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Celluloid heroes

Rockland JCC film festival touches many emotional bases

Israelis purifying the water of the Ganges in India. A rabbi putting down stakes in Montana. Survivors of the Holocaust making a new life together in Communist Hungary.

Most of the 14 films showing this month and next at the JCC Rockland’s Jewish Film Festival take place far from home.

The premiere, however, which shows on Sunday night, March 29 (see box), could, if it had been filmed a little bit later, have taken place in Monsey. “Hate Among Us” is a documentary, looking at contemporary anti-Semitism through 2018. Its themes have gotten only more pressing since then, and even since the film’s release in November.

“It was made by non-Jews because anti-Semitism has reached such heights in the United States they felt compelled to,” Micki Leader of Orangeburg, the festival’s chair emeritus, said.

The non-Jews involved in the film include two television celebrities who previously partnered for a film about the Armenian genocide, Montel Williams and Dean Cain. Mr. Cain portrayed Clark Kent and Superman in the 1990s TV series “Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman.” Mr. Williams is best known as host of the long-running daytime talk show “The Montel Williams Show.”

“Today, hate is unfortunately making a comeback, and it is our hope that this film might help shine a light, however small, on this growing problem, and that we can eliminate this kind of hate in the future,” Mr. Cain told the Miami Jewish film festival, which screened the film last month.

“It illustrates how growing intolerance and hatred is taking roots in our communities and institutions and universities,” Ms. Leader said. The film explores the history of anti-Semitism, its upsurge around the world, and “those horrible incidents” in Charlottesville and Pittsburgh, she added. It also features interviews with Holocaust survivors.

Ms. Leader has asked Malcolm Hoenlein, the longtime executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, who appears in the film, to speak at the screening; she has not yet heard back from him. According to IMDB, this is Mr. Hoenlein’s second film appearance; his first was in the documentary “Four Blood Moons.”

Ms. Leader also is reaching out to local elected officials “to have them support the film and send out word through their own media outreach. Otherwise it just becomes more noise in the constant refrain that Jews are complaining about anti-Semitism.”

The festival’s second film is “Crescendo,” a Germany drama about young Palestinian and Israeli musicians rehearsing for a joint concert in Germany. “It has a bit of Romeo and Juliet, a Palestinian and an Israeli who fall in love,” Ms. Leader said.

Can the two groups overcome their tensions and play together? “The fact they are brilliant prodigies doesn’t matter,” she said. “The young people have been brought up by their communities to hate each other.”

On April 2, the festival will have a matinee showing of “Fiddler: A Miracle of Miracles.” Valerie Thomas, who wrote the documentary about the musical “Fiddler on the Roof,” will speak.

That evening’s film is a comedy. “Mossad” is about the Mossad and the CIA teaming up to save the world from international terror and rescue a kidnapped American tech billionaire. “It’s like the slapstick of ‘Airplane,’” Ms. Leader said.

The next film, “King Bibi,” is a 2018 Israeli documentary about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. It will play on April 5.

“It’s less about politics and more about Netanyahu, how he perfected his skills of being a master of public speaking and media,” Ms. Leader said. The film features four decades of Bibi’s news conferences and speeches. “It’s a very interesting and well-made documentary,” she said.

April 6 will bring a French film to the festival. “An Irrepressible Woman” is about Leon Blum, the prime minister of France during the 1930s, who was imprisoned in Buchenwald after the German invasion in 1940, and Jeanne Reichenbach, who fell in love with him when she was 16 years old. “Years later, when he was imprisoned by the Nazis, she gave up her freedom and dedicated herself to saving him,” Ms. Leader said. As you might expect from a French film, the pair were married to other people at the beginning of her adventure, though they ended up marrying each other in Buchenwald. Both survived the war. “It’s a beautifully made film,” Ms. Leader said.

Ms. Leader recommends another French film, “My Polish Honeymoon,” to millennials and second- and third-generation Holocaust survivors.

“It’s a dramedy, about a young Parisian couple of Jewish origins who are not practicing Jews,” she said. “They had a baby and then got married, with a real Jewish wedding. Where do they want to go for their honeymoon? The wife wants to go to Europe to see the village where her husband’s grandfather grew up, that was destroyed in the Holocaust, and which is inviting Jews back to mark the 75th anniversary of the end of the war.

“Her family is also from Poland, but her mother and grandmother never talked about it. Her mother and father are supposed to babysit the baby while they’re on their honeymoon, but the mother shows up in Poland. It’s kind of slapstick and kind of not, because the subject is so sad.”

On April 13, during chol hamoed Pesach, there will be an afternoon showing of “The Keeper,” which also will feature as the festival’s closing film on April 30.

“It’s a fabulous film,” Ms. Leader said. It’s the true story of Bert Trautmann, a goalkeeper for Manchester United during World War II. The twist is that Mr. Trautmann was a German prisoner of war. When fans learn that he is German, they — particularly his Jewish fans —are outraged, until a rabbi comes to his defense.

“There’s a love story in it. Soccer. What could be bad?”

Well, there’s the move that earns Trautmann his place in the annals of Manchester United in 1956. He broke his neck and kept on playing.

“The Crossing” will play on the evening of April 13. It’s a Norwegian film about Christian children rescuing Jewish children from the Nazis, and getting them across the border into neutral Sweden. “I hope they remake it in English some day,” Ms. Leader said. “It shows the universality of empathy among very young kids.”

“The Rabbi Goes West” plays on April 20. It’s about Rabbi Chaim Bruk, who opened the first Chabad community in Montana to a decidedly mixed reception. Rabbi Bruk will speak at the screening.

“The Mover,” which plays on April 21, is “a Latvian version of ‘Schindler’s List.’ It’s about saving the lives of Jews. The hero, a Latvian named Zanis Lipke, didn’t want to be involved at all. But when he saw the murderous Nazi persecution of Jews in Riga, he started to save the lives of Jews there.

The festival will mark Earth Day on April 22 with an hour-long documentary, “Sustainable Nation.”

“It’s about three sets of Israeli entrepreneurs who are doing their part to bring sustainable water to an increasingly thirsty planet. They’re changing the status quo.”

The film takes viewers to Africa, India, and California. This screening is co-sponsored by the Rockland Sierra Club.

“Those Who Remained” is a Hungarian film, which won Hungarian Film Critics Awards for best actor, best actress, and best screenplay.

“It’s the story of people who survived World War II,” Ms. Leader said. “A doctor whose wife and two children were murdered, and a 15-year-old girl whose mother and father — both doctors — and sister and brother were all killed by the Nazis. They meet each other, and by finding each other and sustaining each other, they had a way to recover. It’s a story that was really never told about the recovery of people who were so broken by the Nazis and left alone.”

“Breaking Bread” is a documentary about Dr. Nof Atamna-Ismaeel, a microbiologist and the first Israeli Arab to win Israel’s master chef contest. After winning in 2014, she decided to start a Jewish-Arab cooking school.


To buy tickets and for the most up-to-date information, including weather-related cancellations, go to www.jccrockland.org/film-festival.

Most showings will take place at Regal Cinemas, 2601 Fashion Drive, Nanuet; the rest will be at Lafayette Theater, 97 Lafayette Ave., Suffern.

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