Jewish Film Festival spotlights fathers and sons, Israeli films

Jeiwsh Film Festival 2010

By Cate Marquis, Special to the Jewish Light

Documentaries “Inside Hana’s Suitcase” and “Yoo Hoo Mrs. Goldberg,” the Israeli drama “For My Father” and Australian claymation “Mary and Max” are among the highlights of the 2010 Jewish Film Festival (JFF).

The JFF runs from Sunday, June 13 to Thursday, June 17, at Landmark’s Plaza Frontenac Cinema, with 16 films – nine narrative features and seven documentaries – from countries around the world. The films range from light-hearted and family-friendly to searing and adult-oriented and the features include comedies, romances and dramas. Several are local premieres. Most films are introduced by speakers with expertise on the topics.


“It is like a whole collage of very interesting films. We called it ‘A Cinematic Journey,'” said Zelda Sparks, JCC Cultural Arts Staff, in discussing the variety of films. Countries represented include America, Israel, Australia, Peru, France, Tunisia, Canada, Czech Republic, Germany and Britain.

This year’s festival has seven Israeli films. “That’s a lot,” Sparks said. “(Israeli filmmakers) are cranking out some really good quality. The industry has really jumped forward enormously in the last years. We are getting a lot of good things from Israel.” Among them are both this year’s opening night film, “A Matter of Size” and the closing night film “Eli and Ben.”

The Premiere Party, the festival’s opening night dinner and movie event, is Sunday, June 13, at Plaza Frontenac. The film, “A Matter of Size,” is an Israeli comedy about a group of overweight friends who find self-respect when they form a sumo wrestling team. Expect sushi on the dinner menu, although dietary laws are observed as usual. The buffet starts at 6 p.m., followed by the film at 7:30 p.m. Advance tickets are required and cost $70 per person for the evening. Tickets for the film only are $15.

Earlier that day features a family-friendly kick-off with “The Little Traitor.” It’s about a British soldier, played by Alfred Molina, who befriends a Jewish boy during the post-World War II British occupation of Jerusalem. It will be shown at 2 p.m. at the new JCC Staenberg Family Campus Arts and Entertainment Building, coinciding with the opening of the JCC’s new pool. There is a special family ticket price, $25 for 2 adults and 2 kids, $8 for additional children.

Although animated, “Mary and Max,” a darkly comic claymation film based on a real, if unlikely friendship, is not for young children.

” ‘Mary and Max’ is our first animation film,” Sparks said. “It is pretty adult material but it has the voices of Toni Collette, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Eric Bana. Toni Collette is this young girl (in Australia) who develops this kind of pen-pal relationship with Max, the voice of Philip Seymour Hoffman, who is this overweight, autistic Jewish man in New York City, and they have this pen pal relationship for like 25 years. It is an Australian film, very funny, with great music.”

Some films have links to local performances. “Inside Hana’s Suitcase” is a documentary about the basis for the play “Hana’s Suitcase,” about a teacher and her students in Japan. It explores the contents of a suitcase from Auschwitz, and was performed at Washington University in 2008. “As Seen Through These Eyes” is a documentary about Jewish artists’ response to the Nazis and the concentration camps. It features Ela Weissberger, a child survivor of Theresienstadt who appeared in the original production of the children’s opera “Brundibar,” which was performed here last year at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

Two outstanding films from last year, which played here only briefly, get a return engagement at the festival. “Yoo Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg” is a documentary about a Jewish-American woman who was a TV pioneer. “For My Father” is a moving Israeli/German drama about a young Palestinian – a failed suicide bomber – who meets a young Israeli woman, estranged from her Orthodox family.

“One of the things we try to do always is expose this community to Jews from around the world, communities they may not be as familiar with,” Sparks said. “One of those films is ‘The Name My Mother Gave Me,’ a documentary film that’s about a group of Ethiopian-born young people who emigrated to Israel.”

Several of this year’s films such as “For My Father,” “Eli and Ben” and “The Little Traitor” focus on father-son relationships.

Dee and Jack Berman and Judy Plocker are co-chairs of this year’s festival. Rosalie Rotenberg, Aileen Wallis and Dee Wolff organized the Premiere party and Linda Koenig, Judy Schwartz Jaffe and Leslie Waldbaum handled the programs. Natalie Kauffman heads film selection, and co-chairs the Jewish Film Society along with Marilyn Brown.

Film buffs can extend their festival experience by joining the Jewish Film Society, a film discussion group that watches a series of challenging, thought-provoking films throughout the year.

After the festival, JFF offers an additional event, a free screening of the Weinstein Company’s newest “The Concert,” starring Melanie Laurent, the French actress in “Inglourious Basterds.” You can sign up at the festival for free tickets to the early July screening.


St. Louis Jewish Film Festival

What: The Jewish Community Center presents 16 films, including seven Israeli films; the festival’s opening celebration is Sunday, June 13, featuring a light buffet and dessert at 6 p.m. and screening of “A Matter of Size” at 7:30 p.m.

When: June 13-19

Where: Landmark’s Plaza Frontenac Cinema

How much: Individual film tickets are $11 in advance, $12 at the door, available through the JFF hotline 314-442-3179, online at or at the JCC A&E Building front desk. The festival is offering a pass for four weekday films for $40 and student tickets (ages 16 and under) for $8. The “Senior Mitzvah” helps seniors of limited means to experience the festival.

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