"Cow Jews & Indians" Debuts At Film Festival
Posted by Katherine Noland on Nov 12, 2012 - 5:10:52 PM
BEVERLY HILLS—Last Sunday, Laemmle Music Hall hosted the ninth
annual Red Nation Film Festival, one that celebrates Native American history
and culture through film making. Among a handful attending the premiere of his
documentary “Cow Jews and Indians," Jewish director/writer Mark
Halberstadt, dressed from head to toe in a pink suit, humbly and humorously
prefaced the viewing of his film, stating, “It is a documentary”¦So I didn’t
really direct it."
After a short delay due to projection issues, the film began. It
opened with the director himself getting dragged by the police out of what is
now a women’s dressing store in Germany. It was formerly Halberstadt’s
grandparents’ home before it was seized from the Nazis during Hitler’s regime.
In the 1930s, his grandfather was considered a “Cow Jew," a wealthy man
involved in the cattle trade. He was able to sell his house for a sum of money
before having it seized by the German government. Halberstadt’s grandfather
escaped on a boat from Italy, landing him and Halberstadt’s mother in a Mohawk
Originally seeking to document his goal to reclaim the rent for
the property that was rightfully owned by his family, Halberstadt soon came to
realize there was a sense of hypocrisy in his mission. He sought to claim the
reparations of past injustices that another population of indigenous people had
to deal with when his ancestors fled to America. He made the rationalization
that if his family owes the Native Americans 65 years of back rent, and Germany
owes his family 65 years of back rent, then why not “cut out the middle man,”
as Halberstadt puts it, and have the Native Americans collect what is due from
Germany first hand.
As the film progresses, Halberstadt, who grows out his hair and
disguises himself as a Native American to not “stick out," flies with four
other Native Americans to pursue their assigned claim, executing their plan of
justice. Upon arrival in Germany, Halberstadt and his comrades stumble across a
German version of a traditional Native American Pow-Wow. All of the
participants were German. They soon come to realize there was a fascination of
Native Americans in Germany, one that worked in their favor when attempting to
collect money from the German government. When going to the public, as lawyers
suggested to them, most citizens they spoke to agreed with them and their
mission in Germany. Mr. Berg the owner of Halberstadt’s ancestors’ house did
not agree with their mission which led to Halberstadt’s arrest at the home.
The attempt to reclaim what the Native Americans believe is
rightfully theirs, proved itself to be somewhat impractical, opening the doors
to larger consequences, like having every Native American suing those living in
their former homes. As such, the attention of the film ultimately redirects
itself to the larger problem of previous damages made by the Christian Church.
The angle refocuses on the idea that the same religion that was the root of the
Arianism's hostile opposition to the Jewish population occupying German was
that of the same which pushed itself onto Native Americans who were occupying
the American land; as Christians set out to change their language, cut their
hair, and dress them in the white man’s clothing. The documentary argues that
transformation of Jesus Christ himself was forced upon by Christian followers
from back when the Bible was written, portraying the Jewish carpenter as a
“western” looking, attractive, white male.
The film ends by acknowledging what happened to Jesus as grounds
for the pressing issue of what our next step will be, and questioning what has
been done to indigenous people as a whole. At the end of the viewing of the
film, Halberstadt claimed that “[he] did not set out to do anything good for
Native Americans”¦it just kind of carried through." The Laemmle Music
Theatre is the fist place the film was shown, and a woman in the audience gave
the director her card, expressing an interest to get the film exposed to the
The website derived from this film, www.paytheindiansrent.com,
sets out “to raise funds for worthy Native American causes that provide support
for improving health and educational outcomes in the Native American
community," as quoted directly from the site.
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