Arts and Culture | Local

New adventure brings director back to local Jewish film fest

A scene from “My Hero Brother,” a new film by Israeli filmmaker Yonatan Nir

Yonatan Nir, an Israeli documentary filmmaker and producer, says making movies is an education unto itself.

“Every film that I make is a window to a new world,” says Nir. “For me, the camera is a way to communicate, to learn more about the world and to experience it in a more intense way.”

His latest production, “My Hero Brother,” follows a group of young adults living with Down syndrome who take on the daunting task of hiking the Himalaya Mountains in northern India with their siblings. Nir told the AJP spending time with people who are so openly affectionate, and live with such childlike wonder, is very affecting.

“I think there is something very special that happens to you when you spend time with people with Down syndrome,” says Nir. “Because these people are very open, they have no filters, they show so much love and compassion [for] others and they live in the moment.”

Nir’s documentary will be one of more than 20 independent films featured at the 26th annual Tucson International Jewish Film Festival, which runs from Jan. 12 to 22. The 11-day event will kick off with a screening of “The Price of Sugar” at The Loft Cinema, 3233 E. Speedway Blvd. All films after opening night will be screened at the Tucson Jewish Community Center’s main ballroom.

Nir looks forward to returning to Tucson to present his film and touring the States. In 2012, his award-winning film “Dolphin Boy,” a documentary about a man who rehabilitates from a savage attack by swimming with dolphins at Dolphin Reef Eilat, was featured at the TIJFF.

The “My Hero Brother” project was founded by Enosh Cassel and Itamar Peleg in 2011. Cassel took his brother, Hannan, who has Down syndrome, on a hiking trip through the Himalayas in Nepal, documenting their three-week personal journey. When they returned to Israel, Cassel’s footage was featured in a news story on Channel 2, which sparked national interest especially from siblings of people with special needs. After a year of fundraising, the organization took their first guided tour with Nir by their side.

He’s excited to see how American moviegoers respond to the film.

“[The film is] about relationships between human beings, it’s about relationships between brothers, it’s about trying to get out of your comfort zone in order to see the world and to experience it,” Nir says. “And to experience something difficult, but also very positive together with somebody you love.”

“My Hero Brother” will play in Tucson on Saturday, Jan. 21 at 7:30 p.m. as a pre-premiere sneak preview, and its official premiere will be at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival on Feb. 7.

Tucsonan Liam Star Jones in a scene from “Suited”
Tucsonan Liam Star Jones in a scene from “Suited”

Another film showcased at this year’s festival is “Suited,” a documentary about Bindle & Keep, a New York-based bespoke tailor for gender-nonconforming clients, which will feature a local transgender teen, Liam Star Jones.

Jones, now 14, visited the tailor to get a suit for his bar mitzvah. He and his grandmother, Judy Shephard Gomez of Tucson, chatted with Daniel Friedman, founder and head tailor at Bindle & Keep, and Jones was asked to play a role in the film. Although he felt a little apprehensive, he welcomed the new and exciting adventure.

“I was nervous, but I knew it would be a once in a lifetime experience,” says Jones.

Jones traveled to New York in August and November of 2015 for his custom fitting and to film the feature documentary, he explains, and the overall experience certainly boosted his confidence. “It helped me open up more and be more myself.”

Although he searched for a suit in Tucson, the personal attention he received at Bindle & Keep felt fantastic, says Jones.

“It was a lot more of a personal experience,” he says. “And it was my suit, not a suit that was made for anyone.”

Jones is thrilled about the film screening in his hometown, which will give a larger audience the chance to take in its powerful message, he says.

“The message is essentially confidence in oneself … portraying that confidence to the world through what you wear, and how you present yourself,” Jones says.

“Suited” premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2016 and was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize for documentaries. The HBO production will play at the Tucson J on Sunday, Jan. 15 at 3:30 p.m. Jones will introduce the film and talk briefly about his experience on set.

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