Jewish Film Festival goes global for 22nd edition

St. Louis Jewish Film Festival

By Cate Marquis, Special to the Jewish Light

The 22nd annual St. Louis Jewish Film Festival takes place June 4-8 at Landmark Plaza Frontenac Cinema. With 16 films from nine countries, it is truly a global film feast,” according to organizers. 

The festival will present seven narrative features and nine documentaries. Features include comedies, true-story dramas, mysteries and thrillers. The documentaries cover subjects dealing with history, music, food and sports. 

Zelda Sparks, director of cultural arts at the Jewish Community Center, which presents the festival, said an abundance of good films suitable for the festival were available this year.

“We had so many films to choose from this year,” she said. With so many, some tough choices had to be made, since the festival runs less than a week. 

“Each is special for their own reasons. It is just so strong this year,” Sparks said of the festival’s lineup. 

Paying to show films is getting more expensive, she said, and ticket prices only cover a small fraction of the cost.

“All of our sponsors make it happen,” she said.

It is a good idea to get tickets early, Sparks said, as films frequently sell out. 

The festival opens Sunday, June 4, with two films. At 4 p.m., “On the Map,” an Israeli documentary, tells of the “Miracle on Hardwood”: the 1977 European Championship won by the Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball team over the Soviets, a victory that put Israel on the map in sports and as a competitive force. The victory energized the Israeli people. 

“The film is about a young country as well as the game,” Sparks said. “Even if you hate sports, even if you know what is going to happen, you’re still excited.” 

Sparks said a generous supporter of the festival has made it possible for the  young St. Louis athletes competing in this year’s Maccabi Games — and their coaches — to see the movie for free.

At 7 p.m., “Fanny’s Journey,” a compelling docudrama from Belgium, focuses on a 13-year-old girl who takes charge of 11 other Jewish children in the French countryside as they attempt to flee the advancing Nazi army. 

On June 5, foodies get their day with a double feature menu starting at 1 p.m. The documentary “Breakfast at Ina’s” takes a bittersweet look at the last days of Ina’s, a Chicago institution, as Ina Pinkney, the “Breakfast Queen,” reluctantly closes her restaurant after 33 years in business. 

Pinkney, author of “Ina’s Kitchen: Memories and Recipes from the Breakfast Queen,” who appeared at last fall’s Jewish Book Festival, will introduce the film and sign copies of her book. 

Following “Breakfast at Ina’s,”  the documentary “The Last Blintz” tells the story of a multigenerational, down-to-earth restaurant forced to close to make way for a more upscale restaurant.  

Music is showcased in three films. 

“Bang: The Bert Berns Story” (7 p.m. June 5) examines the songwriter and/or producer behind such ’60s hits as “Twist and Shout,” “Piece of My Heart,” “Under the Boardwalk” and “Brown-Eyed Girl.” The screening features live music and an introduction via Skype by Berns’ son.  

A double-feature begins at 4 p.m. June 7 with “Joe’s Violin,” which spotlights a Shoah survivor who buys a violin at flea market in 1946 and passes it on to girl in the Bronx 70 years later, sparking a friendship. In “The Maestro: In Search of the Lost Music,” an Italian pianist takes on a mission to find and preserve the music created by those in concentration camps.

History is the subject in a number of films. 

From Israel, “Sabena Hijacking: My Version” (4 p.m. June 5) uses audio recordings to re-create the terrorist hijacking of Sabena Flight 571 in 1972 from the perspective of its pilot, Capt. Reginald Levy. Levy’s daughter will introduce the film.

The documentary “Germans and Jews” (4 p.m. June 6) takes a look at why Berlin has the fastest-growing population of Jews in Europe, something no one expected in the years after World War II. 

“Ben-Gurion, Epilogue” (7 p.m. June 8) is a documentary that uses newly found, late-in-life interview footage of Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, to deliver an insightful perspective. 

In “Past Life” (1 p.m. June 6), award-winning Israeli director Avi Nesher works to unravel a mystery based on the diaries of a Shoah survivor.  

The Polish crime thriller “A Grain of Truth” (7 p.m. June 7) tells a tale of murder and anti-Semitic hysteria.

Cultural insights are offered with a touch of humor in the Israeli film “The Women’s Balcony” (7 p.m. June 6), when the collapse of the women’s section in a Sephardic Orthodox synagogue and a new rabbi lead to objections from the women. 

“Keep Quiet” (1 p.m. June 8), a documentary, focuses on a Hungarian politician who spouts anti-Semitic views until he discovers his beloved grandmother was an Auschwitz survivor but kept quiet about it. Is his new embrace of Judaism real?

Comedy has its spot in the festival, too. 

“The Pickle Recipe” (1 p.m. June 7) is about a plot to steal a grandmother’s famous pickle recipe. “Laugh Lines” (4 p.m. June 8) is a dramedy about family and growing old.

Film fans can extend their festival experience with two bonus films at the J later this summer. 

“Monkey Business: The Curious Adventures of George’s Creators” (4 p.m. Sunday, July 16) is a documentary about the surprising story of the Jewish couple who created the beloved children’s books. “Operation Wedding” (4 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 20) is an Israeli documentary about love across the Cold War’s Iron Curtain.

Check out next week’s Jewish Light for a complete schedule of the films and several reviews.