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Talking a way out of anti-Semitism

October 21, 2005|Kevin Crust | Times Staff Writer

Filmmaker Marc Levin begins and ends his perceptive documentary, "Protocols of Zion," by addressing the ludicrous theory that the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, were somehow a Jewish conspiracy that allowed more than 4,000 Jews to survive because they knew not to go to work at the World Trade Center that fateful day. Levin shares with us his incredulity at the idea, which would seem like perverse satire if it weren't for the fact that he is able to find so many people who believe it to be true.

Levin structures the film around "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion," a text written in the late 19th century purporting to be the minutes of a secret meeting of Jewish leaders with plans to rule the world. The 24 protocols were actually written by aides to the Russian czar and though they have repeatedly been proven to be forgeries, they have turned out to be remarkably resilient. People including Henry Ford, Adolf Hitler and contemporary leaders of Islamic extremism and the American white power movement have turned to them in propounding their agendas.

Impelled by a level of anti-Semitism he had not previously encountered, Levin pounds the pavement and engages in dialogue with a wide range of people, including Arab Americans, black nationalists, Christian evangelicals, Aryan skinheads, cabalist rabbis and both Holocaust deniers and survivors, as he tries to come to an understanding of their differing world views.

Whether he's talking to Shaun Walker of the National Alliance, a white power group, or trying to persuade Larry David and Rob Reiner to get together to discuss "The Passion of the Christ," Levin is an effective presence because he's able to maintain his composure in the face of antagonism.

He is joined at times by his father, Al, who shares remembrances of the religious hatred his generation faced growing up in Flatbush, N.Y., recalling the houses in which Catholic families lived, the names he was called and the incendiary radio broadcasts of Father Charles E. Coughlin in the 1930s.

Steering clear of polemics, Levin takes a humanistic stand in navigating the divisive landscape. The extremely personal film is strongest when dealing with emotions at opposite ends of the spectrum. It finds dry humor in Walker's assertion that Hitler didn't strike him as the suicidal type and is quite moving when profiling Shiya Ribowsky, the medical examiner charged with identifying remains from the World Trade Center, who happens to be the cantor at the synagogue where Levin's children had their bar mitzvahs.

To combat the renewed interest in the protocols, Levin has chosen to draw attention to their absurdities by speaking directly to those drawn to them. It's unlikely that he changed any of those minds, but in creating a document of refutation he offers an alternative voice for anyone who might be fooled. Levin's real objective is to simply ask Christians, Muslims and others to stop blaming Jews for the problems of the world.

*

'Protocols of Zion'

MPAA rating: Unrated.

Times guidelines: Some language, nudity on a magazine cover and graphic images of the Holocaust.

Released by ThinkFilm. Director Marc Levin. Producers Marc Levin, Steve Kalafer. Executive producer Jeff Herr. Director of photography Mark Benjamin. Editor Ken Eluto. Music John Zorn. Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes.

At the Laemmle's Music Hall, 9036 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, (310) 274-6869; and Laemmle's Town Center, 17200 Ventura Blvd., Encino, (818) 981-9811.

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