Monday, February 21, 2011

Ido Haar In-Residence at SFFS: Melting Siberia

Ido Haar’s road to San Francisco ran from Israel through Novosibirsk. Chosen as the inaugural filmmaker to launch the San Francisco Film Society’s Artist in Residence program, the still youthful looking Haar has already established an international reputation. At one point an editor for BeTipul, the Israeli series on which the HBO series In-Treatment is based (often word-for-word), Haar is probably best known on the festival circuit for the naturalistic, issue-driven documentary 9 Star Hotel. In contrast, his first non-fiction feature was the distinctly personal Melting Siberia (trailer here), which screens next Wednesday as part of two weeks of programming related to his residency.

Given its uniquely tragic history, many grieving spouses and children immigrated to Israel without parents and loved ones. Such was the case with Haar’s mother and grandmother, but his grandfather was very much alive. A Soviet Red Army officer stationed in Latvia, Marina’s father abandoned her and her mother shortly after the war. Always understandably resentful, Haar’s mother never sought out the father she never knew. However, when Haar tracks down his grandfather in frozen Novosibirsk, Marina reluctantly but resolutely follows-up in a series of phone calls, letters, and finally a fateful visit, all faithfully documented by Haar.

Deliberately modest and intimate, Melting is true to life, capturing the messy conflicting emotions and social awkwardness of Haar’s family reunion, finding closure where it can. Clearly a strong woman, Haar’s mother emerges as the star, tough but vulnerable all the way through. Yet, even on his supposed best behavior, his grandfather remains a deeply problematic figure. Before their eventual meeting, Marina muses whether deserting one’s family was conduct becoming a Soviet officer. It is a fair question, perhaps even more so following a devastating confrontation between a father and daughter still strangers to each other.

Unlike Haar’s other works, he frequently appears in Melting, good naturedly taking his family ribbing. It augurs well for his stint in-residence at SFFS (2/21-3/5), especially his classroom visits and master class scheduled for this Saturday (2/26). Haar will also be in-attendance for a special screening of Melting next Wednesday (3/2) at New People Cinema in San Francisco. Unblinkingly honest, it is quietly moving film, well worth seeing at any time.