Teaneck Film Festival preview
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Teaneck Film Festival preview

Jewish-themed films to screen

Eric Goldman writes and teaches about Jewish cinema. He is president of Ergo Media, a distributor of Jewish, Yiddish and Israeli film.

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Steven Fischler of Teaneck looks at the garment district in Dressing America.

Now in its seventh year, much to the delight of northern New Jersey, the Teaneck Film Festival opens today with a weekend filled with films for everyone. The festival, under the able stewardship of Jeremy Lentz, has shown great sensitivity to the Jewish community in its choice of films of Jewish significance and this year is no different. There are at least four films that are of particular Jewish interest. When you add “Sing Your Song,” the Saturday night showcase movie about singer/activist Harry Belafonte, whom I first heard singing Hava Nagila at an American Jewish Congress national convention when I was a child, there might be five.

Though I had no interest in seeing Chanoch Ze’evi’s “Hitler’s Children,” which brought to mind Edward Dmytryk’s 1943 narrative with the same name about Hitler youth, Lentz persuaded me to give it a chance. I am glad that I did. With so many films coming out of Germany over the last decade made by “third generation” German filmmakers, it was eye-opening to see Israeli documentarian Ze’evi, the grandchild of Holocaust survivors, in this Israel-Germany co-production, provide insight into what is happening in today’s Germany. He does this by focusing in on the descendants of the very worst high-ranking Nazis. Who truly wants to watch the children, grandchildren, and niece of Hoess, Himmler, Göering, Göeth, and Frank? But it is eye-opening; as you watch you ponder what it would be like to carry this kind of yiches.

Niklas Frank, son of Hans Frank, the Nazis’ governor of Poland, has spent a great deal of his adult life teaching about the horrors of the Holocaust, and that it is okay not to honor your father or mother if they did what his father did. Frank, who was ostracized by his siblings and much of his family for being so public in his repudiation of his father, is one of his heroes of this film. So is Bettina, who, like her brother, chose to be sterilized so there could never be another Göering descendant. The daughter of Amon Göeth visits Plaszów, only to learn the truth about her monstrous father, who was commandant of the notorious camp that became the subject of Steven Spielberg’s “Schindler’s List.” Katrin Himmler apparently dealt with her situation by marrying an Israeli Jew.

In “400 Miles to Freedom,” Avishai Mekonen documents the often dangerous journey that he and fellow Ethiopian Jews made to reach Israel. As a 10 year old, he found himself in limbo as he and his family waited in Sudan for their chance to be transported to Israel. Mekonen, who was actually kidnapped there but managed to get free, was one of the lucky ones who reached Israel on “Operation Exodus.” Not everyone in his group was so fortunate. I would have liked to learn more about his life today and the acculturation and acceptance of his friends and family, but this was not the direction he and his wife, Shari Rothfarb Mekonen, took in their jointly directed film. Still, Mekonen’s story is fascinating and worthy of our attention. The Jewish community has to know more about the plight of Ethiopian Jews.

Teaneck resident Steven Fischler’s “Dressing America: Tales from the Garment Center” was screened at the New York Jewish Film Festival and reviewed last January; it is also shown at the festival. The film, which provides a fascinating look at the shmata industry, is a treat. The highly talented Fischler, who along with business partner Joel Sucher has produced and directed many award-winning films, including “Free Voice of Labor: The Jewish Anarchists” (1980) and “From Swastika to Jim Crow” (2000), was executive producer on “400 Miles to Freedom.” He is among those who will participate in talkbacks at the festival.

Unfortunately, I was unable to screen “Free Men,” Ismaël Ferroukhi’s film, set in World War II Paris, about an Algerian immigrant who joins the resistance largely because of his friendship with a Jewish man. That movie looks quite interesting.

There are so many other films that warrant consideration. Go towww.teaneckfilmfestival.org for more information.

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