Jewish film festival is varied and vibrant
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Jewish film festival is varied and vibrant

A scene from “Woman’s Balcony.”
A scene from “Woman’s Balcony.”

Jews make movies, and people make movies about Jews.

It seems to be an immutable law, going back to the very beginning, in Hollywood and even earlier, in Astoria and Fort Lee (although they were far more self-conscious and discreet about it then).

For 14 years, JCC Rockland has been celebrating those films, filmmakers, and stories with its international film festival. This year, the festival, sponsored by Lia Toyota, offers 18 films from eight countries. There are 21 opportunities to see these films, at the Regal theaters in Nanuet and the Lafayette Theatre in Suffern, from March 5 to April 15, and movie buffs from Bergen County, as well as from Westchester and Orange counties and New York City, are expected to join the crowds from Rockland.

The movies touch on issues of “culture, identity, diversity, complexity, and history through a Jewish lens,” its longtime chair and guiding force, Micki Leader, said. Some of the films have been nominated for Golden Globes and Ophir awards.

Question-and-answer sessions will follow many of the screenings; audiences will be able to listen to and question filmmakers, actors, directors, and critics, as well as experts in law, culture, sports, and the Holocaust, who will be able to put the films in context.

“The festival’s goal is to create a unique opportunity to address challenging issues, while fostering greater understanding of the world around us, the history that brought us here, and to help us build bridges of friendship for the future,” Ms. Leader added.

For the full list of films and synopses, go to jccrockland.org. To buy tickets, call (845) 362-4400.

Here are some of the films you can see.

“The Women’s Balcony”

March 5, 7:30 p.m., at the Lafayette Theater, and March 21, 1:30 p.m., at Regal Cinemas

Directed by Emil Ben-Shimon • Hudson Valley Premiere • Israel, 2016 • Feature, Comedy, Family, Marriage, Traditional Jewish Life, Wives vs. Husbands • 96 minutes • Nominated for five Ophir awards

In this rousing, good-hearted and joyful tale about women speaking truth to patriarchal power, an accident during a bar mitzvah celebration leads to a gender rift in a devout Orthodox community in Jerusalem. When the women’s balcony in an Orthodox synagogue collapses, leaving the rabbi’s wife in a coma and the rabbi in shock, the congregation falls into crisis. Charismatic young Rabbi David appears to be a savior after the accident, but slowly starts pushing his fundamentalist ways and tries to take control. This tests the women’s friendships and creates an almost Lysistrata-type rift between the community’s women and men.

A scene from “A Grain of Truth.”
A scene from “A Grain of Truth.”

“A Grain of Truth”

March 13, 7:30 p.m., at the Lafayette Theater

Directed by Borys Lankosz • Hudson Valley Premiere
Poland, 2015 • Feature • 110 minutes

Based on the best-selling Polish novel, “A Grain of Truth” is a masterfully constructed whodunit that pits the forces of enlightenment against anti-Semitic myths. Once the star of the Warsaw prosecutors’ office, Teodor Szacki has left his career and marriage to start a new life in a close-knit Polish town. As an outsider he faces resistance when called on to get to the bottom of the brutal murder of a well-known social activist whose body is discovered outside a former synagogue. As the trail of victims grows and the killer remains elusive, clues point to a connection with the myth of blood libel. Aided by a veteran police detective, a reluctant prosecutor, and a local rabbi, Teodor must solve the case before public and media hysteria undo all the progress the country has made in shedding its xenophobic past.

“Abulele”

March 14, 7:30 p.m., at Regal Cinemas

Directed by Jonathan Geva
Hudson Valley Premiere • Israel 2016 • Feature
96 minutes • Nominated for two Ophir awards

“Abulele” is a fast-paced upbeat modern family story about children dealing with loss in their lives. After his older brother is killed in a car crash months ago, Adam struggles with grief and guilt, with his teacher, with bullies in school, and with his distracted parents. But everything changes the day he meets an Abulele — huge ancient monsters that can make themselves invisible. Local legend says they are extremely dangerous, which explains why a Special Forces unit is combing Adam’s neighborhood in pursuit. But in fact, they are quite friendly to children in need. With the Special Forces closing in, it’s up to Adam to ensure Abulele’s safe return to his clan.

