What do we think of when we think of Jewish film? For three generations, the grainy black-and-white footage of the Holocaust has dominated the collective mind, a trauma that will take the passing of generations to dissipate. Recent Jewish-themed films however, reflect a resilient and rebounding worldwide Jewish population, displaying a broader, livelier palette.
The twentieth annual Denver Jewish Film Festival, which opens Wednesday, February 10, at the Mizel Arts & Culture Center, is very diverse and defiantly alive. The lineup includes films from Israel, France, Germany, England, Spain and the Netherlands; there are comedies, dramas, documentaries and even a slam-bang, action-packed thriller. Here are ten intriguing films plucked from the 28 on the schedule this year.
10. Apples from the Desert
Based on the short story and resulting play by Savyon Liebrecht, this film follows a coming-of-age saga about a young girl in Jerusalem who struggles against her Orthodox parents’ expectations.
9. Brundibar revisited
Hans Krasa premiered his children’s opera Brundibar inside the Theresienstadt concentration camp in 1943. Its sly anti-Nazi message didn't go unnoticed; after the cast was filmed for propaganda purposes, most of the performers were shipped to the gas chambers. The opera survived, though, and its contemporary performance by teens is attended by one of the few survivors of the original cast.
This is a screwball comedy with an old Jewish baker (Jonathan Pryce), his young black Muslim assistant, a bunch of weed and an assortment of kooky characters. What’s not to like?
7. East Jerusalem, West Jerusalem
The opening night film shows us Israeli singer/songwriter David Broza as he makes a recording in the span of eight days, on the Arab side of Jerusalem, using both Palestinian and Israeli musicians – along with some co-producing by Steve Earle. Broza will be at the festival on February 10, and a post-film dessert reception will honor this year’s recipient of the festival’s Cultural Achievement Award: the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District.
6. My Italian Secret: The Forgotten Heroes
The successful protection of 80 percent of Italy’s Jews during the Holocaust is not generally known. This documentary combines interviews, newsreel footage and dramatic reconstruction to tell the story. My Italian Secret was one of the late Robert Loggia’s last film projects; director Oren Jacoby will attend the screening.
5. Once in a Lifetime
Based on a true story, this film follows a feisty teacher who inspires her class of unmotivated, down-and-out pupils to engage in a project that brings them face to face with the Holocaust.
Keep reading for four more picks.
A documentary about the complicated lives of three gay Palestinian friends during the Israel-Gaza conflict of 2014.
3. The Pleasures of Being Out of Step
A long-overdue examination of the life and influence of the great Village Voice writer on jazz and civil liberties, Nat Hentoff. Director David L. Lewis will be on hand for the screening.
2. Raise the Roof
Every one of the ancient wooden synagogues of Poland was destroyed by the Nazis. Artists Rick and Laura Brown were determined to rebuild and reproduce the magnificent eighteenth-century shul of Gwozdziec, and with only six weeks to do it, and as hundreds of volunteers recreated the hand-hewn structure, the artists reconstructed and colored the interior’s intricate murals. Filmmakers Cary and Yari Wolinsky will attend the showing.
1. Soft Vengeance: Albie Sachs and the New South Africa
A key player in the anti-apartheid movement is the subject of this film, which will be introduced by director/producer Abby Ginzberg. Sachs is a legal scholar who suffered imprisonment, torture and a murder attempt that cost him an arm and an eye. He then helped write South Africa’s new constitution, and served as one of its first judges.
The twentieth annual Denver Jewish Film Festival runs February 10 through February 21 at the Mizel Arts & Culture Center, 350 South Dahlia Street. For tickets and more information,visit maccjcc.org/film.