Taika David Cohen Waititi (b. 1975) was born and raised in New Zealand to a native Te Whānau-ā-Apanui Maori father and a Russian-Jewish mother. He is probably the world’s most famous “Polynesian Jew” (as he describes himself). While studying drama at Victoria University of Wellington, Waititi joined a comedy troupe called So You’re a Man and toured across New Zealand and Australia. He was later part of a successful comedy duo which won New Zealand’s Billy T Award for comedy in 1999. That same year he acted in his first film, the low-budget Scarfies. After appearances in another film and a TV show, Waititi shifted his focus to film-making. His 2005 short film Two Cars, One Night was nominated for an Oscar. He made his first full-length film in 2007, and his second in 2010. The latter, Boy, set records in New Zealand and was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival. Meanwhile, Waititi wrote the original draft of the screenplay for Moana. His big break came in 2017 when he directed his first blockbuster, Thor: Ragnarok. He also voiced the characters Surtur and Korg in the move. The film was critically acclaimed for bringing an entirely new flavour to the dying franchise, and resurrecting the series. It was so popular that a new set of Thor films was put in production, making it the first among the heroes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to have more than a trilogy. Waititi will direct the upcoming Thor: Love and Thunder, in which (former Jew of the Week) Natalie Portman is set to take over the title role. Waititi is also working on Star Wars: the Mandalorian, as well as an adaptation of the classic Akira. His next film, Jojo Rabbit, is generating some controversy as it is a comedic story of a Hitler Youth whose family is sheltering a Jewish child. Waititi is not only the director, but plays the youth’s imaginary Adolf Hitler. Though satirical, Waititi maintains that the film is “anti-hate” and is an “insult” to that “f*cking c**t” Hitler (see trailer here). Waititi was 2017’s New Zealander of the Year, and has been called a “visionary director”, a “comedy genius”, and a “master of suspense”. His best work is undoubtedly ahead of him.
Gennady “Genndy” Borisovich Tartakovsky (b. 1970) was born in Moscow. His family escaped the Soviet Union to Italy when he was still a child, and were soon forced to move again after experiencing tremendous anti-Semitism. They ended up in Chicago, where Tartakovsky grew up, enjoying his new-found comic books, American cartoons, Japanese anime, and comedy shows. Tartakovsky had a difficult youth. He was made fun of for being an immigrant, and always felt like an outsider. His father passed away when he was a teenager, and the family barely scraped by living in subsidized housing. Although he wanted to be a businessman and get his family out of the gutter, Tartakovsky was placed in an animation class and decided this was his life’s work. He would go on to study at the prestigious California Institute of the Arts in Los Angeles. After finishing his studies, Tartakovsky got a job in Spain working on a Batman cartoon. His big break came when he was hired by Hanna-Barbera and given the chance to come up with a show. Tartakovsky brushed off an old student project, Dexter’s Laboratory,which ended up on television and became hugely popular. It won three Annie Awards and was nominated for four Emmys. It would later be ranked among the 100 best cartoons and credited with launching ” a new generation of animated series that played on two levels, simultaneously fun for both kids and adults.” Tartakovsky then co-produced The Powerpuff Girls, followed by the hit Samurai Jack, which won him an Emmy and was also ranked among the 100 best cartoons. Tartakovsky’s shows boosted the Cartoon Network’s viewership from 12 million to 72 million. In 2005, Tartakovsky was hired by George Lucas to direct Star Wars: Clone Wars. The show won three Emmy Awards. In 2012, Tartakovsky made his film debut with Hotel Transylvania (originally created by Todd Durham), which was nominated for Best Animated Feature at the Golden Globes. Hotel Transylvania spawned two sequels, earning the trilogy nearly a billion dollars at the box office. Tartakovsky has worked on many other films and shows, including The Flintstones and Iron Man 2, and even wrote and illustrated for Marvel Comics. The key to a good comedy cartoon, he says, is writing with parents in mind and remembering that kids are really smart, too.
Words of the Week
I see Star Wars as taking all the issues that religion represents and trying to distill them down into a more modern and easily accessible construct… I put the Force into the movie in order to try to awaken a certain kind of spirituality in young people – more a belief in God than a belief in any particular religious system. – George Lucas