Israeli Filmmakers Find USA Champion in Chicago; Critic Wins Second Consecutive Achievement Award

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Chicago film critic Jan Lisa Huttner recently earned her second consecutive Silver Feather Award from the Illinois Woman’s Press Association, for writing the most award-winning articles in IWPA’s annual Mate E. Palmer Communications Contest. Seven of Huttner’s nine awards were for articles dealing with Jewish themes, and her two first-prize winners were both about Israel: “Israeli Films: Coming Soon to a Theatre Near You!” analyzed which Israeli films get picked up by American distributors; and “'Israel Rocks!' Celebrates Diversity” reviewed a documentary which explores ethnic and political conflicts in the context of Israel’s music scene. “Although the second intifada crushed the fragile hopes nourished by Oslo, Israeli filmmakers were energized,” says Huttner. “They’ve been catapulted to a whole new level of artistic accomplishment.”

Chicago film critic Jan Lisa Huttner recently earned her second consecutive Silver Feather Award from the Illinois Woman’s Press Association, for writing the most award-winning articles in IWPA’s annual Mate E. Palmer Communications Contest. This year, Huttner won two first place awards, a pair of seconds, a trio of thirds and an honorable mention—for 14 articles, reviews and interviews she wrote for “All About Jewish Theatre,” “Chicago Woman,” “JUF News,” and “World Jewish Digest” as well as her own specialized movie website “FILMS FOR TWO: The Online Guide for Busy Couples” (http://www.films42.com). Last year, Huttner’s writing won 10 honors, one of which went on to earn first place in the “Best News Writing for the Internet” category, from the National Federation of Press Women (IWPA’s parent organization).

“Jan Huttner brings expertise, ethics and enthusiasm to all her writing projects,” explains IWPA Contest Chair Pat Szpekowski. “Her articles always contain good new information,” adds IWPA president Suzanne Hanney about Jan’s regular columns (for “Chicago Woman,” “Digital Filmmaker,” and Chicago’s “JUF News”) and numerous freelance articles.

Seven of Huttner’s nine awards were for articles dealing with Jewish themes. One of her first-prize winners, “Israeli Films: Coming Soon to a Theatre Near You!” (in “JUF News”), analyzed which Israeli films get picked up by American distributors. The other top-honored article, “’Israel Rocks!’ Celebrates Diversity,” reviewed a documentary on Israeli music, showing how it explores ethnic and political conflicts in the context of the Jewish state’s bubbling caldron of cultural heritages: Ashkenazi, Mizrachi, Sephardic, and Palestinian.

Huttner received second-prize honors in the “Special Articles, Reviews” category for two sets of reviews she wrote last year for "World Jewish Digest." The first column is called “The Passion of Shakespeare” and covers Michael Radford’s adaptation of "The Merchant of Venice" along with the personal documentary "My Grandfather’s House." The second column, called “Good Sports,” covers "The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg" and "Watermarks." The contest judge wrote that in these reviews: “[Huttner] provides intellectual commentary without depriving review of fun highlights. Shows expansive knowledge of controversial aspect in long-respected piece of literature and ties in info smoothly with review’s witticisms and imagery.”

She also received third-prize honors in the “Special Articles, Reviews” category for two other sets of “World Jewish Digest” reviews covering three Holocaust documentaries: “Paper Clips” and “Hiding and Seeking: Faith and Tolerance after the Holocaust” (in a column called “You Shall Love the Stranger: Holocaust movies teach us to embrace the ‘other’”); and “Berga: Soldiers of Another War” (in a column called “Uncovering the Tragedy of Berga” which compares Charles Guggenheim’s 2003 film to the recently published book “Soldiers and Slaves: American POWs Trapped by the Nazis’ Final Gamble”). The judge wrote of these columns: “[Huttner’s] narration reflects somber themes of the films with provoking description and insight. Isn’t afraid to criticize film of sensitive subject matter with authority.”

In recent years Huttner has interviewed Israeli filmmakers Nir Bergman (“Broken Wings”), Joseph Cedar (“Campfire” and “Time of Favor”), Gidi Dar (“Ushpizin”) and Motti Lerner (“Silence of the Sirens”), as well as Palestinian actress Hiam Abbass – star of “Free Zone” and “The Syrian Bride.” Jewish-American moviemakers who have opened up to Huttner in various publications and/or on her FILMS FOR TWO® website, include Roberta Cantow (“Clotheslines”), Eileen Douglas (“My Grandfather’s House”), Pamela Katz (“Rosenstrasse”), Marc Levin (“Protocols of Zion”), Arie Posin (“The Chumscrubber”), and Lizzy Weiss (“Blue Crush”).

And since the advent of her regular monthly column “Second City Tzivi” for Chicago’s “JUF News” in October 2005, Huttner has added more Jewish authors and scholars to her rolodex including Linda Ben-Zvi, Roya Hakakian, Deborah Dash Moore, Samuel G. Freedman, George Jochnowitz, Sharon Rosenzweig, David Ruderman, Devyani Saltzman, and Hana Schank. Huttner’s two “Second City Tzivi” samples received third-prize honors in the “Special Articles, Arts” category; the judge said: “These articles certainly convey a sense of authority. Informative and educational.” (Note that Huttner’s Hebrew name is Tziviah bat Yisroel v’Hudah.)

These days Huttner, who holds Masters degrees in psychology from both Harvard and the University of Chicago, can often be found at Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies on Michigan Avenue, where she frequently attends lectures and takes courses. She is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the American Association of University Women (AAUW), as well as Chicago YIVO and Hadassah’s AGAM chapter. After her program for ISU-Normal’s Hillel students (“Who is the ‘average’ Israeli? Snippets from Six Recent Movies”), the chapter advisor wrote: “I was thinking about the movie clips you showed most of the weekend. I think it was one of the best programs we had this year.”

“I have always described myself with pride as ‘born and bred in the heart of Philip Roth country’” Huttner declares (referring to Essex County, New Jersey). “Now the more I immerse myself in Jewish culture, the more astounded I become by the incredible vitality of the Jewish people. Historically, great traumas in Jewish life have resulted in creative explosions. The Russian pogroms produced Sholem Aleichem, Marc Chagall, and the peak of Yiddish culture. The Holocaust gave us Saul Bellow, Philip Roth and Broadway’s Golden Age. Although the second intifada crushed the fragile hopes nourished by Oslo, Israeli filmmakers were energized; they’ve been catapulted to a whole new level of artistic accomplishment.”

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