Discovering unique Israeli films

Discovering unique Israeli films

Rutgers festival returns to mostly in-person screenings this year

“Matchmaking” is a romantic comedy set in the charedi world.
“Matchmaking” is a romantic comedy set in the charedi world.

Discovering Israeli filmmakers at the Rutgers Jewish Film Festival is one way to show support for a nation at war, according to festival director Karen Small.

The 24th annual festival features 15 films, eight by Israeli filmmakers, and runs from October 26 through November 12.

“Because of what’s happening in Israel, it’s just really even more important to support them through arts and culture,” Ms. Small said. “The films shine a different lens on Israeli society and Israeli culture.”

The festival is sponsored by the Allen and Joan Bildner Center for the Study of Jewish Life at Rutgers University and made possible by a grant from the Karma Foundation.

The films, from Israel, Poland, Ukraine, Germany, the U.S., and France, will be shown at Regal Cinema in North Brunswick and at Rutgers Business School in Piscataway.

“Where is Anne Frank” tells the story from the perspective of Anne’s imaginary best friend, Kitty.

The festival returns to mostly in-person screenings after covid forced theaters to close. However, four films will be streamed online for viewers not yet ready to participate in person, according to Ms. Small, who also is the Bildner Center’s managing director.

The festival strives to bring a speaker for every film — either the filmmaker, an actor, or a scholar. “We’re not just showing a movie,” Ms. Small said. “We’re really giving people an opportunity to talk about it, to think about it, and discuss these important issues.”

One of the Israeli films that Ms. Small highlighted is “Closed Circuit,” a documentary about the terrorist attack in Tel Aviv’s Sarona Market in 2016. “It is an incredibly unique film because it is a cinematic use of closed-circuit camera footage from the day and from the area,” she said. It includes current memories of Arab and Jewish survivors of the attack. Producer Nancy Spielberg, Steven Spielberg’s sister, spoke at the New Jersey premiere on October 31. It is the third film she has presented at the festival.

A light-hearted entry, “Matchmaking,” is one of Ms. Small’s favorites; it is not to be confused with the Netflix series called “Jewish Matchmaking.”

The romantic comedy centers on a young yeshiva student in Israel who is set up by a matchmaker. He’s a great student, handsome, and comes from a good Ashkenazi family. He is smitten by his sister’s friend, but she comes from a Sephardic family, which is not allowed in his circles. “We see the dating rituals in this particular Orthodox community, which are very prescribed in terms of who you can go out with. And then we see how this young man decides to take his fate into his own hands. It’s funny, and it’s heartwarming.” There were two showings at the Regal Cinema, on October 28 and 31.

“Generation 1.5” is a documentary about the Soviet Jews who made new lives in Israel.

Another film that Ms. Small recommends is “Generation 1.5.” “It’s a look at immigrants to Israel who came in the 1990s from the former Soviet Union,” she said. “They’re looking back today on those times and what it was like for them as children and teenagers to come to Israel and try to integrate into Israeli society. It’s about the sacrifices their parents made looking to live free as Jews and what that was like for them.” It is being screened virtually.

Ms. Small also highlighted “Where is Anne Frank?” “It’s a film by an Israeli director, Ari Folman, who is known for award-winning animated films with adult audiences in mind.” It features Kitty, Anne Frank’s imaginary friend. “So, Kitty comes to life in present-day Amsterdam,” Ms. Small said. “Her quest to find her best friend leads to unexpected adventures with modern-day refugees and a deeper understanding of Anne Frank’s legacy. It’s a very modern take and a great film.”

The movie will be shown at 3:30 p.m. on Sunday, November 5, at Rutgers Business School.

During the festival, public school students will be bused in to see the film free of charge.

“I think what really makes this film festival significant is that you’re not only seeing things that are unusual, that you wouldn’t be able to see in other theaters or even on a streaming service,” Ms. Small said. “You’re coming here to discover something new and something different and also be able to talk to people about it.”

Tickets are $14 per showing. Discount passes and the schedule of screenings are available online at

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