Jack Garner: Jewish film festival's offerings explore the intriguing, nostalgic and tragic

05:00 AM, Jul 14, 2013

Paris Manhattan is part of this year's Jewish Film Festival./

About the festival

The Ames Amzalak Jewish Film Festival runs from next Sunday to Monday, July 29. Nightly films will screen at the George Eastman House Dryden Theatre, 900 East Ave., and the Little Theatre, 240 East Ave. Six matinees will be shown in the Hart Theatre of the Jewish Community Center of Greater Rochester, 1200 Elmwood Ave., Brighton.
Night tickets are $11, and an all-festival pass, which includes nighttime and matinee films, is $165. Weekday matinees are $9, and a pass for the six weekday matinee films is $36.
Here are some other highlights.
Director Q&As

Life in Stills. Israeli filmmaker Tamar Tal will talk about this 2012 documentary in Hebrew, with subtitles, about Miriam Weissenstein and her grandson, who embark on a journey to save her late husband’s Photo House and the negatives that documented Israel’s milestones. 7:30 p.m. next Sunday at the Dryden.
My So-Called Enemy. Director Lisa Gossels will lead a post-film discussion about her 2010 documentary about 22 Palestinian and Israeli teenage girls who came to the United States to participate in a women’s leadership program and how it changed some of them as they went back to their homes. 6 p.m. Wednesday, July 24, at the Little.
An Unlikely Obsession: Churchill and the Jews. Director Barry Avich and executive producer Michael Levine will disuss their documentary about how Churchill grew from individual friendships with British Jews to supporting Jewish causes and his support of the creation of Israel. 11 a.m. Tuesday, July 23, at Hart Theatre.
Disobedience: The Sousa Mendes Story. Dramatization of the true story of a Portuguese diplomat in France, who is perhaps responsible for the greatest individual effort to help Jews escape the Nazis. He lost his career because of his efforts that saved at least 10,000 Jews. 8:30 p.m. Monday, July 22, at Dryden.
My Dad is Baryshnikov. This 2011 comedy, which takes place in 1986 U.S.S.R., tells the story of a bad ballet student who believes he is the son of the great dancer. 9 p.m. Tuesday, July 23, at the Little.
The Day I Saw Your Heart. This dramatic comedy is about father-daughter conflicts in a Parisian family. The daughter attributes her inability to sustain a romantic relationship on her father, who has remarried and is having another child.
Man Without a Cell Phone. A 20-year-old in a Palestinian village is trying to have a fun single life, while his father drags him into a fight against an Israeli cell tower. 11 a.m. Thursday, July 25, at Hart Theatre.
Hannah Arendt. This is based on the life of the great philoshoper and writer and concentrates on her response to the 1961 trial of Adolf Eichmann, which she covered for The New Yorker. 1 p.m. Thursday, July 25, at Hart Theatre.
Zaytoun. An Israeli fighter pilot and a Palestinian boy strike an unlikely friendship. 6:30 p.m. Thursday, July 25, at the Little.
Melting Away. This is the first Israeli film to address transgendered children, and tells of the conflicts within families. 9 p.m. Thursday, July 25, at the Little.
Downtown Express. Real-life musicians take to the streets of New York City. 7:30 p.m. Saturday, July 27, at Dryden.
Ballad of a Weeping Spring. This winner of four Israeli Academy Awards tells the story of a legendary band reuniting for its final show. 9:30 p.m. Saturday, July 27, at Dryden.
David. The son of the imam of a Brooklyn mosque tries to break down interfaith barriers. 1 p.m. Sunday, July 28, at Dryden.
Fill the Void. This is the story of an Orthodox Hassidic family in Tel Aviv. The older sister dies in childbirth, and it’s tradition that the younger daughter then marry her husband. This is the story of the younger sister’s choice. It won best actress honors at the 2012 Venice Film Festival. 8:30 p.m. Sunday, July 28, at Dryden.

