Festival features four films for families

Helena Bonham Carter (left) stars in ‘Sixty-six.’

By Cate Marquis, Special to the Jewish Light

In an effort to expand and grow young audiences, the St. Louis Jewish Film Festival is launching a new Jewish Family Film Festival this month with selected features geared toward children in different age groups.

Organizers are hoping the festival on Sunday, Sept. 18, with two St. Louis premieres and affordable prices, will become an annual event. Hands-on activities, special guests and even movie concessions will be available, along with a fun, family friendly atmosphere.


“This has been in the works for awhile,” said Zelda Sparks, Director of Arts & Culture at the Jewish Community Center, which oversees the Jewish Film Festival. “Over the years, we have tried to feature family-type films, (but) it has been one of many in the festival itself.”

Selecting the festival films began with mothers. “It occurred to us that in order to get families with children, we needed to get some people working on this who are moms,” Sparks said, adding that the event’s co-chairs are Joy Fisher, mother of four, and Gabriela Longman, mother of two children.

“(Their children) are all different ages. So they kind of run the gamut,” added Sparks.

The idea was to create a festival with different films for different ages. “We really thought about what age cohorts we wanted,” Sparks said. “And there is crossover, some of these films are appropriate for every age group and some not. So you will see the recommended ages (may have) a big range. Some are for any young child, one is definitely high school, just because of the nature of the material.”

The Jewish Family Film Festival begins at 10 a.m. with Sesame Street’s “Shalom Sesame – The Sticky Shofar,” for ages 6 and under. The Shalom Sesame series combines characters from the American “Sesame Street” with those from the Israeli version.

“‘The Sticky Shofar’ is going to be a St. Louis premiere. (The series has) episodes around Israel, they have episodes around holidays, and this is a good one. The other thing is it’s right before Rosh Hashanah, so its perfect timing,” Sparks said. The film is free of charge, but those interested must make a reservation because of space limitations.

“Circus Kids,” for ages 6-12, will be shown at 1 p.m. The documentary follows the St. Louis Arches, the children’s acrobatic troupe featured annually at Circus Flora, as they travel through Israel, giving performances with other children’s acrobatic troupes that are trying to form connections between Israeli and Palestinian children. The film was shown previously at the St. Louis International Film Festival.

“What’s special about (this screening) is we are going to have some of the St. Louis Arches and Jessica Hentoff (Arches founder and artistic/executive director of the school that maintains the troupe). The whole message of (‘Circus Kids’) is what we have in common can build a bridge,” Sparks said.

“Sixty-Six,” the pick for ages 10-15, will be screened at 3:30 p.m. This British comedy centers on a boy who can’t wait for his bar mitzvah, which unfortunately is competing for attention with the excitement over Britain’s race for soccer’s World Cup in 1966. This funny and heart-warming film stars Helena Bonham Carter as the boy’s somewhat ditzy mother. It was shown as part of the Jewish Film Festival a few years back.

“The film talks about what is the real value here,” Sparks said. “As the kid is preparing, the older brother is kind of rotten, spoiled, mean, as older brothers can be. (He) got to have the whole big splash when the family was in better circumstances. But as family circumstances change, you get a really sense of what is this whole bar mitzvah thing is about.”

“The Wave” is the selection for high schoolers and will be shown at 6:45 p.m. This is a St. Louis premiere for this thought-provoking German drama (with English subtitles) based on real events. Tasked with teaching a lesson in autocracy, a teacher decides to challenge his students’ bored attitude towards learning about Nazi Germany. He creates a social experiment to show that even democracies are not immune to fascism.

“We have been working on trying to get this film for a long time,” Sparks said. “In the 1980s, Norman Lear produced the original. It was about a school in California doing this experiment in fascism… creating groups that exclude other groups to their detriment. A lot of people who grew up in youth groups and Sunday schools…have seen that movie. This is a little more chilling because it is set in modern-day Germany.”

The film is co-sponsored by the Holocaust Museum and curator Dan Reich will introduce it. The film is free for members of the Jewish Film Society, the year-round film club of the Jewish Film Festival.

“All in one day we have the whole range, from the very sweet ‘The Sticky Shofar’ to this one,” Sparks said. “I am just hoping that families who have children of varying ages will come. They can come for their little ones and maybe come later for their older ones.”

Jewish Family Film Festival

WHAT: Four films, each targeting a different age group

WHEN: films begin between 10 a.m. and 6:45 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 18

WHERE: Jewish Community Center’s Arts and Education Building, 2 Millstone Campus Drive, Creve Coeur

HOW MUCH: Tickets are $7, but little kids film is free

MORE INFO: Printed programs are available at the JCC, or online at www.jccstl.com/index.php/programs/detail/family-film-festival. Tickets may be purchased at the JCC box office, online at www.brownpapertickets.com or www.stljewishfilmfestival.org or at 314-442-3179