There have been a lot of documentaries with significant Jewish music hooks. I don't have a complete list, not even close, but here's a fun start. Let me know what I've missed.
A Jumpin night at the garden of Eden. 1987. Film by Michal Goldman. "A Jumpin' Night in the Garden of Eden was the first film to document the klezmer revival, tracing the efforts of two founding groups, Kapelye and Boston's Klezmer Conservatory Band, to recover the lost history of klezmer music." Check out FolkStreams.net for more info and the a video of the first 26 minutes of the film.
The Last Klezmer. 1994. - Directed by Yale Strom. "This documentary closely interviews the lively and charming Leopold Kozlowski, a klezmer musician and composer who survived the Nazi's concentration camps and managed to get on with his life and his vocation" Here's a clip of the film. The movie on Amazon.
A Tickle in the Heart. 1996. Directed by Stefan Schwietert. "A TICKLE IN THE HEART is a touching and lively travelogue starring erstwhile klezmer giants the Epstein Brothers (Willie, Julie, and Max), who come out from retirement in Florida to hit the road on their big comeback tour." Here's a clip. And Amazon.
Itzhak Perlman: In the Fiddler's House. 2006. "Violinist Itzhak Perlman explores his personal affection for traditional Jewish music, ranging from Yiddish lullabies to klezmer wedding songs to classical violin solos based on Jewish themes." YouTube clip. Amazon.
Klezmer In Germany. 2007. An episode of the BBC's European Root's show. "Series about indigenous music genres of Europe looks at klezmer, the Yiddish good-time music from the schtetl of old Eastern Europe which was virtually extinguished in the Holocaust, but has now made a comeback in Germany of all places. Even more surprisingly, most of the musicians who play klezmer are not Jewish, so what does this fascination with Yiddish culture reveal about Germany today?" YouTube clip.
Rumenye, Rumenye 2000. Directed by Radu Gabrea (Romania). "Kletzmer music originates in Central and Eastern Europe and has become a symbol of Jewish culture. Kletzmer used to be a functional music, always played at weddings and other Jewish ceremonies. Today, this music links European and Jewish culture and stands for the post-Holocaust revival of the latter. Kleztmer music is like a bridge connecting the sufferings of the past with the hope for concilliation and understanding in the future. American ethnologist Yale Storm is world famous for his research of Kletzmer music. He gives an account on the revival of Kletzmer from a double perspective: as a historian and as a musician. No other country had a stronger impact on Kletzmer music than Romania. “Doina – Jewish Blues” celebrates the connection between Jewish and Romanian music. The film features Elisabeth Schwartz, the famous Ydish singer whose ascendants were born in Romania."(sic) This information came from the Astra films website. You can see some of the documentary (maybe all?) on YouTube starting with the clip "Romania, Romania: Searching For Schwartz Clip 01." You can get more info on Elizabeth Schwartz at her website, The Voice of Klezmer.Shlomo Carlebach - You Never Know Producer: Danny Paran "There are two questions you can ask another human being: “What are you?” and “Who are you?” If you ask “What are you” – you destroy the world. If you ask “Who are you?” you build the world…” (Shlomo Carlebach).
Rabbi, folksinger and composer, Shlomo Carlebach is considered to be the foremost Jewish religious songwriter of our time. He touched millions of Jews and non-Jews around the world.The film takes you to a Journey that senses and searches for that touch..." YouTube clip
Gevalt - On The Road with Shlomo Carlebach. Directed by Arie Naftali. Complete documentary viewable at Vimeo
"Making Trouble" "Making Trouble tells the story of six of the greatest female comic performers of the last century — Molly Picon, Fanny Brice, Sophie Tucker, Joan Rivers, Gilda Radner, and Wendy Wasserstein. Hosted by four of today’s funniest women — Judy Gold, Jackie Hoffman, Cory Kahaney, and Jessica Kirson — it's the true saga of what it means to be Jewish, female and funny." Picon was a legend of the Yiddish theater and film. Tucker was a bawdy and unabashed singer known as "the Last of the Red Hot Mamma's" Catch the "Making Trouble" trailer at YouTube. For more information on the film, see the film's website.
