AJFF Recommends: What to Watch, Films About Dance

05/4/2020

Ballet, ballroom, tap, and more forms of dance take center stage in this mix of narratives and documentaries. Film titles are linked with information on where to watch.

A.K.A Nadia
An Israeli woman living under false pretenses is haunted by her past in this drama, a powerful meditation on the personal and political nature of identity. Born into a Palestinian family, the naïve and love-struck Nadia severs ties to her Jerusalem home life, and follows a PLO activist (Ali Suliman) to London where they secretly marry. When her husband is arrested, Nadia finds herself alone and in exile, with no option of returning to Israel where she is viewed as a terrorist. Flash forward twenty years, Nadia has forged a new identity as Maya, an Israeli Jew who by all appearances enjoys a successful life as a choreographer, devoted mother, and wife to a high-ranking Ministry of Justice official (Oded Leopold). But the resurfacing of a figure from her past threatens to unravel both her family and her own sense of self. Featured at the 2017 AJFF.

Dancing in Jaffa
After decades abroad, world champion ballroom dancer Pierre Dulaine returns to his birthplace of Jaffa, a deeply divided society simmering with intractable ethnic and religious animosity. There, he dedicates himself to teaching ballroom dancing to grade-schoolers not only to build self-esteem, but to confront the more difficult issues of prejudice and political violence. This proves to be a far greater challenge than he imagined. Over the course of four months, the debonair Dulaine works tirelessly to challenge the entrenched beliefs of parents and teachers, while inspiring the reluctant boys and girls to overcome their own shyness and cultural fears. As they rehearse for a citywide competition, historical archenemies find commonality through shared applause, and an innocent but radical idea takes on much larger significance. Featured at the 2014 AJFF.

Dirty Dancing
A naïve Jewish teenager learns about life, love and dancing while summering with her family in the Catskills circa 1963 in this pop landmark starring Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey. Frances “Baby” Houseman is bored with the rituals of the mountain resort, until she falls for the hotel’s dreamy dance instructor, Johnny Castle. A mismatched romance ensues over the objections of the girl’s father (Jerry Orbach), culminating in a breathtaking dance finale. Featured as a classic for its 25th Anniversary at the 2012 AJFF.

My Dad Baryshnikov
A ballet-obsessed adolescent dreams of performing at the Bolshoi Theatre amidst Russian political and social upheaval in this coming-of-age comedy set during the Perestroika era. Clumsy, scrawny, Jewish, and something of an outsider, 14-year-old Boris Fishkin is neglected by his mother (Anna Mikhalkova), pampered by his grandparents (Ilya Rutberg and Marina Politseimako) and prone to any influence. Struggling to master ballet at a Moscow performing arts academy, his skills improve after he obsessively studies a banned VHS tape of the 1985 film White Nights starring dissident Mikhail Baryshnikov. Equally out of childish fantasy and a desire to impress, Boris begins to convince classmates that he is Baryshnikov’s illegitimate son. Using sharp dialogue, well-observed situational comedy and a killer soundtrack, writer-director Dmitry Povolotsky’s semi-autobiographical film is an endearing crowd-pleaser. Featured at the 2012 AJFF.

Sammy Davis, Jr.: I’ve Gotta Be Me
A rousing tribute to the iconic song-and-dance man in all his complexities and contradictions, this documentary, Opening Night of the 2018 AJFF, remembers the chameleon entertainer who blazed a trail across the shifting tides and flashpoints of 20th century America. Dazzling audiences since he was a child, Harlem-born Davis was a dancer, singer, vaudevillian, impressionist and actor of jaw-dropping artistry and unparalleled charisma. Entering showbiz at a time of racial tension and social upheaval, he found himself frequently courting controversy even while breaking barriers, caught between the bigotry of ‘50s and ‘60s white America, and an ambivalence about his own black identity. His conversion to Judaism in 1954 after a serious car accident yoked his persona to another persecuted minority. Emmy and Peabody Award-winning filmmaker Sam Pollard captures the nimble talent and high-wire-act tension that typified the performer’s life, utilizing electrifying performance excepts, never-before-seen photographs, and star-studded interviews including Billy Crystal, Norman Lear, Jerry Lewis, Whoopi Goldberg, Quincy Jones and Kim Novak.