Big Screen/Small Screen
`The L Word'
A TV drama about the lives of lesbian women.
Special to the Jewish News
n The L Word Jenny Schecter, a
talented young Midwestern-bred
writer, moves to Los Angeles to
live with her boyfriend. But she
finds herself strangely unnerved by her
lesbian neighbors and soon realizes that
something 0 has been missing b from her
That's one of the story arcs of the sure-
to-be controversial cable series that pre-
mieres 10 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 18, on
Showtime. It is also, with some differ-
ences, the real-life story of Ilene Chaiken,
the show's creator and executive produc-
"There are bits and pieces of me in
Jenny and one or two other characters I
channel myself through," Chaiken said
in a telephone interview But neither of
them is me. Jenny's psychology is differ-
ent, but her story is very much like
Chaiken vas 24 when she came out as
gay — not to the world but to herself.
Until then, she'd led an unremarkable
middle-class life. She grew up in a house-
hold — and strongly identified as Jewish
— in the suburbs of Philadelphia. She
dated and even lived with a boyfriend, P11
the while knowing something was out of
kilter, yet not understanding what.
"The experience [of discovering my
sexual orientation] was painful and dis-
tressing, but also an incredible relief and
revelation," said Chaiken, who had a flir-
tation and an affair with an older
woman. "I think, at some fundamental
level, I knew instantaneously. Probably, I
knew it even before then. But it took me
a good year to try to stop dating men,"
Her parents, "good, informed, progres-
sive, liberal Jews," took the news "very
Like Jenny, Chaiken had moved to Los
Angeles. Her mother was visiting when
Chaiken told her. "She wept, and she
called my father who yelled at me for
upsetting my mother. They were unpre-
pared, and they had all the emotional
reactions that many parents do," said
Relations have improved since then.
"They got over it, incrementally. I came
out to them when I was in a relationship.
That was about 20 years ago, and I'm
still in that relationship," said Chaiken.
"Over the course of time, they came to
accept my partner and now call her their
lle process took about a dozen years.
"My parents came to terms with it when
I told them [my partner] Miggi was
pregnant. It was kind of a great moment.
They told all their friends they were
going to be grandparents, and [their
friends] said, 'You didn't even tell us she
got married.' That's when my parents
told them [about my being gay].
"The best thing about it is you don't
know how many friends said, 'Did you
know my [son or daughter] is gay?' It
was quite heartwarming."
Chaiken and partner Miggi Hood
have 8-year-old twins, who consider
themselves "half-Jewish." Chaiken does
not belong to Los Angeles' gay temple,
but attends services there regularly. "I
now have many friends whose children
Celebrating 30 Years
Jewish-themed/Israeli films at DFT.
Special to the Jewish News
wo Israeli films enter into the
30th anniversary year program-
ming of the Detroit Film
Theatre at the Detroit Institute of Arts.
fames' ourney to Jerusalem, scheduled
April 16-18, uses satire as it follows an
African Christian making a pilgrimage to
the Holy Land. Broken Wings, set for
April 23-25, follows a widow trying to
keep her family together in the face of
"I don't set out to pick a certain num-
ber of films from any particular country,"
says Elliot Wilhelm, film curator in
charge of the DFT since it started. "I just
-look for great films."
The DFT, which showcases classic and
contemporary world cinema, has been
visited by more than 3 million moviego-
ers in its 1,150-seat auditorium. Besides
the weekend fare, the theater offers a
Monday Series that features recent inde-
pendent films, documentaries and
Jewish actress Mia Kirshner plays
Jewish character Jenny Schecter on
"The L Word."
are getting bar mitzvahed. And when I
go to temple and take part in the ritual, I
always feel very connected and love to
sing along. I still remember all the
prayers," she said. .
Ironically, it was Chaiken's partner who
suggested their children become b'nai
mitzvah. "She'd never been to [a bar or
bat mitzvah] before," said Chaiken. "She
comes from a family steeped in the tradi-
tions of the Church of England, which
she finds in many ways objectionable.
She was stunned by how beautiful the
bar mitzvah ceremony is."
But Chaiken demurred, unless the
children were willing to make a full com-
mitment to Judaism, which neither was.
Meanwhile the show — and Chaiken's
life — makes for good television. The
writer/producer has a long relationship
with Showtime. She's written a couple .of
films for the cable network, most notably
Dirty Pictures, a dramatization of the
restored classics, with this year's emphasis
on masterworks by Japanese director
"The fact that we've been around so
long is worth celebrating because many
similar programs across the country have
not survived," says Wilhelm, who also
scheduled Monsieur Ibrahim, a French
production about a young Jewish boy
that stars Omar Sharif as a wise Muslim
grocery story owner for March 12-14.
One From the Heart a newly restored
romantic comedy by Francis Ford
Coppola, helps launch the anniversary
year Jan. 16-18. The Monday Series
offers Federico Fellini's restored I
Vitelloni, a lyrical story about a group of
young drifters, on Jan. 19 .
Contemporary Arts Center controversy.
That film won the 2000 Golden Globe
for best TV film.
But even before then, long before
Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, even
before Showtime's Queer As Folk,
Chaiken approached the network with
an idea. She wanted to do "a lesbian
ensemble that reflects my experiences.
They didn't turn me down, but they just
didn't buy it."
Then, several years ago, they told her
the program was a go. By then, the net-
work's gay-themed Queer as Folk was on
the air and doing well, which "definitely
made a difference.
It is a measure of how much times
have changed that Chaiken was able to
attract top stars, like Jennifer Beals and
Pam Grier, to her production.
Ironically, while extremely explicit, The
L Word is largely a middle-class show
about people attempting to discover who
they are and find love and family.
Jenny Schecter — played by Jewish
actress Mia Kirshner — is one of two
Jewish characters in the show. "There is
one other character I think is Jewish. I
haven't had to decide yet," said Chaiken.
Jenny's Jewishness plays a role in two
of the later episodes. "She meets some-
one who responds to the fact that she's
Jewish and likes her very much."
Chaiken won't reveal more.
She won't even say if that someone is a
woman or a man. Meaning we have to
The L Word premieres 10 p.m.-
midnight Sunday, Jan. 18, on
Showtime. Twelve one-hour
episodes will follow 10 p.m.
Sundays beginning Jan. 25. Check
your local cable listings.
'An important part of our film choices
is giving viewers different perspectives of
the world," Wilhelm says.
With the recognition of the DFT
milestone comes a project initiated by
the Cinematic Arts Council, an auxiliary
of the DIA'.s Founders Society Members
are planning ways to support the renova-
tion and upgrading of theater seats.
"We haven't tried to chase audiences,"
explains Wilhelm. "We've tried to main-
tain a consistency in our level of pro-
gramming. I think any film that
becomes memorable is a smashing suc-
A full DFT schedule is available at
vvww.dia.org/cIft/ or (313) 833-3237.