Jericho's Echo: Punk Rock in the Holy Land Directed by Liz Nord. "Mohawks, stage diving, fists flying. Homemade band t-shirts, circle pits, singalongs. These scenes are not unfamiliar; They have flooded pop culture imagery for over 25 years. The punk rock ethos gains new relevance in Israel, however, when band members' choices are often between picking up a guitar or picking up a gun." You Tube has the Jericho's Echo trailer, as well as the whole film.
Psychedelic Zion. 2000. Directed by Isri Halpern. "This film is an Israeli coming-of-age story. The 1990s saw the birth of a new youth culture in Israel – Trance - based on enormous parties set in nature, on computerized music, on New Age ideas, and on drugs. In a short time, the trance party phenomenon in the Israeli periphery grew to proportions with no parallel in any other country. As Israel prepared to celebrate its fiftieth anniversary, the police decided to eliminate the Trance phenomenon. During a period of one year, the camera followed Berto from Kiryat Motzkin, Yoni from Moshav Hazon, and Revital from Tiberias, three owners of companies that produce Trance Parties fighting for their “independence,” i.e., the right to keep their Trance culture alive. It’s a story with a sad ending about a confused generation that just wants to escape…" For more information see the New Israeli Foundation website.
Punk Jews By Jesse Zook Mann and Evan Kleinman. "Punk Jews is a documentary series featuring stories of people expressing Jewish culture and religion in unconventional, and awesome ways. From musicians to artists and activists, Punk Jews covers badass politics, music, art, fashion, philosophy, and religion that you can't see anywhere else." While there's a lot of work left to do on the documentary, a first sample can be viewed on the Punk Jews website.
The Klezmatics: On Holy Ground Directed by Eric Anjou. "The Klezmatics’ holy ground is where a Quaker bassist and Reform Jewish trumpeter, Yiddish language, Hasidic dance, gospel music and Woody Guthrie meet. The feature-length documentary is the crown of a four-year journey alongside the band members, their music and their creative process." You can get more info and watch the trailer at the KlezDoc website.
The Socalled Movie The Socalled Movie is a feature documentary film directed by Garry Beitel about Montreal-based musical wizard Josh Dolgin – aka Socalled. Featuring Katie Moore, Fred Wesley, C-Rayz Walz, David Krakauer, Matt Haimovitz, Arkady Gendler, Benjamin Steiger Levine, D-Shade, Gonzales and Irving Fields, the movie is a kaleidoscopic portrait, offering 18 entertaining short films about Socalled’s creative process." Get more info and see the trailer at the Socalled Movie website.
Diaspora Yeshiva Band: Live on Mount Zion. DYB LoMZ mixes live historic concert footage from one of the most influential bands in 20th century popular Jewish music with an interview with the band made at the time. The result is an amazing glimpse at impact of the ba'al teshuva movement on 20th century Jewish culture and a darn good concert. You can get more info and view the trailer at the Diaspora Yeshiva Band website.
A Journey of Spirit Directed by Ann Coppel. "A Journey of Spirit is a documentary that tells the story of the remarkable singer, songwriter and guitarist Debbie Friedman. One of the preeminent women in contemporary Jewish culture, Debbie has integrated contemporary melody with Jewish liturgy to transform Jewish sacred music, making the text accessible to a large and diverse audience. A Journey of Spirit explores the tremendous power this artist and leader has to promote spirituality, healing, and community. This 75-minute documentary explores the transformation of liberal Jewish worship, the growth of the new profession of Jewish singer/songwriter, and humanity’s need for healing. Viewers are treated to a lively and heartfelt exchange as A Journey of Spirit places the debate about contemporary versus traditional prayer music squarely on the table." You can get more information and view the trailer at the Journey of Spirit website."
