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Dim the Lights!

The 2020 Mandell JCC Hartford Jewish Film Festival, featuring 20 films built around a theme of hope, opens March 5 and runs through March 15 – with an encore screening on March 19.

The films will screen in three venues: Mandell JCC, 335 Bloomfield Ave., West Hartford; Spotlight Theatres (SPOT), 39 Front St., Hartford; AMC Classic Bloomfield 8, 863 Park Ave, Bloomfield.

“With antisemitism and hate on the rise, the themes of this year’s festival, and the selection of films, are more relevant than ever,” says Jill Ziplow, the festival director and Mandell JCC cultural arts director. 

Though the festival officially closes on March 15, a special screening of the documentary, “Viral: Antisemitism in Four Mutations,” will be held on Thursday, March 19, 7 p.m. 

In addition to the selection of screenings, the 2020 festival will also feature “Reel Israel,” a fascinating post-festival panel discussion that explores Israeli society through the lens of six of the featured Israeli films, that will take place on Monday, March 23, at 7 p.m. 

To purchase tickets, call the Mandell JCC Box Office at (860) 231-6316; fax, (860) 231-0802; email tickets@hjff.org. Group discounts available. For information, contact Jill Ziplow at jziplow@mandelljcc.org or visit www.hjff.org. 

THURSDAY, MARCH 5 OPENING NIGHT

“Fiddler: A Miracle of Miracles”
Documentary, 2019 (USA), 92 min.
English, English subtitles
Venue: JCC 
Time: 6 p.m., dinner; 7:30 p.m., film
Tickets: $36/dinner & film

The story behind one of Broadway’s most beloved musicals, Fiddler on The Roof, and its creative roots in early 1960s New York, when “tradition” was on the wane as gender roles, sexuality, race relations and religion were evolving. Featuring intimate interviews with the show’s creators reveal how the tremendous success and worldwide impact of Fiddler is most appropriately viewed through the lens of the social upheaval and change in mid-20thcentury America. 

SATURDAY, MARCH 7

“Tel Aviv on Fire”
Comedy, 2018 (Luxembourg/France/Israel/Belgium) 
Arabic/Hebrew, English subtitles
Venue: AMC Bloomfield
Time: 8 p.m. 
Tickets: $12/in advance, $15/at the door

Winner of top prizes at the Haifa and Venice film festivals, writer-director Sameh Zoabi’s satire follows Salam, whose daily commute from Ramallah to his job on a Palestinian TV soap opera takes him through an Israeli checkpoint and a regular encounter with an IDF officer who demands Salam change the show’s story line to make his wife happy.

SUNDAY, MARCH 8

“Crescendo”
Drama, 2019, (Germany), 106 min.
Venue: SPOT
Time: 1 p.m. 
Tickets: $12/in advance, $15/at the door

When world-famous conductor Eduard Sporck accepts the job to create an Israeli-Palestinian youth orchestra, he is drawn into a tempest of unsolvable problems. Having grown up in a state of war, suppression or constant risk of terrorist attacks, the young musicians from both sides are far from able to form a team. Lined up behind the two best violinists – the Palestinian Layla and the Israeli Ron – they form two parties who deeply mistrust each other, on and off-stage. 

“Picture of His Life”
Documentary, 2019, (Israel/Canada/USA), 71 min.
Hebrew, English, and Inuit
Venue: Spotlight Hartford (SPOT)
Time: 1 p.m.
Tickets: $12/in advance, $15/at the door

Underwater photographer Amos Nachoum has communed with sharks, killer whales and all sorts of underwater behemoths and survived. The Jaffa-born Nachoum lives close to the Pacific Ocean in Northern California, but is always off on yet another expedition. What drives his passion? His difficult childhood, his service in an elite Israeli commando unit in the bloody 1973 Yom Kippur War, experiences that combined to put him on a quest for inner peace. 

“Aulcie”
Documentary, 2019 (Israel), 120 min.
English
Venue: SPOT
Time: 3 p.m.
Tickets: $12/in advance, $15/at the door 

This sequel to the film “On the Map” recounts the true-life story of the “center” of Maccabi Tel Aviv’s soul – former New York Knick Aulcie Perry. Recruited in 1976, after being spotted playing on the famed Rucker Courts in Harlem, Aulcie led the once-obscure team to victory after victory. Hailed by Prime Minister Menachem Begin as having brought “honor to the people of Israel” – high praise for a New Jersey-born African American athlete with no Jewish heritage. 

