JCC film festival captures both sides of the tale
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JCC film festival captures both sides of the tale

Whether focusing on Israel, the Shoah, or closer to home, fare challenges and entertains

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The film “Lore” tells the story of a teenager caring for her young siblings in the aftermath of World War II. When she encounters a helpful Jewish survivor, all her beliefs are challenged.

It’s a year of anniversary celebrations at JCC Rockland’s International Jewish Film Festival. The focus this year – the festival’s 10th – is on Israel as the nation celebrates the 65th anniversary of its independence.

A number of the films, however will offer a different look at the lives of modern Jews, from the late Ed Koch to those who have struggled to make peace with the turbulent past of the Jewish people.

“We had multiple missions with this year’s festival,” said Micki Leader, who is co-chairing the event with Evan Kuperman. “This is the 65th anniversary of Israel’s independence, so we have quite a few films on Israel, and of course, we have films on the Holocaust. Sometimes people ask me why we always have so many films on the Holocaust, and the simple answer is that there are more than six million stories out there.”

The festival kicks off on Thursday, April 4 with a showing of “Koch,” at 7:30 p.m. at the AMC Theatres at the Palisades Center Mall in West Nyack.

“Koch” is a 2012 documentary film directed by Neil Barsky about feisty, popular former New York City Mayor Ed Koch, who died earlier this year. The film premiered at the Hamptons International Film Festival in October 2012.

First-time filmmaker and former Wall Street Journal reporter Neil Barsky’s film chronicles the highs and lows of Koch’s three-term administration, including a fiercely competitive 1977 election; the 1980 transit strike; the burgeoning AIDS epidemic; landmark housing renewal initiatives; and an irreparable municipal corruption scandal.

“Making a documentary about Ed Koch was an easy call. To this day, I cannot think of a New Yorker as popular or as polarizing,” Barsky said. “Ed Koch’s story is in many ways the story of the city.”

Born in the Bronx in 1958 and moving to the suburbs when he was four, Barsky returned to the city to attend the Walden School on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

“I was like a freed bird,” he recalled. “New York in those days was dangerous, dirty and utterly dysfunctional; it was also magical. For most of Koch’s mayoralty [1978″“1989], I was either a student or a young reporter, and I would have given a kidney to cover City Hall for one of the city’s major newspapers. It was not to be; and on some level this film is my way of making up for the lost opportunity.”

Barsky calls Koch “a perfectly complex character.”

“He was funny and he could be a bully; he was charming and also narcissistic. He had a much-speculated-about private life which he didn’t mind being asked about, so long as you don’t mind being told to mind your own business. He was a man surrounded by friends and admirers, and he was a man alone.”

Other highlights of the film festival include the films “Hitler’s Children” and “The Flat,” both of which deal with what families of those involved in both sides of the Holocaust have endured.

“Hitler’s Children” focuses on the descendants of the most powerful figures in the Nazi regime: men and women who were left a legacy that permanently associates them with one of the greatest crimes in history. For more than 60 years, they have tried to rebuild their lives. In this film, they discuss the delicate balance they have reached as they negotiate between the natural admiration that children have toward their parents and their innate revulsion of their parents’ crimes.

“One of them escaped and moved to the U.S. to avoid having to explain her history,” Leader said. “It’s a powerful film, and an interesting point of view.”

“The Flat” a very personal documentary by Israeli filmmaker Arnon Godfinger. When his grandmother dies, her children and grandchildren discover a secret when they clean out her apartment. Through letters and personal effects, they learn that their grandparents were close friends with a top Nazi couple during the buildup to World War II, and although the grandparents were able to get to Israel and survive the Holocaust, they remained close friends with the Nazi couple.

“The Other Son,” in French with subtitles, is about infants switched at birth, each growing up as somebody else. The two families live on opposite sides of the Israeli-Palestinian divide and have their lives turned upside down when a blood test reveals the truth. Both families have to reconsider their respective identities, values and convictions.

The closing night film is the Australian-German blockbuster “Lore.” The story centers around the problems faced by the young in the aftermath of World War II. When their Nazi SS parents are taken into Allied custody, five siblings are left to fend for themselves. Teenaged Lore, the oldest, takes charge, and the children set out to join their grandmother in Hamburg, some 900 kilometers away. Along the arduous journey, the children encounter a populace suffering from postwar denial and deprivation. Then they meet Thomas, a young Jewish survivor who helps them negotiate their way. All that Lore has known leads her to believe he is the enemy, but his industriousness, generosity and physicality intrigue and attract her.

Other films include the lighthearted Elliot Gould comedy “Dorfman in Love” and “Hava Nagila,” which traces the origin and ongoing popularity of the iconic Jewish party song. All the screenings will feature guest speakers, including film critics, professors and filmmakers.

“We’re very excited about this year’s festival,” Leader said. “It will be a true celebration of not only Israel, but what it means to be Jewish.”

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