The festival opens on Wednesday, January 13, with the U. S. premiere of “Saviors in the Night,” Ludi Boeken’s World War II drama - based on the memoir of Marga Spiegel - portraying courageous German farmers in Westphalia risking their lives to hide a Jewish family. It joins the Closing Night film, “Within the Whirlwind”—a New York premiere recounting the life of Jewish poet Evgenia Ginzburg, who survived a 10-year sentence in a Siberian gulag through the kindness of her fellow inmates and the power of poetry. Based on Ginzburg’s memoirs, this epic from Oscar-winner Marleen Gorris (Antonia’s Line) features Emily Watson (Breaking the Waves) and Ulrich Tukur (The Lives of Others).
Festival documentary screenings include the U.S. premiere of “Einsatzgruppen: The Death Brigades,” Michaël Prazan’s meticulous examination of the Einsatzgruppen, mobile commandos who carried out the murder of 1.5 million victims in Nazi-occupied Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union; and the New York premiere of Hannah Rothschild’s “The Jazz Baroness,” delving into the life of Baroness Pannonica “Nica” Rothschild de Konigswarter, a close friend and muse of Thelonious Monk. The film includes interviews with Quincy Jones, Sonny Rollins and Clint Eastwood, and the voice of Helen Mirren as Nica.
For the first time, the festival includes a claymation film, “Mary and Max,” from Academy Award-winning director Adam Elliot. The film, featuring the voices of Eric Bana, Toni Colette, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Barry “Dame Edna” Humphries, depicts the pen-pal relationship between Mary Dinkle, a chubby lonely eight-year-old in the suburbs of Melbourne, Australia and Max Horovitz, a 44-year-old severely obese Jewish New Yorker with Asperger’s Syndrome.
Four dramas receiving their New York premieres focus on various facets of life in Israel. “Ajami,’ co-directed by Palestinian Scandar Copti and Israeli Yaron Shani, is a visceral crime drama with a strong ensemble cast. Set in a multi-ethnic neighborhood, the stories of a Bedouin clan, a Palestinian teenager, a Jewish detective, and an affluent Palestinian and his Jewish girlfriend intersect and create the dramatic collision of different worlds. “Ajami” won five Ophirs (Israeli Oscars), including Best Picture, and is Israel''s submission to the 2010 Academy Awards. In Haim Tabakman’s “Eyes Wide Open," an ultra-Orthodox butcher and dedicated family man in Jerusalem finds himself increasingly attracted to his handsome apprentice, Ezri. This sensitive feature debut explores the devastating consequences of forbidden passion, including its effects on a tight-knit community. In Alain Tasma’s “Ultimatum,” a multinational thriller set during the 1990/91 Persian Gulf War, a young couple in Jerusalem battle with each other while Iraq threatens Israel with chemical warfare. The film stars French heartthrob Gaspard Ulliel and the beautiful Jasmine Trinca. Matti Harari and Arik Lubetzky’s “Valentina’s Mother” portrays the friendship between a Holocaust survivor and her young Polish housekeeper. Speaking and singing in Polish, the two enjoy each other’s companionship until Paula’s repressed memories of the Holocaust start to emerge.
Three dramas exploring Jewish life before World War II also receive their New York premieres. Marek Najbrt’s “Protector,” set in Nazi-occupied Prague, is a stylish drama focusing on the marriage of radio journalist Emil and his Jewish wife, a famous film star. Emil becomes an official mouthpiece of the Reich in order to offer a measure of protection to Hana, even as their relationship slowly frays. Based on actual events, Kaspar Heidelbach’s “Berlin ’36” tells a dramatic story of friendship during the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Gretel Bergmann, invited to join the German Olympic team as its token Jew, befriends the unknown Marie Ketteler, not knowing that Ketteler is a man passing as a woman added to the team in an effort to spoil Gretel’s victory.
Other dramas in the festival include Radu Gabrea’s “Gruber’s Journey,” about an Italian journalist and diplomat navigating the outrageous bureaucracy of Nazi-occupied Romania in a desperate search for a Jewish doctor named Josef Gruber; and “Happy End,” receiving its U.S. premiere, the final chapter of Frans Weisz’s trilogy about a much-haunted Jewish Dutch family gathering in anticipation of the passing of their patriarch.
