History, laughs mingle at Jewish film fest

Last modified: 4/4/2014 12:12:37 AM
For comedian Steve Calechman, doing a set after a film depicting the life story and comic stylings of David Steinberg, director of shows like Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm, leaves him with only one sentiment:

“Let me just say one thing: David Steinberg should be opening for me. It is appropriate,” said Calechman, tongue firmly in cheek.

Calechman, who spent his childhood going to Jewish summer camps in New Hampshire, will perform a 20-minute stand-up set at the wrap party for this year’s New Hampshire Jewish Film Festival on Sunday at Concord’s Red River Theatres. His set will follow a screening of Quality Balls: The David Steinberg Story.

The film is one of nine shown at this years’ festival, which ends this weekend. Screenings have been held throughout the state including Concord, Keene, Manchester and Portsmouth.

“Most of our films are New Hampshire premiere films,” said Linda Gerson, one of the festival coordinators. “We had more programming than we’ve ever had before. We’ve had speakers, we’ve had authors. We know that it enhances the film watching experience.

“(Having Calechman perform), we just thought that would be a fun thing for the wrap party.”

Quality Balls starts with Steinberg’s birth in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and follows him on his journey from yeshiva in Chicago to abandoning his studies to join Chicago’s Second City. Though known more for his work behind the camera, Steinberg influenced the likes of Martin Short, John Candy, John Belushi and many others.

The film also takes a look at Steinberg’s stand-up career, which started when he was 21, his eventual move to behind the camera and his eventual, late-career return to stand-up.

“Hopefully the (film) primes you a little bit for stand-up,” Calechman said. “You see the stand-up in it, and then you see another devastatingly handsome Jewish comedian telling jokes in person. . . . It’s like watching the Food Network and then going to get something to eat.”

While Calechman said this is a somewhat unusual venue, he’s no stranger to the concept, having performed at the Boston Jewish Film Festival.

He said he doesn’t really do anything special to his set for these festivals, although he does feel it allows him to add some jokes that Jewish people might relate to.

“It is a Jewish film festival, so there’ll be two or three Jews in the crowd,” he said. “Although, it’s New Hampshire, so I don’t know. Can I bring them in? I don’t know what the laws are if you cross state lines with Jews. So I’m assuming there will be a few Jews so I can add a little more Jewish material in there.”

As with any show, he said, some material comes from listening to the crowd and getting a feel for what they like.

“I could go in there with what I’m going to do, and the show can end up completely different,” he said. “It’s a live show, that’s the fun of it.”

Gerson said they try to have a good balance of films for the festival. So while the weekend will end on a fun note with Quality Balls, other films are meant to inspire and move.

Lost Town will play tonight at 7. The film documents how the Nazis murdered all but 33 of the 5,000 Jewish residents of Trochenbrod, Ukraine. Historian Avrom Bendavid-Val, author of The Heavens are Empty and expert on the “Lost Town” will participate in a Q&A after the film tonight at Red River.

Aftermath will be screened Saturday at 8 in Concord. The film is a Holocaust drama set in postwar Poland. It tells the story of a man who returns to Poland from the United States. after his father’s death. He and his brother unearth a secret and must come to terms with the legacy of their family, their hometown and their nation’s history.

The film Zaytoun will be screened Sunday at 1 p.m. and is an adventure thriller about an unexpected friendship between a Palestinian refugee and an Israeli fighter pilot.

Admission for Quality Balls is $12.50 and includes a wrap party, where refreshments will be served. Admission to the other films is $10. The films will be screened at Red River Theatres, located at 11 S. Main St. in Concord. For information, call 224-4600 or visit redriver

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