchildren and others, to enrich their curriculum with arts education in the areas of ceramics, painting, music, dance, and chess.
The gala kicks off this year’s Gold Coast International Film Festival, taking place November 2 – 13 at various venues in North Hempstead, Long Island. The festival this year features 80 films over 10 days. (Tickets and information at www.goldcoastfilmfestival.org).
Since 2011, the Gold Coast International Film Festival has brought the latest Hollywood hits and Indie favorites to standing-room-only audiences throughout the fabled Gold Coast of Long Island and beyond. Add A-list celebrities and unforgettable events to the mix, and it’s easy to see why the Gold Coast International Film Festival has become the “go to” festival for film buffs and the public; (it is also the last major film festival on the East Coast before Awards season). The Gold Coast International Film Festival is produced by the not-for-profit Gold Coast Arts Center.
The Gold Coast Arts Center is a 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to promoting the arts through education, exhibition, performance, and outreach. Located on the North Shore of Long Island, it has brought the arts to tens of thousands of people throughout the region for over 20 years. Among the Center’s offerings are its School for the Arts, which holds year-round classes in visual and performing arts for students of all ages and abilities; a free public art gallery; a concert and lecture series; film screenings and discussions; the annual Gold Coast International Film Festival; and initiatives that focus on senior citizens and underserved communities. These initiatives include artist residencies, after-school programs, school assemblies, teacher-training workshops, and parent-child workshops. The Gold Coast Arts Center is an affiliate of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts Partners in Education program, and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. More information can be found at www.goldcoastarts.org.
The results are in: Darkest Hour, a new film starring Gary Oldham as Winston Churchill, is the winner of Best Narrative Film at the 7th Annual Gold Coast International Film Festival. Best Documentary award was a tie: Underfire: The Untold Story of PFC Tony Vaccaro, the World War II soldier turned war photographer, who attended the sell-out screening, and the Long Island premiere of Dare to Be Different, about WLIR 92.7, the influential Long Island radio station on the cutting edge of music in the 1980s.
In all, the festival, now in its 7th year, screened more than 80 films from 12 countries – 36 of them Long Island premieres – with Q&As with dozens of visiting artists including directors, producers, and grandchildren of famous film subjects: Winston Churchill’s granddaughter, the artist Edwina Sandys; Frank Sinatra’s granddaughter, AJ Lambert who attended the 60th anniversary screening of the movie musical Pal Joey, and David Ben-Gurion’s grandson, Alon Ben-Gurion, after the screening of an extraordinary documentary based on six-hours of recently uncovered candid conversations with Israel’s founding father.
A record 15 of the screenings were sell-outs; the film-festival drew 4500 audience goers of all ages and backgrounds, from all over Long Island and the metro area – 175 different zipcodes.
“People think film festivals are elitist – but that’s not what we’re about,” said Festival Director Caroline Sorokoff. The festival featured “Free Film Friday,” with presentations of the movie classic “Sergeant York,” starring Gary Cooper; family short films at the Great Neck Library, and film shorts at the Port Washington Library (with a Q&A with Israeli filmmaker Yaniv Segalovich, director of An Average Story, Letiferet, who joined Alexandra Gil, curator of the Gold Coast International Film Festival’s short films; the film won an audience award).
“Hundreds of people took advantage.” And this year, veterans could come to any screening for free, thanks to a grand from GEICO.
The Gold Coast International Film Festival is distinguished by the fascinating events that are organized with the screenings – Q&As with producers, directors, actors, experts and people associated with the films.
Indeed, a highlight of the festival was the Long Island premiere (two weeks before general release) of Darkest Hour, featuring Academy Award nominee Gary Oldman’s brilliant performance as Winston Churchill and the terrifying early days of his appointment as Prime Minister as Hitler’s forces were taking over Europe and threatening an invasion of the British Isles. It was Britain’s darkest hour. And like the movie “Lincoln”, and “Thirteen Days” about John F. Kennedy and the Cuban Missile Crisis, which shows the backstory of a key “moment” in pivotal history, we learn of how he had to overcome intense opposition from political rivals, and the diabolical choice he faced: negotiate with Hitler to save British lives at a terrible cost or rally the nation and fight on against incredible odds. Gary Oldman brilliantly portrays the first dark days of Churchill as Prime Minister. Directed by Joe Wright, the screening at the Soundview Cinemas in Port Washington, featured a Q&A with Churchill’s granddaughter, the artist Edwina Sandys, a young child during this time, who spoke nostalgically and lovingly of her grandfather and grandmother, Clementine.