“The Reports on Sarah and Saleem”
Crime/Drama, 2019 (USA), 110 min.
Hebrew/Arabic, with English subtitles
Venue: SPOT
Time: 3 p.m.
Tickets: $12/in advance, $15/at the door

Sarah, an Israeli café owner living in West Jerusalem, has a clandestine relationship with Saleem, her Palestinian bread vendor, who lives in East Jerusalem. When their spouses discover the affair, two lives – already divided by politics, culture, class and marital commitments – are made infinitely more complicated. A psychological thriller that gives new meaning to the adage the personal is political.

MONDAY, MARCH 9

“King Bibi”
Documentary, 2019 (Israel/USA), 87 min.
Hebrew, with English subtitles
Venue: JCC
Time: 5:30 p.m.
Tickets: $12/in advance, $15/at the door

An exploration of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s rise to power, relying solely on archival footage from his days as a popular guest expert on American TV, through his public confession of adultery, and his mastery of the art of social media. A look at how “Bibi” evolved from Israel’s great political hope, to a controversial figure whom some perceive as Israel’s savior, and others – as a cynical politician who will stop at nothing to retain his power. 

TUESDAY, MARCH 10

“Ma’abarot”
Documentary, 2019 (Israel), 84 min.
Hebrew with English subtitles
Venue: JCC
Time: 5:30 p.m.
Tickets: $12/in advance, $15/at the door

“Ma’abarot” unfolds the story of the Israeli transit camps – a controversial enterprise, housing hundreds of thousands of new immigrants from different parts of the world, transitioning them into becoming part of the Israeli cultural tapestry. 

“Saul and Ruby: To Life!”
Documentary, 2020 (USA), 80 min.
English
Venue: JCC
Time: 7:30 p.m.
Tickets: $12/in advance, $15/at the door

The inspiring story of two musicians, Holocaust survivors, who make an emotional journey to Poland where they relive the joys of their youth and the ensuing horrors of Nazi-occupied Poland. They play a dream concert before a cheering crowd of 2,000 Poles of all ages, including a group of non-Jewish Poles who provided a safe haven for Jews during the war. At the film’s close, the men play defiantly and triumphantly on the train tracks of Auschwitz. 

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 11

“Fiddler: A Miracle of Miracles”
Documentary, USA 2019, 92 min.
English, English subtitles
Venue: JCC 
Time: 1:30 p.m. 
Tickets: Free for seniors 70+ with ticket
For details, see March 5

“The Song of Names”
Drama, 2019 (USA), 113 min
Hebrew, English
Venue: AMC Bloomfield
Time: 7 p.m.
Tickets: $12/in advance, $15/at the door

As World War II erupts, 9-year-old Martin comes to love his new brother Dovidl, a highly gifted violin prodigy of the same age and recent Polish-Jewish refugee to London. But hours before Dovidl’s debut concert at the age of 21, he vanishes, causing ruin for the boys’ family. Years later, the now 56-year old Martin discovers that Dovidl is alive – and embarks on an overseas odyssey to find him.

“The Keeper”
Biography/drama/romance, 2019 (UK), 119 min.
English
Venue: AMC Bloomfield
Time: 7 p.m.
Tickets: $12/in advance, $15/at the door

The true story of Bert Trautmann, a German soldier and prisoner of war who becomes goalkeeper at Manchester City. Thousands of fans are outraged. But Bert receives support from an unexpected direction: a rabbi who fled the Nazis. Bert’s love for Margaret, an Englishwoman, carries him through and he wins the 1956 FA Cup Final. But fate intervenes, and Bert and Margaret’s love and loyalty to each other is put to the ultimate test. 

THURSDAY, MARCH 12

“City of Joel”  
Documentary, 2018 (USA), 84 min. 
English 
Venue: JCC
Time: 5:30 p.m.
Tickets: $12/in advance, $15/at the door

Located in rural upstate New York, Kiryas Joel is a modern shtetl in the town of Monroe, home to over 20,000 Yiddish-speaking Satmar Hasidim. The residents seek to double the size of their footprint, sparking a standoff between local activists who view more multi-family units as threatening their way of life, and the Hasidim who believe the opposition is antisemitic. Shot over several years, the film reveals the town’s divide as a microcosm of a divided nation. 

“Holy Silence” 
Documentary, 2019 (USA), 71 min
English
Venue: JCC
Time: 7:30 p.m. (followed by discussion)
Tickets: $12/in advance, $15/at the door

As World War II looms, Pope Pius XI calls on an American priest to help him challenge the evils of Nazism and antisemitism. But death intervenes, and a new pope, Pius XII, carries out a very different response to Hitler and the Holocaust. The little known story of Americans – from priests to presidents – who worked behind the scenes in hopes of persuading the Holy See to be a strong moral voice against Hitler and fascism. 

