1971’s Fiddler on the Roof is a rightly celebrated film in Jewish film culture, so with the UK Jewish Film Festival 2022 about to hit UK screens, this seems like a good time to take a look back at how Norman Jewison’s famous film came to be. Daniel Raim’s documentary is more than just an extended DVD extra charting the making of a hit film; narrated by Jeff Goldblum, Fiddler’s Journey gets its UK premiere as part of a programme of films running on big screens and online throughout November.
Jewison may have been, by his own admission, a ‘goy’, but despite some trepidation, proved to be an ideal choice for the project; having worked on tv specials with Harry Belafonte and Judy Garland, he had the right grasp for balancing talent, studio politics and music. But tough choices still had to be made; established musical stars Frank Sinatra and Danny Kaye were turned down, not unreasonably, in the interests of authenticity. Jewison also dropped the Broadway star Zero Mostel from the central role of Tevye, and replaced him with Topol. Stage-star Bette Midler didn’t make the cut either.
‘We don’t want a Second Avenue Yiddish production,’ was the production’s mantra, and Raim’s film details with enthusiasm and rare behind-the-scenes footage how Fiddler artfully shot on locations near Zagreb to recreate a part of Jewish history that had been physically obliterated; it’s easy to see why the fully-realised world of Fiddler in the Roof struck such a chord with Jewish people worldwide. ‘We’re showing an audience what it wants to see,’ says Jewison, who advised Topol ‘to aim not for the back row of the audience but for the camera,’ and to tone down his performance as Sholem Aleichem’s Tevye the dairyman accordingly.
For Fiddler fans, and for those interested in the portrayal of Jewish history on screen, Raim’s documentary demonstrates considerable affection for its subject, and features key interviews with many of the considerable talents involved, who recall the production with enormous affection. Fiddler on the Roof has always been a key modern text how the Jewish people understand their relationship with God, and also how the see themselves; this film details how that came to be.
In a hybrid programme of in-person followed by online screenings, the UK Jewish Film Festival 2022 takes place in UK cinemas from November 10, and online from November 21. Opening with Moshe Rosenthal’s Karaoke, the festival closes with Where Life Begins from French actor and filmmaker Stéphane Freiss and starring John Wick 2 star Riccardo Scamarcio. The Centrepiece Gala will be the one-shot historical drama Shttl, while animation Charlotte looks at the work of artist Charlotte Salomon.
The UK Jewish Film Festival 2022 takes place in cinemas nationwide from 10 – 20 November, and online from 21-27 November. Click the link below for full programme.