Underfire: The Untold Story of Pfc. Tony Vaccaro is the remarkable story of WWII infantryman and legendary photographer Tony Vaccaro, who created one of the most comprehensive, haunting and intimate photographic records of the war using a smuggled $47 camera while developing the negatives in his helmet at night. Tony Vaccaro, himself, along with Director Max Lewkowicz and Producer Valerie Thomas participated in a post-screening Q&A session, followed by the opening reception of Tony Vaccaro’s acclaimed, wartime and celebrity photography at the Gold Coast Arts Center Gallery in Great Neck (on view through February).
The Long Island Premiere of Dare to Be Different had three sold-out screenings, and featured a Q&A with Director Ellen Goldfarb and Executive Producer and former WLIR Program Director Denis McNamara, plus a host of other special guests, including artists and DJs featured in the film. It was an event that could only happen on Long Island, where WLIR brought new wave music to America. WLIR helped launch the careers of U2, Talking Heads, Depeche Mode, Blondie, Duran Duran, Tears for Fears, The Clash, and The Cure, among others. Special guests attending the premiere include Larry “The Duck” Dunn, Michael “Eppy” Epstein, Max Leinwand, Steve North, Carol Silva, Donna Donna and “Malibu Sue” McCann.
Ben-Gurion: Epilogue, a stunning documentary compiled from six hours of never-before-seen footage, of newly discovered conversations with Israel’s founding father presents a rare and fortuitous piece of cinematic archeology – it’s as if film was found of candid conversation with George Washington. Watching, you realize you are seeing a work of undeniable historical significance with prophetic implications for Israel’s future. Presented in Partnership with American Friends of Soroka Medical Center to a standing-room-only audience at the Bowtie Cinema in Great Neck, the screening featured an extraordinary Q&A with Ben-Gurion’s grandson, Alon, who spoke personally of time spent with his grandfather.
An extraordinary documentary, Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story, was the first of a new “Science on Screen” series funded by a hard-to-win grant to the Gold Coast Arts Center to better communicate science to a general audience. The documentary finally credits the dazzlingly-beautiful actress as a brilliant inventor responsible for the innovation that made possible secure WiFi, Bluetooth and GPS communications (her intent was to make the Navy’s torpedoes more effective in order to win World War II, but the Navy put the patent away in a drawer until it was rediscovered by another inventor devising military weapons). The Long Island premiere, featured a Q&A (sponsored by Edelman financial Services, LLC) with Director Alexandra Dean, Fleming Meeks, the Forbes journalist who scored amazing interviews with the reclusive actor late in life, and Dr. Christine Metz of the Feinstein Institute and was moderated by Diane Masciale of WNET.
Straight/Curve: Redefining Body Image, Long Island Premiere at the Gold Coast International Film Festival of the documentary examining the industries and obstacles responsible for the body image crisis and showcasing the dynamic leaders fighting for more diversity of size, race and age, featured a Q&A with Director Jenny McQuaile and Producer Yael Melamede and a panel of distinguished experts from Northwell Health: Dr. Gabriella Farkas, Dr. Bonny Patel and Nancy Farber, ND. The Q&A was sponsored by the Katz Institute for women’s Health at Northwell Health.
The 60th anniversary screening of Pal Joey, an Academy Award-winning musical gem, with famous classics by Richard Rogers and Lorenz Hart, celebrating its 60th anniversary this year starring Frank Sinatra, Rita Hayworth, and Kim Novak, featured a Q&A with AJ Lambert, Sinatra’s granddaughter (Nancy’s daughter) and Raj Tawney, a multi-media journalist/producer. Lambert spoke about her warm and loving grandfather.
Supergirl, the story of Naomi Kutin, an Orthodox Jewish pre-teen girl with an extraordinary talent – holding a world record in powerlifting, featured a Q&A with the film’s director, Jessie Auritt and “Supergirl” herself, Naomi Kutin and her family.
