Food and film will be served up this weekend as the annual Charlotte Jewish Film Festival kicks off with "Chewdaism: A Taste of Jewish Montreal." Canadian-born filmmakers Eli Batalion and Jamie Elman are heading to North Carolina for their first visit, so we caught up with them on the road to find out what they’ll be bringing to the Queen City – and what they hope to eat.
First, the film. The thirty-something duo are known internationally for their irreverent web sitcom series, “YidLife Crisis.” From cutting up with Mayim Bialik and Howie Mandel, the pair have expanded their repertoire and their stomachs to make "Chewdaism" (say it out loud and you’ll hear the play on words). It’s a documentary that explores Montreal and its culinary legacy with a mix of history, humor, tradition, and local lore in perfect proportions.
Yes, poutine makes an appearance.
But more importantly, just a few minutes into the film viewers will realize this isn’t merely an account of Canadians or Jews or any individual cuisine. It’s the collective story of immigrants everywhere, and how they make their way into new worlds that aren’t always welcoming. “We got a lot of very good feedback from non-Jewish people,” said Batalion. “In fact our main ambition is that it works universally.”
Certain expressions are hard to explain in other languages. The Yiddish word haimish doesn’t translate well into English, but the term homey comes pretty close. That’s where "Chewdaism" shines. “On one hand it’s a feeling that’s part of where you grew up in your community, but there’s something about it that can be exported literally around the world, and you can still feel that sense of hominess,” said Elman.
In total, 16 films will be shown during the festival that runs from Feb. 1 through Feb. 23. Susan Cherin Gundersheim is director of the CJFF. “We try to put a slate of films together that have a diversity of languages, styles, and subject matter,” she said. A committee typically views and evaluates 35 to 40 films. Committee chairs may watch 75 or more in a season. The festival has grown from two films and 150 attendees in 2004 to 25 film events with more than 5,000 tickets sold in 2019.
“The Jewish experience is the human experience,” Gundersheim said. “Every film can make any audience member laugh, cry, think and feel, as a human being, Jewish or not.” Whether those films center on food, sports, people with disabilities, arts, mental health, or other themes, “they help people expand their world view.”
Other offerings this year include "Incitement," a thriller based on the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin; "Aulcie," the story of basketball legend Aulcie Perry; and "Standing Up/Falling Down" with Billy Crystal.
You might not find these films at the multiplex or even Netflix.
As for their visit to Charlotte, the "Chewdaism" guys will make two appearances. On Saturday evening prior to the film screening on Sunday, they’ll present “YidLive!” It’s a hard-to-describe, multi-media mash-up of live music and comedy mayhem that Batalion and Elman have been taking on the road internationally.
Still, the pair aren’t sure what exactly they should expect when they get here, food-wise. “I don’t know what
kind of hospitality we’re in for, but I look forward to breaking a number of laws of kashrut [kosher dietary laws],” Elman joked.
Here in the Carolinas, that can mean only one thing. In between the films, barbecue, and plenty of it.
Find information about the Charlotte Jewish Film Festival here.
Amy Rogers writes WFAEats, a fun adventure where we explore all things tasty and tackle the meatier side of the food scene in and around Charlotte.