Saturday, February 6, 2010

AMERICAN RADICAL: The Trials of Norman Finkelstein; Ridgen/Rossier's doc debuts

If, like TrustMovies, you couldn't get enough of the Norman Finkelstein seen in Defamation, the recent inquiry into anti-semitism by Yoav Shamir, you'll want to pop over to Anthology Film Archives to view a new documentary entitled AMERICAN RADICAL: THE TRIALS OF NORMAN FINKELSTEIN to learn more about this pained and painful, intelligent and feeling, tireless and tiring proselytizer of the uses of The Holocaust, Israel's abuse of the Palestinians, and what it means to be Jewish.

I love this guy, pictured above. I love how he argues, keeping to the point at hand and not letting an opponent (as we observe in the film) sneak in a reference to the late, lamented reporter Daniel Pearl in order to cloud up the argument with sentiment and anti-Semitism. I love how he's managed to handle his own intense history as the son of Holocaust survivors (a father who never talked and a mother who wouldn't shut up) for whom that event set in stone the rest of their lives. I love how he tries very hard to explain this and then waves us (and the filmmakers) away when he's suddenly overcome with emotion. I love how he has dedicated his life to what he perceives as the truth.  But I don't love that this has cost him one job after another, culminating in the loss of deserved tenure and consequently his job at De Paul University.

Award-winning filmmakers  -- David Ridgen (above, left) and Nicolas Rossier (above, right) -- have brought together the man, his words and his deeds, into one 84-minute film that captures his aggressiveness as well as his warmth, and should leave you with greater understanding and respect for this difficult (even one of his best friends worries that he's self-destructive) fellow.

Beginning with a prime joke that I had not heard (and that of course will be taken as anti-Semetic), the filmmakers see to it that we're off and running.  We get the history of the man (Norman's mom took the lesson's of The Holocaust in a "different direction," notes one interviewee); hear from Finkelstein's fans (Noam Chomsky) as well as his detractors (Alan Dershowitz, shown above, right); and then see the man during a lecture tour of Canada (below).

Especially prominent is a scene in which a young woman begins to cry because she feels Finkelstein demeans Jews and the Holocaust.  "Those are crocodile tears," he tells her without a trace of sympathy.  "I don't like playing the Holocaust card, but now I must. All my relatives on both sides of my family were killed and both my parents were in concentration camps and in the Warsaw Ghetto.  I will not have their suffering used to excuse Israel's attack on Palestinians.  If you had any heart, you would be shedding those tears for the Palestinians."

Notes Dershowitz: "The man's only Jewish on his parents' side."  Does Finkelstein (shown above during one of his early cam-
paigns) go beyond being merely criticial of Israel?  "OK," he says at one point, "let's assume that my being anti-Semitic is true?  How does this affect the truth of what I am saying?  If Albert Einstein had deep identity problems, does this mean his theories were not true?"  At the Univiersity of Western Ontario, he is warned about possible violence from an unruly crowd but speaks to them anyway.  And they listen. "Why don't you bring up Palestinian terrorists?" he is asked by one audience member.  "Why you don't bring up Israel's President?" he responds, "He is the biggest terrorist of them all."

Against his own book The Holocaust Industry, another is published called The Finkelstein Industry, in which he is accused of profiting from the Holocaust.  "Losing my job is profiting?" he asks. On a tangent for a moment, he speaks of the song "I Will Survive," and what it meant to his mother (that's the point at which he waves us and the camera away).  Then comes the De Paul scandal, and finally a trip to the mideast (above) that he is warned against making. Suddenly banned from visiting Israel for several years, he instead goes to surrounding areas where he meets, greets and speaks.  To hear, at the close of the film, young Palestinians talking about their experience with the man and what they've gained, is somewhat heartening.  "I learned that we don't have to use terrorism, but we can use diplomacy," one fellow says.  (Let's hope that the latter will eventually work.)  Then he adds, "And I learned that not all Jews are the same."  Hey, it's a start.

American Radical: The Trials of Norman Finkelstein plays at AFA from Thursday, February 11, through Wednesday, February 17, daily at 7 and 9pm, with an additional 5pm screenings Saturday and Sunday. (Click here for more information.)  If you live outside New York, click here for information on additional screenings around the country.

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