“On the Map”

March 15, 7:30 p.m., at Regal Cinemas

Directed by Dani Menkin
Hudson Valley Premiere • Israel 2016
Documentary • 78 Minutes

Still demoralized after the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Israel was hungry for something good to happen. “On The Map” is a fast-moving, emotional, and awe-inspiring documentary, telling the story of the 1977 Maccabee Tel-Aviv basketball team, the one that that toppled the four-time defending European championship Soviet team, brought the first European Cup to Israel, and became “The Team of the Nation.” Featuring interviews with the Jewish-American athletes who made history, combined with the pulse-pounding action of a high-stakes game, the film captures the spirit of a nation triumphant and victorious against all odds.

“The Law”

March 19, 7:30 p.m., at the Lafayette Theater

Directed by Christian Faure
Hudson Valley Premiere
France 2015 • Feature • 90 minutes

The art of legislative deal-making becomes riveting political drama in “The Law,” the true story of Simon Veil, who survived Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen to become the first elected president of the European Parliament. She is seen leading the “impossible” struggle as health minister in 1975 to legalize abortion on behalf of all French women suffering and dying from back-alley procedures. Tirelessly addressing and balancing demands from the many opposition parties, the Catholic Church, and even factions in her own party, she refuses to be distracted by stinging personal and anti-Semitic attacks. The unflappable Veil will not let this landmark opportunity for justice for women slip away. In memory of Congressman Ben Gillman

A scene from “Cloudy Sunday.”
A scene from “Cloudy Sunday.”

“Cloudy Sunday”

March 20, 7:30 p.m., at Regal Cinemas

Directed by Manoussos Manoussakis
Hudson Valley Premiere
Greece, 2016 • Feature • 116 minutes
Winner of three Hellenic Film Festival and two Italian Film Festival awards

Based on the book “Ouzeri Tsitsanis,” Cloudy Sunday portrays the destruction of the vibrant 500-year-old Jewish community of Thessaloniki during the brutal German occupation of Greece. A love story and the early years of one of the greatest Greek composer/ librettist/singers of the 20th century, Vasilis Tsitsanis, deepen the story. In fact the title refers to his beloved classic “Synnefisameni Kyriaki,” one of the songs featured in the film, and the Resistance anthem in WWII. In the small tavern where Vasilis performs, German officers, Greek collaborators, black marketeers, and undercover Resistance fighters mingle. Giorgos, Vassilis’ young brother-in-law, is secretly a radio operator in the Greek Resistance. After a beautiful Jewish girl is assigned to be his assistant, their forbidden love blooms. But the persistent hunt for the Jews inexorably spreads and suddenly simple choices become life-and-death decisions.

“Fever at Dawn”

March 21, 7:30 p.m., Regal Cinemas, and again at 7:30 p.m. on March 28

Directed by Péter Gárdos • Hudson Valley Premiere • Hungary, 2016 • Feature
110 minutes

Based on the novel, “Fever at Dawn” is a life-affirming story of love against all odds set against the backdrop of the immediate post-Holocaust world. The characters are Jewish concentration camp survivors with fresh mental and physical wounds. But they do not let these wounds define them. In 1945, after having been freed from Bergen-Belsen, Miklos, a 25-year-old Hungarian man, is being treated at a Swedish hospital with many other Holocaust survivors. The doctors diagnose him with a severe lung disease and tell him that he has no more than six months to live. But he refuses to give up. He wants to find a wife with whom he can start a new life, and sends letters to 117 Hungarian girls who are also being treated in Sweden. One of the girls is 19-year-old Lili, who likes Miklos’s letter, and they start corresponding.

“Moos”

March 22, 7:30 p.m., at Regal Cinemas

Directed by Job Gosschalk
Hudson Valley Premiere
Netherlands, 2016 • Feature • 91 minutes

After her mother’s death, a young girl named Moos stays home to take care of her father instead of following her dream of acting school. “Moos” is an inspiring story of a young Jewish woman’s search to find her voice. It’s about friendship, laughter, love, and over-devotion to family. It’s Chanukah evening and everything is just the same as it’s always been for Moos. But when her longtime childhood friend Sam surprises her by returning from Israel to live again in Holland, Moos gets the jolt she needs to examine her life and the choices she’s made. So she begins, with comic, romantic, hectic, and poignant results.

