Jewish sidebar among highlights of Film Fest


June’s St. Louis Jewish Film Festival is not the only time local film enthusiasts get to see great Israeli and international films of Jewish interest. While the St. Louis International Film Festival (SLIFF) presents films from around the world and events with filmmakers, it includes among its offerings a Jewish Sidebar. This year’s offering includes American and Israeli narrative and documentary films, discussions by directors and a pair of Bosnian documentaries about Sarajevo’s Jewish community during the war and the search for the prized medieval illuminated book the Sarajevo Haggadah.

The Jewish Light caught up with Cliff Froehlich, executive director of Cinema St. Louis, the non-profit organization that presents the St. Louis International Film Festival to talk to him about the festival and some of its highlights.

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Which film is generating the most buzz for this year’s festival?

Up in The Air, the film that was shot in St. Louis and stars George Clooney. There is truly intense interest on the part of the general public in that film but it is already sold out (at the film festival). So everyone who doesn’t have tickets is going to have to be patient and wait for when it comes out in December.

In addition to showing the film, we also have Jason Reitman (the film’s director) doing a question-and-answer session after the screening. We are going to present him with a Contemporary Cinema Award, which is for filmmakers who are making significant films and are still in mid-career.

What are some of the other high-profile films at the festival?

One film that has already sort of popped up in conversation in regard to Oscar talk is An Education (Nov. 12), with a fine performance by Carey Mulligan, and a great performance by (St. Louis native) Peter Sarsgaard. Precious, the film that took eight audience choice awards at both the Sundance and Toronto (film festivals), also is getting a lot of Oscar buzz. We also have a couple of others: Young Victoria and The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, the Terry Gilliam film that is the final film Heath Ledger starred in. We will have Everybody’s Fine, which stars Robert DeNiro and Drew Barrymore, and we are going to have the director of that film, Kirk Jones, in town along with the movie. He directed Waking Ned Devine and a charming kid-oriented film Nanny McPhee.

We also have Richard Linklater’s new film, Me and Orson Wells, which I think film fans will be particularly pleased to see.

In addition to all these films, many of which will only be shown in St. Louis at the festival, you have about 23 special events.

We try to have as much ‘added value,’ but the films themselves are the focus. In some cases you will be able to see the film back in town, on DVD or cable but what you can’t duplicate is the film festival experience and the presence of the filmmaker.

Can you give me an example?

We are going to be showing a documentary on the Warner Brothers (who were Jewish immigrants from Russian-occupied Poland whose original name was Wonskolaser), called The Brothers Warner, directed by Cass Warner. She is actually going to be coming in. She is the granddaughter of Harry Warner, and this film sort of restores Harry Warner’s legacy within the family. Jack Warner could be something of a credit hog and forced his will on a lot of levels, so this is sort of a burnishing of Harry’s legacy.

We are going to be showing a classic Warner Brothers movie The Adventures of Robin Hood, which was restored about two years ago, in really gorgeous, luscious Technicolor In conjunction with that, although it is not a Warner Brothers film, we are going to be showing a half-hour restored silent, the first filmed Robin Hood with live piano accompaniment. That should be a real treat.

What about the Jewish Sidebar and Israeli films?

We have a short that is part of a program called Documentary Shorts: Individuals (a program) that ends with a film (Almost A Legend) of great local interest. It’s about Fran Landesman, who was one of the owners of the Crystal Palace in Gaslight Square. She’s quite a character in her own right. She is a songwriter and performer and the film is focused on that. We are going to have a discussion about Gaslight Square and Landesman’s legacy.

One of the Israeli films showing in that (program) is called Cohen on the Bridge, an animated documentary that is really quite fabulous.

We also have an Oscar-winner in the house, (director) Richard Trank with one of his previous documentaries about the Holocaust (The Long Way Home) for which he won the Oscar and his new work, Against the Tide, under the umbrella of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. It is about American reaction to the Holocaust, how this sort of lonely figure was beating the drum for American intervention, to get people to pay attention to what was taking place, and about the opposition he faced not just from the Roosevelt Administration, but also from other mainstream Jewish organizations who were afraid of the war being labeled a Jewish war and therefore perhaps creating an impediment to the U.S. becoming involved. That is a really powerful piece of work.

We also have a new film called One Day You’ll Understand by Amos Gitai, a prominent Israeli director, although this is actually a French film.

There is one more film, the Israeli film For My Father, and it is getting amazing notices. Eric Altermann, a pretty substantial critic from the Huffington Post, said it is one of the most extraordinary films he has ever seen.

We do represent the Palestinian side of the equation, too, with a couple of films and I think it is good to note those as well.

We have Laila’s Birthday, a film that is funny but at the same time, it has things to say about the situation in the Middle East. And we have Just Shy of Being, which is a love story centering on a Jew and Muslim relationship. The film juxtaposes its fictional story with documentary interviews of real-life Jewish-Muslim couples living in Israel.

St. Louis International Film Festival

WHAT: The 18th Annual Whitaker St. Louis International Film Festival features more than 250 films from 40 countries

WHEN: Nov. 12-22

WHERE: Webster University, Washington University, Hi-Pointe Theatre, Tivoli Theatre, Landmark Plaza Frontenac Cinema and the St. Louis Art Museum

HOW MUCH: Individual tickets (except for special events) are $10 each or $8 for Cinema St. Louis members and students with current and valid ID.

MORE INFO: View the full schedule at