Highlights from the 2010 Rutgers Jewish Film Festival
The eleventh annual Rutgers Jewish Film Festival took filmgoers around the globe, portraying dramatic vignettes from modern Jewish life and introducing audiences to extraordinary individuals whose lives represent crucial moments in Jewish history. Held November 3–14, 2010, the film festival was supported by a grant from the Karma Foundation and by a loyal cadre of festival patrons.
The festival screened eighteen films from Argentina, Mexico, Israel, Germany, and the United States, among them nine New Jersey premieres. Together, these films garnered a total of fifteen international awards and four other prestigious nominations. In addition, the festival offered numerous opportunities to hear the insights of film directors, screenwriters, and other experts, including subjects of the films themselves.
Most notable among festival guests was the international foreign correspondent and photojournalist Ruth Gruber—age ninety-nine at the time of the festival—who attended a screening of the documentary Ahead of Time. The film charts the course of Gruber’s iconic, seventy-year career, which put her at the heart of critical events during World War II and the founding of the State of Israel. Sharon Karmazin, president of the Karma Foundation, interviewed Gruber at the screening, and the audience had the opportunity to listen in on their extraordinary dialogue.
New this year at the festival was “Israel in Short,” a grouping of three thought-provoking, award-winning short films curated by Isaac Zablocki, director of the Israel Film Center in New York. The festival also paired the documentaries Leap of Faith and Leaving the Fold for a unique double feature exploring questions of religious faith and identity.
Opening night featured Saviors in the Night, which eloquently depicts the perilous tale of Catholic farmers in Nazi Germany who risked their lives to save a Jewish family from deportation. The evening included an exclusive dinner reception for patrons and a special appearance by Dutch-Israeli director Ludi Boeken.
Among other festival highlights was The Klezmatics: On Holy Ground, a documentary that follows the groundbreaking, Grammy-winning band from New York’s Lower East Side to Kraków, Poland, over the course of four years. Sponsored by David and Sylvia Steiner, the screening featured special appearances by director Erik Greenberg Anjou and members of the Klezmatics.
Jews and Baseball: An American Love Story, a documentary that celebrates the contributions of Jewish major leaguers and the Jewish passion for America’s favorite pastime, was a festival favorite. The Rutgers Class of 1954 sponsored a screening of the film that featured a talk by Ira Berkow, a Pulitzer Prize–winning sports columnist for the New York Times and the screenwriter of the film. Berkow enthralled audiences with anecdotes from his interviews with featured ballplayers and a behind-the-scenes look at how he scored in getting Sandy Koufax to participate.
The festival closed with Berlin ’36, a German film inspired by the true story of Jewish high jumper Gretel Bergmann’s remarkable but now-forgotten place in Olympic history. Her son, Gary Lambert, held a lively discussion with the audience after the screening.
RUTGERS JEWISH FILM FESTIVAL 2010
The Rutgers New Jersey Jewish Film Festival 2010 featured special guest appearances by film directors, producers, and writers.
Director Ludi Boeken spoke at the opening night film SAVIORS IN THE NIGHT (Germany/France 2009) on Wednesday, November 3, at 7:00 p.m. Based on a memoir by Marga Spiegel, the film portrays the perilous story of Catholic farmers in Germany who risked their lives during World War II to protect a Jewish family from deportation to the extermination camps in the East.
Boeken, himself a child of survivors who were saved by German peasants and factory workers, remarked: “…I have always loved the farmers of SAVIORS IN THE NIGHT, and I have seen it as an honor to try and portray them in a simple, straightforward way, thus preserving and honoring their memory.” Boeken has directed numerous critically-acclaimed dramatic and documentary films. He produced the award-winning 1998 film TRAIN OF LIFE.
Ruth Gruber, the subject of the compelling documentary film AHEAD OF TIME (USA, 2009) was on hand for the screening on Sunday, November 7th at 3:15 p.m. Gruber’s extraordinary seventy-year career as an international correspondent and photojournalist helped to rouse the conscience of the world. The first journalist to enter the Soviet Arctic in 1935, Gruber also traveled to Alaska as a member of the Roosevelt administration in 1942, escorted Holocaust refugees to America in 1944, covered the Nuremberg trials in 1946, and documented the Haganah ship Exodus in 1947. Her relationships with world leaders gave her unique access and insight into the modern history of the Jewish people.
Director, producer, and writer Gaylen Ross spoke at the screening of her documentary film KILLING KASZTNER: THE JEW WHO DEALT WITH NAZIS (USA, 2008) on Thursday, November 4th at 7:30 p.m. Accompanying her will be several survivors who were saved by Reszo Kasztner, a man who negotiated the rescue of at least 1,700 Jews during World War II, yet was denounced as a traitor in Israel, his adopted homeland. He was subsequently assassinated by Jewish extremists in 1957.
Ross has produced, directed, and written award-winning documentary films that have received national and international broadcast and exhibition. Her Emmy-Award winning BLOOD MONEY: SWITZERLAND’S NAZI GOLD is a feature length documentary that broke the story of the Swiss banks and the Holocaust accounts.
Director Erik Greenberg Anjou and members of the Grammy-winning musical group The Klezmatics made a special appearance at the screening of THE KLEZMATICS: ON HOLY GROUND (Germany/Hungary/Israel/Poland/USA, 2010) on Sunday, November 7th at 7:30 p.m. The documentary follows the band for four years, combining the best elements of a backstage tour and a concert film.
Anjou’s first documentary, A CANTOR’S TALE (2005), screened at nearly 100 international film festivals and captured six top festival prizes.
Sports writer Ira Berkow spoke at the screening of JEWS AND BASEBALL: AN AMERICAN LOVE STORY (USA, 2010) on Sunday, November 14 at 3:30 p.m. Written by Berkow and narrated by Dustin Hoffman, the documentary is about the contributions of Jewish major leaguers and the Jewish passion for baseball, and yet is more than a sports film. It is a story of immigration, assimilation, heroism, and the shattering of stereotypes, told through dramatic, previously unseen film clips of great players, unforgettable games, and the broad sweep of American history.
A Pulitzer Prize-winning sports columnist for The New York Times, Berkow co-wrote the best-selling book, Hank Greenberg: The Story of My Life, which provided the foundation for the year-2000 award-winning documentary film: THE LIFE & TIMES OF HANK GREENBERG.