Restored prints of two archival films will receive their New York premieres. Adapted from Arnold Zweig’s 1947 novel, Falk Harnack’s “The Axe Of Wandsbek” follows a man who accepts money from the Nazis to serve as a public executioner and goes on to be rejected by his community. In Henry Lynn’s 1935 Yiddish classic, ”Bar Mitzvah,” a mother miraculously survives a shipwreck and shocks the family by appearing at her son’s bar mitzvah, discovering that her husband has remarried a scheming gold-digger. Starring legendary actor Boris Thomashefsky in his only film performance, this melodrama features songs, vaudeville jokes and fancy dancing.
Two riveting documentaries from Israel receive their New York premieres. Ron Ofer and Yohai Hakak’s riveting “Gevald!” juxtaposes the lives of two of Israel’s prominent ultra-Orthodox leaders, anti-Zionist radical activist Shmuel Chaim Pappenheim and the late Avraham Ravitz, a former soldier and longtime Knesset member who worked within the system to advance his constituency’s religious agenda. Nurit Kedar’s “Chronicle of a Kidnap” follows activist Karnit Goldwasser, who stepped into the media spotlight on behalf of her husband Ehud (Udi), a soldier abducted in 2006 by Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Nine additional documentaries are being screened. Bob Richman’s “Ahead of Time” considers the career of journalist and photographer Ruth Gruber. Susan Cohn Rockefeller’s “Making the Crooked Straight” follows the work of Dr. Rick Hodes, a Long Island-born Orthodox Jew who has dedicated his life to helping heal the sick and poor of Ethiopia. Lukás Pribyl’s “Forgotten Transports: To Poland,“ receiving its New York premiere, delves into the lives of Czech Jews deported by the Nazis to camps and ghettos in Eastern Poland’s Lublin region during the Holocaust. In “Human Failure,” receiving its U.S. premiere, Michael Verhoeven (director of Oscar-nominated feature The Nasty Girl) reveals the expropriation and sale of Jewish assets that benefited innumerable citizens of the Third Reich. Stephen Z. Friedman and Antony Benjamin’s “Leap Of Faith,” receiving its New York premiere, depicts four families experiencing the difficulties of abandoning their traditions and embracing Judaism. Jean Bodon’s “Leon Blum: For All Mankind,” receiving its U.S. premiere, tells the story of a prominent French leader, a Jew who at different times was prime minister of France and prisoner in the Buchenwald concentration camp. Raphaël Nadjari’s “A History of Israeli Cinema” explores the evolution of Israel’s cinema and its parallels with the country’s history, weaving together clips and interviews with directors, scholars and critics.
Llewellyn Smith’s “Herskovits at the Heart of Blackness” explores the career of Melville J. Herskovits, the first anthropologist to trace Black cultural roots directly to Africa, instilling pride in many African Americans even as he undercut the scholarship of African American social scientists, dismissing their work as subjective and agenda-driven. In Slawomir Grünberg’s “The Peretzniks,” receiving its U.S. premiere, alumni of the Peretz School, a Yiddish-language school in Lodz, recall their adolescence in Poland before the 1968 anti-Semitic campaign.
This year’s New York Jewish Film Festival was selected by Rachel Chanoff, Independent Curator; Andrew Ingall, Assistant Curator, The Jewish Museum; Richard Peña, Program Director, The Film Society of Lincoln Center; and Aviva Weintraub, Associate Curator and Director of The New York Jewish Film Festival, The Jewish Museum.
The majority of The New York Jewish Film Festival’s screenings will be held at The Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Walter Reade Theater, located at 165 West 65th St. between Amsterdam Avenue and Broadway. Two additional screenings will be held at The Jewish Museum, 1109 Fifth Ave. at 92nd Street; and The JCC in Manhattan, 334 Amsterdam Ave. at West 76th Street.
Single screening tickets for The New York Jewish Film Festival are $11; $7 for Film Society and Jewish Museum members and students.
Tickets for screenings at the Walter Reade Theater and The Jewish Museum are available at the Walter Reade Theater Box Office; at Centercharge, 212.721.6500; and online at www.FilmLinc.com. Tickets for the screening at The Jewish Museum are also available at that venue. For complete festival information, visit www.FilmLinc.com, www.TheJewishMuseum.org, or call 212.875.5601. For tickets and information about the screening at The JCC in Manhattan, call 646.505.5708 or visit www.jccmanhattan.org.