The delightful documentary Hummus! The Movie, was followed by “The Great Gold Coast Hummus Taste-Off” at Lola restaurant next door to the BowTie Theater in Great Neck Plaza.
The seventh anniversary of the not-for-profit Gold Coast International Film Festival featured over 80 films and dozens of filmmakers at screenings and events at North Shore venues, including Soundview Cinemas in Port Washington, the Bow Tie Cinemas in Great Neck, Port Washington, Manhasset and Roslyn, and the Gold Coast Arts Center in Great Neck.
Films presented this year showcased major Hollywood actors, include Gary Oldman, Kristin Scott Thomas, Patricia Arquette, Burt Reynolds, Isabelle Huppert, Rainn Wilson, Bill Nye, Rosemarie DeWitt, Imogen Poots, and Shahab Hosseini, star of the 2016 Oscar-winning film, The Salesman, which premiered at last year’s festival, featured in the East Coast premiere of the Iranian film Gholam this year.
This year’s festival included more than 40 premieres, including French movie-star Isabelle Huppert’s new film Souvenir; Burt Reynold’s new film Dog Years; Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story; Yellow Birds, starring Jennifer Aniston, Toni Collette, Alden Ehrenreich and Tye Sheridan, and the timely Bill Nye: Science Guy. Award-winning feature films from the world’s most prestigious festivals (Cannes, Toronto, Sundance, Tribeca, Hamptons) were screened, along with dozens of excellent short films.
The festival featured films from 12 different countries – most that you cannot otherwise get to see – including 1945, from Hungary about a remote Hungarian town preparing for the wedding of the village magistrate’s son, when two Orthodox Jews arrive at the village train station with two coffin-shaped wooden crates, supposedly filled with soaps and perfumes. Is this a harbinger of the return of more Jews? Led by the boorish village magistrate, the townspeople fear that these strangers may be heirs of the village’s denounced and deported Jewish neighbors and have come to claim their family’s stolen property. Paranoia runs rampant, leading to tragic events and a potent, unexpected ending. “While there have been many films about the Holocaust, there are few about its immediate aftermath, when greed and material gain from the Jewish peoples’ demise was pervasive. Director Ferenc Török cleverly captures this often overlooked moment in history where one town’s actions become a metaphor for the moral decay of the whole country. Shot in elegant black and white with an eye for exquisite composition and a minimal evocative score, 1945 is a subtle and nuanced study in the collective guilt and enduring anti-Semitism of postwar Hungary,” wrote Jay Rosenblatt, San Francisco Jewish Film.
The Long Island premiere of The Insult, provided a rare look at modern-day Lebanon. The intelligent, rivetting and politically charged drama focuses on how a minor disagreement between a Christian Phalanges Party supporter and a Palestinian construction foreman sparks an unforgivable insult, which ignites a confrontation of national importance. Celebrity lawyers, TV news, and political leaders get involved in a trial that rips open raw memories of Lebanon’s violent past
Paris Opera, from France, provided a fascinating, candid behind-the-scenes view of a season at the Paris Opera, following the array of personnel – management, performers, costumers, cleaning crew – even choreographer Benjamin Millepied – who work night after night to bring breathtaking spectacle to this legendary setting.
The New York premiere of Back to Burgundy, from France, is a story of wine, family, family business, and more wine is set amid the gorgeous backdrop of Burgundy, and told with an assured mix of drama and humor. Jean, who had left his childhood home more than ten years ago, returns after his father’s death to reconcile the future of the business with his brother and sister.
This year, GCIFF again presented the work of talented young filmmakers in grades K-12 in its Young Filmmakers Program, presented in partnership with Hofstra University, a festival sponsor.
The festival finished on Wednesday November 15 with a Closing Awards Lunch at the cafe at Neiman Marcus Garden City (in Roosevelt Field). Neiman Marcus was a major sponsor of the film festival. The lunch also launched the Neiman Marcus ”Love to Give” Collection, where 10% of the proceeds from the sale of the ”Love to Give” items goes back to the Gold Coast Arts Center, based in Great Neck, Long Island, which organizes the annual Gold Coast International Film Festival.
For the past 110 years since Neiman Marcus’ founding, said Doris Wilshere, Vice President and General Manager, supporting the arts has been a priority. “It has been of particular interest to the founders. That’s why our partnership with the film festival is important to us. It’s the one budget we are encouraged to spend every $1 of, every year.”
