Review: ‘Hava Nagila (The Movie)’

After her 2008 documentary "Blessed Is the Match," Roberta Grossman covers an even broader swath of 20th-century Jewish history in "Hava Nagila (The Movie)," albeit far more lightheartedly.

After her 2008 documentary “Blessed Is the Match,” Roberta Grossman covers an even broader swath of 20th-century Jewish history in “Hava Nagila (The Movie),” albeit far more lightheartedly. Pic charts the cultural impact of the omnipresent title song, from its Russian roots to its present status as a bar mitzvah staple, in a fun package rife with celebrity interviewees and pop-archival errata. A little thin on substance even given its short runtime, this is nonetheless a sure shot to transfer from Jewish fests to broadcast sales, with small-scale theatrical exposure possible.

Composed in a Ukranian region once home to some 5 million Jews (though there is debate over who actually wrote it), “Hava Nagila” enjoyed a considerable boost when Israel’s 1948 proclamation of statehood heightened general interest in Jewish culture. Among its greatest popularizers were two non-Jews interviewed here, Harry Belafonte and Connie Francis. But we also get novelty versions, from Chubby Checker’s twist track to seemingly every nationality’s take, as well as input from academics. Narrated by Rusty Schwimmer, the smartly assembled pic is cute, if sometimes cutesy — an aperitif of a movie rather than a filling meal.

Hava Nagila (The Movie)


A Katahdin Prods. and More Horses Prods. production. Produced by Roberta Grossan, Sophie Sartain, Martha Kauffman. Executive producer, Lisa Thomas. Directed by Roberta Grossman. Written by Sophie Sartain.


Camera (color, HD), Dyanna Taylor, Michael Chin; editor, Christian Callister; music, Mark Adler; music supervisor, Brooke Wentz. Reviewed on DVD, San Francisco, July 22, 2012. (In San Francisco Jewish Film Festival.) Running time: 73 MIN.


Harry Belafonte, Glen Campbell, Connie Francis, the Klezmatics, Leonard Nimoy, Regina Spektor, Lila Corwin Berman, Dani Dassa, Rabbi Yisrael Friedman, Ayalah Goren, Josh Kun, James Loeffler.
Narrator: Rusty Schwimmer.

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