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First Person Jewish

2008
Author:

Alisa S. Lebow

First Person Jewish

An innovative examination of the interrelation between first person filmmaking and collective identity

Alisa S. Lebow examines films from Jewish artists to reveal how the postmodern impulse to turn the lens inward intersects provocatively (and at times unwittingly) with historical tropes and stereotypes of the Jew. Using a multidisciplinary approach Lebow shows how this form of self-expression is challenging both autobiography and documentary and, in the process, changing the art of cinema and recording the cultural shifts of our time.

First Person Jewish is a remarkable work—wide ranging in scope and detailed in its attention to the complexities of Jewish self-representation in film. I cannot think of a comparable study.

Judith Mayne, author of Claire Denis

Documentaries have increasingly used the first person, with a number of prominent filmmakers finding critical and commercial success with this intimate approach. Jewish filmmakers have particularly thrived in this genre, using it to explore disparate definitions of the self in relation to the larger groups of family and community.

In First Person Jewish, Alisa S. Lebow examines more than a dozen films from Jewish artists to reveal how the postmodern impulse to turn the lens inward intersects provocatively (and at times unwittingly) with historical tropes and stereotypes of the Jew. Focusing her efforts on Jewish filmmakers working on the margins, Lebow analyzes the work of Jonathan Caouette, Chantal Akerman, and Alan Berliner, among others, also including a discussion of her own first person film Treyf (1998), made with Cynthia Madansky. The filmmakers in this study, Lebow argues, are confronting a desire to both define and reimagine contemporary Jewishness.

Using a multidisciplinary approach to first person films, Lebow shows how this form of self-expression is challenging both autobiography and documentary and, in the process, changing the art of cinema and recording the cultural shifts of our time.

First Person Jewish

Alisa S. Lebow is lecturer in film and TV studies in the School of Arts at Brunel University. She is also a filmmaker, whose films include For the Record: The World Tribunal on Iraq (2007), Treyf (1998), and Outlaw (1994).

First Person Jewish

First Person Jewish is a remarkable work—wide ranging in scope and detailed in its attention to the complexities of Jewish self-representation in film. I cannot think of a comparable study.

Judith Mayne, author of Claire Denis

Opens new ground in Jewish studies and adds Jewishness as a serious category for discussion in recent film and video scholarship.

Laura Levitt, director of Jewish studies, Temple University

The great value of Lebow’s book lies in the excavation of autobiography as a plural form which evokes interesting tensions in its intersection with a public form like documentary. When these tensions collide with Jewish identity, history and memory, the result is a material force that seeks recognition as a powerful archival constellation.

Screen

Lebow’s book is a fascinating and important contribution to documentary film studies. It feels at times like a sumptuous feast (of ideas) – not all the dishes might be to all her guests’ liking and some delicacies might even be a little undercooked – but it is a treat and a privilege to take part in her party all the same.

Intellect Journal