Curtain going up on 26th Jewish Film Festival

The St. Louis Jewish Film Festival returns in June for its 26th year, again offering wonderful films from around the world.

Like last year, the festival is online, but it is back in its usual early summer slot and is taking place June 6-13. The festival’s “Virtual Home Edition 2.0” means participants can watch the films at any time during the festival dates, with a household watching for a single admission price.

While many of us miss the theater experience, it is hard to beat the virtual festival for convenience.

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“It seems audiences like virtual,” said Jeffery Korn, co-chair of the Jewish Film Festival. “Response has been great, although personally, I like the theater showings. [But] virtual is much less expensive, [and] the nice thing about virtual is that you can watch at your leisure.”

Korn is one of three co-chairs with Marilyn Brown and Paula Sigel. Diane Maier, director of film and performing arts at the Jewish Community Center of St. Louis, is taking over as festival director from Zelda Sparks, who has retired from her position as cultural arts director at the J.

All films will be viewed through the festival’s screening platform, events.jccstl.com. Information on accessing films will be sent with ticket or pass purchases. Technical help is available at the festival website, stljewishfilmfestival.org, and live tech help will be available during the festival run.

“I would strongly suggest that our patrons try accessing the films maybe an hour before they actually plan to view them, just to be sure they don’t run into any problems,” Brown said. “[But] there is help available at the J.”

All of the films, except one, will be available to view anytime during the festival; the Israeli documentary “Breaking Bread” is only available June 6-8.

“Having a virtual festival allows viewers to watch the film any time they want, day or night,” Maier said. “You can pause the film to get a snack or you can stop it and have 48 hours to resume. It’s really fantastic.”

As always, the St. Louis Jewish Film Festival offers a broad selection of films with Jewish themes.

“The festival offers a great variety of types of films — features, comedies, dramas, documentaries — so there is something for everyone,” Brown said.

Thirteen films will be shown, plus a bonus film for All-Access Pass holders: the documentary short “Egg Cream,” about the famous Jewish American treat. Films are from Israel, Austria, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Norway and the United States, and in a mix of languages with English subtitles. The 13 include six full-length documentaries and seven narrative feature films, including a docu-drama, and range from comedy to romance to drama.

Asked for their favorites among this year’s films, Korn and Maier named “Aulcie,” a documentary about the up-and-down life of basketball star Aulcie Perry, one of Israel’s greatest athletes. The showing will include an interview with the film’s director, Dani Menkin, by Larry Levin, executive director of Ozark Land Trust and former publisher/CEO of the Jewish Light. Interviews this year will be prerecorded so viewers can watch them at any time after viewing the film.

Maier said “A Starry Sky Above the Roman Ghetto” is another favorite. The Italian young adult drama tells the story of how the photo of a little girl sparks a group of present-day Jewish and Christian teens to uncover what happened in the Roman Jewish Ghetto during the Shoah.

Maier also singled out “Kiss Me Kosher,” a cross-cultural romantic comedy about the wedding of a same-sex couple, as well as “Love It Was Not,” an astonishing Israeli-Austrian documentary about a forbidden love in Auschwitz.

Korn said he especially enjoyed “Here We Are,” a sensitive drama from Israeli director Nir Bergman about a father and his autistic adult son who sort out how they feel about the son moving to a group home during a cross-country bike trip, and “The Crossing,” a dramatic Norwegian family feature about four children during World War II trying to flee occupying Nazis and get to Sweden.

Sigel, the third co-chair, also has favorites.

“I loved ‘Breaking Bread,’ ” she said of a documentary about a food festival that pairs Israeli and Muslim chefs, started by a woman who was the first Israeli Muslim to win top prize on “MasterChef Israel,” a reality TV show.

The film, Sigel said, is “a look into Israelis and Muslims working together in peace and friendship.”

The showing will feature a discussion with Ben Poremba, a local award-winning chef and restaurateur, who will be interviewed by Ellen Futterman, editor-in-chief of the St. Louis Jewish Light.

Sigel also recommended the feature film “Service to Man,” which she said is “a true story of reverse discrimination when a Jewish male is accepted into an all-Black medical school. A very timely film, and a film conversation will take place discussing this topic.”

Brown said she highly recommends the documentary “Antisemitism.”

“The history is fascinating, and even though the film concentrates on anti-Semitism in France, it presents a very detailed history of how this venom came about,” she said.

The film also has a discussion, with Karen Aroesty, longtime director of ADL Heartland, and Mara Cohen Ioannides of Missouri State University.

Maier said a tremendous amount of work goes into selecting films for the annual festival.

“We watch tons of films, meet to discuss every single film and, when the times comes, we try to choose the greatest variety and the best overall films,” she said. “We start with so many films, [that] the 13 we wound up with are all fantastic.”

Other films in this year’s festival include:

  • “Howie Mandel: But Enough About Me” is a Canadian documentary about the comedian that promises to bring a smile as well as to touch the heart, exploring his career and his battles with mental illness.
  • Israeli documentary “Ma’abarot” reveals the little known history of Jewish refugees from the Middle East and North Africa who faced discrimination and hardship when they arrived in Israel in the 1950s.
  • “The Good Nazi” is a Canadian/Israeli docudrama about the true story of Nazi Maj. Karl Plagge, who secretly sheltered hundreds of Jews in Lithuania.
  • “The Last Supper” is a German drama about a Jewish German family gathering for a dinner on the day Hitler comes to power. The father doesn’t take Hitler seriously, but things are changing. When a daughter announces she wants to move to Israel, the dinner takes a fractious turn.

The festival is hoping to draw even more patrons than last year’s  virtual film fest.

“[The] festival last November was very successful, and we hope our patrons will be just as pleased with this program,” Brown said. “Our dedicated committee and JCC staff have worked for many months to put together a diverse roster of films, and I hope we’ll retain our previous viewers and attract new viewers this year.”


St . Louis Jewish Film Festival

When: June 6-13

Where: Virtual

How much: Tickets for individual films are $14 for the entire household. An All-Access Pass offers all 13 films, plus a bonus short film, for $95 per household.

More info: Tickets and passes can be purchased at stljewishfilmfestival.org. It is recommended to buy tickets early, as the films have a limit at which they are considered sold out. For more information about the festival, call 314-442-3190.

 


Trailers for selected Jewish Film Festival films:

“Breaking Bread”


“Here We Are”


“Service to Man”


“Love It Was Not”


“Antisemitism”


“Aulcie”


“Kiss Me Kosher”


“Howie Mandel: But Enough About Me”


“The Good Nazi”


“The Last Supper”


“A Starry Sky Above the Roman Ghetto”


“The Crossing”


“Ma’abarot”