THE MILESTONE 20TH annual New Jersey Jewish Film Festival will be held March 19-29, but cinephiles need not wait till the spring for the opportunity to watch outstanding movies at JCC MetroWest in West Orange.
The first festival Extra! of the season will be the N.J. premiere of “Latter Day Jew” on Saturday, Nov. 2, at 8 pm. The documentary charts the unlikely journey of H. Alan Scott, a gay former Mormon, cancer survivor, writer-comedian, converted Jew, as he searches for his spiritual path to becoming, as he says, “the best Jew I can be.”
The film covers his Mormon upbringing, his conversion, and his trip to Israel in preparation for his bar mitzvah at age 34.
Along the way, Scott encounters a host of other seekers and guides, including a formerly Mormon couple, originally from Utah, now in New York and preparing to make aliyah; an assortment of rabbis, among them one in Jerusalem who gives him a lesson in blowing shofar; and fellow comedian Judy Gold, who shares her own uproarious and touching take on Jewish identity.
In explaining why she chose to make the film, producer/director Aliza Rosen said that Scott’s “strength, conviction, courage, and determination to find his true self was inspiring, uplifting, and — because he’s a hilarious comedian — entertaining.” His journey to Judaism was also about “coming into an authentic sense of self,” Rosen said, adding that in times like these, “when there is so much division and uncertainty, we could all use a funny and heartfelt story that resonates with audiences on many levels.”
Following the screening of the film, which garnered an Award of Excellence at the IndieFest Film Awards, Rosen will join a post-screening discussion via Skype from California.
Tickets cost $15, $13 for seniors, free for 20th annual NJJFF sponsors.
To mark the 20th anniversary, NJJFF will present a series of free screenings — “fan favorites” from years past — on the 20th day of most of the months leading up to the March 19-29 festival.
On Wednesday, Nov. 20, at 12:30 p.m., film-goers will have another chance to see “Late Marriage,” Israel’s award-winning submission for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2001 Oscars.
Zaza (Lior Ashkenazi) is 31 years old and unmarried. His family’s Georgian-Jewish traditions dictate the requisite traits of his future wife, and his determined parents drag their son to meeting after meeting with potential brides and their relatives. Zaza plays along, but resolutely dodges every effort to seal a match. After his parents discover the reason for their son’s reluctance — he’s in love with a decidedly unsuitable 34-year-old divorcee and mother (Ronit Elkabetz) — they mount an offense to undo the couple, and Zaza must choose between his family traditions and the yearnings of his heart.
Festival cochairs Andrea Bergman, Joni Cohen, and Abby Meth Kanter said that “over its two decades, NJJFF has grown into one of the most respected Jewish film festivals in the country and a major cultural event in our community. Last year’s record-breaking event screened 26 films — features and shorts, documentaries, comedies, and dramas from around the world — including 22 N.J. premieres.”
Leading audiences in discussion at the 2019 festival were filmmakers, dignitaries, and other guests — including international star Tovah Feldshuh.
Individuals and groups are invited to become NJJFF sponsors and receive a range of benefits.
Individuals get an all-festival pass, admission to Extra! events throughout the year, invitations to special events, priority seating, and names listed on festival materials.
Among the benefits extended to sponsor organizations is the opportunity to select their sponsored film and recognition and priority entry to that screening; opportunity to reserve a JCC room for a constituents’ event; and a number of complimentary and discounted tickets.
Early-bird pricing is in effect for certain sponsorship levels until
Nov. 3. For tickets, call 973-530-3417; to become a sponsor, go to jccmetrowest.org/njjff or contact NJJFF director Sarah Diamond at firstname.lastname@example.org or 973-929-2938.