From March 5-15, the Sabes Foundation Minneapolis Jewish Film Festival, a celebration of Jewish life, politics, culture, comedy and struggle, will premiere 20 exceptional films from all over the Jewish world. These are not your run-of-the-mill movie rentals.
“Many films with Jewish content never make it to commercial distribution,” festival co-chair Walter Elias said. “Many of them never see the light of day, especially the documentaries.”
Elias has been volunteering with the film festival for 11 out of the past 15 years of the festival’s existence.
“It is really a part of the mission of the film festival not only to entertain but also to educate,” he said. “To fill the vacuum. To bring Jewish-themed films that would otherwise never be seen in the Midwest to our audience.”
This year’s festival will not be shirking controversy or the pivotal issues of the day. Films this year includeÂ Hasodot (The Secrets), a drama nominated for eight Israeli Academy Awards about the personal power and desire of two Orthodox Jewish women who fall in love at a Yeshiva in Tsfat; andÂ Kike Like Me, a Canadian film about a secular Jewish man who goes around the world meeting people, telling them that he’s Jewish and filming their — often anti-Semitic — reactions; as well as films about immigration, the Arab-Israeli conflict, the Holocaust and Christian-Jewish relations.
Film festival preparation began seven months ago, when the eight-person film selection committee assembled for the first of many times. They had the task of divvying up and watching 180 Jewish films from around the world. Their goal? Pick the 20 or so films to premiere at the festival in March.
The committee included men and women, young and old, gay and straight, Jewish and non-Jewish, and a range of Jewish from secular to Orthodox. On average, each committee member watched, analyzed and took detailed notes on 50 different films. The film selection process has been long, at times tedious, but exciting and educational.
“Discussing films with people, understanding what the film has meant to people, what things will resonate, and how people react to films — that has been the most interesting thing for me,” said film festival director Miryam Kabakov.
The film festival was entirely volunteer-run until three years ago, when a professional film festival director was hired for the first time.
“We grew the festival to the point where we just couldn’t handle it with the staff that we had,” said Elias, who co-chairs the festival with Francie Ross.
In addition to the film selection committee, there are volunteer-run committees for audience development, logistics and special events.
The special events committee has masterminded a series of lectures, parties and conversations in conjunction with the films, including talks by professors, filmmakers, actors and Holocaust survivors.
Opening night of the festival will feature the Minnesota premiere ofÂ Sixty Six, a comedy about a Bar Mitzva boy whose nightmare comes true when the 1966 World Cup falls on the same day as his big day, and no one comes to his Bar Mitzva. Closing night will include a showing of the award-winning filmÂ Noodle, a lecture by Israeli cinema and culture scholar Professor Miri Talmon-Bohm, and an “It’s a Wrap” party at the Walker Art Center.Â NoodleÂ is a moving comic drama about a young Israeli woman whose Chinese housekeeper leaves her with her six-year-old son and walks out, never to return. The movie follows the Israeli woman and the boy as they search for the boy’s mother together.
The full schedule of the film showings and special events is still being tweaked by the festival’s organizers, but do not let that stop you from planning ahead.
“Put this on the calendar and get excited about this coming up,” Elias said.
The Minneapolis Jewish Film Festival is sponsored by the Sabes Foundation at the Sabes JCC in Minneapolis, and is supported by donations by organizations and individuals. Tickets are $8, and there are student and group discounts. Festival volunteers can see movies for free. For information on the festival, tickets, schedule and volunteer opportunities, go to:Â www.mplsjff.org.
Leora Maccabee is third-year law student and freelance writer living in St. Paul.
Since 1912 the AJW has served as an important news resource for the Jewish community. The Jewish World unites the main Jewish communities in St. Paul and Minneapolis, as well as those in Duluth, Rochester and smaller cities, and bridges the divides between the various Jewish religious streams.