Film: Festivals provide international film tour of Jewish world

Film: Festivals provide international film tour of Jewish world

JCCs in West Orange and Scotch Plains to offer annual cinema fests

“A Grain of Truth” is a thriller that examines anti-Semitism in modern Poland.
“A Grain of Truth” is a thriller that examines anti-Semitism in modern Poland.

Two annual film festivals will take viewers on an international tour of the Jewish world, offering premieres and award winners focusing in on everything from the Israeli-Palestinian crisis to women’s role in modern society.

The 17th annual New Jersey Jewish Film Festival (NJJFF), sponsored by JCC MetroWest, will offer 20 films March 19-April 2 at the Cooperman JCC’s Maurice Levin Theater in West Orange, with additional screenings in Morristown and South Orange.

The 12th annual Jewish Film Festival of Central New Jersey will feature five films at the Carmike/Rialto 6 theater in Westfield, April 19-May 16. It is sponsored by the JCC of Central NJ in Scotch Plains.

“These are international films that have been evaluated and prescreened by our very dedicated film committee,” said Randi Zucker, the Central JCC’s director of arts, education, and Jewish programs. The committee is chaired by Elyse Deutsch and Marcy Lazar.

“We’re particularly proud of our opening night film, ‘On the Map,’ a documentary that tells the story of Maccabi Tel Aviv’s 1977 European Cup championship.” The win by Israel’s national basketball team, according to its captain, Tal Brody — originally of Trenton — showed that “Israel is on the map, not just in sport, but in everything.”

Zucker called the film a “really a heartwarming story that features interviews with all the players” who were members of the winning team — except one, whose widow represents him. “It really sets the tone for the sentiment in Israel at that time and demonstrates the impact the championship had on the country as a whole.”

Three films, “The Women’s Balcony,” “Grain of Truth,” and “Moos,” will be shown at both festivals.

Zucker said “The Women’s Balcony,” an Israeli film that focuses on a gender rift in a devout Orthodox community in Jerusalem, “has been popular at film festivals around the world. The film is entertaining but also hits on the topic of how women are seen in the Orthodox community. It is eye-opening, with a nod to humor.” 

It is on the JCC MetroWest schedule for Sunday, March 26, at 7 p.m. in West Orange, and for Tuesday, April 25, at 7:30 p.m. in Westfield.

“Moos” is a Dutch film revolving around a young woman, Moos,  whose childhood friend,  Sam, is a surprise guest at a Chanukah celebration. Sam, who has just returned from Israel after serving in the IDF, inspires Moos to follow her dreams of pursuing a musical career. 

“It is the lightest film we are showing,” said Zucker. “It’s a slice of life showing a Jewish family. It’s a romantic comedy that I think will resonate with the audience.”

“Moos” will be screened Monday, March 20, at 7:30 p.m. in West Orange and Monday, May 8, at 7:30 p.m. in Westfield. 

In a press release from JCC MetroWest, “A Grain of Truth” was described by Carol Berman, manager of its Gaelen Center for the Arts, as a “thriller that examines anti-Semitism in modern Poland.” One of 11 N.J. premieres being offered by the NJJFF, it is based on the eponymous best-selling novel and centers on a “maverick prosecutor” drawn into the investigation of a string of ritual killings that seem to point to a blood libel set against a backdrop of growing public and media hysteria.

It will be screened Saturday, March 25, at 8:30 p.m. in West Orange, and Tuesday, May 16, at 7:30 p.m. in Westfield.

The NJJFF will open Sunday, March 19, at 7 p.m. with the N.J. premiere of “The Zookeeper’s Wife,” featuring two-time Academy Award nominee Jessica Chastain as Antonina Żabińska, and European Film Award nominee Johan Heidenburgh as her husband, Dr. Jan Żabiński, director of the Warsaw Zoo. 

The couple secretly works with the Resistance during World War II to save the lives of Jews trapped in the Warsaw Ghetto. The screening will be followed by a dessert reception.

The JCC MetroWest’s festival will offer a free screening of “The People vs. Fritz Bauer” — about a German-Jewish prosecutor who defied his country to bring Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann to justice — at the College of Saint Elizabeth in Morristown on Monday, March 27, at 7:30 p.m. 

“The Law,” the true story of France’s tenacious health minister Simone Veil — a Holocaust survivor who became a champion of women’s rights — and her groundbreaking struggle to legalize abortion, will be shown in West Orange on Wednesday, March 29, at 11:30 a.m., and at Bow-Tie Cinema in South Orange on Thursday, March 30, at 7:30 p.m.

 “Past Life,” a new film by renowned director Avi Nesher, is about memories of the Holocaust; it follows two sisters who journey to Poland to learn about their father’s life during the war. It will be screened at Bow-Tie Cinema in South Orange on Wednesday, March 22, at 7:30 p.m.

Some films will feature post-screening discussions led by local clergy, academicians, and filmmakers.

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