The Nashville Jewish Film Festival (NJFF) has an incredible lineup of films scheduled for today (Nov. 6) through Nov. 13 at the Belcourt Theater, The Franklin Theatre and the Gordon Jewish Community Center. The Festival, now in its 13th year, annually brings to Nashville and Middle Tennessee the most recent, entertaining and relevant films that illustrate Jewish life in Israel, Europe and the United States. The films are selected for their appeal to a universal audience and all are welcome.
The festival opens with Eran Riklis’ Zaytoun:
This year, audiences will find a wide variety of films, from those that celebrate the influence of Jewish Americans on Broadway musicals to stories that shed light on the struggles of Israel and her neighbors to come to a lasting peace. Four of the films are directed by women, including Fill the Void, directed by Rama Burstein an ultra-orthodox woman who lives in Israel. She is the first ultra-Orthodox Jewish woman to write and direct a feature-length film for a general audience.
One of the festival’s highlights is the appearance of Murry Sidlin, the American conductor who discovered the story of imprisoned choral conductor, Rafael Schächter, and brought it to light in the film, The Defiant Requiem, (Nov. 11, 7: 00 p.m., The Belcourt Theater.) The film tells the tale of 150 Jewish prisoners, held in a Nazi concentration camp, who formed a chorus and engaged in 16 performances of Verdi’s Requiem. Recruited by Schächter, they learned the work by rote from a single vocal score and were accompanied by a legless upright piano. They performed before audiences of other prisoners, SS officers, and German army staff members. Their purpose: to sing to their captors words that could not be spoken. Schächter later died in a death march of the Third Reich.
It took Sidlin 10 years to bring “Defiant Requiem” to light. The genesis of the film was a one line description he read in a book he unearthed in a Minneapolis bookstore. On reading it, “I thought to myself, my God,” says Sidlin, “Verdi’s Requiem in a concentration camp! Why did a choral conductor who was in prison for being Jewish, recruit 150 singers to learn a choral work that is steeped in the Catholic liturgy?”
Sidlin is the Founder and Director of the Defiant Requiem Foundation. Among his many accomplishments is 33 years as associate director of conducting studies at the Aspen Music Festival. He has conducted 18 consecutive New Year’s Eve Galas at the JohnF.KennedyCenter for Performing Arts in Washington. D. C with the National Symphony Orchestra.
“We are so excited to present, not only this lineup of films, but also these special guest presenters. Their insights into the history and people behind the films make the experience of the films even more meaningful.” says Loretta Saff, one of the festivals directors. “They bring a film festival to life.”
Also presenting films at the Festival are:
Yonit Stern, Director of Cultural Affairs, Consulate General of Israel “Zaytoun”.
Beth Curley, President and CEO of Nashville Public Television (NPT) “The Broadway Musical: A Jewish Legacy Nov. 7, 12:00 p.m at the Gordon JCC, 801 Percy Warner Blvd.
Sarah Martin McConnell, Founder and Director, Music for Seniors, will lead a sing along following the film.
Rebbetzin Esther Tiechtel, Beit Tefilah Chabad, Nashville, “Fill the Void,” Thursday Nov. 7, 7:00 p.m
Jason Shawhan, Nashville film critic, “Fill the Void,” Thursday Nov. 7, 7:00 p.m. and Roman Polanski, Nov. 12, 7:00 p.m.
Rabbi Flip Rice, Congregation Micah, “Paris-Manhattan,” Nov. 7, 7:00 p.m. at the Franklin Theatre, 419 Main Street, Franklin.
Brian Owens, Artistic Director, Nashville Film Festival, “The Other Son”, Nov. 10, 7:00 p.m.
Ur Barzel, Jewish Educator, “The Chosen,” Nov. 10, 9:00 a.m.
Jack Silverman, Managing Editor, The Scene, “When Comedy Went to School,” Nov 11, 12:15 p.m.
Abigail Wolf, Community Relations Director, the Jewish Federation of Nashville and Middle Tennessee, “The Attack,” Nov. 13, 7:00 p.m.
The full line-up, with venues and schedule follows:
Zaytoun, Eran Riklis, Director, Israel, 2012, Wednesday, Nov. 6, 7:30 p.m., Belcourt Theater
Yoni (Stephen Dorff) is an Israeli fighter pilot who is shot down on a mission over Lebanon in 1982. While being held captive, he meets Fahed, a 12-year-old Palestinian orphan whose ambition is to visit his family’s long-deserted farm in Israel and plant an olive tree that was one nurtured by his late father. If Fahed finds a way for him to escape, Yoni promises to help the child cross into Israel. Their initial distrust develops into an unusual friendship as they make their way to a place they both call home. In English, Hebrew and Arabic.
