Films of Jewish interest at the St. Louis International Film Festival

Ceija Stojka shows her tattoo in “A People Uncounted.”

by Cate Marquis, Special to the Jewish Light

Now celebrating its 20th year, the St. Louis International Film Festival offers a first-look at some major Oscar hopefuls as well as a rare chance to see the favorites from other festivals, along with documentaries, shorts and films offering a glimpse into cultures from around the world.

As always, SLIFF offers a number of focused film programs called sidebars, including a Jewish Sidebar. The films are shown at Plaza Frontenac Cinema, the Tivoli Theatre and other locations, and runs rom Thursday, Nov. 10 through Sunday, Nov. 20. Some films get a second showing but many are screened only once.

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This year’s SLIFF Jewish Sidebar has five narrative feature films, including two from Israel, and four documentaries. A couple of these films, “David” and the documentary “Incessant Visions,” have local connections as well. “David,” which will be shown at 7:15 p.m. Friday, Nov. 11 at the Tivoli and again at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 13 at Plaza Frontenac, is an American film about a young Muslim boy living in a New York neighborhood next to an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood, who befriends some Jewish boys who mistake him for one of them (see related story, page 10).

Besides the sidebar films, there are a few others that may be of particular interest to Jewish audiences. These include “Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life” (French), “Restoration” (Israeli), “Seven Minutes in Heaven” (Israeli) and “In Darkness” (Polish/German). All are discussed below except “In Darkness” which was not made available in advance of the festival.

• Easily the most colorful and imaginative film in the sidebar is “Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life.” Shown at 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 18 and at 3:30 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 20 at Plaza Frontenac, the film is a creative, oft-humorous retelling of the life of beloved French Jewish songwriter/artist Serge Gainsbourg, who grew up in Nazi-occupied Paris as Lucien Ginsburg and is played winningly by Eric Elmosnino. Renown comic book artist Joan Sfar directs with surreal style and imagination, transforming Gainsbourg’s self-doubts into a cartoonish character-his mug-following him from childhood to the pinnacle of success.

The two Israeli films are both dramas but could not be more different in tone.

• “Restoration,” shown at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 16 and Thursday, Nov. 17 at Plaza Frontenac, is a meditation on loss and choices at life’s twilight. A 70-year-old antique furniture restorer has his quiet, isolated life upended with the death of his gregarious business partner. Having lived a kind of anti-social life, he now finds himself at the mercy of his fate, the choices of his son and the possibilities a stranger may offer. The story is heartbreaking and touching, a reminder to seize life while we still can.

• “Seven Minutes in Heaven” focuses on a young woman who survived a suicide bombing and still grapples with that aftermath. Where the other Israeli film is about closing doors, this one is about hope, second chances and true survival. It is moving and cleverly written, with superb acting and will be shown at 4:45 p.m. Monday, Nov. 14 and Wednesday, Nov. 16 at Plaza Frontenac.

The four documentaries in the Jewish Sidebar highlight a variety of subjects.

• “Incessant Visions: Letters from an Architect” will be shown at 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 13 at COCA in University City. The subject is architect Erich Mendelsohn, who designed the building where the screening takes place, originally the home of Congregation B’nai Amoona. The letters are between Mendelsohn and his future wife. One of Germany’s most acclaimed architects, he was forced out by the rise of the Nazis. Eventually settling in Israel, Mendelsohn designed some of the country’s most significant buildings and transformed history and architecture.

• “My So-Called Enemy” will be shown free at 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 13 at Washington University. This sensitive documentary follows a group of teenaged Israeli and Palestinian girls, brought to the United States to participate in an exercise aimed at teaching tolerance through interpersonal communication (see related story on page 12).

• “Song of Lodz Ghetto,” shown at 1:30 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 20 at Plaza Frontenac, focuses on a wildly popular street singer in the Polish ghetto, whose biting humor and political daring is created helping raise spirits and help those trapped their survive the war.

• “Lost Airmen of Buchenwald,” shown at 1 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 17 at Plaza Frontenac, centers on a group of Allied fighter pilots who were accused as spies and sent to the Buchenwald work camp, where they were mixed in with the general population, experiencing the same hardships and bearing witness to its atrocities.

There are a few other films at SLIFF, all documentaries, which Cinema St. Louis executive director Cliff Froehlich suggests may be of special interest to readers of the Light.

• “A People Uncounted” (8:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 12, Washington University) is about another people targeted by the Nazis for their Final Solutions, the Roma, also called Gypsies, exploring their persecution in WWII and difficult lives in present-day Europe.

• “Holy Wars” (5 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 20, Webster University’s Moore Auditorium) focuses on Muslim and Christian fundamentalists as they discuss their faiths, and possibility of tolerance.

• “Corner Store” (9:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 15, Tivoli) about a Palestinian Christian man who runs a small store in San Francisco while hoping the wife and children he left behind in Bethlehem can join him someday in America.

Programs with information on films, times and tickets are available at the Tivoli and Plaza Frontenac Cinema. For more information about SLIFF, including a complete schedule, go to