One was a stand-up comic. The other told her jokes sitting down. One was young, the other old, the best of friends ’til death did them part.
“Esther & Me” is comedian Lisa Geduldig’s cinematic eulogy to Esther Weintraub, a resident of San Francisco’s Jewish Home who died in 2005 at age 89. Geduldig met her there three years earlier, and thus was born a match made in comedy heaven.
Geduldig’s 33-minute film will make its local premiere Wednesday, Aug. 18 at the Victoria Theatre in San Francisco.
Best known as the producer of Kung Pao Kosher Comedy and Funny Girlz, Geduldig says she had long wanted to branch into film. About 18 months after striking up a friendship with the witty octogenarian, she thought to herself, “You’re living the film you should be making.”
“I loved this woman so much,” she says of Weintraub. “It was such an amazing friendship despite our 43-year age difference. I said [to her] I wanted to make a movie about us.”
Geduldig quickly bought a hand-held camera and boom mike, but didn’t bother to read the manual. It was more a process of point and shtick.
“She was funny,” she says. “Sometimes it was like looking into a mirror. We’d both done comedy, both women, both Jewish and both cantankerous.”
The film includes cinéma vérité footage of Geduldig hanging with Weintraub at the Jewish Home or about town. It also has photos of the young Esther, fresh out of her native Winnipeg, building a career as a fashion model in New York and, later, Los Angeles.
She was quite a dish. Weintraub modeled for 35 years. In the meantime she married and had two children. The family moved to L.A. in the early 1950s.
In the 1980s the Weintraubs moved to the Bay Area to be closer to their children. During those years, Esther would often visit senior centers and entertain the residents with her home-grown style of stand-up comedy. Her husband died in the early 1990s, and by 1999 it was time for her to seek assisted living.
Though she was not happy about the change (she told j. in 2003 that she did not like being surrounded by people “who don’t even pull their pants up”), she adapted, becoming a popular resident at the Jewish Home.
“Esther & Me” shows Geduldig encouraging her friend to get back into comedy, even booking her to co-headline the all-woman stand-up comedy show Funny Girlz in 2003. Weintraub earned a standing ovation that night.
That was a high point, but time took its toll and soon Weintraub began to decline. “At one point,” recalls Geduldig, “I realized the film was not going to be finished while she was alive.”
Geduldig kept filming to the end and beyond (the touching finale features scenes from Weintraub’s memorial service at the Jewish Home). Then, for years, the 10 hours of footage collected dust.
“It sat on my desk because I have this thing of having to do everything myself,” she says. “When I bought a computer and [filmmaking] software, it sat there, too.”
Enter Adam Kennedy, who had a knack for using the filmmaking software Geduldig had bought. The two met last year, when Kennedy was a 17-year-old senior at Balboa High School, and decided to work together on the film. Kennedy is now a film major at S.F. State.
Geduldig solicited funding from family and friends. Once post-production wrapped earlier this year, she had a stroke of beginner’s luck when “Esther & Me” was screened to much acclaim at the 2010 Jewish Film Festival Berlin.
It is screening at the Rhode Island International Film Festival this weekend and Austin Gay and Lesbian International Film Festival in September.
Geduldig says she still cries when she watches the scene in which Esther’s death comes. She misses her friend dearly, but also says the relationship — and the film — taught her a valuable lesson. “Don’t judge someone because they look old,” she says. “Friendships know no boundaries of age.”
“Esther & Me” screens 7 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 18 at the Victoria Theatre, 2961 16th St., S.F. Tickets and information: www.brownpapertickets.com/event/122295.