Sabbath in Paradise 1998. Directed by Claudia Heuemann. "An interesting documentary about the Radical Jewish Culture music scene of the Lower East Side and Downtown New York. It focuses on a specific group of musicians, each of whom approach Jewish culture through varying musical and religious beliefs. Master clarinet/mandolin player Andy Statman is the most orthodox, both musically and personally, of the bunch. His scenes, both in performance and with his family at home, are a touching reminder of the American Jewish experience. To contrast this, guitarist Marc Ribot is shown performing some of his most avant garde pieces and baiting the German documentary crew about the legacy of the Holocaust. Standout musical performances and personal reflections from pianist Anthony Coleman provide a grounding for the film, while all-too brief appearances (both musical and personal) from the Maven of the scene, John Zorn, serve to tantalize about the different approaches these musicians take to Jewish music and culture." You can watch a clip of "Sabbath in Paradise" on YouTube.
Beyle Schaechter-Gottesman: Song of Autumn Director: Joshua Waletzky."In Song of Autumn, Beyle, who has played a central role in reviving and inspiring interest in Yiddish song and poetry among a new generation of artists, discusses her life and creative path: her upbringing in the Yiddish cultural milieu of Czernowitz (then Romania) as the daughter of a remarkable traditional folksinger and a passionate Yiddishist, the war years in Romania, her development as a modern Yiddish poet and songwriter in New York, and her views on Yiddish literature and creativity. What emerges is a rich picture of the world of a woman who recited poetry to the great Yiddish fabulist Eliezer Shteynbarg as a child, was part of a vibrant Yiddish enclave in the Bronx, and is the only Yiddish poet ever to be awarded a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, the top honor for folk arts in the United States." Get more information from the League for Yiddish website.
Song of Jewish Cowboy. Directed by Bonnie Burt. "Scott Gerber, an unlikely mix of Yiddish and cowboy cultures, learned Yiddish and progressive songs from his mother and grandmother. A descendant of the left wing Petaluma chicken ranchers, Scott carries on the Yiddish and ranching traditions and proudly works in agriculture today. He rides the range and sings cowboy and Yiddish songs at Simcha Sunday and at an Irish bar." You can get more information and see a clip at Burt's website.
Rock and Roll Rabbis. Directed by Ilan Saragosti. "The feature rockumentary Rock n' Roll Rabbis takes viewers on a musical journey into the little-known world of Orthodox rock, profiling religious Jews who reconcile the asceticism of Orthodox Judaism with a rock n' roll lifestyle. This intimate portrait focuses on four of the most prominent rock n' roll acts, as the camera follows these religious individuals backstage, into the studio, and finally on Yidstock, an international tour." As far as I can tell, this documentary project was never completed but you can watch a clip focusing on Yossi Piamenta at YouTube.
Mashala 2008. Directed by Cyrus Sundar Singh. "This stunning documentary follows Canadian singer Ellen Gould Ventura on a journey of spiritual and musical discovery through Sephardic song, joining forces with a group of gifted musicians from Chile, Morocco, Italy and Venezuela." Here's a short 10 minute version of the doc and a link to Ventura's band's website.
Fiestaremos: The Judy Frankel Story. "¡Fiestaremos! presents the inspiring story of musician, singer and performer Judy Frankel whose work with many sephardic commuities helped to preserve and extend the rich musical tradition of these people. Interviews with Judy are combined with footage of her close ties with Sephardic individuals, recordings of her songs and insights on this important legacy. The film gives the viewer an intimate look at the important work of one of the leading performers of Sephardic folk music of our times. " For more information and the trailer, check out the Fiestaremos website.
Queen Khantarisha. 2009. Directed by Israela Shaer-Meoded "Queen Khantarisha presents two Israeli-Yemenite women writers in their sixties: A songwriter and lyricist of love, who also stands behind some of the hottest hits that resonate in Yemeni clubs and weddings, and a Jerusalem-born poet and writer, whose writing, touching on demons, madness, rape, and rebellion, has garnered her community’s denunciation. The film explores the personal costs of straddling the ambitions of creative expression and the restraints of conservative communities requiring subservience." For more information and the trailer, check out the Trabelsi Productions website.
Ladino 500 Years Young 2005. Directed by Rina Papish. "The film follows the rise of Ladino singer, Yasmin Levy, from the moment she discovers she can sing and all the way to international success. As she gets to know herself as singer, Yasmin rediscovers her father, Yitzhak Levy, a revered Ladino singer who, in the face of the decline of the language in Israel, chose to dedicate his life to recording and documenting the old Ladino songs before they became extinct." For more information and a trailer, check out the Dragoman Films website.
