Presented by: The Allen and Joan Bildner Center for the Study of Jewish Life with support from The Karma Foundation
2021 Audience Choice Award Winners
The following critically acclaimed, international dramatic and documentary films were featured at the 2021 Rutgers Jewish Film Festival:
How does one reconcile loyalty to one’s culture with the ideal of following one’s heart? Judgmental of her sister’s engagement to a non-Jew and confused about her own Jewish identity, writer and documentarian Becky Tahel Bordo embarks on a journey to understand Judaism’s perspectives on love. She travels the world engaging with rabbis, religious experts, mentors, and family in a dialogue around love, faith, marriage, religion, and inclusiveness. What she finds ultimately changes the course of her life.
Q&A Discussion with Becky Tahel Bordo, Director: Pre-recorded
A captivating new Israeli animated short film about a famed 1930s Jerusalem movie house. The film features a young Jewish boy and an Arab girl who become friends through their discovery of the magic of films. The short was honored at the prestigious Annecy International Animated Film Festival with the CANAL+ Youth Award marking the first time that an Israeli film has won a prize at the annual event founded in 1960.
Here We Are
This touching film from award-winning director Nir Bergman explores the challenges of parenthood. Aharon, a single father, has devoted his life to raising his autistic son Uri. Their gentle daily routine is disrupted when Uri’s mother insists that it is now time for him to gain independence by moving into a specialized group home for young adults. On their way to the institution, Aharon decides instead to take one last road trip with his son, delaying their inevitable separation.
• Official Selection, Cannes International Film Festival, 2020
• Winner of 4 Israeli Academy Awards including Best Director, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Screenplay, 2020
• Winner of 10 Audience Choice Awards
Kiss Me Kosher
Moran Rosenblatt (Wedding Doll, Fauda) stars in this delightful Israeli comedy that mines interfaith and cross-cultural relationships. Before she can marry Maria, her non-Jewish, German girlfriend, Shira must first convince her family that Maria’s family were “good Germans” during the war. When Maria’s parents arrive in Israel, the two families must overcome their vast cultural and religious differences, all of which are captured on video to full comic effect by Shira’s younger brother who documents their interactions for a school project.
• Winner of Best German Film on a Jewish Theme, Berlin Jewish Film Festival, 2021
Labyrinth of Peace
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Inspired by true, yet little-known events, this gripping mini-series set in post-WWII Switzerland effectively challenges the myth of Switzerland’s neutrality during the war. Looking forward to a bright future, Johann is poised to modernize his father-in-law’s troubled textile company, while his young wife Klara cares for displaced Jewish children who have reluctantly been granted refuge in the Swiss countryside. Johann’s brother Egon is employed by the attorney general’s office to capture Nazi fugitives. All three realize that their future success depends on ignoring or actively colluding with former war criminals.
• Winner of Best Female and Male Lead Actors, Swiss Television Awards, 2020
Q&A Discussion with Petra Volpe, Director and Series Creator: Sunday, November 21
Love It Was Not
In this astonishing, but true, story, a Nazi officer falls in love with a Jewish concentration camp prisoner—a forbidden romance that would have decades-long repercussions. Captivated by her singing voice, SS officer Franz Wunsch falls in love with Helena Citron and saves her and her sister Roza from certain death in Auschwitz. Thirty years later, Citron receives a letter from Wunsch’s wife asking her to testify on his behalf —at his war crimes trial. Featuring archival interviews with Helena and her sister and testimonies from people who knew them in Auschwitz, this remarkable film explores themes of survival, loyalty, and the nature of humanity.
“A superbly documented, creatively executed tale about a taboo romance at Auschwitz between a Jewish prisoner and her SS captor. The pair met again 30 years later …at his war crimes trial.”
—Alissa Simon, Variety
• Winner of Best Israeli Film, Docaviv, Israel, 2020
Q&A Discussion with Maya Sarfaty, Director: Sunday, November 14
Marry Me However
Twenty years ago, the groundbreaking documentary Trembling Before God (RUJFF, 2001) presented the heartbreaking challenges facing gay Orthodox Jews. Marry Me However now tells the stories of the marriages and divorces of LGBTQ people who married against their sexual orientation to comply with Torah laws and to be accepted by their families and religious communities. How do they live after divorcing their spouses? What role do religious institutions that encourage marriage at a young age play in these situations? This powerful film explores the conflicts they repressed; their faith and religious laws; children, family, and community; exposure to the broader society and search for a partner. It is a journey of self-acceptance and social activism, as they try to affect change in their religious environments.
• Nominated for Beyond the Screen Award, Docaviv, Israel, 2020
Masel Tov Cocktail
A Russian-Jewish teen living in Germany offers a fierce comic take on modern Jewish life and antisemitism, and the hypocritically tolerant way in which his world works.
• Winner of Best Student Film, Jaipur International Film Festival
Q&A Discussion with Arkadij Khaet, Director: Pre-recorded
Do Jewish ghosts haunt Warsaw’s Muranow neighborhood?
Once a vibrant center of Jewish life, Muranow was turned into the Warsaw Ghetto—destroyed during World War II and then rebuilt on the site of its destruction. Today, thousands of Poles live in the green and spacious Muranow district, yet its dark past continues to haunt it. In this absorbing documentary, current residents discuss the spectre of its former inhabitants.. Some believe the ghosts are literal, while others regard them in metaphorical terms. Many view them as an important reminder of the life, culture, and memories of the Jewish past.
