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Intense documentary comes to LPCA this weekend

September 10, 2015
By TOM SALITSKY ( , Lake Placid News

Jack Baxter is intimately familiar with the phrase, "The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray."

Baxter, a New York-based filmmaker and freelance journalist, will appear Friday and Saturday at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts along with his wife, Producer Fran Strauss-Baxter. Together, they will kick off the second year of the Adirondack Film Society Screening Series with their film "Blues by the Beach," the story of what happens when the filming of a documentary about Mike's Place, a blues bar in Tel Aviv, Israel, is interrupted by a suicide bombing. They will introduce the picture and participate in a post-screening question and answer session moderated by AFS Artistic Director Kathleen Carroll.

How did Baxter, an American who described his background as "Bronx Irish Catholic," find his way to a bar in Tel Aviv in the years after 9-11?

"We wanted to do something after 9-11 on the Middle East," Baxter said. "I went ... to see if I could do a documentary on Marwan Barghouti, who was then and still is the most popular Palestinian leader."

Baxter originally planned to document Barghouti's trial but hit a snag.

"The trial was canceled because of the Passover season," he said. "I'm stuck in Israel, and there is no story."

Baxter had planned to stay the entire month of April and decided to find a new subject for his film.

"I got a hotel room for $18 a night," he said. "I figured with a few thousand bucks and my camcorder, who knows? Maybe I can change the world."

Inspiration struck, as it often does, when he decided to grab a drink.

"I heard this music coming out of this place," he said. "The band was really good. The place was jumping."

Baxter had stumbled upon Mike's Place, a blues bar where Israelis, Arabs, Europeans and Americans rubbed elbows together while observing one cardinal rule: never talk politics or religion. He had found his subject.

"This (was) a perfect scene," he said. "I (didn't) have to do anything more on politics or religion."

Strauss-Baxter said Baxter was looking to chronicle the lives of the bartenders and waitresses of the bar.

"He (was) going to do a happy film," she said. "Like an MTV 'Real World' kind of thing.

"It's an Israel you don't hear about in the news."

Baxter met Joshua Faudem, a bartender who had just graduated from film school, and, over the next three weeks, the duo chronicled the bar's world.

"I became part of this family, the Mike's Place family," Baxter said. "I became part of this whole scene. I'm walking around, and people in Tel Aviv are like, 'Hey Jack - how are you doing?'"

Baxter said that while there had been reports of suicide bombings elsewhere in the country, the Mike's Place family never expected such a thing would happen to them.

The bar was located next to the American Embassy, and it was well-known that the owners and clientele were largely apolitical. Instead, on what was supposed to be his last night in Israel, tragedy struck.

"I have no idea why I'm alive, to tell you the truth," Baxter said.

People died in the bomb's blast, and Baxter was badly injured, along with several others. "Blues by the Beach" rapidly shifted focus, examining the lives of the survivors in the aftermath of tragedy. The film, released in 2004, won the Pierre Salinger Award for Best Documentary at the 12th annual Avignon New York Film Festival and the Conflict and Resolution Award at the Hamptons International Film Festival.

Baxter and Faudem recently co-wrote a graphic novel based on the events of the film and the years that followed called "Mike's Place: A True Story of Love, Blues, and Terror in Tel Aviv." Together, with artist Koren Shadmi, they provided what they hope will be the blueprint for a major motion picture based on the events surrounding the attack.

"Originally, it was our screenplay, so the screenplay was turned into the graphic novel because graphic novels basically follow the same format,"

Baxter said. "The book is being shopped around right now in Hollywood."

Baxter described the graphic novel as "'Casablanca' meets 'Syriana,'" and, strangely enough, the LPCA is screening "Casablanca" the night before "Blues at the Beach." It's another amazing coincidence in a story built on amazing coincidences, reminiscent of tales from classical antiquity.

"The film ... almost played into the archetype or the architecture of the classic Greek tragedy," Baxter said. "You're on your way to doing something, and then a storm comes and puts you in a whole different direction."

Copies of the book will be available for purchase and for signing at the screenings courtesy of Bookstore Plus. For more information on the film, visit

For more information on the graphic novel, visit



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