Georgia, My Love 2007. Directed by Noga Gamlieli. "This is a story of two Georgians sisters Maya and Manana, poor young women working in a bridal salon from dawn until darkness. Like many of their fellow Georgians, they have been rejected and humiliated by the Israeli society. But today they are proud of their roots and have one desire - to revive the Georgian culture. Maya, a singer, has committed herself to produce a program of Georgian songs. Every evening, after a long day of work, she records an album and rehearses the show with her sister Manana and a group of dancers. Maya will be the first Georgian woman to put on her own show and will have to deal with the patronizing attitude of male singers. Will she succeed?" For more information and a trailer, check out the Dragoman Films website.
Children of the Bible. Directed by Nitza Gonen. "Through music, stories and dialog, rapper Jeremy “Cool” Habash (Ethiopia in Hebrew) inspires at-risk youth of the Ethiopian community in Israel to reconnect to Ethiopian songs, the meaning of their Ethiopian names, the history of the Jews in Ethiopia and their journey to Israel which has become a legend. The rapper also tries to convince the Kesses, the Ethiopian rabbis, to fight for their lost spiritual status." For more information and the trailer, check out the Dragoman Films website.
Black Music. 2005. Directed by Destau Damto. "This film follows a group of Ethiopian rappers, living on the margins of society and dreaming of success. During the making of the film, one of the rappers is killed in a road accident. His friends mourn him, while trying to deal with their reality and trying to make it in the big city – Tel Aviv. However, the Israeli reality makes it difficult for them, and in order to survive, they must work on construction sites and do odd jobs. Music remains their biggest love, but is an unfulfilled dream. The film reflects the face of the Ethiopian ethnic group, living on the margins of and trying to fit in the Israeli society." For more information see the New Israeli Foundation for Cinema and Film website.
Cafe Noah 1996. Directed by Duki Dror. "After it's establishment in 1948, Jewish musicians from Baghdad and Cairo immigrated to Israel. They were masters in Arabic music, but their music was not valued in the new homeland. The ongoing Arab-Israeli war left no room for their their identity as Arab-Jews. Cafe Noah was the one place where their music continued and culture thrived, despite the odds." For more information check out Dror's Zygote Films website. For the full Cafe Noah documentary is posted to YouTube. Cafe Noah and Taqasim (see below) are both available from Amazon.
Taqasim 1999. Directed by Duki Dror. "A voyage to the hidden treasures of classical Arabic music, and to the participation of Jewish musicians in this cultural heritage. Taqasim draws a unique portrait of the Middle East in the 30’s, a region that shared mutual culture, language and economy. With stylishly shot music segments, along with unforgettable “back-ally” jam sessions played by Felix Mizrachi, Zehava Ben, Abraham Salman, and more. The film was shot in Cairo." For more information check out Dror's Zygote Films website, for the trailer check out YouTube. Cafe Noah and Taqasim (see below) are both available from Amazon.
Jewish Soul. American Beat "With insight and humor, Jewish Soul, American Beat explores the new landscape of Jewish tradition in America, from a feminist seder to a Yiddish Cabaret." The film is distributed through First Run Features.
100 Voices: A Journey Home "Voices: A Journey Home” is a compelling and moving musical documentary that uniquely tells the history of Jewish culture in Poland. It highlights the current resurgence of Jewish culture through the personal reflections and musical selections of a group of cantors and acclaimed composer Charles Fox (“Killing Me Softly”, “I Got A Name” and many more) who made an important historical mission to the birthplace of Cantorial music. The documentary will give generations the opportunity to learn about and re-embrace the Jewish culture that produced one of the most artistic and educated societies that once flourished in Europe. Above all, the film celebrates the resilience and the power of Jewish life, while telling the story of two peoples who shared intertwined cultures." For more information and a trailer, see the 100 Voices website.
