St. Louis Jewish Film Festival returns


The 2022 Jewish Film Festival includes (clockwise from top left): ‘Blue Box,’ ‘Tango Shalom,’ ‘Plan A’ and ‘Not Going Quietly.’

Cate Marquis , Special For The Jewish Light

The annual St. Louis Jewish Film Festival shifts to a new season, returning March 6 -13 with an exciting lineup of films, including documentaries on an array of subjects plus comedy and drama narrative films.

The 27th annual festival, which will be virtual again this year, has an array of 13 international and U.S. films with Jewish themes, with five outstanding documentaries on varied topics, and eight engrossing narrative features including dramas, comedies, history-based and thrillers, plus a trio of enticing discussions and a pre-festival bonus short film, “Touch the Sky,” which has been available to stream since Jan. 17.

Countries represented include Israel, France, Switzerland and Germany, and languages include English plus Hebrew, German, French, and Italian, with English subtitles.

Documentaries include the charming “The Automat,” featuring Mel Brooks, which takes a loving look back at a New York culinary institution, and the uplifting, music-filled “The Conductor,” about Marin Alsop, the first woman conductor to lead a major American symphony. “Not Going Quietly” is a moving documentary about Ady Barkan, a new father with a promising career in progressive politics, who suddenly finds himself battling ALS.

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Other documentaries are “High Maintenance: The Life and Work of Dani Karavan” about the nearly 90-year-old award-winning Israeli artist and “Blue Box” about the legacy of the young Israel’s historic effort to plant forests but which also displaced Arab villages.

The Tiger Within

Feature Films of the St. Louis Jewish Film Festival

Narrative feature films include the touching drama “Tiger Within” featuring Ed Asner in his last role; “Greener Pastures,” a hilarious hit Israeli comedy about retirees and cannabis; and an intriguing Israeli/German historical drama, “Plan A,” based on true events, about a group of Jews plotting revenge on Germany in the wake of World War II.

“Every film is amazing,” Diane Maier, director of Film and Performing Arts at the Jewish Community Center, said. “‘Tiger Within’ is Ed Asner’s final film and he is amazing as always. ‘Plan A’ is a look at justice, revenge and morality. Every movie is a highlight.”

Additional narrative features include “Neighbours” a Swiss kid-centric story about a Kurdish boy and his Jewish neighbors; “200 Meters” a Palestinian-Israeli thriller, both of which also played at last fall’s St. Louis International Film Festival; the light-hearted “Tango Shalom” about a Hasidic rabbi and a tango contest; “Wet Dog” a German autobiographical drama about a Jewish-Iranian teen in Berlin; and “The Specials,” a French comic drama about a Jewish man, played by Vincent Cassels, taking care of autistic youths who partners with another man named Malik, who is helping other young people in need.

“There is definitely something for everyone. We have art, music, comedy, and drama, espionage — a great variety,” Maier said.

The “New” St. Louis Jewish Film Festival

For many years, the St. Louis Jewish Film Festival took place in June, but COVID changed things. The 2020 film festival shifted to fall and went virtual. The 2021 film festival was still virtual but returned to its usual summer season. Now that is changing.

“The reason we changed the date is because the first week of June, the original date, is one of the craziest times for people,” Maier said. “Kids have finished school, and everyone is traveling. Grandparents want to see their kids and grand-kids, families. Nobody was home. The weather is beautiful, not exactly indoor movie weather. We thought that early March was a good time for watchers. People are stuck inside and what better than a film festival to pass the time.”

Once again, the film festival will be virtual, but the film festival committee considered going back to in-theater this time.

“The committee really pondered whether to go back to the theater for the festival,” Marilyn Brown, co-chair of the film festival, said. Brown is one of three co-chairs of the film festival, along with Jeffrey Korn and Paula Sigel. “So, after discussing the pros and cons, [such as] watching a film on the big screen, enjoying movie popcorn, etc., we decided to go virtual. All of the committee members were just not comfortable going back to the theater with the uncertainty of the COVID situation.”

Added Brown: “We considered some of the advantages of the virtual experience. Patrons can view the films at their convenience during the week of March 6-12. They don’t have to watch any film at a pre-scheduled, inflexible time. That is something we would have to do in the theater. Also, patrons can be comfortable in their own homes and pause the films whenever they want or need to. And most people are used to streaming videos now, so the learning curve would be minimal.”

St. Louis Jewish Film Festival goes on-demand

All festival films and discussions will be available on-demand anytime from March 6-13 with the purchase of a ticket or All-Access pass and can be seen through the festival’s viewing platform. Details on that are below and on the festival website. Although the festival is virtual again there have been some changes, to make it a smoother experience.

“We have certainly learned about issues with virtual technology, which is why we have changed the viewing platform for this year’s festival,” Brown said. “Hopefully, this new platform, which was used for the St. Louis Jewish Book Festival [last fall], will be easier for patrons to access.

“One item I would like to convey is that the distributors are ‘geo-blocking’ the films. That means they will only be available to our patrons in Missouri,” Brown continued. “Not our choice, but we have no control over this. So, sorry to our friends who are wintering in Florida.”

The pandemic disrupted filmmaking at first and brought the potential for problems with films. But Brown said the pandemic, surprisingly, has had very little effect, if any, on the number or quality of films the festival was able to procure.

“Our committee viewed about 50 films and chose 13,” said Maier. “We grade the films as we go along and at the end, we pull our highest-rated films and then we look at features and documentaries, countries of origin, and make our final selection. Then I negotiate to get the films.”

St. Louis Jewish Film Festival offers free discussions

Intriguing discussions, all free, accompany three of the documentaries. Last year, these discussions were a big hit with festival audiences.

“I am particularly interested in the discussion on ‘The Conductor.’ Erik Finley from our own St. Louis Symphony [Orchestra] is interviewing Bernadette Wegenstein, the film’s director,” Brown said. “This is an example of being able to virtually interview the director of the film from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

“For ‘Not Going Quietly,’ another excellent, moving documentary, we have Stacey Newman, former member of the Missouri House of Representatives, interviewing the film’s director, Nick Bruckman. And [for “High Maintenance – The Life and Work of Dani Karavan”‎], Ellen Futterman, [Editor-in-Chief] of the St. Louis Jewish Light, will introduce and interview the film’s director, Barak Heymann. All three discussions are free of charge, but I would recommend watching them after viewing the film.”

Asked about her favorite film this year, Maier had to give it some thought. “That is so hard. I think I loved ‘Greener Pastures.’ It’s just such a complete film, with laughter, lots of heart, and a few big twists,” she said.

2022 St. Louis Jewish Film Festival

WHEN: March 6 -13

WHERE: Virtual

HOW MUCH: Single movie tickets are $15 and the festival’s All-Access Pass is $98, which can be used by a whole household. All film discussions are free.

MORE INFO: Visit To buy tickets or for ticket questions, contact the J’s Box office by phone at 314-442-3179 or by email at [email protected]. You will need to create an account to purchase tickets through the festival’s website. After buying your tickets or pass, you will receive an email with information on how to unlock films for viewing. Festival tech support is available through the festival hotline at 314-442-3179. Live technical support will be available during the festival.