For this year’s Jewish Cultural Film Festival, one of the goals for organizers was to “try to not program a downer festival,” said Neal Schindler, director of Spokane Area Jewish Family Services, which hosts the festival.
That’s not a goal to be taken lightly, especially when the films in the festival often center on the Holocaust or the Middle East conflict. But even with those heavy subjects, “often what we have is stories of resilience in the face of adversity,” Schindler said.
With the pandemic continuing to rage around the globe, festival organizers wanted to focus on hope. So, this year’s theme is “Hope in a Broken World.” And, thanks to the pandemic, the festival is virtual, which has opened up some possibilities, Schindler said.
For one, it allowed the festival to show more films, including, for the first time, a couple documentary shorts. Ticket prices are less, and the virtual format allows people flexibility in viewing.
Festival attendees can buy a festival pass for $50 ($30 for students and seniors) or to individual films for $8 ($5 for students and seniors) per household. Each film will have a 72-hour window when it’s available.
The big downside is that it’s less of an in-person community event. But to create opportunity for shared experiences, most of the films will have a Q&A or other discussion livestreamed at some point during its viewing window, often two hours after it opens with the festival – just enough time to watch, then join the conversation.
For people who can’t participate in the livestream, it will be available to watch for the rest of the film’s viewing window, Schindler said. In a normal year, Schindler said, the festival is one of the biggest Jewish cultural events in town that is totally open to the public.
Even in the virtual format, he hopes it can still help the community gain “glimpses of what it means to be Jewish in the United States and around the world, now and throughout history.”
Film is such an accessible medium, he said. The variety of films in the festival can help people see that “being Jewish means so many different things, and it kind of dispels the thinking that there’s this one monolithic identity.”
The time listed with each film is when it opens with the festival. Most have a 72-hour viewing window.
“Crescendo” (7 p.m. Wednesday): When a world-famous conductor is hired to create an Israeli-Palestinian youth orchestra, he finds it’s difficult for the musicians to leave behind their hatred and distrust to work together.
There will be a livestreamed discussion about the film with Verne Windham at 9 p.m. Wednesday.
“Incitement” (7 p.m. Thursday): Based on the true story of Yigal Amir’s radicalization and his 1995 assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Schindler said “Incitement” is the least hopeful of the films but offers lessons for today. “Although this takes place 25 years ago and across the world, there are things to pull out of there that are uncomfortably familiar and relevant,” he said.
Eastern Washington University professor Rob Sauders will lead a discussion about the political history covered in the film at 9:15 p.m. Thursday.
“Reawakening” and “They Ain’t Ready for Me” (7 p.m. Saturday): Two documentaries focused on social justice. “Reawakening” is a short film about Charlottesville, Virginia’s only synagogue and its members’ journey against hate after the 2017 white supremacist rally in the town. “They Ain’t Ready for Me” is a feature-length film about a Black female rabbinical student leading the fight against senseless killings on the South Side of Chicago.
There will be a Q&A with “They Ain’t Ready for Me” director Brad Rothschild at 4 p.m. Sunday.
“The Crossing” (1:30 p.m. Sunday): The story of two children, Gerda and Otto, whose parents are part of the Norwegian resistance during World War II. When their parents are arrested, the siblings help two Jewish children flee Norway to be reunited with their parents in Sweden.
“My Name Is Sara” (7 p.m. March 8): Another movie focused on children during World War II, this one is based on the true story of 13-year-old Sara Goralinik. She’s a Polish Jew who steals her Christian best friend’s identity after her family was killed by the Nazis. She escapes to a small village in the Ukrainian countryside where she’s taken in by a farmer and his young wife who have secrets of their own.
There will be a Q&A with director Steven Oritt at 9 p.m. March 8.
“Those Who Remained” (7 p.m. March 9): The story of two Holocaust survivors in Hungary – 42-year-old Aldo and 16-year-old Klara – whose misunderstood relationship helps them heal. “It’s a lovely study of a relationship that is unusual but is also happening in unusual times,” Schindler said. “Both characters have lost so much in the Holocaust in terms of family, in terms of their sense of the world and their role in it. They’re clinging to each other in ways that are ill-defined.”
There will be a Q&A with director Barnabas Toth at noon on March 12.
“Breaking Bread” and “Space Torah” (7 p.m. March 10): “Space Torah” is a documentary short about astronaut Jeff Hoffman and the Torah he brought into space. Documentary “Breaking Bread” looks at the work of Nov Atamna-Ismaeel, the first Muslim Arab to win Israel’s “Master Chef,” and her A-sham Arabic Food Festival, which pairs Arab and Jewish chefs.
There will be a Q&A with “Breaking Bread” director Beth Elise Hawk at 9 p.m. March 10.
More information: To learn more about the festival, visit sjcff.eventive.org/welcome.
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