Monday, January 08, 2018

NYJFF ’18: The Red House (short)

Louis Sullivan famously wrote: “form follows function” and that was originally true of Łodzia House in Tel Aviv. It looks like an Old World factory plopped down in the outskirts of the city, because that is exactly what it was. Tamar Tal Anati chronicles its history and cultural significance in the short documentary, The Red House (trailer here), which screens during the 2018 New York Jewish Film Festival.

The building at 43 Nahmani Street was originally constructed as a hosiery factory in 1924 by a recently immigrated Zionist. Alas, stockings were not in such high demand during the pre-founding days of Israel. Eventually, they sold out and the business relocated, leaving the building vacant, until it was repurposed as a synagogue. Apparently, it was not a particularly comfortable synagogue, but the unruly neighborhood kids enjoyed playing on its tenement-style external staircases.

The buildings glory days logically came in the 1980s, back when everything was great. A handful of artists turned it into Tel Aviv’s first New York-style loft-scene gallery-complex, which immediately captured the attention of Israel’s media and glitterati, much to their surprise. The building’s last hurrah as an arts space before its long-overdue restoration came when the Batsheva Ensemble filmed their dance short Home Alone in its concrete halls. Just under two minutes, Home Alone showcases some inventive editing, as well as the company’s impressive dancers, so it really ought to screen along with Red House (you can find it here instead).

Tal Anati primarily uses Łodzia House as a way to measure the evolution of Tel Aviv and Israeli culture in general, sort of like the rings of a tree, but it also invites viewers to examine how we relate to space. The building was a not particularly reverent reflection of the industrial architecture of 1920s Eastern Europe, but it was perfectly suited to its 1980s function. Clearly, the Batsheva Ensemble’s video would have had a drastically different character and ambiance if it had been made anyplace else.

Thanks to Tal Anati and her interview subjects, we develop a rather thorough appreciation for the building, in an economical twenty minutes. Recommended for viewers interested in architecture and Israeli culture, The Red House screens with Praise the Lard this Thursday (1/11) and Sunday (1/14) at the Walter Reade, as part of this year’s NYJFF.