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The 25th Annual Hartford Jewish Film Festival focuses on strength and resilience

The 25th Annual Mandell JCC Hartford Jewish Film Festival featuring 19 films – all linked to theme of strength and resilience – will open Feb. 28 and run through April 2.

“Last year, the COVID-19 pandemic brought the 2020 film festival to a halt,” says Mandell JCC Executive Director David Jacobs. “Through the strength and resilience of our community, we were determined to carry on and curate a film festival this year to celebrate the 25th anniversary.”

Nine of the festival’s 19 films were scheduled to screen last year but had to be cancelled.

“None of this would be possible without our new Film Festival Director Jennifer Sharp,” says Jacobs. “Jennifer has served on the film festival committee – as a member and as co-chair – for several years, and when Jill Ziplow retired, we knew Jennifer would be able to pick up right where Jill left off.”

“This year is unlike any other year, and I’m grateful to our committee for their efforts during the selection process,” says Sharp. “It wasn’t easy, but I do believe we have put together an extraordinary festival this year to celebrate the 25th anniversary and to honor the strength and resiliency we see on screen. These films are exceptionally moving and they afford us the opportunity to come to together and have a deeper discussion about the realities of Jewish life right here at home in America.”

Five of the films selected will culminate in a series of ‘Reel Talk’ virtual panel discussions, featuring special guest panelists seeking to enrich the cinematic experience with background, opinions, and interpretations. These filmmakers, authors, academics, and historians join us for live programs along with Q&A sessions on Zoom. These five programs will include discussions about the following films:

Tuesday, March 2
Holy Silence

The panel will include Steven Pressman, director and producer Father Kevin Spicer, professor of History at Stonehill College, Dr. Suzanne Brown-Fleming, director, International Academic Programs – Mandel Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies – United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and moderated by Professor Avinoam Patt, Ph.D., UConn.

Thursday, March 11
‘Til Kingdom Come

The panel will include Amy Weiss, University of Hartford Greenberg Center and Joel Lohr, President of Hartford Seminary, moderated by Jeremy Pressman, UConn.

Thursday, March 18
Shared Legacies 

Susannah Heschel, professor of Jewish Studies at Dartmouth College will lead the discussion.

Wednesday, March 24 Thou Shalt Not Hate & Viral: Antisemitism in Four Mutations 

The film’s director Andrew Goldberg will join the discussion, which is moderated by David Waren, president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford.

“We will miss the face-to-face interaction this year, but until we can all safely come together in our theater, we hope that people will feel connected during this year’s festival with the quality of films Jennifer and the committee have chosen. In reality, doing this virtually, allows audiences from all over the country to come together, and with our post-film discussions, we look forward to engaging more with our participants,” says Jacobs.

Dim the lights…A look at the festival films

February 28, 7 pm – March 3, 7 pm

Documentary | 2020 | USA | 74min | English, Italian

Decades after the Holocaust, a controversial debate continues over what, if anything, Pope Pius XII might have done to resist the rise of Adolf Hitler and Nazism and intervene on behalf of the Jews of Europe.

March 2, 7 pm – March 5, 7 pm

Drama | 2020 | Israel | 85min | Hebrew, Russian, English Subtitles

Young mom Asia hides nothing about her work-hard, play-hard lifestyle, and expects the same openness from her teenage daughter Vika. But Vika is at an age where privacy and independence are paramount, and she begins to rebel. When health issues lead Vika to be confined to a wheelchair and her need for romantic and sexual exploration becomes more urgent, Asia must get out of the way so that her daughter can live her life.

March 3, 7 pm – March 6, 7 pm

Comedy | 2019 | Israel | 88 minutes | Russian, Hebrew, English subtitles

Victor and Raya Frenkel were the golden voices of Soviet film dubbing for decades. All the western movies that reached Soviet screens were dubbed by them. In 1990, with the collapse of Soviet Union, the Frenkels move to Israel, just like hundreds of thousands of Soviet Jews. There’s no need in Israel for Russian speaking dubbing turn the new chapter of their life into an amusing, painful, and absurd experience. 

March 5, 7 pm – March 8, 7 pm

Documentary | 2019 | Israel, Canada, Switzerland 110 minutes | Hebrew – Arabic, English subtitles

Lea Tsemel defends Palestinians: from feminists to fundamentalists, from nonviolent demonstrators to armed militants. As a Jewish-Israeli lawyer, Tsemel pushes the praxis of a human rights defender to its limits. As far as most Israelis are concerned, she defends the indefensible. Advocate follows Tsemel’s caseload in real time while also revisiting her landmark cases.

