JCC prepares for annual Jewish Film Festival
By Deb Silverthorn
Special to the TJP
The best of Jewish cinema hits the big screens of Dallas next month when the annual Jewish Film Festival of Dallas, presented by the Jewish Community Center of Dallas and the City of Dallas’ Office of Cultural Affairs, opens. Eleven films of Jewish content, and many from Jewish writers and directors, will play to open audiences Sept. 7-27, almost all at the Studio Movie Grill at Spring Valley and Central Expressway.
Tagged “like Sundance, only Jewsier,” the Film Festival, in its 21st year, is a celebration of film and entertainment, history and talent, all with Jewish flavor, fervor and fascination.
The 2017 entrees, many with Israeli-Arab conflict and post-Holocaust themes, are topical. All foreign language films are screened with English subtitles and, with the exception of the opening-night The Origin of Violence, all films are appropriate for guests in high school and older.
“We just lost Peter and it’s definitely difficult to think about welcoming audiences without him. He loved opening night and he’d always turn around after the start of the films to check out reactions, but I know he’ll always be in my heart. This year, as trying as it was, he’d come home and still screen the films,” said Brenda Marcus. With her husband Peter, who passed away in June, Brenda has chaired the event for the past eight years.
The couple screened over 100 films each year, working with Rachelle Weiss Crane, the J’s director of Israel Engagement and Jewish Living and producer of the Festival, and event committee members Judy Borejdo, Andrew Cobert, Alexander Goldberg, Steve Krant, Catherine and Paul Lake, Ann and Steve Meyer, Haiya Naftalie, Gerri Patterson, Micole Pidgeon, Ted Rubin, Carole and Joram Wolanow, and Sissy Zoller.
“We started doing the festival together because I wanted to do it and he wanted to be with me,” said Marcus. “As the years went on, Peter literally lived and breathed the festival. Both of us loved bringing people from all over our community together in a celebration of Jewish culture.”
The festival is dedicated in Dr. Marcus’ memory, recognizing his great contributions. While he appreciated all of this year’s films, Fever at Dawn — which highlighted the courage of Holocaust survivors to embrace life and love — was at the top of his list, its romantic nature one with which he could identify. He was married to his beloved Brenda for 50 years; the two met as teens at Muizenberg’s Snake Pit Beach in South Africa and lived a fairytale life.
“Peter’s keen eye and intellect and Brenda’s heart and vision for what touches the audience have always made for an incredible experience,” Weiss Crane said. “Peter is already sorely missed but we’re absolutely grateful Brenda will continue to lead this special festival.”
Over 100 individual, family and corporate sponsors, as well as the Ackerman Center for Holocaust Studies at the University of Texas at Dallas, AJC Dallas, American Associates Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Belmont Village Senior Living Turtle Creek, Bnai Zion, Congregation Anshai Torah, Congregation Beth Torah’s Chai Lights, Men’s Club and Sisterhood, Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance, Dallas Jewish Historical Society, Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas, Legacy Senior Communities, Southern Methodist University, Temple Emanu-El, and the Jewish War Vets of US Dr. Harvey J. Bloom Post 256, join the Jewish Community Center of Dallas and the City of Dallas’ Office of Cultural Affairs to bring this year’s festival to the community. Talkbacks will be led by experts on many of the films’ themes.
The Origin of Violence (French), with a talkback session led by Congregation Shearith Israel’s Rabbi Adam Roffman, is based on Fabrice Humbert’s semi-autobiographical novel. Nathan Fabre, a teacher in a French-German school working on his thesis about French resistance to the Nazis during World War II, discovers a photograph of a concentration camp prisoner who strikingly resembles his own father. Haunted by the image, he unsuccessfully asks his father for answers. Intent on discovering the truth, Nathan digs into his family history, complicating his relationship with a German woman whose family history is also unclear.
The Women’s Balcony (Hebrew), with an evening and daytime matinee screening, is the story of a joyous celebration turned disaster when a women’s balcony at an Orthodox synagogue collapses during a bar mitzvah party, injuring a number of people and leaving the senior rabbi in a state of shock. When the younger and charismatic rabbi insists that the accident is a divine warning against female nonconformity, his fundamentalist ways soon divide the close-knit Sephardic congregation.
Keep Quiet, with talkback led by Philip Aronoff, honorary consul for Hungary, follows the three-year journey of Csanád Szegedi, a former member of the Hungarian radical nationalist party Jobbik, who regularly espoused anti-Semitic rhetoric. When it’s revealed that his maternal grandparents were Jewish, he is guided by Rabbi Báruch Oberlander to embrace his newfound religion and forced to confront the painful truths of his family’s past, his own wrongdoing and the turbulent history of his country.
