The Mandell Jewish Community Center will celebrate the 26th Annual Hartford Jewish Film Festival with the return of in-person screening of Jewish cinema, featuring contemporary and classic films, from March 24-April 10.
After nearly two years of streaming films, the Mandell JCC is excited to celebrate the return of in-person viewing for the 26th Annual Hartford Jewish Film Festival. Due to the impact of COVID-19, the 2021 festival was presented exclusively online. The 2022 edition will feature both in-person screenings at the Mandell JCC and virtual offerings.
The official lineup of 22 films this year, which opens Thursday, March 24, 2022 and runs through Sunday, April 10, is a celebration of Jewish cinema, with contemporary films and classic movies, bringing you back to the “good old days.”
“In-person community events like the film festival have been profoundly missed, and we couldn’t be more enthusiastic about welcoming film lovers back to the Herbert & Evelyn Gilman Theater,” says David Jacobs, executive director of the Mandell JCC. “In addition to amazing technology, our HVAC system in the theater has been completely replaced with high-quality filters, which was a critical and necessary upgrade during the pandemic, providing our patrons with the comfort and security to feel safer gathering in person.”
COVID safety protocols will be followed during the festival, with all persons entering the JCC required to show proof of vaccination and masks will be worn while in the theater. “COVID is still here, and the health of our community continues to come first,” adds Jacobs.
Back for a second year as the film festival director is Jennifer Sharp, who is delighted to have curated a more traditional film festival. “Our festival line-up this year is simply outstanding. We have stories reflecting the human spirit and survival, against all odds, stories of fascinating history, documentaries dedicated to the fight against antisemitism and classic films that remind us of past eras. Additionally, several of our films will be complemented with a ‘Reel Talk’ program, featuring panelists who help to enrich the cinematic experience with background, opinions and interpretations.”
The opening film on March 24, “Persian Lessons,” is a World War II Holocaust drama inspired by true events, tells a story of survival through the invention of a language. Giles, a Jewish prisoner, survives in the camp by posing as a Persian non-Jew and then enters a terrifying, high-stakes bargain to teach Farsi to a German officer who dreams of opening a restaurant in Persia (Iran) after the war. To hide his true identity and escape certain death, Giles must invent an entire language to maintain the charade.
A “Tree of Life” is a documentary about the 2018 shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, sponsored by “Friends of Pittsburgh,” who are West Hartford area residents and natives to Pittsburgh. A white supremacist, armed with four semiautomatic assault weapons, walked into the synagogue shouting, “All Jews must die.” He murdered congregants as they prayed. His eleven victims ranged in age from 54 to 97. Trish Adlesic, an award winning filmmaker and Pittsburgh native, spent much of the next three years creating a documentary about this horrific event.
This deeply personal story will be followed by a Reel Talk program, featuring Pittsburgh Jewish community leaders Meryl Kirshner Ainsman and Brian Schreiber, in conversation with Jody Hirsch.
“Film is truly a powerful tool to give voice to human experiences with raw, emotional, and occasionally uncomfortable real life stories,” says Jacobs.
In addition to “Tree of Life,” the community’s commitment to Holocaust education and the fight against antisemitism is represented by several documentaries. “IRMI” is a deeply personal film made by a daughter inspired by her mother’s story and her spirit. It explores the way in which unexpected events and chance encounters can both shape a life and reveal its true nature. Using Irmi’s own memoir—beautifully read by actress, Hanna Schygulla and with a richly emotional score by composer, Todd Boekelheide, IRMI takes us on her unique journey.
“I Am Here” is the heartwarming personal story of Ella Blumenthal, a native of Poland who survived the Warsaw Ghetto uprising and spent five years in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. On her 98th birthday, Ella tells of her Holocaust survival and the journey that brought her to her present-day life in South Africa.
Irene Berman, a member of our Jewish community, is interviewed in “Passage to Sweden,” a documentary about the efforts of the Scandinavian countries during World War II.
In the film “Love it Was Not,” the tragic love story of a young Jewish prisoner in Auschwitz and a Nazi officer is documented.
The line-up of documentary films selected by the festival committee also includes “The Adventures of Saul Bellow,” which examines Nobel Prize winner Saul Bellow and his influence on American literature, explores Bellow as a public figure, and looks at how he dealt with key issues of his time, including race, gender, and the Jewish American immigrant experience.
The moving documentary “They Ain’t Ready for Me” tells the story of Tamar Manasseh, an African-American rabbinical student who is combating gun violence on the South Side of Chicago with magnetic, self-assured energy through her organization MASK, or Mothers Against Senseless Killings. The film explores the complex identity and motivations of an extraordinary person who is Jewish and black, and how these intersecting identities offer her a road map for addressing one of America’s most urgent crises.
Another timely story shared on film is “The Levys of Monticello“. When Thomas Jefferson died in 1826, he left behind a mountain of personal debt, which forced his heirs to sell his beloved Monticello home and all of its possessions. The Levys of Monticello is a documentary film that tells the little-known story of the Levy family, which owned and carefully preserved Monticello for nearly a century – far longer than Jefferson does or his descendants. The remarkable story of the Levy family also intersects with the rise of antisemitism that runs throughout the course of American history.
The winner of several film festival awards, Making Trouble celebrates six of the great female comic performers of the last century – Molly Picon, Fanny Brice, Hartford’s own Sophie Tucker, Joan Rivers, Gilda Radner, and Wendy Wasserstein.
The award-winning documentary “Passage to Sweden” illustrates how ordinary citizens in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark worked to save the lives of their Jewish countrymen when the Nazis closed in.
A new 4K restoration of the much-loved film “Hester Street” (added to the National Film Registry in 2011), a classic story based on Abraham Cahan’s 1896 novella Yekl: A Tale of the New York Ghetto, tells of the assimilation of an Ashkenazi couple in New York’s Lower East Side.
Molly Picon, the irrepressible queen of the Yiddish musical, stars in the classic “Mamele,” a comic melodrama filmed in 1938 in the Polish city of Lodz and digitally restored with new English subtitles. Picon’s character–a Jewish Cinderella, a 5-foot 100-pound bundle of energy – cooks, cleans, is matchmaker for her siblings, and holds her under-employed, unappreciative family together with a smile and a song. She takes no time for herself until she meets a handsome violinist across the courtyard.
“Saviors in the Night” is a dramatic featured based on the book “Retter in der Nacht,” in which Marga Spiegel describes how courageous farmers in southern Munsterland hid her family from Nazis.
The drama continues when Russian immigrants Emma and Gregory find out it’s a small world, with big lies, when they attend a dinner party at Alon and Yael’s house in “The Dinner.”
In “Neighbours,” two families on the Turkish-Syrian border help each other out over the course of 40 years.
The curtain will close on the festival with “Wunderkinder,” a dramatic feature about three musically gifted children in 1941 Ukraine who become close friends despite their different religions and nationalities, but see their hopes crumble when Germany and Russia enter into war.
“We have really missed the face-to-face interaction the last two years,” says Jacobs. “As we return to a bit of normalcy for this always anticipated event, Jennifer and the committee have really outdone themselves, producing an extraordinary festival that will infuse a real sense of community.”
There are several ways to screen the films this year. Tickets for individual films are $12. Twenty films will be available to watch on your phone, tablet, computer, or television. Tickets for streaming will be $12 per person, $20 for a household (viewing is limited to Connecticut). Patrons can also “mix and match,” purchase a streaming all-access pass (saves 20%), and pick ten (save 10%).
To purchase tickets, visit www.hjff.org.
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