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Mandell JCC Celebrating 25th Annual Jewish Film Festival

'Holy Silence' is the first film of the Hartford Jewish Film Festival. Courtesy image

The Mandell Jewish Community Center in West Hartford will celebrate the 25th anniversary of the annual Jewish Film Festival from Feb. 28-April 2, with a cinematic celebration of Jewish life on film focused on strength and resilience.

Courtesy image


The 25th Annual Mandell JCC Hartford Jewish Film Festival is pleased to announce a cinematic celebration of Jewish life on film dedicated to strength and resilience.

The official lineup for this year’s festival, which opens virtually Feb. 28, 2021 and runs through April 2, 2021, includes 19 films.

“Last year, the COVID-19 pandemic brought the 2020 film festival to a halt,” says David Jacobs, Executive Director of the Mandell JCC. “Through the strength and resilience of our community, we were determined to carry on and curate a film festival this year to celebrate the 25th anniversary.”

The 2021 Hartford Jewish Film Festival will include the nine films that did not show last year, and all 19 films will highlight strength and resilience through love and laughter – and will allow filmgoers to admire the strength of those who came before us, honor their work, and be inspired to continue sharing their legacy.

“None of this would be possible without our new Film Festival Director Jennifer Sharp,” says Jacobs. “Jennifer has served on the film festival committee – as a member and as co-chair – for several years, and when Jill Ziplow retired, we knew Jennifer would be able to pick up right where Jill left off.”

“I’m incredibly honored to be invited to direct this year’s festival,” says Sharp. “This year is unlike any other year, and I’m grateful to our committee for their efforts during the selection process; it wasn’t easy, but I do believe we have put together an extraordinary festival this year to celebrate the 25th anniversary and to honor the strength and resiliency we see on screen. These films are exceptionally moving and they afford us the opportunity to come to together and have a deeper discussion about the realities of Jewish life right here at home in America.”

The curtain will rise on the film festival Sunday, Feb. 28 with the documentary Holy Silence, which focuses on the role of the Catholic Church during the Holocaust.

The love of a mother and daughter is the focus of the drama, Asia, while the dramatic film, Here We Are, depicts the poignant story of a father and his son who has autism. In Sublet, two gay men, one a struggling film student and the other a New York Times travel writer visiting Tel Aviv, have much to teach each other about love and life.

The drama continues with My Name is Sara, based on the true-life story of Sara Góralnik, a 13-year-old Polish Jew who survived the Holocaust by pretending to be an Orthodox Christian.

Shiva can be difficult, and in Shiva Baby we find that adding a high school girlfriend and a current sugar daddy adds to that dynamic. This film stars Simsbury, CT native Rachel Sennott who currently stars alongside Kyra Sedgwick in the new ABC sitcom, Call Your Mother.  As a stand-up, Sennott was named one of the Top Comics to Watch of 2019 by Time Out New York.

Small-town politics and ancient tradition collide deep in the Hudson Valley in City of Joel, an absorbing account of a high-profile turf war between an ultra-Orthodox community and its neighbors.

We will learn from documentaries such as Advocate, which introduces us to Israeli human rights lawyer Lea Tsemel. The film follows Tsemel’s follows Tsemel’s caseload in real time while also revisiting her landmark cases and reflecting on the political significance of her work and the personal price one pays for taking on the role of “devil’s advocate.”

In addition to the dramatic attributes of this year’s lineup, there is some comedic relief with the documentary, Latter Day Jew, a humorous look at Comedian H. Alan Scott who is a gay, a former Mormon, and a cancer survivor who converted to Judaism at the age of 34.

The laughs continue with Mossad, the box office hit hailed by the Jerusalem Post as the “most popular Israeli film of all time.” The film is inspired by the American comedy, The Naked Gun series.

Find out in Golden Voices what happens when you have a niche career and make Aliyah to Israel.

Five of the films selected will culminate in a series of “Reel Talk” virtual panel discussions, featuring special guest panelists seeking to enrich the cinematic experience with background, opinions, and interpretations. These filmmakers, authors, academics, and historians join us for live programs along with Q&A sessions on Zoom.

These five programs will include discussions about the following films:

Tuesday, March 2 | Holy Silence | Decades after the horrors of the Holocaust, a controversial debate continues over the role of the Vatican during that dark period of modern history. The panel will include Steven Pressman, Director and Producer; Father Kevin Spicer, Professor of History at Stonehill College; Dr. Suzanne Brown-Fleming, Director, International Academic Programs – Mandel Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies – United States Holocaust Memorial Museum; and will be moderated by Professor Avinoam Patt, Ph.D., UConn.

Thursday, March 11 | ‘Til Kingdom Come, which examines the relationship between evangelicals and Israel. The panel will include Amy Weiss, University of Hartford Greenberg Center; Joel Lohr, President of Hartford Seminary; and will be moderated by Jeremy Pressman, UConn.

Thursday, March 18 | Shared Legacies, which discusses the relationship between the African American and Jewish communities during the Civil Rights era. Professor Susannah Heschel, Professor of Jewish Studies at Dartmouth College will lead this discussion.

Wednesday, March 24 | Thou Shalt Not Hate and Viral: Antisemitism in Four Mutations, a look at the rise of antisemitism today, through the eyes of some of those most affected by it in the United States, France, the U.K. and Hungary. The film examines the far-Right in the U.S. and how they have incited such acts as the mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, PA. We will be joined by the Director of Viral, Andrew Goldberg, for this important discussion, which will be moderated by David Waren, President, Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford.

The additional films being screened at the 2020 Mandell JCC Hartford Jewish Film Festival include: When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, Incitement, and Those Who Remained.

The curtain will close on the festival with The Crossing, a film about the confidence, uncompromising loyalty and great courage you can find in even the youngest of children.

“The Hartford Jewish Film Festival really has become an anticipated cultural tradition for our community,” says Jacobs. “We will miss the face-to-face interaction this year, but until we can all safely come together in our theater, we hope that people will feel connected during this year’s festival with the quality of films Jennifer and the committee have chosen. In reality, doing this virtually, allows audiences from all over the country to come together, and with our post-film discussions, we look forward to engaging more with our participants.”

“We have once again produced a high-quality and thoughtful film festival,” adds Sharp. “The only difference this year, is it will be virtual. But our films and panel discussion will continue to inspire, educate and connect with our community, and we look forward to this 25th anniversary.”

Tickets for an individual film are $12, and the ticket is good for the entire household. There is an option to purchase an “All Access” pass for all 19 films at $10 per ticket. You can also “Pick Nine” – pick 9 films to watch at $11 per ticket.

To purchase tickets, visit www.hjff.org. For more information on the films being featured, contact Jennifer Sharp, the HJFF Director, [email protected].

More information about the Film Festival can also be found in the PDF below.

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