The Broadway Musical: A Jewish Legacy, Michael Kantor, Director. USA, 2013, Thursday, Nov. 7, 12:00 p.m., Gordon Jewish Community Center
Almost exclusively, Jewish Americans created the songs of early Broadway musicals. Narrated by Joel Grey, this entertaining documentary proves the song from Spamalot, “In any great adventure, if you don’t want to lose…you won’t succeed on Broadway if you don’t have any Jews.” This screening will be followed by a live performance of Broadway music featuring Sarah Martin McConnel. Sponsored by Nashville Public Television with Special Guest: Beth Curley, President and CEO of NPT
Fill the Void, Rama Burshtein, Director, Israel 2012, Thursday Nov. 7, 7:00 p.m. Belcourt Theater, Winner, Best Film and Best Actress, Israeli Academy Awards. Special Guest: Rebbetzin Esther Tiechtel, Educator, Chabad of Nashville
Shira, the daughter of a Hassidic family in Tel Aviv, is about to be engaged to a young man from a similar background when her older sister Esther dies giving birth. Esther’s devastated husband is pressed to remarry and receives an offer that would take him and the new baby to Belgium. The grandparents suggest that he marry Shira instead. Torn between her heart’s desire and religious and family obligation, Shira must decide her future. Born into a Hassidic family herself, writer-director Rama Burstein investigates the complexities of Haredi (ultra orthodox) life.
Paris-Manhattan, Sophie Lellouche, Director, France 2012, Thursday Nov. 7, 7:00 p.m., The Franklin Theater; and Closing Night Film: Thursday, Nov. 14, 7:00 p.m. Belcourt Theater
Under pressure to marry from her anxious Jewish parents, Alice fills prescriptions alongside her father at their family pharmacy. Rather than dating, she finds refuge in the world of Woody Allen, engaging in imaginary conversations and surrounding herself with his image. Will a chance meeting with Victor (the effortlessly debonair Patrick Bruel) finally bring her a winning suitor and happy ending? While poking fun at the French obsession with Woody Allen, the film affectionately references a slew of Woody’s most famous and entertaining films. Special Guest: Rabbi Flip Rice of Congregation Micah
Closed Season, Franziska Schlotterer, Director, Israel/Germany 2012, Saturday, 7:00 p.m. Belcourt Theater
A German student’s search for his biological father in 1970’s Israel uncovers an unorthodox arrangement between a childless German peasant couple and a Jewish war refugee. Told in flashback, the student learns that his father, Albert, fleeing to Switzerland to escape Nazi persecution, is given shelter by villagers Fritz and Emma on a remote farm. Unable to conceive, the impotent farmer proposes that Albert father a child with Emma, effectively offering sanctuary in exchange for progeny. A cauldron of jealousy, betrayal, and tension ensue.
Putzel, Jason Chaet, Director, USA 2012, Saturday, Nov. 9, 9:30 p.m. Belcourt Theater
All is not well at Himmelstein’s House of Lox in New York. Walter “Putzel” Himmelstein, heir apparent to the Himmelstein smoked fish empire, is having yet another crisis. He is pathologically unable to go beyond the boundaries of the Upper West Side. His Uncle Sid (John Pankow) refuses to retire and give him the keys to the store. The neighborhood ladies still regard him as the endearing schlub who hasn’t matured since his days growing up behind the store counter. Indeed, Putzel seems to be living up to everybody’s low expectations. But one day, a beautiful dancer walks into their lives – and she really knows her lox from her Nova. While Uncle Sid lusts after her, Walter senses she might be his ticket to a life beyond 59th Street. Starring Melanie Lynskey, John Pankow (Mad About You) and Susie Essman (Curb Your Enthusiasm).
The Chosen, Jeremy Paul Kagan, Director, Sunday, Nov.10, 9 a.m., Belcourt Theater, FREE
This classic film, based on Chaim Potok’s best-selling novel, follows two teenage boys determined to remain friends despite their family backgrounds. Set in 1940’s New York, Danny Saunders (Robby Benson) is the son of an ultra-orthodox rabbi (Rod Steiger) and Reuven Malter (Barry Miller) the son of modern secularist (Maxmillian Schell) who is being raised to ask questions about everything, including his religious background. The relationship they forge goes beyond religious beliefs and changes them both. Special Guest: Ur Barzel, Educator.
