Festival aims to provide the right balance of Jewish films

I have always loved going to the movies. We lived outside New York City when I was growing up and made frequent expeditions to NY’s revival houses—The Theatre 80 St. Marks; The Elgin; The Bleeker Street Cinema—where my parents introduced us to the world of golden oldies. A Night at the Opera, Casablanca, and To Catch a Thief delighted us. At university, campus cine clubs were the thing. For a three-dollar ticket, I spent Friday evenings with friends at a campus lecture hall, relishing 70s and 80s classics: Raiders of the Lost Ark, Annie Hall, The Right Stuff. In Montreal, where I raised my children, our local cinema was The Forum, in the former Montreal Canadiens’ arena, where we saw the kids’ favourites; Pirates of the Caribbean, Bend it Like Beckham, and, of course, all the Harry Potter films. I have countless vivid and happy memories of these popcorn filled outings.

Fast forward to today, as coordinator of the Edmonton Jewish Film Festival (EJFF), my movie-going hobby has become my professional pursuit. I am so lucky to be paid to do what I love. Although many of my favourite films, from the zany Marx Brothers, to Spielberg’s Raiders, to Annie Hall, are highly Jewish at heart, for the film festival, we are more concentrated and purposeful, trying to find films with obvious Jewish motifs and powerful Jewish narratives. We have an ample selection to pick from, but finding the right mix can be difficult. When the EJFF committee made its choice this year, we had our usual lively discussion about the right balance. Do we have a wide geographical variety? Are narrative films balanced with documentaries? Are we too focused on the Holocaust, or do we also pay attention to other important events in Jewish history? Is the mix too “Ashkenazi-centric” or do we feature some Mizrahi or Sephardi themes? 

After careful thought and discussion, we came up with this year’s roster. Geographically, a strong focus on Israel felt right, with the 75th anniversary on all of our minds. So, we open with the Israeli film Karaoke, set in the suburbs of Tel Aviv and starring the fiendishly handsome, Lior Ashkenazi, the Cary Grant of Israeli cinema. We then show four other Israel-themed films, including an excellent documentary about Menachem Begin. With the French film Rose, we give our audience a taste of Sephardi culture, complete with a recipe for “makroud” a Tunisian date cookie.

Our historical narrative films include several Holocaust-themed movies. Schächten, is a taut Austrian thriller about a Jewish business owner seeking retribution for the murder of his family. The Inspection is a short but powerful film about a high school teacher in contemporary France who faced reprimand for taking her teaching of the Shoah seriously. And, we go out with a bang with the closing night film, Farewell Mister Haffmann, set in occupied Paris, and full of great twists and turns. 

Finally, this year, after slow re-emergence from the pandemic, we are very excited to be back in the theatre with four in-person films at the Edmonton Public Library, which has a very pleasant and cozy theatre on the lower level. Who knew? We are partnering with NorthwestFest on two additional films, playing at Edmonton’s cinema gem, the Metro Cinema, which has been around since the release of Casablanca. Fittingly, one film showing at the Metro is, Only in Theatres, a documentary about a Jewish, family-run art house theatre chain.

We hope that our community will attend the in-person shows in large numbers to experience the magic of the movies. We will also offer four great online films for those who prefer to watch in their PJs, avoid night driving or pause the film to get the hockey score. The festival starts with two in-person films, this Sunday, May 7 at the Stanley A. Milner Library, and runs until May 18. Register for free tickets at jewishedmonton.org.

With deepest thanks to the EJFF committee, our generous sponsors and our audience.

Hope to see you at the movies. It is going to be grand. 

Shabbat Shalom,