Presented by: The Allen and Joan Bildner Center for the Study of Jewish Life with support from the Karma Foundation
The following critically acclaimed, international dramatic and documentary films were featured at the 2015 Rutgers New Jersey Jewish Film Festival:
APPLES FROM THE DESERT
(Israel, 2014, 94 minutes)
Hebrew with English subtitles
Directors: Arik Lubetzky and Matti Harari
In a film adaptation of the award-winning Israeli play, rebellious teenager Rebecca Abravanel breaks with the strict religious traditions of her ultra-Orthodox, Sephardic Jewish parents and journeys into the secular world. When her father tries to force her into an arranged marriage with an older widower, she runs away from home, leaving Jerusalem to join her new friend Dooby on his secular kibbutz. Her departure sets in motion a series of events that forces the entire family to confront their beliefs – and one another.
A BORROWED IDENTITY
(Israel, 2014, 104 minutes)
Hebrew and Arabic with English subtitles
Director: Eran Riklis
Eyad, a Palestinian-Israeli teenager who wins a scholarship to an elite Jerusalem boarding school, is an outsider struggling to fit in with Jewish-Israeli culture in the late 1980s. Through the school’s community service initiative, he befriends Jonathan, who suffers from muscular dystrophy, and is embraced by Jonathan’s mother as a member of the family. As war looms, Eyad discovers love and disappointment, and makes a life-changing decision that alters the course of his future. Sayed Kashua based the script on his debut novel.
(Bulgaria/Israel, 2014, 108 minutes)
Bulgarian, German, Ladino with English subtitles
Director: Ivan Nitchev
Set in Bulgaria during the summer of 1943, this touching story of adolescence and first love explores Bulgaria’s complicity in the Holocaust. When teenagers Moni and Giogio – one Jewish, one the son of the commissar for Jewish affair’s driver – both fall in love with Shelly, the new girl in school, they test the limits of friendship while conflict rages around them. Bulgarian Rhapsody, third in a film series about Bulgarian Jewry, was the country’s submission to the recent Academy Awards.
(Hungary/United Kingdom, 2015, 94 minutes)
Director: John Goldschmidt
Faced with a dwindling clientele and the pressures of encroaching big box stores, Jewish baker Nat Dayan enlists the aid of Ayyash, a young Muslim apprentice, at his kosher bake shop in London’s East End. When Ayyash’s stash of marijuana accidentally falls into the dough, the challah starts flying off the shelves and an unlikely friendship develops between the two men. Dough is a warmhearted and gently humorous story about overcoming prejudice and finding redemption in unexpected places.
EAST JERUSALEM WEST JERUSALEM
(Israel, 2014, 80 minutes)
English, and Hebrew and Arabic with English subtitles
Directors: Erez Miller and Henrique Cymerman
Legendary Israeli singer/guitarist David Broza journeys to East Jerusalem to record his latest album with Israeli, Palestinian, and American musicians. Broza hopes that bridging cultures through music can be one small step toward peaceful coexistence. The film weaves together soulful music and personal conversations of hope in a time and a place where hope is most needed.
THE FAREWELL PARTY
(Germany, Israel, 2014, 93 minutes)
Hebrew with English subtitles
Directors: Sharon Maymon and Tal Granit
Nominated for 14 Israeli Academy Awards, this humorous film takes on a serious subject and treats it with a unique blend of compassion and humor. A group of friends at a Jerusalem retirement home decide to help their terminally ill friend take his death into his own hands. When rumors of their assistance begin to spread, more and more people ask for their help raising thorny and emotional questions.
THE LAST MENTSCH
(France/Germany/Switzerland, 2014, 93 minutes)
English, and German, Hebrew, Yiddish, and Hungarian with English subtitles
Director: Pierre-Henry Salfati
Born Menachem Teitelbaum, Marcus escaped Auschwitz, only to reject his Jewish past. He so effectively creates a new identity for himself that the rabbis refuse his appeal for burial in Cologne’s Jewish cemetery when he faces his own mortality. Determined to reestablish his Jewish ancestry, Marcus enlists the help of a chain-smoking young Turkish woman with a troubled history of her own. The unlikely duo takes a road trip to his birthplace on the Hungarian-Romanian border, a journey that changes them both.
