Jewish films are back in the theater
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Jewish films are back in the theater

23rd annual Rutgers festival begins screening on Sunday

A scene from the award-winning 
“Cinema Sabaya.” It’s set in a video production workshop in Israel.(Ella Barak)
A scene from the award-winning “Cinema Sabaya.” It’s set in a video production workshop in Israel.(Ella Barak)

The 23rd annual Rutgers Jewish Film Festival, set to run from October 30 through November 13, brings viewers together to experience the breadth of Jewish films being made each year.

The Allen and Joan Bildner Center for the Study of Jewish Life will present 10 films at the newly renovated Regal Cinema in North Brunswick. Seven more will be streamed on the festival’s website during the second week.

The screenings, both virtual and in-person, will be followed by discussions led by filmmakers and scholars on issues the movies raise.

In 2019, the last year there were in-person screenings, more than 6,000 people attended. Screenings will be both in person and online this year, and organizers are not sure what to expect.

Karen Small, the managing director of the Rutgers Bildner Center, is excited about having audiences come back into the theater. “You can stay at home and watch a movie as we have done for the past couple of years, but by walking into a movie theater and seeing it in a public space, especially these really interesting powerful movies that have Jewish themes, it really creates a bond and a really powerful experience,” she said.

A scene from “March 1968,” set in Poland. (Miguel Nieto)

“People are wanting to learn more about various Jewish communities around the world, about Jews who may not look like them, about Jews who are having other kinds of experiences or multicultural situations.”

A festival selection committee screened about 150 new releases, and narrowed them down to the 17 that will be shown. The selections include “Cinema Sabaya,” which portrays the experience of eight diverse Arab and Israeli women in a video production workshop. The women forge unlikely bonds as they begin to document their lives at home and share their art with one another. The film swept this year’s Israeli Oscar-equivalent Ophir awards, winning best film and best director and best supporting actress, among other categories.

Ms. Small interviewed the film’s director, and that recorded discussion is posted on the festival website, BildnerCenter.Rutgers.edu/film. “Cinema Sabaya” is the only film that will be shown in-person and streaming. “We want people to really have a chance to see it,” Ms. Small said.

“March 1968,” a drama about the Polish communist government’s anti-Zionist purge in that year, is another noteworthy work. The film is a rare cinematic treatment of antisemitism in 1960s Poland.

“It’s a film that’s seen through the eyes of two college students who meet and fall in love,” Ms. Small said. “One is Jewish and one is the son of a Polish government official. It’s a slice of Jewish history that I don’t think many people know about, because many believe that Jews didn’t stay in Poland after the Holocaust.” In fact, however, many remained; “they came out of hiding and were living as members of society and in 1968 the tide turned against them again.”

“March 1968 “ is about antisemitism and forbidden love in postwar Poland. Its director, Krzysztof Lang, will speak at the festival. (Miguel Nieto)

Polish filmmaker Krzysztof Lang, the director of “Marzec ’68,” as the film is called in Poland, will speak in person about “March 1968” after the screening.

One of the more moving documentaries is “Dead Sea Guardians,” about the heroic effort to save the Dead Sea from drying up and disappearing because of climate change. Three historic enemies who share this wonder of the world –- Israelis, Jordanians, and Palestinians –- join forces to try to stop the catastrophic loss. “We see them coming together in the film and advocating for taking better care of the land,” Ms. Small said. The screening is co-sponsored by the New Jersey-Israel Commission

This festival’s other documentaries cover diverse topics including world-renowned singer/songwriter Leonard Cohen; the little-known story of the Jewish family that owned and carefully preserved Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia estate, Monticello, for nearly a century; the practice of conversion therapy for ultra-Orthodox gay men in contemporary Israel; the history of the Xueta, a unique group of families in Majorca who trace their heritage back to the Inquisition, when they were forced to renounce Judaism; and the fight to include Orthodox women in the Knesset.

The Rutgers Jewish Film Festival also offers a free screening of a Holocaust-related film for public school students in partnership with the Herbert and Leonard Littman Families Holocaust Resource Center at Rutgers. The screening, at Regal, is closed to the general public.

Ms. Small said that the selected films entertain, educate, and connect audiences to issues related to Jewish life around the world. “We’re bringing not just films for people to watch, but we’re bringing the community together to have a community experience of watching a film,” she said.

Go to BildnerCenter.Rutgers.edu/film to learn more about the films and to buy tickets. For questions, email rujff@sas.rutgers.edu or call 848-932-4166.

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