The Flat. Winner of best editing at the Tribeca Film Festival World Documentary Competition, it tells the story of items found in the flat where the filmmaker’s grandmother lived after escaping Nazi Germany — and those items tell her grandparents’ story. 1 p.m. Tuesday, July 23, at Hart Theatre.
Oma and Bella. The story of two friends and roommates who survived the Holocaust and stayed in Germany after the war, who bond and remember their past through cooking. 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 23, at the Little.
No Place on Earth. This story tells of the 38 men, women and children from five Jewish families who lived underground in a Ukrainian cave for 511 days while hiding from the Nazis. 1 p.m. Wednesday, July 24, at Hart Theatre.
The Invisible Men. This tells the story of persecuted gay Palestinians who have run away from their families. 9 p.m. Wednesday, July 24, at the Little.
Sosua: Make a Better World. Writer/composer/musician Elizabeth Swados brings together Dominican and Jewish teens in New York City’s Washington Heights neighborhood for a musical about their joint heritage. 6 p.m. Saturday, July 27, at Dryden Theatre.
Hava Nagila. This is the story behind the song and features interviews with Harry Belafonte and Leonard Nimoy and performances by Bob Dylan and Lena Horne. 7 p.m. Monday, July 29, at Dryden.

The life of New York Mayor Ed Koch, memories of the once-beloved Borsch Belt and a comedy in which a young Parisian seeks romantic advice from Woody Allen. Those are among the highlights of the JCC Ames Amzalak Rochester Jewish Film Festival, opening next Sunday and continuing through July 29.

The popular festival is entering its 13th year and will feature screenings of some 26 films from around the world and appearances by some of the filmmakers, at the George Eastman House Dryden Theatre and the Little Theatre. Matinees will also be shown, for the first time, at the Hart Theatre of the Jewish Community Center of Greater Rochester.

As always, the Jewish Film Festival offers dramas, comedies and documentaries that appeal across all sorts of ethnic, religious and social lines, and I always find films that are interesting and artful among the festival offerings.

Here are a few of my favorites for this year:


This is a fascinating documentary by Neil Barsky, about the life and times of Ed Koch, the feisty, funny and popular mayor of New York City from 1978 to 1988. This intimate and revealing film examines a strikingly private man, including his actions during a challenging transit strike, the horrors of the AIDS epidemic, and a corruption scandal, involving members of his administration near the end of his career.

The film addresses such contrary matters as his volatile relationship with the Cuomo family, the whispered campaign questioning the bachelor Koch’s sexual orientation, and the irony of a proudly Jewish man who chose a burial site in a Catholic cemetery (because he preferred the view, among other reasons).

Koch is at 6 p.m. Monday, July 22, at the Dryden. The screening will feature an introduction by former Rochester mayor and current Lt. Gov. Robert J. Duffy (who can be momentarily glimpsed in the film, standing behind Andrew Cuomo during his election victory speech).

Paris Manhattan

In this romantic comedy from France, filmmaker Sophie Lellouche turns the tables on Woody Allen, who has frequently paid tribute to his muses in his films.

Lellouche echoes aspects of Allen’s Play It Again, Sam (in which Allen’s personal guardian angel was Humphrey Bogart) and Hannah and Her Sisters. The woman at the center of Paris Manhattan hears Woody’s voice advising her from a poster in her bedroom. And she’s one of three sisters in a rather flighty family, not unlike the family with which Allen gets entangled in his film.

Though it is always a challenge to attempt parodies and homages to such great films, Lellouche’s work is amusing lighted-hearted fun — and an interesting sidebar to the work of one of our greatest, and most consistent directors.

Paris Manhattan is at 6 p.m. Sunday, July 28, at the Dryden. (Full disclosure: I will introduce this film, chosen because I’m a great fan of Allen and have studied his works.)

Hitler’s Children

In this poignant documentary, we observe the sons, daughters and grandchildren of notorious Nazi leaders, struggling with the guilt and horror of their heritage. Among them are kin of Heinrich Himmler, Hermann Goering, Rudolf Hess, and Amon Goeth, the evil concentration camp director so brilliantly portrayed by Ralph Fiennes in Schindler’s List.

The film is at 3 p.m. Sunday, July 28, at the Dryden.

The Other Son

This switched-at-birth saga works in potent, subtle ways, overcoming the challenges of such a potentially sentimental or clichéd concept.

When an 18-year-old son of an Israeli family applies for military service, it’s discovered he has a blood type that fails to match that of his parents. This leads to an astonishing discovery: The son of the Israeli family is actually a Palestinian, while the son of a West Bank Palestinian family is actually Jewish. This launched both young men on journeys of self-discovery.

The Other Son is the festival’s opening film at 1 p.m. next Sunday at the Dryden.

Welcome to Kutsher’s

This is a nostalgic look at the history, heyday and fading recent years of the last great resort of the once-thriving Borscht Belt of the Catskills, where Jewish families by the thousands vacationed in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s.

The screening is at at 1 p.m. Monday, July 22, at the JCC Hart Theatre.