The 29th Annual Buffalo International Jewish Film Festival
by M. Faust
The good news about this year’s edition of the Buffalo International Jewish Film Festival—well, as usual it’s all good news for the area’s longest-lived and most consistent film festival, a dependable showcase for world cinema of a high order.
So let’s say that among the good news is that it’s returning to the Amherst Theater on Main Street, its long-time home until a few years ago when it moved to the house screening room at the Jewish Community Center in Getzville. Not that it’s exactly leaving that location: This year the BIJFF will take place in both venues. The first section will run for a week beginning this Friday at the Amherst. Another section, featuring most of the same films, will be held at the JCC from June 8 through 15. (We’ll remind you about that when the time comes.)
The BIJFF’s value as an outlet for films that otherwise did not make it to local theaters is highlighted by the Buffalo premiere of Hannah Arendt. Barbara Sukowa stars as the German-Jewish philosopher and political theorist whose ideas were crystallized when she was sent by the New Yorker magazine to cover the trial of Adolf Eichmann in 1961. Her reporting, summarized in the concept of “the banality of evil,” still provokes controversy today as the world continues to struggle with instances of genocide. Directed by the veteran German filmmaker Margarethe von Trotta (Rosa Luxemburg, The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum), Hannah Arendt won awards at the German equivalent of the Oscars for best actress and film.
A local production getting its world premiere is Blue Tattoo, directed by former news anchor Rich Kellman. The short documentary looks at two very different people: Dina Jacobson, an Auschwitz survivor who relocated to Elmira after the war, and Joe Crookston, a folk singer now living in the Finger Lakes who writes songs based on the stories of people he has come to know. After meeting Dina he composed “Blue Tattoo,” in which a woman on a boat to America tries to answer her young daughter’s questions about the tattoo on her arm without endangering the girl’s innocence regarding the world. It will be shown on a double bill with The Rich Have Their Own Photographers, about the work of Milton Rogovin, the internationally admired Buffalo photographer who brought humanity to his portraits of marginalized people and steelworkers.
Other documentaries to be screened include Orchestra of Exiles, which uses recreations and modern testimonies to tell the story of violinist Bronislaw Huberman, who in the 1930s began relocating Jewish musicians from Europe and Nazi persecution to Palestine to form the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra; Next Year Jerusalem, which follows eight nursing home residents (average age 91) on a trip to Israel; and No Place on Earth, about a massive cave in southwestern Ukraine that is discovered to have been a hiding place for five Jewish families in World War II.
The festival’s fiction films include examinations of Jewish figures and life from countries as diverse as France, Holland, Macedonia, and of course Israel. A runner-up for Israel’s 2012 Ophir Award, The World is Funny is a panoramic look at various everyday people dealing with life’s hardships, centered around three estranged siblings living in Tiberias. From France, Aliyah follows a young man, in a dead end of selling drugs to pay for his brother’s debts, as he considers relocating with his cousin to Tel Aviv, a move not to be taken lightly. (For one thing, he has to learn Hebrew.)
Football, or what the US calls soccer, is at the center of The Third Half, Macedonia’s entry for last year’s Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, in which the leader of a ragtag Balkan team in the early 1940s is determined to make it the best in the league, despite the million ways the war and the Nazi occupation have of thwarting him.
Set in the same year on the eastern half of Europe, Süskind is a more somber tale based on the true story of Walter Süskind, hired to manage the deportation of Jews from Amsterdam to what he has been told are work camps. When he finds out their true destination, he finds a way save hundreds of children from certain death.
And if you missed them the first time around, the Festival also features return engagements of The Jewish Cardinal and the documentary When Comedy Went to School, which examines how the once-popular Catskill resort hotels served as a laboratory for American popular humor through a large part of the 20th century by shaping the careers of young comics like Alan King, Jerry Lewis, Sid Caesar, Myron Cohen, Danny Kaye, Mort Sahl, Lenny Bruce, and others.
For a complete schedule and advanced ticket sales, visit www.bijff.com.
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