Q&A Discussion with Chen Shelach, Film Director, in coversation with Professor Nancy Sinkoff: Tuesday, November 9
Set in a Syrian border village in the early 1980s, the absurdity of war is viewed through the eyes of six-year old Sero. He attends school for the first time and meets the new teacher whose goal is to make Pan-Arabic comrades out of the Kurdish children. He forbids the Kurdish language, orders the veneration of Assad, Syria’s president, and preaches hate of the Zionist enemy—the Jews. The lessons upset and confuse Sero because his long-time neighbors are a lovable Jewish family. With a fine sense of humor and use of satire, director Mano Khalil depicts a childhood which finds light moments between dictatorship and dark drama. The film was inspired by the director’s personal experiences, and his bittersweet memories connect the Syrian tragedy to the present.
• Winner of Jury Prize, San Francisco Film Critics, San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, 2021
Q&A Discussion with Mano Khalil, Director: Thursday, November 18
Giles, a young Jew from Belgium, narrowly avoids execution by a Nazi firing squad when he claims to be Persian, not Jewish. Sent to a concentration camp in Germany, the lie temporarily saves him, but then Gilles is assigned a seemingly untenable task: to teach Persian to the SS officer in charge of the camp's kitchen, who dreams of opening a restaurant in Iran once the war is over. Gilles finds himself having to invent a language he doesn't know, word by word. The suspicions of the camp guards grow every day, and Gilles understands that he will not be able to keep his secret very long. The film, by Vadim Perelman (The House of Sand and Fog), is based on the short story “Erfindung einer Sprache”, by Wolfgang Kohlhasse.
• Winner of Best Film, Transatlantyk Festival, Lodz, 2020
• Winner of Best Editing, Valladolid International Film Festival, 2020
• Nominated for Best Film, Beijing International Film Festival, 2020
• Selected as the Belarusian entry for Best International Feature Film at the 93rd Academy Awards
Q&A Discussion with Vadim Perelman, Director: Monday, November 15
The Tattooed Torah
Based on Marvell Ginsburg’s beloved children’s book of the same name, this short animated film recounts the true story of the rescue and restoration of a small Torah from Brno, Czechoslovakia. Narrated by famed actor Ed Asner, the film teaches historical information about the Holocaust in a manner appropriate for a young audience by embedding it in a relatable, profound and touching story.
"The story of this extraordinary Torah’s survival through the Holocaust has a powerful new branch in the animated The Tattooed Torah, especially for students and young learners who need knowledge and inspiration as they take on the responsibilities of the future."
—Stephen D. Smith, Finci-Viterbi Executive Director Chair, USC Shoah Foundation
"I am honored to be a part of the passionate and dedicated team that created this three-generational endeavor, initiated by Marvell’s daughter, Beth Kopin, who first had the dream to transform her mother’s renown children's book into a film, and her son Brett, the co-screenwriter of the screenplay, who is currently a rabbinical student in Los Angeles. Now, more than ever, it is essential that we share the stories and lessons of our history with the younger generations, so that horrific events such as the Holocaust are never forgotten and never repeated."
—Ed Asner, Narrator of The Tattooed Torah
RETURNING FESTIVAL FAVORITE
This suspenseful and poignant tale follows the Hakim sisters--Rose, Flora, and Jasmine--triplets born in Alexandria, Egypt, whose well-to-do family fled to Israel in 1958. Their saga is one of powerful love and deadly deceit, played out in three languages and across three generations. Rose, passionate and outspoken, is a singer whose performances in French, Hebrew, and Arabic provide a musical backdrop for the web of intrigue, passion, and long-held secrets revealed in the film. Loosely based on the director’s family, the film stars Gila Almagor and Rivka Raz.
• Winner of Best Cinematography and Best Wardrobe Design - Israeli Academy Awards, 2006
• Winner of Best Actress and Best Cinematography - Jerusalem International Film Festival, 2006
Solheil is 15, when his Jewish-Iranian family moves to Wedding, a predominantly Muslim neighborhood in Berlin. He spends years hiding his Jewish identity to fit in with the Turkish and Arab gangs. At night he becomes the writer King Star, covering the city in colorful tags and mural paintings; during the day, he flirts with Selma - one of the cool girls at school. When he is finally exposed, he suffers an identity crisis – “for the Germans I was a Turk, for the Muslims a Jew, and for the Jews a criminal from Wedding,” he writes in his memoir. Based on a provocative autobiography, this moving film explores complex questions of cultural and religious identity during the raw and difficult teenage years.
Q&A Discussion with Arye Shalicar, subject of film: Sunday, November 7
Yerusalem: The Incredible Story of Ethiopian Jewry
This powerful documentary brings to life the tumultuous, centuries-long journey of the Jewish Ethiopian community, “Beta-Israel,” as they finally find their way back to the heart of the Jewish people–Jerusalem. It is the story of an isolated Jewish tribe that kept its faith for thousands of years, despite living in a hostile Christian environment. It is the story of ancient Jewish traditionsas well as heroic actions and daring covert rescue operations. But, mainly, Yerusalem is the story of a deep religious yearning, passed down from father to son for countless generations.
Q&A Discussion with Levi Zini, Director: Sunday, November 21
2021 Film Festival Trailer