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.