July 18, 2024
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Annual Rutgers Jewish Film Festival Goes Virtual

Despite the COVID-19 crisis shutting movie theaters across the country, the annual Rutgers Jewish film festival will go on from November 8-22, virtually offering 14 comedies, dramas and documentaries. New Jersey’s largest Jewish film festival will also offer its usual gathering of directors, actors and experts to speak about the films.

“These films were all highly recommended,” said Karen Small, managing director of Rutgers University’s Allen and Joan Bildner Center for the Study of Jewish Life and founding director of the festival. Although for the first time in its 21-year history there will be no live showings and programming, she noted that the virtual format’s silver lining is that people can attend from afar.

With the exception of two, all movies can be viewed anytime by those purchasing tickets over the two weeks of the festival. Once logging onto the Bildner website, moviegoers will be instructed to create an account and after purchasing tickets will be sent a link to the film or films. An “all-access” pass is also available.

“Each distributor and filmmaker sets the guidelines about how the film will be shown, when the film can be shown and even if it can be shown virtually,” said Small.

The film’s “opening night” presentation will be “Aulcie,” an Israeli film based on the life of Aulcie Perry, a Black Newark native recruited by Maccabi Tel Aviv in 1976 for his basketball skills, leading Team Israel to an improbable win over the heavily favored Soviets to capture its first European championship.

“Aulcie,” which features actual game footage, examines the pitfalls Perry overcame as an athletic superstar in Israel, where he still lives after adopting a Hebrew name and converting to Judaism. It is one of the two where viewing time is limited. The opening night will feature a live virtual Q&A session with the film’s director, Dani Menkin. Small said the festival is hopeful that Perry will also join but was still in negotiations at press time.

The other film with a limited run is “Breaking Bread,” an Israeli documentary focusing on the quest of Dr. Nof Atamna-Ismaeel, the first Muslim Arab to win Israel’s “MasterChef,” to bring about social change through food by founding the A-sham Food Festival in Haifa, where Arab and Jewish chefs collaborate on local dishes.

On Tuesday, November 17 the festival will offer a Q&A with “Breaking Bread” Director Beth Elise Hawk and Chef Einat Admony, an Israeli native who runs three New York restaurants: Kish-Kash, Balaboosta and Taïm.

Still another Israeli entry is “Angelica,” a film that Small described as “definitely my favorite. “This is the first film we chose this year,” she said. “It is a wonderful documentary about the legacy of art in Israel.”

“Angelica” revolves around Boris Schatz, who founded the Israel Museum and Bezalel Art Academy, and left a vast collection of artwork. However, he had a daughter, Angelica, with whom he lost touch, and no one knew she existed until many years later when her own artwork was found in a Tel Aviv attic.

“They found letters between Boris and Angelica and no one really knew why they were connected,” said Small. “The film is a mystery; it’s about art restoration and family relationships; and it’s just really well done.” On Friday, November 20, filmgoers can hear from Director Dan Peer, Angelica’s great-grandson.

The festival will also include two films based on Holocaust survival stories by German director Caroline Link, who will appear on Sunday, November 15, said Small, adding that organizers felt the two movies “are a nice pairing.”

The first, “Nowhere in Africa,” is a true tale of a Jewish family who fled Germany in 1938 to live and work on a remote farm in Kenya, leaving behind a comfortable middle-class life. The film is based on the autobiographical novel of the same name by Stefanie Zweig.

The second, “When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit,” is the story of a 9-year-old German-Jewish girl whose father suddenly disappears, forcing the family to flee and leave everything behind, including her favorite toy, a pink rabbit. This film is based on Judith Kerr’s semi-autobiographical novel, and those ordering it can also view “Tree#3,” a 19-minute short about an Israeli boy living in America, cast as the lead in a school play.

Other films include:

“Asia,” an Israeli drama about a Russian immigrant mother and daughter, featuring Shira Haas, the star of “Unorthodox “and “Shtisel”;

“The Art of Waiting,” an Israel romantic dramedy about a young couple trying to have a baby and facing pressure from family, friends and each other;

“Autonomies,” showing four episodes of the Israeli television series, a dystopian thriller imagining an alternate reality where Israel is split into two separate entities, the secular state of Israel with Tel Aviv as its capital, and on the other side of a wall an ultra-Orthodox state whose capital is Jerusalem. The speaker on Monday, November 16, is Yaacov Yadgar, Stanley Lewis Professor of Israel Studies at Oxford University;

“Honeymood,” an Israeli comedy that premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival, about a couple who get into a “knock-out” fight on their wedding night over a gift from the groom’s ex-girlfriend. They set off on an all-night odyssey through the streets of Jerusalem to return the gift;

“Latter Day Jew,” shown in partnership with the JCC of Central New Jersey, an American documentary about H. Alan Scott, a gay writer-comedian, cancer survivor and former Mormon who becomes a Jew by choice and whose family embraces his new spiritual path as they visit Israel to prepare for his bar mitzvah. Scott will appear on Thursday, November 12;

”The Rabbi Goes West,” an American documentary about Chabad Rabbi Cham Bruk, who leaves Brooklyn with his family for Bozeman, Montana to establish the state’s first Chabad center, meeting some resistance from fellow rabbis and Jewish neighbors. On Monday, November 16, there will be an appearance by directors Amy Geller and Gerald Peary;

“Shared Legacies: The African-American-Jewish Civil Rights Alliance,” an American documentary about the shared fight against bigotry and how freedom and equality can be achieved when people come together;

“Mrs. G,” a documentary about Lea Gottlieb, the legendary Israeli designer, Holocaust survivor and larger-than-life founder and chief designer of Gottex swimwear; and “My Name Is Sara,” an American film based on the true story of Sara Goralnik, a 13-year-old Polish Jew who escaped to the Ukrainian countryside after her family was killed in the Holocaust. She took on the identity of her Christian best friend while working for a local farmer.

For more information or to purchase tickets, visit https://bildnercenter.rutgers.edu/events/film.

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