March 6, 7 pm – March 9, 7 pm

Drama | 2020 | Germany, Switzerland | 119min | German, English Subtitles

Nine-year-old Anna is too busy with schoolwork and friends to notice Hitler’s face glaring from posters plastered all over 1933 Berlin. But when her father suddenly vanishes and the family escapes Germany, Anna begins to understand life will never be the same, as she and her family cope with the challenges of being refugees. An adaptation of Judith Kerr’s semi-autobiographical bestselling children’s novel.

March 8, 7 pm – March 11, 7 pm
HERE WE ARE         

Drama | 2020 | Israel | 92 minutes | Hebrew

Aharon has devoted his life to raising his son Uri. They live together in a gentle routine, away from the real world. But Uri is autistic, and now as a young adult it might be time for him to live in a specialized home. While on their way to the institution, Aharon decides to run away with his son and hits the road, knowing that Uri is not ready for this separation. Or is it, in fact, his father who is not ready?

March 9, 7 pm – March 12, 7 pm

Documentary | 2020 | Israel, United Kingdom, Norway | 76 minutes | English, Arabic, Hebrew

Among the millions of American Evangelicals praying for the State of Israel are the Binghams, a dynasty of Kentucky pastors who, together with their Evangelical congregants in an impoverished coal mining town, fervently believe the Jews are crucial to Jesus’s return. This film traces this relationship, exposing a backstory of the Trump and Netanyahu administrations, where financial, political and messianic motivations intersect with the apocalyptic worldview.

March 11, 7 pm – March 14, 7 pm

Drama | 2020 | Israel, United States | 89 minutes | English, Hebrew, English Subtitles

Michael, a New York Times travel writer visiting Tel Aviv to research his latest article, get some space from his relationship, and recharge his batteries amid the thriving gay scene. Intending to sublet an apartment in Israel’s most populous city, he agrees to share a one-bedroom space when tenant Tomer has nowhere else to go. The age gap between the reserved Michael and the free-spirited Tomer lends itself to both humor an charm as the pair get to know one another. (Source: Tribeca Film Festival)

March 13, 7 pm – March 16, 7 pm

Drama | 2019 | Poland, USA | 111 min | English, Polish, English subtitles

This film is the true-life story of Sara Góralnik, a 13-year-old Polish Jew who lost her entire family in the Holocaust, yet struggled to outlast the Nazis and fought to keep alive her Jewish faith. After a grueling escape, Sara steals her Christian best friend’s identity and finds refuge in a small Ukrainian village, where she is taken in by a farmer and his young wife and hidden in plain sight, masquerading as a Christian. But Sara soon discovers the dark secret of her employer’s marriage, which compromises the greatest secret she must protect at all costs, her true identity.

March 15, 7 pm – March 18, 7 pm

Documentary | 2018 | USA | 84 minutes | English

Small-town politics and ancient tradition collide in City of Joel, an account of a turf war between an ultra-Orthodox community and its neighbors. Located in the rural upstate New York town of Monroe, Kiryas Joel is home to over 20,000 Satmar sect members, one of the country’s fastest growing Hasidic enclaves. When a plan is created to double the size of the village to keep up with its growth, their secular neighbors fight back, claiming that the expansion will disrupt their lives, harm the environment, and tilt the balance of local political power.

March 16, 7 pm – March 19, 7 pm

Documentary | 2020 | USA | 97 minutes | English

The crucial historical lessons of Black-Jewish cooperation are revisited and revived in this call to action. The modern alliance between African Americans and Jewish Americans dates to the NAACP founding in 1909. Since then, both groups have endured segregation and racism. Common cause was found in the turbulent ‘60s Civil Rights era, as Jewish leaders backed Dr. King’s efforts at racial equality. Yet, the relationship has frayed in recent years, as a once mighty bond of support and respect has seemingly faded. (Source: JxJ DC)

March 18, 7 pm – March 21, 7 pm

Docudrama | 2019 | Israel | 123 minutes | Hebrew with English subtitles

A chronicle of the disturbing descent of a promising law student to a delusional ultranationalist obsessed with murdering his country’s leader, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Israel’s official Academy Award entry for Best International Feature Film and winner of the Israeli Ophir Award for Best Film, this psychological drama depicts the lead-up to the assassination through the worldview of his assassin, Yigal Amir.

