The critic

Howard Rosenberg

Photo By David Robert

Howard Rosenberg, a film critic and University of Nevada, Reno art professor, helped organize Reno’s first Jewish Film Festival, which debuts Feb. 18 at the Nevada Museum of Art. Rosenberg, 72, will give an opening lecture at 12:30 p.m., followed by the films between 2:30 and 5 p.m. Admission is $5-$10. Call 828-4933 for more information.

Tell me about the festival.

What’s presently planned is a group of four films with a break in between for a reception. There’ll be time for question and answers between me and possibly the rabbi, which will be good. My name is Rosenberg. I’m Jewish, but that was an accident of birth. I had no choice in the matter. I’m pretty happy with that, but I approach things from a different standpoint, not the religious standpoint. The rabbi will approach it from the religious standpoint.

One film is called Shalom Ya’ll, and there’s one called Advise and Dissent, which is also a comedy. Then there’s one that’s really a sock in the stomach. It’s about half an hour, which is So We Said Goodbye. It’s a holocaust thing, which is pretty rough. Then there’s Second Watch, which I haven’t seen, so I don’t know what it’s about. We’ll end it with a 21-minute piece called West Bank Story, which is an Academy Award nominee this year for short film.

Are there common elements particular to Jewish culture that come out by grouping these films together?

I don’t know. The thing is, Jewish culture is a very strange term. Israeli culture is different from Jewish culture, and I think it’s important to recognize that. When my grandparents came from the old country, they left something that was no longer good and came to something they hoped would be better. The most important thing for them was to assimilate with what would be better. Today, one of the things a lot of us have difficulty recognizing is that new immigrants aren’t running away from things the way we were back then. They’re looking for a better life, but they’re not running away from things. Jewish culture is not about being Jewish but about being Jewish within the particular cultural milieu of which you’re a part of. … I think Jewish culture stresses kindness to the individual … discourse is very important in a Jewish household. I’m saying arguing is very good in a Jewish household; screaming is very good in a Jewish household. … But then they’d kiss and say, “See you next week.”

How did the idea for the festival come about?

Judy Herman, we’d been talking about it. But the press of everyday life for me is really rough. Judy said, “Well, I’m going to pull this together.” All I have to do is appear and be pretty, which is not going to be the easiest thing in the world.

None of the films are rated, but the festival is for people 16 and older. What will the content be like?

So We Said Goodbye is a sock in the stomach. It shows the death camps, and for little kids, I’m not sure they need to see that. When you’re 16 and older, you can see it and not have nightmares about it but try to understand why it happened. … Ethnic cleansing is still going on, and it’s been going on for a long time. Yes, the holocaust is an important thing. But we said at the end of World War II that we’d never let that happen again. But where are we in Africa? And not just the government, but where are the Jewish people? It’s a question I ask myself.

Could you tell me more about what these films are about?

I can’t tell you. I can’t tell you. These are short films. If I tell you anything, I’ll give it all away. Just say, “The critic Howard Rosenberg doesn’t want to give anything away.” But these are good films.