Jews and Money, Lewis Cohen, Director, France, 2012, Sunday, Nov. 10, 4:30 p.m. Belcourt Theater
Why was Ilan Halimi abducted and held hostage under barbaric conditions for more than three weeks only to die en route to the hospital after being discovered naked, burned and beaten? The answer- the kidnappers were convinced that since Halimi was Jewish, his family must be rich and would therefore pay the $500,000 in ransom money. Ilan was a 23 year-old cell phone salesman who came from a modest working class background. Jews and Money is a damning expose of anti-Semitism and stereotyping in contemporary France. Preceded by the 2013 Student Film Competition Winner.
The Other Son, Lorraine Levy, Director, France 2012, Sunday Nov. 10, 7 p.m. Belcourt Theater
As he prepares to join the Israeli army for his national service, Joseph discovers he is not his parent’s biological son. Due to the chaos that ensued after a bombing attack on the day he was born, he was inadvertently switched at birth with Yassin, the son of a Palestinian family from the West Bank. The lives of both these families are turned upside-down, forcing them to reassess their respective identities, their values and their beliefs.
When Comedy Went to School, Mevlut Akkaya and Ron Frank, Directors, USA 2013 Monday, Nov. 11, 12:15 p.m. Belcourt Theater.
Narrated by Robert Klein, this film examines the rich history of borscht belt entertainment. Most of the comedians interviewed here (Jerry Stiller, Jackie Mason, Jerry Lewis and many others) provide light-hearted remembrances. The training in the Catskills paid mainstream dividends for busboys and waiters who amused hotel guests with shtick, like Danny Kaye and Sid Caesar. In exploring the Jewish style of self-deprecating survival comedy, the uncanny ability to find a joke in even the darkest times of despair – the film makes a connection to the language and timing of modern humor. Preceded by the short film, The Seder.
Defiant Requiem, Doug Schulz, Director, USA, Monday Nov 11, 7:00 p.m. Belcourt Theater
It was at Terezin in 1944 that imprisoned Czech conductor Rafael Schachter led a chorus of his fellow Jewish prisoners – most of them doomed to the gas chambers in Auschwitz – in brazenly performing Verdi’s Requiem before the very Nazis who had condemned them to death. One of the most complex and demanding of choral works, Verdi’s 1874 Requiem was originally intended as a musical rendition of the Catholic funeral mass. Rafael Schachter took Verdi’s music and transformed it into a universal statement, one proclaiming the prisoners’ unbroken spirit and warning of God’s coming wrath against their Nazi captors. Co-Sponsored by the HumanDocs Series of Lipscomb University.
Roman Polanski: A Film Memoir, Laurent Bouzereau, Director, UK, 2011, Tuesday, Nov. 12, Belcourt Theater
The celebrated Jewish/Polish/French filmmaker shares emotionally wrenching recollections of the life experience that continue to haunt him and his career. Polanski talks about this childhood in the Krakow ghetto, the 1968 murder of his pregnant wife, Sharon Tate by followers of Charles Manson, and his 1977 encounter with a 13 year od girl that led to his imprisonment and eventual arrest by the Swiss 30 years later. Brief clips from Polanski’s masterwork, “The Pianist”, “Tess” and “Rosemary’s Baby” establish a direct connection between the Oscar winner’s tragic circumstances and artistic achievements.
The Attack, Ziad Doueiri, Director, Lebanon 2012, Wednesday, Nov. 13, 7:00 p.m. Belcourt Theater
Adapted from Yasmina Khadra’s best-selling book of the same name, The Attack is the story of Amin Jaafari, an Israeli Palestinian surgeon who is fully assimilated into Tel Aviv society. He has a loving wife, an exemplary career, and many Jewish friends – that is, until a suicide bombing in a restaurant leaves nineteen dead and the Israeli police inform him that his wife, who also died in the explosion, was responsible. Convinced of her innocence, Amin abandons the relative security of his adopted home and enters the Palestinian territories in pursuit of the truth. Once there he find himself in ever more dangerous places and situations looking for answers to questions he never thought he would be asking. Special Guest: Abigail Wolf, Community Relations Director, The Jewish Federation of Nashville and Middle Tennessee.
The Nashville Jewish Film Festival (NJFF) celebrates its 13th year in 2013. The Festival began as a program of The Temple, Congregation Ohabi Shalom, and, in 2011, became a non-profit program of the Gordon Jewjish Community Center. Worldwide, there are more than 55 Jewish Film Festivals. The mission of NJFF is to provide an opportunity to present to the Middle Tennessee community with a snapshot of Jewish life in the US, in Europe and in Israel as well as illustrate those factors that have brought us to Jewish life in 2013.
*Logo courtesy Nashville Jewish Film Festival.