24th Toronto Jewish Film Festival | May 4-14, 2017




    As the largest Jewish Film Festival in Canada, we not only take seriously our role in supporting Canadian talent, but we also see ourselves leading an important discourse on the representation of Jewish identity in Canadian film and TV.

     This year's sidebar series entitled Jewish Images from a Golden Age of Canadian Television is devoted to exploring expressions of Jewish identity from the first dozen years of CBC Television (approximately 1952-64). During this almost-forgotten era of inspired drama and comedy, expressions of Canada's ethnic diversity began to appear on TV. Among these CBC shows, one can also find drama and comedy that reflect the lives of Jewish immigrants and children of immigrants at the time.

     Most prominent and well-known on the CBC was the brilliant comedy team of Johnny Wayne and Frank Shuster. Moving from radio to TV in 1954, Wayne & Shuster presented to their audience who they were—university-educated children of Jewish immigrants. Although their Jewish roots were rarely openly addressed—other than scattered expressions understood primarily by their Jewish audiences their urbanity and sophistication spoke to a diverse Canadian population, as well as international fans.

     At this time in its history, the high proportion of Jewish artists working at the CBC or on its programs was unprecedented, even going back to its earliest days of radio in 1936. Mavor Moore, the first supervising producer of CBC-TV recalled that this significant group among the CBC's producers-directors during this era led to a "Jewish flavour" in the drama department which was something the "CBC had never had before." When the CBC moved into television in 1952, it looked for talent wherever it could be found and many of the Jewish artists who were hired at this time "hadn't been given a chance before," Moore said. (See Mary Jane Miller's book Rewind and Search: Conversations with Makers and Decision-Makers of CBC Television Drama.)

     This series honours three significant creative contributors to the CBC of those days: Johnny Wayne and Frank Shuster, writer and filmmaker Jack Kuper, and actor Sylvia Lennick. Kuper was then a graphic artist, later head of the CBC's graphic department, when he saw some of his brilliant scripts get produced. Kuper would later become known as the author of the internationally published classic, Child of the Holocaust and the director of various independent films such as Run!, Who was Jerzy Kosinski? and A Day in the Warsaw Ghetto. Sylvia Lennick was most famous for her Bronx-Jewish Calpurnia in the classic Wayne & Shuster Julius Caesar sketch. Although she was also a veteran of radio and theatre, we honour her for her dynamic and warm screen image that was showcased in various other TV dramas and comedies as well.

     Around the CBC—and often around Wayne and Shuster—a vibrant community of Jewish actors gravitated and would make their way into some terrific dramas. Our series will also introduce (or re-introduce) audiences to Ben Lennick, Alfie Scopp, Paul Kligman, Sammy Sales, Art Jenoff, Jacob and Sophia Reinglass, Isaac Swerdlow, Miriam Wolfe, Toby Tarnow, Helene Winston, Toby Robins and a host of others ... And even a young William Shatner makes an appearance. This sidebar series also showcases the work of other Jewish Canadian artists, such as directors Harvey Hart and Leo Orenstein, and writers Charles Israel, Mac Shoub and Ben Lappin.

     Today's Canadian Jews can take pride in the many prolific writers, directors and performers who made significant contributions to this era. In fact we could easily follow up this series with several more, based on the plethora of Jewish talent employed by the CBC during this period, and the stories of Jewish life they told.

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