A Cantor's Tale Directed by Erik Greenberg Anjou. "The tradition of Eastern European Jewish cantorial music is alive and well in modern America in no small part thanks to the efforts of Brooklyn-born Cantor Jacob Mendelson. "Jackie," as he is affectionately called by everyone. A Cantors Take explores the American roots of "hazzanut"( Jewish liturgical music) while taking us on a musical voyage that spans the Atlantic, originating in his birthplace of Boro Park, Brooklyn and reaching all the way to Jerusalem." For more information and a clip, see the "A Cantor's Tale" website.
A Wandering Muse. (in production). Directed by Tamás Wormser. "From ram’s horn to beat box, from Tajikistan to Argentina, The Wandering Muse celebrates the multi-faceted music of the Jewish Diaspora and explores the meaning of being Jewish." For more information and a clip from the film, check out the Wandering Muse website and say howdy on Facebook.
The New Klezmorim: Voices Inside the Revival of Yiddish Music. "This delightful documentary offers us a penetrating look behind the scenes of the Klezmer revival of today. Thoughtful interviews are interspersed with stunning performances by leading Klezmer performers and bands, including Michael Alpert and Alan Bern (Brave New World), Hankus Netsky (Klezmer Conservatory Band), The Chicago Klezmer Ensemble, Adrienne Cooper and Zalman Mlotek. Director David Kaufman thoroughly examines the roots of this new genre of Klezmer, its modern day performers as well as the audiences who flock to hear the music." Available through JewishVideo.com
The Milken Archive Video Collection. The Milken Archive has a 60 or so short documentary and interview videos on Jewish classical / art music. All online and free. This is a real treasure, folks, and is going to keep me busy for a while. I'm not going to list them all but will share a couple that I'm particularly intrigued by...
Samuel Adler's Nuptial Scene. 1998. Produced by the Milken Archive of Jewish Music. "Short documentary on Samuel Adler's Nuptial Scene. Features the composer discussing the work, as well as footage from the recording session, which included several of Adler's long-time Eastman colleagues and former students." The full video is available on the Milken Archive website.
Yehudi Wyner: Passover Offering. 1998. Produced by the Milken Archive of Jewish Music. "Composer Yehudi Wyner discusses the composition of his Passover Offering. Interview by Neil W. Levin. Milken Archive oral history excerpt." The full video is available on the Milken Archive website.
Great Songs of the Yiddish American Theater. 1998. Produced by the Milken Archive of Jewish Music. "An overview of the Milken Archive's project on immigrant-era American Yiddish theater. Includes footage from 2001 recording sessions in Barcelona and Vienna, featuring Simon Spiro, David Krakauer, Nell Snaidas, Robert Bloch, and the late Bruce Adler. Narrated by Mike Burstyn.." The full video is available on the Milken Archive website.
The Steven Spielberg Jewish Film Archive Virtual Cinema is another fascinating collection. Housed at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, it has a 400 films that cover all aspects of Israeli life and history. Including music. Like the Milken collection, I won't try to list each film, but here are a few that caught my eye...
Ashkenaz-Music of The Jews From Eastern Europe. 1992. "Part of the Israel Music Heritage Project. The world of Yiddish folksongs, Klezmer music and Eastern European synagogue music." Viewable at the Steven Spielberg Jewish Film Archive site and YouTube.
Morocco Music . 1994. "Part of the Israel Music Heritage Project. A look at the mixture of Arab melodies with Hebrew text that forms the basis of Moroccan Jewish music." Viewable at the Steven Spielberg Jewish Film Archive site and YouTube.
Sepharad Music . 1994. "Part of the Israel Music Heritage Project. The many different types of Ladino music dating back to the Middle Ages." Viewable at the Steven Spielberg Jewish Film Archive site and YouTube.
Yemen Music of the Yemenite Jews. 1994. "Part of the Israel Music Heritage Project. The rhythms and traditions of Yemenite music." Viewable at the Steven Spielberg Jewish Film Archive site and YouTube.
Melodies of Independence: The Gevatron . 1960. "Story of the Gevatron music group." Viewable at the Steven Spielberg Jewish Film Archive site and YouTube.
This is How We Build Musical Instruments Made of Plants. 1960. "The children of kibbutz Maoz Haim construct musical instruments out of plants." Viewable at the Steven Spielberg Jewish Film Archive site and YouTube.
