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Beverly Hills News

"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 reservation.

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.

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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 public.

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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