June 17, 2024
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NJ Jewish Film Festival Gears Up

Lineup includes diverse works from a host of countries.

(Courtesy of NJJFF) For the second year, JCC MetroWest’s New Jersey Jewish Film Festival (NJJFF ) is going virtual. Tickets are now on sale for the 21st annual event, taking place February 28-March 21.

When the pandemic forced the cancellation of the 20th festival, scheduled for late March last year, organizers quickly shifted gears and succeeded in presenting the landmark NJJFF for home viewing over the summer. The transition was not without its bumps, said festival director Sarah Diamond, but the experience gained from presenting the movies and discussions digitally has ensured there will be a smoothly streamed and rewarding roster of cinematic programming on the festival’s new platform this year.

Like last year, said Diamond, community members will miss gathering at JCC MetroWest in West Orange for the screenings, but there is “a bright side. The virtual nature of our festival allows us to engage with filmmakers and commentators from around the world. Our 2020 festival was greatly enhanced by the participation of filmmakers, journalists and experts from as far away as Israel and Europe—and we’ll definitely see more of them in 2021.

“As always,” Diamond continued, “we are committed to meeting the demands of our discerning audience for this premier community cultural event.” Co-chairs Andrea Bergman, Joni Cohen and Abby Meth Kanter, along with a committee of movie-lovers including founders Caren and Herb Ford and long-time festival curator Vicky Jacobs helped shape the festival’s diverse lineup.

The 15 acclaimed films—seven of them New Jersey premieres—include features, documentaries, dramas and comedies, from the United States, Israel, Italy, Argentina, Great Britain and other countries. Several of the films will be shown in tandem with outstanding shorts. Each movie is available over two days for audience members’ convenience; many will be followed by live Q&A sessions led by filmmakers and experts over Zoom.

The opening film, “A Call to Spy,” beginning Sunday, February 28, is a fast-moving historical drama that explores the lives of three remarkable women recruited for covert operations for the Allies in France, leaving a legacy of courage and expert espionage. Director Lydia Dean Pitcher will participate in a Zoom discussion on February 28.

“Stranger/Sister” (Wednesday, March 17) is a homegrown story of how two New Jersey women—one Jewish, one Muslim—together build a powerful movement to overcome a history of distrust and enmity. The documentary follows Sheryl Olitzky and Atiya Aftab as they establish the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom, a nationwide network of hope in a time of chaos and growing hate. The two founders and filmmaker Kirsten Kelly will take part in a live discussion on Thursday evening, March 18.

The centerpiece film, “The Sign Painter” (Thursday, March 11), is a sometimes-playful handling of a dark place and time: Latvia under the Nazis. Ansis, a young artist battered by conflicting allegiances, loves a fiery Jewish communist but finds himself betrothed to a Latvian Christian. The film explores the tenacity of the human spirit in the face of systematic, institutional inhumanity.

The closing feature (Friday, March 19) is “A Starry Sky Above the Roman Ghetto,” an Italian narrative about a group of Christians and Jewish teens whose discovery of a wartime photo moves them to explore a night of horror: the Nazi liquidation of the Roman Ghetto. Along the way, the students learn a historic truth: that indifference is worse than hatred. Filmmaker/actor Giulio Base and actor Domenico Fortunato will participate in a Zoom on Sunday, March 21.

Sponsored by JCC MetroWest’s Gaelen Center for the Arts, the festival receives support from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts and from more than two dozen community and corporate sponsors. Sponsorships are still available.

Tickets cost $12 per film, per household; sponsorships begin at $300 and include an all-festival pass. All films are available for 48 hours from the dates listed. Contact Diamond at [email protected] or visit www.jccmetrowest.org/njjff  or Facebook.com/NJJFF.

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