Chants of Sand and Stars. 1996. Directed by Nicolas Klotz. "The music that accompanies Jewish liturgy, chazzanut, is a rich and varied outgrowth of centuries of influence from the cultures of Diaspora. From the desert sands of Judea to the steppes of Central Asia to the neighborhoods of Manhattan, through Medieval Spain and Renaissance Venice, director Nicolas Klotz has fashioned a brilliant musical tapestry. CHANTS OF SAND AND STARS includes mesmerizing footage from Azerbaijan, Morocco, Tunisia and Turkey. Seeking the unifying thread in chazzanut, Klotz discovers many different cultures with little in common, each rooted in the deepest traditions of its land. Klotz ends his search in Israel, where the many Diasporas converge. CHANTS OF SAND AND STARS is the first in-depth exploration of Jewish music worldwide". To see a clip, check out the Knowledge.ca website.
Carpati: 50 Miles, 50 Years. 1996. Directed by Yale Strom and Narrated by Leonard Nimoy. "Zev Godinger is the caretaker of the Jewish community of Beregovo, Ukraine. When Zev meets Yale and his partner David Notowitz, he decides to return to his hometown of Vinogradov for the first time in 50 years. While on the train trip Zev carries a Torah (brought by Yale & David from the US) for his boyhood synagogue which hasn't had one for years. During the course of the trip we meet many of Zev's friends, particularly the Gypsies who are the ones who maintain what little Jewish music remains in the Carpathian mountains." For more information and a clip from the film, see Yale Strom's website. The DVD available through the distributor Cinema Guild.
A Man From Munkas: Gypsy Klezmer. 2005. Directed by Yale Strom. "A Man From Munkacs: Gypsy Klezmer explores the symbiotic relationship between the Rom and Jews who lived together before and after World War Two in the Carpathian region. Before the Holocaust there, whenever there was a Jewish celebration (e.g., a wedding, Purim festivities, dance etc.), most of the time the klezmer musicians were not Jews but Rom. In fact, the Rom had played with and for Jews for so many years that some of them spoke a fluent Yiddish. The film examines how this persecuted group (the Rom) saved Jewish folk music until it could be returned to the Jews." For more information and a clip from the film, see Yale Strom's website.
Black Over White. 2007. Director: Tomer Heymann. "Tomer Heymann followed Israeli pop/world-beat band The Idan Raichel Project on their 2006 concert tour to Ethiopia and emerged with a documentary that rollicks and rocks. The film, part lighthearted road trip, part examination of multiculturalism in Israel, is a close-up ride with the young Israeli-Ethiopian-Yemenite band members, who muse on the loss of their heritage and on their excitement as tourists embracing roots in Africa. Black Over White deftly explores their cultural ambivalence and their experience of racism back home in Israel." For more information and a clip from the film, see the Heymann Bros. Films website.
A Life of Song: A Portrait of Ruth Rubin. "The winner of the Columbus Film Festival's Chris Bronze Award. Highlights of the film include archival photos of Jewish life in Eastern Europe and footage of Dr Rubin - in her eighties- gathering songs from older Jewish folks in Montreal and educating young people about Yiddish folk songs and their importance to Jewish life." Available through JewishVideo.com
From The Heart of Odessa A film by André Schreuders / Ukraine/The Netherlands 2007. "Alec Kopyt, a musician from Amsterdam returns to Moldavanka - once the poor Jewish neighbourhood of Odessa - his place of birth and the cradle of old-time Russian Mafia songs (Blatnyak). He is looking for musicians to play together these songs in the restaurant of an old friend. While strolling along the picturesque yards of the ruinous slums, we meet colourful Odesits who resemble the ancient heroes of the street songs we hear. A touching portrait of a neighbourhood, its music and performers." A documentary about the music of the Russian Jewish Mafia? Sign me up! The Easternxpress blog has a longer description. From The Heart of Odessa has won a slew of prizes in Europe and is distributed by J.M.T Films.
The Israeli Madonna. A radio documentary. "The writer and music critic Pete Paphides tells the story of Ofra Haza, dubbed 'The Israeli Madonna' who rose from her poor roots in the Yemenite community to global recognition." Produced by White Pebble Media for BBC Radio 4.