In addition to Neiman Marcus Garden City, sponsors and partners of this year’s Gold Coast International Film Festival included: founding partners, the Town of North Hempstead and Douglas Elliman Real Estate; major partners, Hofstra University and the Nassau County Industrial Development Agency; GEICO; Deluxe Entertainment Services Group; AARP Long Island; A.L. Sarroff Fund; Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP; The Katz Institute for Women’s Health at Northwell Health; St. Mary’s Kids; Jet Blue; Biener Audi; LVR Rental; The Inn at Great Neck; The Andrew Hotel; WLIW21; Altice; New York Women in Film & Television; Anton Publications; Blank Slate Media; LI Pulse; Edelman Financial Services, LLC; and LOLA of Great Neck.
The Gold Coast International Film Festival is produced by the Gold Coast Arts Center, a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization dedicated to promoting and supporting the arts through education, exhibition, performance and outreach. Gold Coast Arts Center, 113 Middle Neck Road, Great Neck, NY 11021, 516-829-2570, www.goldcoastarts.org.
Unlike Ema Ryan Yamazaki, the director of the new documentary “Monkey Business: The Adventures of Curious George’s Creators,” who became enchanted with Curious George as a child in Japan, I only became a fan of that impish monkey whose curiosity always gets him into trouble, when I saw an exhibit at the Jewish Museum in New York City that showed how his adventures actually mirrored the real-life adventures of its creators, the artist Hans Rey and his wife Margret, who made a harrowing escape from the Holocaust by bicycle, just steps ahead of the Nazi invasion.
Yamazaki’s documentary engagingly and cleverly incorporates animation that blends seamlessly into Rey’s own drawings along with traditional documentary techniques – newsreels, artifacts, interviews – to tell their story, which is on one level, a story about their devoted relationship and the creative process but also one of survival.
Newsreels show the context of Hans and Margret’s lives as German Jews born to upper middle class families in Germany, how dire and entrenched the economic depression became after World War I, a war that Hans, still a teenager, was recruited into as a medic. But most chilling were the images of the rise of Nazism in Germany as a response to rampant desperation, the bombing of Paris, the tanks rolling into the city, the storming of Nazi soldiers, and the long lines of people desperately trying to leave.
The film uses an animated images of the couple fleeing Paris on the bicycles that Hans built out of spare parts (because none were available), and traces their harrowing journey to get to a train, then a port in order to flee to Portugal, a neutral country, and ultimately the United States. You see them passing by the Statue of Liberty, and their words (from interviews) of reaction: that they were finally free, in a country where everything is possible, the Land of Opportunity.
Without being preachy or hitting you over the head, the scenes are chilling echoes of what is happening today, with the greatest flight of refugees from genocide, terrorism, violence, economic deprivation, and famine since World War II.
And yet, the scenes are done without horror and brutality; instead, there is emphasis on the strangers they would call upon to give them a place to sleep and food to eat on their journey.
During the Reys’ flight, they were able to carry out only what they could fit into a bicycle basket, but they brought out the completed manuscript of the first “Curious George” book ( the character was named Fifi then) and they had the check for an advance for future books, which financed their journey.
In one scene, recreated in animation, they are stopped by thuggish police who go through their possessions, then, coming upon the book with the adorable monkey, they soften and let them pass through.
Curious George saves their lives.
And the character gave them new life in the United States.
They contact a sister who lives in Long Island who knows a book editor who turns out to be a refugee from Europe, as well, who knows their work, and immediately contracts for four books, with an advance of just $1000 (probably the best deal Houghton-Mifflin ever made).
The movie is absolutely charming and frank in describing the two different personalities, from interviews with the children, now Baby Boomer senior citizens themselves, who knew them from Waterville Valley, New Hampshire, where the couple spent summers.
An interesting note: the 1950s, we are reminded, was a period of intense anti-Semitism in the United States and Waterville Valley was not exactly welcoming to the German Jewish couple. But because of the children, who played and swam with Hans (he would play turtle with them) and watched Hans draw his character and were completely enchanted by him (Margret was described kindly as standoffish and severe, “to put it kindly”), the parents warmed up as well.
