Theodore Bikel: In The Shoes of Sholom Aleichem
Portraits of two beloved icons--Sholom Aleichem and Theodore Bikel--are woven together in this enchanting new documentary. The two men have much in common: wit, wisdom and talent, all shot through with deep humanity and Yiddishkeit.
Theodore Bikel, the unstoppable performer whose career spans more than 150 screen roles (including an Oscar-nominated turn in The Defiant Ones) and countless stage and musical productions, is also the foremost interpreter of Sholom Aleichem's work. Now 90, Bikel has played Tevye the Milkman on stage more than 2,000 times, and he has animated Aleichem's work through his creation of two celebrated musical plays about the great Russian author.
The new film Theodore Bikel: In the Shoes of Sholom Aleichem combines Bikel's charismatic storytelling and masterful performances with a broader exploration of Aleichem's remarkable life and work.
A pioneer of modern Jewish literature who championed and luxuriated in the Yiddish language, Sholom Aleichem created dozens of indelible characters. His Tevye the Milkman, Motl the Cantor's Son, and Menachem Mendl--"shtetl Jews" for whom humor and pathos were two sides of the same Yiddish coin--remain invaluable windows into pre-war Eastern European Jewish life, real and imagined.
"Critics Pick" - Australia Jewish News
"The grandest event...must-see" -San Jose Mercury News
"Bikel accentuates the positive...a festival highlight" -San Francisco Chronicle
"Performance-packed doc destined to have a long life" -KQED
"A moving and thoroughly entertaining portrait...had audience members laughing and clapping after every precious Bikel performance. It was truly a memorable highlight of the festival." -Jay Rosenblatt, Program Director, San Francisco JFF
SFJFF Festival Highlight Critics Pick:
San Francisco Chronicle, KQED, San Jose Mercury News, Culture Vulture, Indieplex
San Francisco Jewish Film Festival 2014
Interview with prx radio
Click on this sentence to hear the wonderful interview.
"Where to begin when talking to the wonder that is Theodore Bikel? He’s been arrested protesting the treatment of Soviet Jewery, and protesting for civil rights in the American south. He originated the role of Captain Von Trapp on Broadway in The Sound of Music, recorded the best-selling Yiddish folk albums of all time, was a delegate to the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, was nominated for an Oscar™ for playing a southern sheriff in THE DEFIANT ONES, is part of the mythology of Star Trek, and has played the part of Tevye more than any other actor ever (over 2000 performances). He also fled Austria for Palestine as the Nazis came to power, and in 2007 became the president of the Board of Partners for Progressive Israel.It would, obviously, take several hours, if not several days, to hear even a fraction of the marvelous stories and insights that this superb and erudite raconteur has to offer.
As we met in the lobby of the Four Seasons in San Francisco, with the attendant background noise, I made do with asking about his current project, THEODORE BIKEL: IN THE SHOES OF SHOLOM ALEICHEM, the cinematic version of his one-man play about the beloved Yiddish author who created the character of Tevye. This became a discussion about the nature of art, and why a character written about and for a particular group at a particular time has become universal.
That was just the beginning.
We moved on to his friendships with Sholom Aleichem’s granddaughter, author Belle Kaufman, and how his friendship with another woman of note, Dr. Ruth Westheimer let him to John Lollos, the director of SHOES. In a more philosophical mood, he talked of the role of the artist in society, the responsibilities beyond those of entertaining an audience. I asked him about being invited by the Austrian government to perform for the 75th anniversary of Kristalnacht, the event that had caused him and his family to leave Austria, the importance of singing a song in the face of sadness, and his current take on the ongoing unrest in the Middle East.
Humane,warm, intelligent, and most of all deeply committed to the dignity and worth of every human being, Mr. Bikel was and is everything I had hoped he would be. And more. His musings that ended our conversation are a profound benediction and prayer for peace."