Sunday, July 28, 2013

An American Tail (1986)

WHO: Steven Spielberg was executive producer and lent his grandfather's name Fievel to the main character of this film. Former Disney animator Don Bluth directed it as his follow-up to The Secret of NIMH.

WHAT: Somehow I've never seen An American Tail, and had in fact almost forgotten about it until recently reading Art Spiegelman's book Metamaus about the creation and ramifications of his masterpiece of sequential art Maus, in which he relates how the animation became entwined with his anthropomorphic Holocaust tale after its work-in-progress appearance in RAW, the magazine he'd co-founded. A couple key excerpts:
In 1985, somebody showed me an interview with Steven Spielberg that indicated he was producing a feature-length animated cartoon about Jewish mice escaping the anti-Semitic pogroms of Russia to set up a new life in America. I believed that Don Bluth, the director, had seen the Maud chapters in RAW and I just imagined the story conference that led to An American Tail: "Okay. The Holocaust is kind of a bummer, you know, but maybe if we do a Fiddler On The Roof thing with cuter mice we could make a go of it." I was terrified their movie would come out before my book was finished...
...the confusion could have left me being perceived as somehow creating a kind of twisted and gnarled version of a Spielberg production rather than what I'm quite sure was the case: An American Tale was a sanitized reworking launched from the Maud concept. And just a few years ago my friend, Aline Kominsky told me that her mother had praised me: "That Art Spiegelberg, he's such a talented boy! Not only did he do Maus, but he did E.T.!"
This inspired Spiegelman to suggest the publication of Maus in two volumes rather than one, and ultimately An American Tail's production was delayed until after part one had been released, thereby avoiding any such confusion. 

WHERE/WHEN: 10:00 AM today only at the Castro Theatre, as part of the 33rd San Francisco Jewish Film Festival.

WHY: The SF Jewish Film Festival started last Thursday and runs through this coming Thursday, August 1st at the Castro before fanning out to other venues around Frisco Bay over the following week and a half. Cheryl Eddy's SF Bay Guardian article on the festival covers several of the festival's documentaries, and notes the SFJFF's broadening of its focus this year, in that "plenty of SFJFF's programs do specifically address Jewish religion and culture," but that several docs she pre-screened "simply happened to be made by a Jewish filmmaker."

In the case of An American Tail, the theme may be Jewish (it must be among the most prominent American animated features to feature explicitly Jewish characters) but the director was not; Bluth is Mormon. But the film still seems like an ideal selection to bring a "family" audience to a festival better known for showing films that appeal to viewers old enough to read subtitles and/or to digest heady intellectual topics. It's also, perhaps unintentionally, a great selection to bring to a festival that is including a documentary on the Maus-termind himself: The Art of Spiegelman, which screens next week at just about every festival venue but the Castro. I for one am hoping to be able to attend both films.

HOW: An American Tail and the August 11 showing of the The Producers (the movie based on the musical based on the movie, not the original movie) at Oakland's Grand Lake Theatre are, according to the Film On Film Foundation, the only two 35mm screenings at this year's SFJFF.

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