Impressive lineup for Jewish Film Fest

“La Rafle”

By Cate Marquis, Special to the Jewish Light

The Jewish Community Center’s 16th Annual St. Louis Jewish Film Festival, “A Journey in Film: Jewish Life and History from Around the World,” will showcase 13 films from around the world (plus a bonus film, “La Rafle,” on Aug. 4). The festival will include documentaries, biographies, history-based narrative films plus other feature films – light and dark. Several are local premieres. Each film is introduced by an expert speaker.

The Opening Day Gala, a party with dinner and movie, is Sunday, June 12. This year, the festival honors St. Louis’ love of baseball with “Jews and Baseball: An American Love Story.”

“A small segment was shown on PBS but this is the full film,” said Zelda Sparks, Director of Arts and Culture at the Jewish Community Center.

The party is at 6 p.m., with the film screening before and after- 4:15 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Food includes baseball favorites and baseball-shaped cupcakes, with dietary laws observed. The dinner and movie are $50 per person or $15 for just the film.

This year’s festival has a strong emphasis on history. With this April marking the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War, “Jewish Soldiers in Blue and Gray,” is particularly timely. This documentary reveals the large, but largely untold, role that Jews played on both sides in the Civil War. Another film, “Winston Churchill: Walking With Destiny” focuses on Churchill’s early awareness of the Nazi threat and role in bringing the U.S. into the war.

Wonderful music fills the inspiring documentary “100 Voices: A Journey Home,” exploring the history of cantorial music and Jewish culture in Poland, as a group of American cantors perform a series of concerts there.

There are history-inspired narrative films like Olympics-themed “Berlin 36” but also stories such as the Israeli film noir-style “Naomi” and quirky, comic “The Matchmaker.”

The screening of “Vidal Sassoon: The Movie” comes with a fashion bonus, a drawing for a makeover, with a haircut and style, make-up and new clothes from Saks Fifth Avenue. “It’s a very good movie. He was a very interesting guy,” Sparks said. “He went to Israel and fought in the War of Independence.”

Something new this year is a short film competition, “Repairing The World.” The competition is open to filmmakers in three age categories for films with the theme of tikkun olam. The four winning films will be shown throughout the festival.

The film festival experience continues on Aug. 4, with “La Rafle,” a French-language drama about the collaboration between the Vichy France government and the Nazis to deport French Jews. “La rafle means ‘the round-up’ and that refers to the round up of Jews,” Sparks said. “(Speaker Rachel Miller) survived that.” The film stars Jean Reno and Melanie Laurent (“Inglourious Basterds”).

The JCC will continue its film events with a Jewish Family Film Festival on Sept. 18, with four films, selected by mothers, for age groups ranging from infant to teen, plus hands-on activities and special guests. The JCC also holds a year-round Jewish Film Society, described in the festival program.

This year’s film festival chairs are Judy Plocker and Louise Levine. Other volunteers include Jack Berman, Linda Koenig and Leslie Waldbaum, who helped with programs, while Rosalie Rotenberg, Aileen Wallis and Dee Wolff organized the opening night event. Film selection volunteer Natalie Kauffman screened over 100 films.

St. Louis Jewish Film Festival

What: The Jewish Community Center’s 16th annual festival features 13 films, each introduced by an expert speaker

WHEN: June 12-16, with bonus film event Aug. 4

WHERE: Landmark Plaza Frontenac Cinema

HOW MUCH: Tickets are $11 in advance, $12 after June 11. Tickets for students age 16 and under are $8 and a four-pack of weekday films are $40. Advance tickets are available at the JCC Staenberg Family Complex Arts and Entertainment Building, by calling the festival hotline 314-442-3179 or online at After June 11, they are available only at Plaza Frontenac Cinema. The opening day gala costs $50 for the film and party or $15 for the film.

MORE INFO: Information on films and tickets are in the program, available at the JCC or