“There are some tough films on the program,” says Boulder Jewish Film Festival artistic director Kathryn Bernheimer. “I can program challenging movies because we have a really great audience that is willing to engage intellectually and is adventurous artistically.” The third annual edition of the week-long celebration of films focusing on Jewish life, history and culture runs from March 14 through March 22, and features 22 screenings, nearly all Boulder premieres, as well talkback sessions after those screenings. This year, the festival will also host its first-ever retrospective.
Oscar-winning documentarian Richard Trank will be on hand to screen and discuss six of his films, including the premiere of his recently completed The Prime Ministers Part 2: Soldiers and Peacemakers, which tracks Israel’s leaders from Menachem Begin to today. “This is the first time we’ve done a tribute program, showcasing earlier work as well,” says Bernheimer, noting that the tribute to Trank includes an appreciation of Moriah Films, a division of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which produces documentaries that document the Jewish experience.
Bernheimer, a longtime film critic, curator and writer, is also the cultural arts director for the Boulder Jewish Community Center. She attributes this yearly celebration of Jewish-themed cinema to two factors. “All the studies show that film is one of the most excellent tools for engaging people in Jewish life, and in engaging the larger community with the Jewish community,” she says, citing a rapid growth in Jewish film festivals worldwide over the past decade. “It provides the lowest threshold to understanding. And so, because of that rise, filmmakers know that there’s a market. These films will largely not be shown in wide distribution. They will play L.A. and New York, a few art houses – other than that, it’s the festival circuit.
“When someone is a making a film, it really has to be meaningful to them," she adds. "They may not identify as Jews, but this subject matter is personal to them, is natural. It’s who they are, it’s how they grew up.”
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The festival’s selections include lighter fare, including the musical comedy Cupcakes and the biographical The Outrageous Sophie Tucker, which tells the story of the singer, comedienne and “red hot mama"; filmmakers Sue and Lloyd Ecker will be in person at that program.
The centerpiece of the festival is Above and Beyond, a new documentary about the birth of the Israeli Air Force, produced by Nancy Spielberg, who will be in attendance. The film, directed by Roberta Grossman (who made the hilarious documentary Hava Nagilah: The Movie in 2012), is a portrait of six former World War II fighter pilots who all volunteered to fight in Israel’s War of Independence. One of the men profiled is Boulder’s George Lichter, who died in 2013 at the age of 92 and is considered the “grandfather of the Israeli Air Force.” Lichter continued as an IAF test pilot and instructor, training many key figures in Israel’s military.
In part, the gala evening is a tribute to him. “There’s a point in the film when George is asked about the equipment they had,” says Bernheimer. “He says, ‘Sometimes we didn’t even have the right planes – we just opened the door and pushed the bombs out!’”
Boulder Jewish Film Festival programs are in the Boedecker Theater and Performance Space in the Dairy Center, 2590 Walnut Street, Boulder. For tickets, visit thedairy.org; for full program information, visit boulderjcc.org.