SATURDAY, MARCH 14

“Latter Day Jew”
Documentary/comedy, 2019 (Israel/USA), 85 min.
English
Venue: JCC
Time 8 p.m.
Tickets: $12/in advance; $15/at the door

How does a gay, former Mormon, cancer-survivor who converted to Judaism at the age of 34 prepare for his bar mitzvah? Comedian H. Alan Scott, known for his appearances on Ellen and The Jimmy Kimmel Show, talks with Jewish comedians, takes a trip to Israel and, finally, deals with the big questions: How did his cancer scare affect his path to Judaism? And, how will becoming a Jew affect his relationship with his Mormon family?

SUNDAY, MARCH 15

“Mossad”
Comedy, 2019 (Israel), 95 min.
Hebrew, with English subtitles
Venue: AMC Blooomfield
Time: 12 p.m.
Tickets: $12/in advance, $15/at the door 

A riotous sendup of the Mossad, Israel’s revered national intelligence agency. Tsahi Halevi (Fauda, Bethlehem) stars as operative Guy Moran, a secret agent who can’t do anything right. When an American billionaire is kidnapped in Israel, Moran teams up with the CIA’s best agent to try to save the day. Described by The Jerusalem Post as the “The most popular Israeli film of all time”.

“Advocate”
Documentary, 2019 (USA), 110 min,
Hebrew, with Arabic/English subtitles 
Venue: AMC Bloomfield
Time: 12 p.m.
Tickets: $12/in advance, $15/at the door

The story of the indominable Israeli human-rights lawyer Lea Tsemel. Having defended Palestinians against a host of criminal charges in Israeli courts for nearly five decades, Tsemel is a staunch supporter of compassion within the court system. Frequently subjected to harsh criticism in the press and in the public view, Tsemel remains optimistically steadfast in her belief that justice can be served. 

“Incitement”
Docudrama, 2019 (Israel), 123 min. 
Hebrew, with English subtitles
Venue: AMC Bloomfield
Time: 2:30 p.m.
Tickets: $12/in advance; $15/at the door

A penetrating dissection of one of the most traumatic events in the history of Israel – the 1995 assassination of Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin in Tel Aviv, focusing specifically on the man who pulled the trigger – Yigal Amir, the Orthodox child of Yemenite immigrants who went from being an ambitious law student to murderer.  Vividly re-created, “Incitement” powerfully dramatizes the deep fissures then opening up over the pursuit of a peace agreement with the Palestinians.

“Those Who Remained”
Drama, 2019 (Hungary), 83 min.
Hungarian, with English subtitles
Venue: AMC Bloomfield
Time: 2:30 p.m.
Tickets: $12/in advance, $15/at the door

Having survived the camps, 42-year old Aldo lives a solitary life as a doctor in Budapest. Sixteen-year old Klara lives with her great-aunt, holding on to hope that her parents will return. The two meet and, as they grow closer, the joy in both their lives slowly returns. But as the Soviet Empire rises to power in Hungary, their pure and loving father-daughter relationship is misunderstood and frowned upon. A lyrical story of the healing power of love in the midst of conflict, loss and trauma. 

Closing Night film 

“My Name is Sara”
Drama, 2019 (Poland/USA), 111 mins. 
English and Polish, with English subtitles
Venue: AMC Bloomfield
Time: 7 p.m.
Tickets: $25/includes dessert reception

The true story of Sara Guralnick, a 13-year-old Polish Jew whose family was killed by the Nazis. After a grueling escape to the Ukrainian countryside, Sara steals her Christian best friend’s identity and finds refuge in a small village where she is taken in by a farmer and his young wife. She soon discovers the dark secrets of her employers’ marriage, compounding the greatest secret she must strive to protect, her true identity.  

THURSDAY, MARCH 19

“VIRAL: Antisemitism in Four Mutations”
Documentary, 2019 (USA), 83 min.
English
Venue: JCC
Time: 7 p.m., a Q&A with producer Diana Robinson will follow the film. 
Tickets: $12/in advance, $15/at the door

A look at the rise of antisemitism today, through the eyes of some of those most affected by it in the US, France, the UK and Hungary. The film illuminates the seemingly endless wave of violence against Jews in each of these four countries which, when reviewed holistically, paints a terrifying portrait of how this kind of global hatred begins and how easily it disseminates.


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