2018 Jewish Film Festival: Everything you need to know

“Maktub (Fate)”


What does a film about Israeli baseball, a biopic about a beautiful, brainy Hollywood movie star, and a Hungarian film noir have in common? 

They are all playing at this year’s St. Louis Jewish Film Festival. 

The Jewish Community Center’s 23rd annual festival runs June 3-7. This year’s festival, “Our Diverse Film Universe,” continues the tradition of having an international flavor while offering plenty of films in English. Films come from Israel, Italy, Argentina, Hungary, Austria, Australia and the United States. 

Narrative features and documentaries are included. Some are warm and heartfelt, others rib-tickling or charming, still others thought-provoking or challenging. Films selected by the festival committee include comedies, dramas, true-story and historical tales, documentaries, romance and thrillers. 

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Highlights include documentaries “Sammy Davis Jr.: I Gotta Be Me,” “Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story” and “Itzhak,” about legendary violinist Itzhak Perlman. Feature film highlights include the acclaimed Israeli psychological thriller “Shelter” and the suspenseful Israeli/Austrian “The Testament.” Comedies include the Israeli caper “Maktub (Fate)” and the Italian “Let Yourself Go.” 

“Every year, we try to have something for everyone,” said Zelda Sparks, cultural arts director at the J. She said the international films, all shown with English subtitles, draw audiences with ties to those countries who now live in the area, whether they are Jewish or not. 

 Details on all the films, as well as show times and ticket information, are available by picking up a festival brochure at the J, or online at stljewishfilmfestival.org, which includes movie trailers for the films.

Shows at the festival often sell out quickly, so it is a good idea to get tickets in advance. Buying in advance also offers a discount, and there are deals for multiple tickets as well. 

This year, the festival’s first day (June 3) features three films: 

“Heading Home: The Tale of Team Israel” (1 p.m.), following Israel’s underdog national baseball team as it trots around the globe to compete in the World Baseball Classic. This inspiring sports and patriotism tale of underdog spirit is introduced by Alan Spector, author of “Baseball: Never Too Old to Play the Game” and a Jewish Light blogger. 

• The Israeli comedy “Maktub (Fate)” (4 p.m.) centers on two small-time mobsters in Jerusalem who have a change of heart after escaping a terrorist attack, on a Robin Hood-esque mission to help rather than hurt. 

• The documentary “Sammy Davis Jr.: I’ve Gotta Be Me” (7 p.m.) looks at the multitalented black Jewish star. The film will have a musical introduction by the Caesars, a St. Louis-based doo-wop group. 

Sparks said she saw Davis live at the Fox Theatre a couple of times. “His talent is kind of extraordinary,” she said. 

Even in a big venue, she said, “He was a little guy, but he filled that space like no one. And his voice was astonishing.” 

“Itzhak” (4 p.m. June 7) is a delightful documentary about violinist  Perlman. (Read the Light’s April 4 review online at stljewishlight.com/itzhak.) This was one film the festival had to have, Sparks said. 

“I love this film, because he is such a unique individual, not only as an artist but just as a menchie person,” she said. “That comes through so beautifully in the film.”

“Itzhak” will be introduced with a performance by violinist Hava Polinsky, a St. Louisan and student at the Juilliard School. 

Music is also at the core of “A Quiet Heart” (4 p.m. June 6), which stars Israeli actress and singer Ania Bukstein, who played Red Priestess Kinvara in Season 6 of HBO’s “Game of Thrones.” In “A Quiet Heart,” Bukstein plays a secular Israeli classical musician seeking refuge from career pressures who befriends a handsome Italian monk and a mute, musically gifted boy. 

Every year, the festival’s Senior Mitzvah sponsors take an extra step to make sure older people of limited means can enjoy the films. This year’s Senior Mitzvah film is “Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story” (1 p.m. June 6). The documentary focuses on the brainy,  Hungarian-born Jewish beauty who became a Hollywood movie star but also invented a technology that led to WiFi, GPS and Bluetooth technology used in mobile devices. 

Other fest delights include “Shelter” (7 p.m. June 4), an Israeli psychological thriller getting a lot of buzz. The story pairs a female Mossad agent with a Lebanese female informant undergoing plastic surgery in Germany to protect her identity. What was pitched to the Mossad agent as a simple assignment turns into something far more complex. 

“The Last Suit” (7 p.m. June 6) is an Argentine charmer with a comedic touch about an elderly Jewish tailor who goes on the road rather than to the nursing home his family has picked for him. 

A double feature will be shown at at 1 p.m. June 5. “Tzeva Adom (Color Red)” is a contemporary Israeli tale about a female Israel Defense Forces soldier, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the social media-driven world. The film will be introduced via Skype by the director, Michael Horwitz, who is the brother of Rabbi Brad Horwitz, director of Jewish engagement and adult programs at the J. It will be shown with the documentary “The Essential Link: The Story of Wilfred Israel.” 

Two bonus films will be shown later in the summer: the  documentary “Big Sonia” (July 15), about a Kansas City Shoah survivor; and “An Act of Defiance” (Aug. 19), a Dutch courtroom drama set in South Africa. 

Festival co-chairs are Marilyn Brown, Jeffrey Korn and Paula Sigel.