27th Jewish Film Festival features ‘Colleyville’
Photos: Courtesy Dani Menkin/“Colleyville”
Colleyville Police Chief Michael C. Miller, at the forefront of the Jan. 15, 2022, hostage crisis, is one of many interviews included in “Colleyville,” the documentary which will be prescreened on March 17, 2024, in Colleyville and on March 18, 2024, as part of the 27th Annual Jewish Film Festival.

By Deb Silverthorn

The 27th Annual Jewish Film Festival of Dallas has returned to in-person-only screenings of “Supernova: The Music Festival Massacre,” “Less than Kosher,” “Colleyville,” “Shoshana” and “Reckonings.” All showings begin at 7 p.m.

The festival is presented by Comerica Bank and the Aaron Family JCC with sponsorships from Adat Chaverim/Women of Adat Chaverim, ADL Texoma, American Jewish Committee, Congregation Beth Torah Adult Education, Chai Lights and Sisterhood, Congregation Shearith Israel, Dallas Jewish Historical Society, Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas, Jewish War Veterans & Dallas Ladies Auxiliary Post #256, Simcha Kosher Catering and Event Design and UT Dallas’ Ackerman Center for Holocaust Studies.

“Colleyville” writer, director and producer Dani Menkin (center) with those who survived the Jan. 15, 2022, hostage crisis at Congregation Beth Israel, from left, Jeffrey Cohen, Larry Schwartz, Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker and Shane Woodward.

“We opened 2024 with ‘The Devil’s Confession: The Lost Eichmann Tapes’ and we are glad to be back in the theaters, to see our friends and supporters and, as always, to have a great group of films to share,” said Rachelle Weiss Crane, producer of the Dallas Jewish Film Festival and the J’s Israel Engagement/Jewish Living director. “Each one is unique, each one will have you feeling something and each one is an opportunity to laugh, cry or connect. It’s Jewish entertainment of so many genres.”

Brenda Marcus, who has served as the Film Festival’s chair for 17 years — many with her late husband, Peter — is proud of how the festival has grown and the depth of its impact on the community.

“It has been a pleasure to serve as the chair together with my beloved Peter who was so dedicated for so long and it has been special to help bring more and more sophisticated films to our community,” said Marcus. “Our festival is on par with the best.”

During her tenure, Marcus, with her sons, created the Film Festival’s Emerging Filmmaker contest, honoring her late husband.

“We hope to continue the contest; we’re still reviewing this year’s entrants,” said Marcus, “and I believe that winners of our contest are the future of Jewish and Israeli filmmaking.”

Welcoming the incoming chair, Kimberly Ross, Marcus believes the program will remain high-quality.

“Kimberly is a delightful and lovely member of our committee who has always provided thoughtful and meaningful reviews,” said Marcus. “I appreciate her devotion and commitment to the process and the future of the festival.”

Ross has served on the festival’s committee for a number of years and for many more enjoyed attending its screenings. She said, “I am so honored and excited to build on what the Marcuses built at the J, to share their passion and respect for films that entertain, educate and make us think. Whatever we present, we promise emotion of the heart and of the mind as well as opportunities to come together as a community.

“The committee puts so many hours into reviewing films, it’s really such a group effort. I hope we’ll be less of a hidden jewel,” she added. “Come out to the movies and bring your friends and family.”

Each of the organizers looks forward to each of the upcoming films, a special community connection to Israeli Academy Award-winning writer, producer and director Dani Menkin’s “Colleyville.” The documentary’s showings at 7 p.m. on Sunday, March 17, at the LOOK Cinema in Colleyville and at the Film Festival at 7 p.m. on Monday, March 18, at the LOOK Cinema on Technology Boulevard in Dallas, are its first screenings.