(Germany, 2014, 98 minutes)
German with English subtitles
Director: Christian Petzold
Auschwitz survivor Nelly, barely recovered from surgery to restore her badly injured face, returns to Berlin in 1945. Against the advice of an old friend, she sets out to find her husband, Johnny, who is convinced she is dead. Refusing to believe she is his wife, Johnny decides to tutor Nelly in the role of playing herself, a scheme to fool their friends and collect her inheritance. Nelly agrees, hoping to discover the truth: whether the love of her life adored or betrayed her.
RAISE THE ROOF
(USA, 2015, 85 minutes)
English and Polish with English subtitles
Directors: Yari and Cary Wolinsky
Fascinated by the magnificent lost wooden synagogues of Poland, Boston-based artists Rick and Laura Brown mastermind an effort to rebuild one of these architectural wonders. They recruit an international team of 300 craftsmen, students, and volunteers who employ antique tools and artisanal techniques to recreate the timber-framed roof and intricate mural designs of the synagogue in the town of Gwozdiec. Against enormous obstacles, they recover not only a lost synagogue, but a lost Jewish world.
ROCK IN THE RED ZONE
(Israel, USA, 2014, 87 minutes)
English and Hebrew with English subtitles
Director: Laura Bialis
For the past eight years, the southern Israeli town of Sderot has endured almost daily attacks by Qassam rockets launched from Gaza. Rock in the Red Zone shares the story of the people, the music, and the harsh realities of life in this besieged town through the voices of Sderot’s musical elite and those of the up and coming musicians who play in the underground rock club that doubles as a bomb shelter.
(USA, 2014, 90 minutes)
Director: Aviva Kempner
Julius Rosenwald may have been the greatest philanthropist you’ve never heard of. The son of an immigrant peddler, he overcame his humble origins to become the top executive at Sears and Roebuck. Inspired by the Jewish principle of tzedekah (charity) and the writings of Booker T. Washington, Rosenwald went on to leverage his newfound wealth and prestige by partnering with African-American communities to build over 5,000 schools in the South and to establish the Rosenwald Fund, which supported African-American artists and intellectuals.
(USA, 2015, 8 minutes)
Director: Asher Grodman
The film portrays a chance meeting between a young businessman and a Holocaust survivor. The Train is inspired by the true story of Andre Mencz, portrayed by Eli Wallach in one of his final performances.
THEODORE BIKEL: IN THE SHOES OF SHOLOM ALEICHEM
(USA, 2014, 75 minutes)
Director: John Lollos
Portraits of Sholom Aleichem and Theodore Bikel are interwoven to create an enchanting documentary that highlights what these beloved Jewish icons have in common: wit, wisdom, and talent, shot through with humanity and Yiddishkeit. A pioneer of modern Jewish literature and champion of the Yiddish language, Shalom Aleichem created dozens of memorable characters in his stories. Bikel, whose career included more than 150 film roles and countless stage productions, was a master at bringing the writer’s work to life through charismatic storytelling and rich performances.
(Germany, 2014, 86 minutes)
German with English Subtitles
Director: Uwe Janson
Fate has taken its toll on the aging cabaret singer Ruth. Her accidental meeting with the young German man Jonas saves her life. As memories of a tragic love affair and the Yiddish songs of her youth restore Ruth’s strength, she gives Jonas, who harbors a troubling secret, the courage to stop running from his own chance at love – and from his future. Adapted from the original short story If Stones Could Cry by Stephen Glantz.
THE ZIONIST IDEA
(USA, 2015, 160 minutes)
English, and Hebrew and Arabic with English subtitles
Directors: Oren Rudavsky and Joseph Dorman
The Zionist Idea is a feature-length exploration of the one of the most influential, controversial, and urgently relevant political ideologies of the modern era. With origins in late 19th century Europe, Zionism was born of both the Jewish confrontation with modernity and the renewed persecution of Jews throughout Europe. Today, amid unceasing religious conflict in the Middle East, how do Americans understand the meaning, history, and future of the movement?