Sunday, 30 November 2014

Tensions Flare; Family Frictions

Large numbers of people at Admiralty, who later clashed with police...
As I write (10.30pm Sunday) there are clashes between protesters and the police in Admiralty, where crowds have overtaken Lung Wo Road.

Police knew something was coming with the Federation of Students told people to come to Admiralty at 6pm and have goggles and helmets on hand.

The crazy thing is that I was just there two hours ago and while I was impressed with the turnout -- there seemed to be just as many as in the first week of the Umbrella Movement -- I didn't feel there was tension in the air.

There was lots of police presence, standing at various points where there were barricades, but other than that it seemed like a typical night in Admiralty.

However, things have escalated in the last half hour and so far five people have been arrested.

But my blog post wasn't supposed to be about Admiralty today, but about a documentary I saw before dinner time at the Asia Society as part of the 15th Hong Kong Jewish Film Festival.

It's called Life in Stills by Tamar Tal and tells the story of a grandmother and her grandson who run a photography shop in Tel Aviv.

Miriam Wasserstein with grandson Ben in Life in Stills
The shop, The Photo House, was started in 1940 by the grandfather, famous Israeli photographer Rudi Wasserstein who captured images of the place before it was formally a country from the mid 1930s until his death. There are over 1 million negatives in the shop that they carefully archive and sell prints to customers.

Grandmother Miriam is 96 years old and a no-nonsense woman who has really dry humour, while her grandson Ben has the patience to look after her and explain what is going on around her which she may or may not accept.

Their shop is facing eviction because developers want to build something new on the block, while they try to fight to stay there. Meanwhile we find out why it's only the grandmother and grandson around -- four years earlier his mother was murdered by her husband who then committed suicide.

Miriam is still reeling from her daughter's death, while Ben has compartmentalized it elsewhere in his mind and has moved on. He also reveals he is gay and moves in with his boyfriend, but does Miriam approve? We are not sure.

Wonderful photo of a younger Miriam by her husband Rudi
The documentary is only an hour long and at the end we see the shop has to move temporarily for at least three years while the new development is built; when it is completed they will get to move back, but not exactly in the original location.

We also see photographs that Rudi Wasserstein took, and perhaps for many Israelis they are considered iconic images, but more explanation and captions would have been appreciated for those not too familiar with his work.

Ben knows the camera is watching and at times looks like he's trying to act, when he should just focus on what is going on, like Miriam who acts very natural, or maybe she doesn't even realize the camera is there!

Nevertheless, the tender portrait of the grandmother and grandson is poignant, revealing the various layers they struggle with together and individually.

Here's a taste from the trailer:

Life in Stills

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