The documentary includes never-before-shared footage from security cameras, gathered from Colleyville’s Congregation Beth Israel Zoom services as the Saturday, Jan. 15, 2022, hostage crisis and terrorist action played out. Although approached by many, Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, formerly of Congregation Beth Israel and now of Temple Emanuel in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, as well as fellow hostages Jeffrey Cohen, Lawrence Schwartz and Shane Woodward, their family members, police and FBI leads who were involved all entrusted Menkin with their experience of horror.

Also interviewed were then-Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Rabbi Angela Buchdahl, whom the gunman asked Cytron-Walker to call, as he’d seen her name on lists of prominent American Jews. The gunman believed Buchdahl was empowered to arrange the release of a Pakistani woman convicted of terrorism.

“For 11 hours we all watched, people from around the world watched, to see what would happen to ‘our’ people,” said Menkin, who at the JCC event will moderate a conversation including Cohen, Cytron-Walker and other possible guests. “Even if we didn’t know the four people inside that sanctuary, we are all one and they are our people.”

Menkin’s On The Map Foundation, by The Giving Fund, is raising funds for the project so that “I can make the film I wanted to make,” he said. “The respect for the sensitivity of the subject and everyone involved means I had to have creative control. This story and their stories are greater than anyone can imagine. I earned their trust and I can’t thank them enough. In the end, it’s a happy story because they are all here, they are all alive and anyone who hears their stories should be inspired.”

Menkin was interviewed from a visit in Israel where he was meeting with soldiers, hostages’ families and survivors of the Oct. 7 attacks. He said, “Before Oct. 7, it was important to speak out about antisemitism and racism. Now, this story and its messages are propelled even more, and this is a film made of sweat, tears and huge support.”

The participants will see the completed project for the first time at the March prescreenings.

Cohen believes it is important for people to understand how tropes of antisemitism are untrue but the louder they are chanted, the more they are heard. He said, “It’s hard to understand but people believe it. We have to speak out. If we don’t expose the tropes, it becomes OK and it is not OK.

“We saw the worst of mankind on Jan. 15, when a guy had made his way to our community, by plane, bike and foot in the cold, to hold us with a gun. Then, there was the very best of our community, our neighbors. They are our friends and our friends showed up when we were hurting.

“Dani came with respect and understanding. He didn’t want to embellish anything,” said Cohen. “Four months ago, this was important. Now, after Oct. 7, we see how quickly things devolve, how society devolves and the danger is that people take things to the extreme. We were hostages for a day, a long and horrible day. But we now have brothers and sisters who are being held for more than 130 days. I can’t imagine anyone finding any justification for that.”

“Supernova: The Music Festival Massacre,” which screens Wednesday, Feb. 28, at the Aaron Family JCC’s Zale Auditorium, pieces together dramatic eyewitness accounts from survivors and first responders, with real-time footage collated from multiple sources after the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas, at the Nova Music Festival. The film provides stories of tragedy, resilience and a resolute human spirit that together form a powerful and visceral narrative.

“Less than Kosher,” on Monday, March 4, at the Studio Movie Grill/Royal Lane, follows “Viv,” whose chosen path as a singer fails; she returns home to live in her mother’s basement and to work as a cantorial soloist at her family’s synagogue. Her troubles include affairs, drugs, tense family drama, self-discovery and more.

On Monday, April 8, at the Studio Movie Grill/Royal Lane, the political thriller “Shoshana” takes place during the 1930s British Mandate, with officers in Tel Aviv hunting for poet and Zionist activist Avraham Stern, who is plotting to evict British authorities. Beri Kaplan Schwitzer, executive director of the Dallas Jewish Historical Society, will lead a Talk Back after the showing.

The 27th Annual Jewish Film Festival of Dallas closes on Tuesday, May 7, at the LOOK Cinema on Technology Boulevard in Dallas, with “Reckonings,” a documentary about the reparation negotiations between the German government, Israel and Holocaust survivors as compensation for their suffering and loss of property.

For more information about, and registration for, any of the Jewish Film Festival of Dallas events, visit jccdallas.org/special-events/film-festival. To participate in funding “Colleyville,” visit heyjudeproductions.com/donate.

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