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REVIEW: CowJews and Indians: How Hitler Scared My Relatives and I Woke Up in an Iroquois Longhouse-Owing the Mohawks Rent

Just what is the Toronto Jewish Film Festival opening night documentary all about?

By: Anthony Marcusa
Published: April 25th, 2013 in Culture » Film » Reviews
Cowjews and Indians

The lengthy title of this opening night movie of the Toronto Jewish Film Festival still doesn’t come close to explaining just what is going on in this fascinating documentary. In fact, chances are you are mightily confused.

Mark Halberstadt will explain it all, however. Before doing so though, he adds another bizarre note. There is Mark, on the ground of a department store in Germany, about to be dragged out the door by security. The owners called the cops, and when Mark refused to leave peacefully, he was ‘escorted’ out, begrudgingly pulled through and left outside. There is of course good reason he was there and wouldn’t leave – the building is his home.

Rather, it once was. The residents have changed over the years, but at one point Halberstadt’s descendents, who were cattle workers (from whence the term, ‘cowjew’ comes), occupied the site and were forced to leave.

His quest is a curious one, and his aim is true. In his idealistic, and well, completely impractical journey to get his family’s home back that was lost to the Nazis, and obtain the 65-or-so-years of rent from the Germans, Halberstadt is addressing a much larger and serious issue, that of displacement and resettlement.

So, while he shares his lofty ideas with the audience, Halberstadt still becomes representative of the plight of so many others. He is not looking to compromise, and perhaps his ideas, taken to their most extreme ends, will be so outrageous that people can’t help but to listen and acknowledge. Accepting the notion that he has been displaced by the Germans, and that the Native Americans were displaced by his (and other’s) resettlement, Halberstadt has a curious thought. Quixotic as he is, he argues matter-of-factly that the Germans should simply pay rent directly to the Native Americans.

His journey then sees him recruiting colleagues, specifically natives of Mohawk and Lakota heritage, who initially are as equally dubious as the viewer, if not more so. Taking care of expenses, Halberstadt guides his entourage to Germany to demand reparations.

Prideful and overtly metaphoric, the film’s message rightly compensates for Mark’s mediocre documentary filmmaking skills, which at times feels like a home movie, as this is admittedly his first feature foray. His is so earnest, and so stubborn, and so determined, however, that you can’t helped but be swayed by his goal. In that regard, he has a bit of Michael Moore in him, theatrical to a point of absurdity, but with a hope that seems so simple to execute and one that is, most importantly, the right thing to do.

His second of a pair of seemingly unprecedented ideas comes later in the film, a notion he foreshadows throughout before his final dramatic reveal. He takes his time though, reveling in his verbose, at times esoteric tales while embracing his folksy ‘who, me?’ attitude. He is genial, yet subversive and sarcastic.

Halberstadt may not actually succeed in his goal in its totality, though his trip to Germany gains some notable attention, good and bad. He does, however, stir up an important conversation that can be provocative and powerful, and offers one of the more fascinating films that played during the Toronto Jewish Film Festival.

For more info,visit www.tjff.com or www.cowjewsandindians.com/

Related articles: Cowjews and Indians, Toronto Jewish Film Festival, Mark Halberstadt, Germany, Nazi, Holocaust, Review, Documentary
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