1945 (Hungarian), based on the acclaimed short story Homecoming by Gábor T. Szántó, tells of two Orthodox Jews arriving at the town’s train station with mysterious boxes labeled “fragrances.” The town clerk believes them to be heirs of deported Jews and expects them to demand back their property, lost during World War II, while others are afraid more survivors will come, posing a threat to the property and possessions claimed as their own. Dr. Nils Roemer, director of the Ackerman Center for Holocaust Studies, Stan and Barbara Rabin Professor in Holocaust Studies, will direct 1945’s talkback session.
The Pickle Recipe (also with an evening and daytime showings) follows undisputed king of Detroit party MCs Joey Miller, whose prized sound equipment is destroyed; his own daughter’s simcha is upon the already in-debt single dad. Miller’s Uncle Morty offers to loan him the money — at a price: that he steal his grandmother’s treasured, and top secret, pickle recipe.
Ben Gurion: Epilogue (Hebrew) will feature a talkback by Deborah Bergeron, director of the American Associates, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Greater Texas Region. Long-lost 1968 interview footage of an 82-year-old David Ben-Gurion, uncovered in the Steven Spielberg Jewish Film Archive in Jerusalem, allowed him a hindsight perspective on the Zionist enterprise. His introspective soul-searching and clear voice provide a surprising vision for today’s crucial decisions and the future of Israel.
Fever at Dawn (Hungarian) is based on Peter Gardos’ novel of the same title. Having been freed from a concentration camp, 25-year-old Miklós is being treated at a Swedish hospital, diagnosed with a terminal disease. Dr. Sarah Abosch Jacobson, senior director of Education at the Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance, will speak about the film and Miklós’ relationship of correspondence with Lili, one of 117 Hungarian girls he writes to, optimistic and hoping for marriage and a long life.
Harmonia (Hebrew and Arabic), set inside a symphony hall, follows a childless Israeli musical couple seeking to form a family, and a musician of French-Arab descent from East Jerusalem, in this contemporary adaptation of the tale of Abraham and Sarah. A talkback with Fred Nathan, retired head of school, Ann and Nate Levine Academy, will follow the story of how two rival prodigies are born, one Jewish and one Arab, leading to a clash of cultures reconciled only through music.
Past Life (Hebrew, English, German and Polish) is a hybrid thriller and emotional melodrama of sisters: a combative liberal journalist Nana and her sister Sephi, a soprano and aspiring composer. Sephi is accosted by an elderly Polish woman, angrily accusing the girls’ father of murder. Traumatized by the encounter, the sisters launch an investigation, attempting to discover what really happened to their father in Poland during the war. Rabbi Sheldon Zimmerman, returning to Dallas as an adjunct lecturer in SMU’s Jewish Studies Program, will provide the post-screening conversation.
Joe’s Violin (the last with evening and daytime options) provides the improbable relationship between 91-year-old Holocaust survivor Joe Feingold and 12-year-old Brianna Perez from the Bronx, brought together by a donated musical instrument, proving the power of music, and acts of kindness, in the darkest of times.
Fanny’s Journey, based on an autobiographical novel by Fanny Ben-Ami, is a suspenseful and poignant coming-of-age drama. Following the arrest of their father in Paris, Fanny and her younger sisters Erika and Georgette are sent to a boarding school in France’s neutral zone, only temporarily as the Jewish students were then sent to another institution under the care of the tough, but tender, Madame Forman. The children’s fate is entrusted to young Fanny, who fearlessly treks through the countryside on a perilous mission to reach the Swiss border. Dr. Zsuzsanna Ozsvath, Leah and Paul Lewis Chair of Holocaust Studies at UTD’s Ackerman Center for Holocaust Studies, is this film’s talkback leader.
“Our Festival has now, over more than two decades, built a reputation and people want their films to be shared here,” said Weiss Crane, already screening films for the 2018 Festival. “It’s really wonderful that the J allows us to produce such a quality event with fascinating films, such brilliant panelists, and a chance to share — and expand — the Jewish experience.”
Additional details, film trailers, and ticket sales are available at bit.ly/2xy5OpQ. Advance tickets (also available at the JCC) are $13 ($10/student with ID) and $16 at the door.
- The Origin of Violence (7 p.m. Sept. 7)
- The Women’s Balcony (9 p.m. Sept. 9)
- Keep Quiet (2:30 p.m. Sept. 10)
- 1945 (7 p.m. Sept. 11)
- The Pickle Recipe (1 p.m. Sept. 12 and 9 p.m. Sept. 23)
- Ben Gurion: Epilogue (7 p.m. Sept. 14)
- Fever at Dawn (12:30 p.m. Sept. 17)
- Harmonia (7 p.m. Sept. 18)
- The Pickle Recipe (9 p.m. Sept. 23)
- Past Life and Joe’s Violin (3 p.m. Sept. 24: the only showing at Hughes-Trigg Center at SMU)
- The Women’s Balcony (1 p.m. Sept. 26)
- Joe’s Violin (7 p.m. Sept. 27)
- Fanny’s Journey (7 p.m. Sept. 27)