The Catskills

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The Catskills (Documentary, USA, 2023)

Director: Lex Gillespie

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Prepare for an entertaining trip backwards in time!

The Catskills is a feature-length documentary film on the rise and fall of the Borscht Belt. With a trove of lost-and-found archival footage and a cast of characters endowed with the gift of gab, The Catskills journeys into the storied mountain getaway north of New York City that served as refuge for Jewish immigrants fleeing poverty as well as a lavish playground for affluent Jewish families.

Stand-up comedians share their best shtick while former waiters, entertainers, and dance instructors recount tales of the family-run resorts and bungalows that inspired films like "Dirty Dancing."

The Catskills is a humorous and nostalgic tribute to what became affectionately known as the Borscht Belt. Through the lens of stand-up comedians delivering their finest routines and the reminiscences of former waiters, entertainers, and dance instructors, the film captures the essence of the family-run resorts and bungalows that served as the inspiration for iconic films like Dirty Dancing. By piecing together personal anecdotes, home videos, promotional images, postcards, and menus, this cinematic time capsule offers a comprehensive overview of Jewish immigration to New York.

In this fascinating and joy-filled film, director Lex Gillespie maps the development of the vacation destination, from a refuge for working-class Jews seeking a respite from poverty in overcrowded New York City tenements to a lavish summer playground for the affluent. Within these myriad resorts, a diverse array of guests, including Holocaust survivors and notable figures from the entertainment industry, found refuge. Esteemed personalities like Jennie Grossinger from the renowned Grossinger’s Hotel hosted politicians and athletes, while nightclubs became platforms for emerging musical and comedic talent, even offering support to artists facing blacklisting during the McCarthy era. Perhaps most importantly, “the Sour Cream Sierras” became a place of resistance against antisemitic exclusion and a flourishing haven for Yiddishkeit.

This delightful film chronicles the sweeping rise, zenith, and eventual decline of "the Jewish Alps," a journey illuminated with both authenticity and sentiment. From lox to herring, this celebration of Jewish-American life is all you can eat!

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