The 27th annual William and Irene Weinberg Family Baltimore Jewish Film Festival runs at the Gordon Center for the Performing Arts from March 22 to April 28, featuring 11 films with subjects that originate from France, Israel, Germany, Great Britain, Russia and the United States.
Themes this year, both meaty and provocative, tackle Israeli/Palestinian relations and delve into modern Israeli culture as well as scrutinize Russian immigration policies and explore the Holocaust and its aftermath. Several evenings feature after-film question-and-answer sessions with guest speakers and filmmakers.
Marty Cohen, who has screened “a couple thousand films” during his seven-season tenure as festival chairman, said, “The selection process is vigorous; we received over 170 films” this year.
A committee used a standardized scoring process while screening to choose the top 35 or 40 films. From that, said Cohen, the final list was chosen, and “we work to make sure that we’re giving the audience good quality films.”
Cohen highly recommends “Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem,” considered for best foreign film at the Golden Globe Awards and also enjoying theatrical release nationwide.
Directed by Israeli brother-and-sister team Ronit and Shlomi Elkabetz and starring Ronit, “Gett” is a sober and powerful drama based on the true story of Viviane Amsalem’s five-year struggle to secure a divorce from the only legal authority allowed to grant divorce in Israel, the Rabbinical Court. Though separated from each other for years, Amsalem’s husband is stubbornly unresponsive to her request for divorce, manipulative and at times doesn’t even show up when summoned to court. Filmed entirely in the space of a small, sparse rabbinical courtroom, Amsalem and the lawyers are incredulous with the husband’s inaction, yet the trial continues, because the power remains in the hands of the men.
The film is third in a trilogy about Viviane’s struggle as a woman in Israel; the other films are “To Take a Wife” and “7 Days.”
Other dramas include “Run Boy Run,” based on a true story about 9-year old Srulik, a Polish boy who, at the urging of his father, flees to the woods to escape the Warsaw ghetto and survives in his solitary struggle to outlast the Nazi occupation and keep his Jewish faith alive.
“The Art Dealer/L’antiquaire,” follows a Jewish woman’s quest to recover family paintings that were stolen by the Nazis. During her search, she discovers family secrets that are better off kept hidden. “24 Days,” another real-life story, is a mystery that begins in a cellphone shop and ends in a kidnapping. “Barriers,” from Israel, tells the story of a soldier, a checkpoint, a bomb threat and how to negotiate ethical decisions in an unpredictable world.
“Farewell Baghdad/The Dove Flyer” is a historical look at a one-year period from 1950 to 1951, when Iraqi Jews were told to leave or be expelled from their country and nearly 130,000 Jews left, creating the dissolution of one of the most ancient communities in the world. The story is told through Jewish families’ experiences in the Iraqi capital, just as the State of Israel was being established, and the hostilities they suffered along the way.
Shorts are featured in this year’s festival too, including the lighthearted comedy/drama “Hannah Cohen’s Holy Communion” from Great Britain. The film examines the intersection of Jewish and Irish culture through the eyes of a 7-year-old Jewish girl’s desire to make Holy Communion and just fit in like her friends. “Strangers” from Israel, which won best short film at Sundance Film Festival, looks at how fear can serve as a motivator to overcome racial prejudice and hatred.
Documentary lovers can find some gems at the fest, first in “Above and Beyond,” co-presented with Friends of the Israel Defense Forces, which looks at a group of World War II pilots who, in 1948, volunteered to fight in Israel’s War of Independence. The men helped prevent the possible annihilation of Israel at the very moment of its birth and also laid the groundwork for the Israeli Air Force.
“Theodore Bikel: In the Shoes of Sholom Aleichem,” illustrates the lives of the two beloved Jewish icons, by weaving together their wit, wisdom and talent. “Stateless” is a historical account of tens of thousands of Soviet Jews allowed to leave the USSR in the late 1980s, only to discover that their final destination, America, no longer welcomed them so they remained stranded in Italy. The director, Michael Drob, will be on hand for a post-film discussion. The film is co-presented with the Jewish Museum of Maryland.
The 27th Annual William and Irene Weinberg Family
Baltimore Jewish Film Festival
March 22 to April 28
Gordon Center for the Performing Arts
3506 Gwynnbrook Ave.,
Owings Mills, MD 21117
For full schedule and tickets, call 410.356.7469 or visit gordoncenter.com