“Wunderkinder” and “Ed”

March 26, 7:30 p.m., Lafayette Theater

“Wunderkinder”: Directed by Marcus O. Rosenmüller • Hudson Valley Premiere

Germany, 2011 • Feature • 96 minutes Winner of eight film festival best film awards

Set in Ukraine in 1941, this World War II drama from the producers of “Europa, Europa” tells the story of three children brought together by their love of music, and torn apart by a world gone mad. Siblings Abrascha and Larissa Brodsky are Jewish musical wunderkinder (child prodigies) living in Ukraine under Russian rule. They befriend a young German girl, Hannah Reich, and the three become inseparable friends. Their world is one of curiosity, joy and talent. When Germany declares war on the Soviet Union, the Jewish Brodskys help the German Reich family to hide. Quickly, though, the German Army arrives in town, and now it’s the turn of the Reich family to try to save their Jewish friends. Due to the insanity of grown-ups, at home and abroad, the children’s world is turned upside down.

“Ed”: Directed by Marcus O. Rosenmüller Hudson Valley Premiere • USA, 2016
Documentary • 12 minutes

“Ed” is a film about Rockland’s Edward Simons — violinist, violin teacher, conductor, and inspiration. Ed, who is 100 years old, wakens with a vitality driven by his passion for music. He played violin in the Pittsburgh Symphony, was conductor of the American Ballet Theater, and had a long career conducting on Broadway. Sixty four years ago he founded the Rockland Symphony Orchestra, for which he is still music director and conductor. He helped establish the Community Music School, now the Rockland Conservatory of Music.

“Fanny’s Journey”

March 28 at 7:30 p.m. and again at April 5 at 1:30 p.m. at Regal Cinemas

Directed by Lola Doillon
Hudson Valley Premiere
France/Belgium, 2016
Feature • 94 minutes

A group of Jewish youngsters flee Nazi-occupied France and Italy in the inspired-by-fact WWII poignant drama “Fanny’s Journey.” A beautifully shot and acted period piece, the film is a tale of bravery, strength, and survival. In 1943, 13-year old Fanny and her younger sisters were sent from their home in France to an Italian foster home for Jewish children. When the Nazis arrive in Italy, their caretakers desperately organize the departure of the children to Switzerland. Suddenly left on their own, Fanny is instructed, “If you are scared, pretend otherwise for the sake of the others.” These 11 children will do the impossible to reach the Swiss border in order to survive.

“The Pickle Recipe”

March 29, 1:30 p.m., at Regal Cinemas

Directed by Michael Mannaseri
Hudson Valley Premiere • USA 2016
Documentary • 97 minutes

Joey is a divorced father and king of Detroit party MC’s on the wedding and bar mitzvah circuit. He loses his sound equipment in a freak accident in the movie’s opening scene, his daughter Julie’s bat mitzvah is only weeks away, and she’s counting on him to MC her party. With no other options, Joey turns to his shady Uncle Morty, who agrees to give him the money on one condition — he must steal his grandmother Rose’s top secret dill pickle recipe. Responsible for the success of the deli she started with her late husband, it’s a recipe that she has vowed to take to her grave. But she has a soft spot for Joey, so the game is afoot.

“Fire Birds”

March 29, 7:30 p.m., at Regal Cinemas

Directed by Amir I. Wolf
Hudson Valley Premiere • Israel 2016
Feature • 105 minutes
Nominated for 10 Ophir awards,
won for best supporting actress

“The Fire Birds” is a murder mystery that enticingly entwines past and present with a smart mix of humor, charm and melancholy. When the body of an 80-year-old man is found with stab wounds and a number tattooed on his forearm, the case is assigned to a down-on-his-luck Israeli detective who has returned to duty after a lengthy suspension. The investigation leads him to a tattoo parlor and a club of Holocaust survivors with a zest for life, who seek solace in romantic recollections of their prewar world. As the plot rewinds through the victim’s final months, a story of deadly dalliances, desire, loneliness and rejection emerges.

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