January 2, 2007
Director of Media Relations

AMHERST, Mass.—The film of a novella by Ilan Stavans, the Lewis-Sebring Professor in Latin American and Latino Culture and Five College 40th Anniversary Professor at Amherst College, will have its United States premiere at the 16th annual New York Jewish Film Festival on Wednesday, Jan. 10, at 3 p.m. at the Walter Reade Theater at Lincoln Center on 165 West 65th St. (Additional screenings will be held at the Jewish Museum, on Fifth Avenue at 92nd St.) Directed by Alejandro Springall, Morirse esta en Hebreao (My Mexican Shivah) is a dramatic comedy about family and friends in Mexico City who are mourning the passing of their beloved patriarch. The film is co-produced by John Sayles and Maggie Renzi with a score by the Klezmatics. The New York Jewish Film Festival is presented by The Jewish Museum and the Film Society of Lincoln Center.

Set in Polanco, a Jewish quarter of Mexico City, and spoken in Spanish, Yiddish and Hebrew, My Mexican Shivah illustrates how the death of a man results in the celebration of his life. According to Jewish belief, from the moment a Jew is born, he or she is accompanied by two angels: the angel of light and the angel of darkness. With the passing of Moishe, his family and friends gather to sit shivah, the seven-day Jewish mourning ritual. The spirit angels Aleph and Bet, divine accountants, examine the mourners’ actions and conversations about the deceased to decide which angel will accompany Moishe’s soul to the afterlife. The odds are against Moishe. Family dysfunction aside, his friends are attending for their own motives. Mourners include a Catholic ex-lover, an Orthodox ex-convict grandson and a troupe of mariachi musicians. And to make matters worse, while performing his duties, a member of the sacred funeral society Chevra Kadisha is milking the family for all they’re worth, charging for kosher food, slippers and other shivah goods.

Springall has produced such films as Cronos (directed by Guillermo del Toro, 1992), Dollar Mambo (directed by Paul Leduc, 1993), Someone Else’s America (directed by Goran Paskaljevic, 1994) and the TV series En Gudalajara Fue (1994). He directed the TV series Jalisco: Tiempo de Decisiones, which won First Prize at the Latin American Biennale three times in a row, and De Tripas, Corazon (directed by Antonio Urrutia, 1995), which was nominated for an Academy Award. In 1996 he founded Springall Pictures, his production company, and made his directorial debut with Santitos (1999), which has received 17 major international awards. Springall provided production services in Mexico for Frida, directed by Julie Taymor. In 2002, Springall produced Casa de los Babys, directed by John Sayles. My Mexican Shivah was completed in August 2006.

Read more information about the film and Alejandro Springall.

Stavans’s novella was published in The Disappearance: A Novella and Stories (2006). A member of the Amherst faculty since 1993, Stavans is also author of The Hispanic Condition (1995), The Oxford Book of Jewish Stories (1998), On Borrowed Words (2001), The Poetry of Pablo Neruda (2003) and Dictionary Days (2005.) Stavans has published the first dictionary of Spanglish, titled Spanglish: The Making of a New American Language (2003), and has debated in public the role language plays in public life and civic affairs for African Americans, Latinos and other immigrant groups. Stavans also published a selection of the interviews that he conducted on Conversations with Ilan Stavans on the WGBH (PBS) program La Plaza. He is the editor of the forthcoming Norton Anthology of Latino Literature.

Featuring two world, nine United States and nine New York premieres, the New York Jewish Film Festival, running through Thursday, Jan. 25, will present 31 productions illuminating the rich diversity of the international Jewish experience from Canada, Belgium, France, Germany, Great Britain, Israel, Mexico, The Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Russia, Sweden, Switzerland and the United States. Dramas, documentaries, shorts and comedies including films concerned with art, women, families and alternative families are among the festival offerings. A number of the filmmakers will be in New York during the festival to discuss their films. For ticket information call the Jewish Museum at 212/423-3337 or 212/875-5600 or visit www.thejewishmuseum.org or www.flimlinc.com.