We get to know them – Margret as an independent minded, nontraditional, no-nonsense woman who was a calculating businessperson (she launched herself in advertising), who wrote the text for the books and was the “curious” one; and Hans, the “mischievous” one, who was good-humored, easy-going, and loved being with the children. He was the one who would feed squirrels (digging a tunnel so they could reach his house without crossing a road), who built a bird-feeder that the squirrels couldn’t get to and a squirrel-feeder the birds couldn’t get to. At one point, Lay Lee Ong, library executor of the Rey Estate, notes that their relationship was not based on love, and yet, they completed each other and were devoted to each other and indeed, the sum of the duo was greatly more than each one alone.
As Margret says, Curious George’s curiosity gets him into trouble, but his ingenuity gets him out of it.
Anyone who grew up loving Curious George, loves the process of making art and creating children’s books, would be fascinated, but it is also a study in relationships and a genuine drama, an adventure that resonates so strongly today.
Monkey Business is narrated by Sam Waterston (“Grace and Frankie,” “The Newsroom,” “Law And Order,” whose sister was one of the Reys’ neighbors in Waterville Valley) and is the directorial debut of filmmakerEma Ryan Yamazaki, and animated by Jacob Kafka.
At the screening as part of the ongoing Gold Coast Arts Center’s International Film Festival at the BowTie movie theater in Great Neck, Long Island, discussed the film in a Q&A.
Kafka, the son of a rabbi and a seismologist who has been making movies since he was five years old, in addition to making animated short films, developed the animation software for ROUGHANIMATOR for mobile devices which has been used by animators worldwide, was for a full year the only full-time animator.
Indeed, one of the most impressive aspects of the film biography is the animation, so novel for a documentary, but so appropriate for telling the Reys’ story. It is remarkable how Kafka was able to reproduce Hans Rey’s own style so seamlessly, literally animating Hans’ drawings.
“I tried as best I could to copy his style.” Indeed, the still characters take on movement and life because of his animation.
He said that the film utilizes some 15,000 individual drawings – each one hand-drawn (rather than computer-animated) – averaging 10 per second of film. Hans Rey would typically insert Margret and himself into the drawing, so he based his images of them on Hans’ own depictions.
“Each is hand-drawn, frame by frame. We ultimately had a team of 8-9 people – but only two were full time, and for the first year, it was just me. The background designer drew anything that doesn’t move; anything that moves, I drew. After a kickstarter campaign last year, we were able to bring on other animators.”
It was decided early on to use animation in the documentary because there was very little actual footage of the Reys. Though they did many television interviews in the 1960s and 1970s, at that time, nothing was saved.
Among the interesting elements that were discovered, was overturning the myth (which Hans enjoyed perpetuating) that while Hans was in Brazil, working for his brother-in-law’s import/export business, that he went up and down the Amazon River selling bathtubs. Though Hans traveled on the Amazon to see the jungle life (capturing images of monkeys, no doubt that figured into his Curious George creation), it wasn’t to sell bathtubs which would be absurd. That was a common truth that Hans indulged, and appears in many biographies, but was completely untrue, Kafka said, but only discovered well into making the film (there are scenes of Hans selling bathtubs to the tribal people along the Amazon).
But what they never uncovered was the origin of the character of the Man in the Yellow Hat.
Production on the documentary began three years ago and was finished in January. Asked whether the current refugee crisis figured into the making, he said it was coincidental timing, but became more and more relevant, especially because of director Ema Ryan Yamazaki, who grew up in Japan, had her own immigrant experience.
Lay Lee Ong, library executor of the Rey Estate, has been successful in keeping alive and reviving Curious George – with movies, PBS, and a new generation of artists carrying on the tradition.
“Monkey Business: The Adventures of Curious George’s Creators,” which had its Los Angeles premiere in June and has been making rounds of film festivals (has been an official selection of the Los Angeles Film Festival, Nantucket Film Festival, and Rooftop Film Series before coming to the 2017 Summer Gold Coast Cinema Series), will be available online and on demand August 15 on iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, Comcast, TWC and others (see curiousgeorgedocumentary.com).
The 7th Annual Gold Coast International Film Festival will take place November 7-14, 2017 at venues across the town of North Hempstead, on Long Island’s fabled North Shore. (goldcoastfilmfestival.org).