March 20, 7 pm – March 23, 7 pm

Drama | 2020 | Italy | 96 minutes | Italian, English Subtitles

Simone Segre is a successful surgeon who leads a carefree existence, marred only by a difficult relationship with his recently deceased father, a Holocaust survivor. One day he finds himself assisting a victim of a hit and run accident. When Simone discovers a Nazi tattoo on the older man’s chest, he cannot set aside his own prejudice, and he leaves the injured man to suffer his fate. Tormented by guilt, Simone seeks to find a measure of peace with his ethical dilemma by employing the man’s oldest daughter as his housekeeper. (Source JXJ – DCJCC)

March 21, 7 pm – March 24, 7 pm

Documentary | 2020 | USA | 83 minutes

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. It examines the far-Right in the U.S. and how they have incited such acts as the mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. In England, we find how the far Left often conflates Israel and Jews which devolves into antisemitism. Further East, Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban has launched a massive antisemitic media campaign based around George Soros, and in France, the film illuminates the seemingly endless wave of violence against Jews. The increasing violence within each of these four countries when viewed holistically paints a terrifying portrait of how global hatred begins and how easily it disseminates.

March 23, 7 pm – March 26, 7 pm

Drama | 2019 | Hungary | 83 minutes | Hungarian (with English subtitles)

Hungary’s official entry for the Academy Award for Best International Film is a tender tale set in Budapest after the end of World War II. Having survived the camps, 42-year-old Aldo lives a solitary life as a doctor in Budapest. Klara, 16, lives reluctantly with her great-aunt, holding on to hope that her father and mother will return.  As they grow closer and closer, the joy in both of their lives slowly returns. A lyrical story of the healing power of love in the midst of conflict, loss and trauma.

March 25, 7 pm – March 28, 7 pm

Documentary | 2019 | Israel – United States | 85 minutes | English

How does a gay, former-Mormon, cancer-survivor who converted to Judaism at the age of 34 prepare for his bar mitzvah?  Determined to be “the best Jew he can be” before becoming a man in the eyes of Jewish law, comedian H. Alan Scott ‘s adventure takes him to Israel during Tel Aviv Pride week, where he shops for his first tallit, prays at the Kotel, and takes a lesson in shofar-blowing. A coming-of-age story about a person who literally finds his tribe, layered with comedy, pathos, and joy.

March 25-26, 7 pm & March 28-30, 7 pm

Comedy | 2019 | Israel | 95 minutes | English and Hebrew with English subtitles

A box office smash in its native Israel, Mossad follows the tradition of The Naked Gun series with a riotous laugh-a-minute 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… with wildly entertaining results.

March 29, 7 pm – April 1, 7 pm

Comedy | 2020 | USA | 77 minutes | English

When Danielle joins her family at a shiva, the last person she expects to run into is Max, the ‘sugar daddy’ she said goodbye to just a few hours earlier. With this unexpected clash of her worlds, Danielle is forced into juggling multiple roles: the good Jewish daughter, entertaining small talk with estranged relatives, playing it cool with her ex-girlfriend Maya, and keeping her relationship with Max a secret. (Source: Boston Jewish Film)

March 31, 7 pm – April 3, 7 pm

Drama | 2020 | Norway | 90 minutes | Norwegian, English Subtitles

The story of 10-year-old Gerda and her brother Otto, whose parents are in the Norwegian resistance movement during World War II. One day in 1942, Gerda and Otto’s parents are arrested, leaving the siblings on their own. Following the arrest, they discover two Jewish children, Sarah and Daniel, hidden in a secret cupboard in their basement at home. It is now up to Gerda and Otto to finish what their parents started: To help Sarah and Daniel flee from the Nazis cross the border to neutral Sweden and reunite them with their parents. Source: Menemsha Films)

Tickets for individual films are $12. An ‘All Access’ pass, allowing access to all 19 films, is $10. “Pick Nine” tickets, which allow the filmgoer to select nine films, are available for $11 per film.

To purchase tickets, visit www.hjff.org. For more information on the featured films, contact Jennifer Sharp at jsharp@mandelljcc.org.

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