#AJFF Review: Fiddler’s Journey To The Big Screen

The Atlantic Jewish Film Festival runs from now until Sunday, November 20th, with in-person screenings as well as a virtual selection. Visit the website for tickets and information on the films. 

Fiddler’s Journey To The Big Screen | Directed by Daniel Raim | Written by Raim and Michael Sragow | 88 min 

A few months ago I erased a longstanding blind spot on my personal cinematic journey: I watched Fiddler On The Roof for the first time. It was for an episode of the podcast I co-host, LENS ME YOUR EARS.

What a joy to finally see Norman Jewison’s adaptation of this epic musical. My parents had the soundtrack when I was a kid, so many of the songs were familiar — “If I Were A Rich Man,” and “Sunrise Sunset,” especially. It made the experience of seeing the film that much more special.

I kept thinking to myself, what a risk this must have seemed at the time, the idea that a production like this — a story about Eastern European Jews from years past managing changing times within their community, within their own families, and eventually, sadly, being forced from their homes — would reach audiences beyond the very people whose traditions it was about. What an achievement that it did. And Jewison isn’t even Jewish! But plenty of his collaborators were.

Those that are still with us show up for this documentary, which is not only about the film but about Jewison — the Canadian kid with an outsized sense of social justice and a gift for visual storytelling who made his way from directing live television — there’s a great clip with Harry Belafonte — into feature filmmaking.

We also get the reminiscences of legendary production designer Robert F Boyle and actor Chaim Topol, who played Tevye The Dairyman — those interviews recorded years ago. John Williams, who conducted the musical score is on board, along with lyricist Sheldon Harnick. A nice touch to get Jeff Goldblum to narrate the thing with his typically jaunty, unmistakable delivery.

Perhaps most affecting are the stories told by actors Rosalind Harris, Michele Marsh, and Neva Small, who played Tevye’s daughters, the young women who all married for love rather than to men who their father approved of.  The documentarians get them to sing excerpts of the songs they’re best known for; “Matchmaker, Matchmaker,” “Miracle of Miracles,” and “Far From The Home I Love,” and it’s magic.

The documentary is conventionally told but packed with detail about the making of the film, from the set design to the hunt for the perfect locations — found, eventually, in Yugoslavia — to behind the scenes footage from Pinewood Studios in London, where they shot for months, to the unexpected and universal success of the production. It’s a genuine treat. As far as this kind of doc goes — the How Did They Make That Beloved Film? production — this is about as good as it gets.

About the author


Carsten Knox is a massive, cheese-eating nerd. In the day he works as a journalist in Halifax, Nova Scotia. At night he stares out at the rain-slick streets, watches movies, and writes about what he's seeing.