November 8, 2012

Shavua Tov! Jewish Cultural Diversity Week: ‘Steel Toes’ screened at U of L

By Simon Isham–

Rage and intolerance collided with compassion at a free screening of the award-winning film “Steel Toes” on Oct. 18 at 7 p.m. at Chao Auditorium in the basement of Ekstrom library. The film screening was presented by the Jewish Studies Committee, the Social Change Program, the Student Activities Board and the Jewish Community of Louisville. It comprised the second and final event of Shavua Tov! Jewish Cultural Diversity Week 2012. The first was a pair of lectures delivered by Dr. Noah Efron on Oct. 18.

The film, which takes place in the multicultural city of Montreal, Quebec, stars Academy Award-nominated actor David Strathairn as Danny Dunkleman, a Jewish court-appointed lawyer tasked with defending Mike Downey, a neo-Nazi skinhead who attacked an East Indian restaurant worker in an inebriated rage. The film delves into the relationship that develops between the two men as Downey seeks to define the grounds of his defense, and Dunkleman parries ensuing problems on the home front.

Dr. Avery Kolers, acting chair of the Jewish Studies Committee, which selected the film, explained the decision to screen “Steel Toes.” “We were looking at a wide range of films from a long historical range. We considered a few about the immigrant experience in early 20th century America. Ultimately, it came down to “Steel Toes” or “The Footnote,” which is a great film and was the Israeli nominee for the Foreign-language Oscar last year. Ultimately, we opted for “Steel Toes” for a few reasons. First, while Judaism and the (Jewish-Canadian-ness) of the protagonist are essential to the film, “Steel Toes” deals with issues that are not exclusively Jewish, and it deals with them in a way that is not, for lack of a better word, forbiddingly Jewish…(S)omething very Jewish in ‘feel’ might have had the wrong effect-it might have exoticized, rather than helped to highlight both what is distinctive and what is universal about the Jewish experience in America. “Steel Toes,” I think, avoids this pitfall.

Andrew Walker plays Michael Downey in ‘Steel Toes’

“The second and perhaps decisive reason we chose ‘Steel Toes’ was that we did not want Shavua Tov to be all about Israel. There is more to Judaism than Israel, and more to Israel than Jews. We have relatively little chance to put on events of this sort, and we wanted to include a range of aspects of the contemporary Jewish world and experience. Since we had a major lecture about Israel we wanted a film about Jewish life in America.”

An hour-long discussion session was held after the screening for those present.

Chelsea Delepierre, a senior sociology major who attended the screening, said: “I thought it was interesting that this film was about discrimination and hate crimes, but from the moment the movie started, [the discrimination and hate] came from both sides: from the lawyer and the skinhead. The skinhead was portrayed as a stereotypical neo-Nazi from the beginning. And I thought it was interesting that the lawyer was so discriminative towards him, his friends and family, when the movie was supposed to be about reaching out to other people.”

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Photos courtesy Monterey Media

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