The first thing that Karen Small, director of the Jewish Film Festival at Rutgers University, wants people to know is that the films featured in this year’s screening schedule — October 30 through November 13 — are diverse, inclusive, and packed with meaty content.
Small, who has been at the job of helping select the cinema entries from the festival’s beginning 17 years ago, also wants people to know that they don’t have to be Jewish to enjoy them.
An attendance of some 5,000 viewers is a testament both to that promise and to the impressive selection of films that includes one U.S. premiere, four New Jersey premieres, and a sneak preview of “On the Map,” concerning the significance of the Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball team’s 1977 European Cup victory.
Four new venues, including the Princeton Garden Theater on Nassau Street, will be showing films about everything from family relationships, a thriller, modern day relationships between Germans and Jews, a love story directed by actress Natalie Portman in her directorial debut, and what happens when Arab and Jewish women talk in a beauty salon run by a Christian Arab.
The list of invited guests includes filmmakers, scholars, and a producer who will add insight into the works assembled for the festival sponsored by Rutgers’ Allen and Joan Bildner Center for the Study of Jewish Life. Small serves as its associate director.
“Our selection committee is made up of Rutgers faculty and community. We started with 140 films, and we look for diversity and quality in the Jewish experience. We start looking for next year’s films in January and make the selection in July. And because we’re open to everyone, we look for the most diverse.”
Small attends other film festivals for a taste of what is being offered, and the formula for increasing attendance has worked, considering how the Jewish Film Festival grew from six films and 1,500 tickets sold in its first year to the more than 30 screenings and 6,000 expected ticket buyers this year.
“Many do sell out,” Small cautions,” “and we have a lot of filmmakers coming. This is a really big festival, and we’re hoping more students come this year.”
Twenty years ago, when the Bildner Center was established, the Sharon Karmazin Foundation awarded the grant that helped establish the Jewish Film Festival at Rutgers. Now, Small points out, “a cross section of people from throughout New Jersey” comes to see the films, with attendance varying by topic.
This year, thanks to the festival’s growing popularity, it has expanded its venues to include, in addition to the Garden; Rutgers Business School (RBS), 100 Rockefeller Road on the Livingston Campus, Piscataway Township; and the AMC Loews 18, 17 Route 1, New Brunswick.
What follows is the list of films and speakers that make up the Jewish Film Festival:
One Week and a Day (Israel, 2016, 97 minutes). After shiva for their son ends and his wife tries to return to her routine, the grieving father sets out on a journey of discovery. He gets high with his neighbor’s son while searching for the meaning of life in this film about love and loss. A New Jersey premier directed by Asaph Polonsky; in Hebrew with English subtitles. Sunday, October 30, 7 p.m. at Rutgers Bilner Center, Rutgers; Wednesday, November 9, 7:30 p.m., Princeton Garden Theater. Director invited to attend. Opening night also includes a buffet dinner and dessert reception for festival sponsors.
Germans and Jews (USA, 2016, 76 minutes). A documentary from director Janina Quint on the history of Germany’s postwar Jewish population and the fraught and fragile relationships between Jews and non-Jews. Middle-aged Germans who grew up largely ignorant of the Hitler era discuss key moments that awakened them to the nightmare of Germany’s past and of the culpability of family members. Told entirely through interviews at a dinner party attended by Germans and Jews, the film negotiates sensitive questions of memory, guilt, identity, and redemption. A New Jersey premiere in English and German with English subtitles. Sunday, October 30, 3:15 p.m. at RBS, with executive producer Tal Recanati attending; and Thursday, November 3, 1:15 p.m. at AMC.
A Tale of Love and Darkness (Israel and USA, 2015, 98 minutes). Actress Natalie Portman makes her directorial debut and stars in a film based on Amos Oz’s international best-seller about the time Oz spent with his mother, Fania (played by Portman) in Jerusalem at the end of the British Mandate for Palestine and the early years of the State of Israel. Dealing with a married life of unfulfilled promises and integration in a foreign land, Fania battles her inner demons and longs for a better world for her son. In Hebrew with English subtitles. Thursday, November 3, 7:30 p.m. at AMC.
Double bill: Women in Sink (Israel 2015, 36 minutes). Director Iris Zak installs a camera over the washbasin in a hair salon owned by a Christian-Arab in Haifa, where she chats with the diverse clients she is shampooing. The film captures unexpected frankness of Arab and Jewish women who share their differences and a community of views on politics, history, and love. In Hebrew with English subtitles.
And Partner with the Enemy (Israel, 2014, 60 minutes). Directors Duki Dror and Chen Shelach focus on two women, one Israeli and one Palestinian, attempting the seemingly impossible: to build a business together in the midst of the ever-fraught Israeli-Palestinian political landscape. Fighting against societal and family pressure, anti-normalization currents and a chauvinistic, male-dominated industry, the two combine forces to create a logistics company that helps Palestinian businessmen navigate everyday life in the West Bank. In Arabic and Hebrew with English subtitles. Thursday, November 10, 12:30 p.m., AMC, and Sunday, November 13, 1:30 p.m., at RBS. Speaker for both screenings: Jessica Steinberg, culture editor, the Times of Israel.
A La Vie (France 2014, 106 minutes). Fifteen years after surviving Auschwitz, Helene, Lili, and Rose are reunited on holiday in the North of France. Savoring ice cream cones, trying on bikinis, and swimming in the sea, the women resume their friendship, with occasional disagreements about what they remember. Despite high spirits, a romantic adventure, and Helene and Rose’s insistence that they not talk about the camps, remnants of the war seep into everyday life. Based on the true story of the director Jean-Jacques Zilbermann’s mother, these women — their marriages, affairs, and challenges to define themselves — form the heart of “A La Vie.” French with English subtitles. Saturday, November 5, 9:30 p.m., at AMC; Sunday, November 6, noon, at RBS; and Tuesday, November 8, 11:30 a.m., at the Garden.
The Kind Words (Israel and Canada, 2016, 118 minutes). Director Shemi Zarhin’s quirky and wry dramedy follows three siblings — Dorona and brothers Netanel and Shai — who, in the wake of their mother’s death, learn that the man who raised them is not their biological father. The revelation sends them on a road trip from Israel across France to discover the truth about their real father. Writer-director Zarhin explores an unraveling family secret and the bittersweet journey of self-discovery that follows. French and Hebrew with English subtitles. Thursday, November 3, 3:30 p.m., at AMC.
Cloudy Sunday (Greece, 2015, 116 minutes). In this New Jersey premiere, director Manoussos Manoussakis tells the story of a forbidden love between Estrea, a young Jewish girl, and Giorgos, brother-in-law of the great Greek composer and famed bouzouki player Vassilis Tsitsanis. Central to the film is traditional and newly composed Greek music as well as spectacular cinematography. The film, in Greek with Ladino and English subtitles, is based on the book “Ouzeri Tsitsanis” by George Skarbadonis, is set in the Greek city of Thessaloniki during the German occupation in 1942. Sunday, November 6, 3:30 p.m., and Thursday, November 10, 3:30 p.m., at AMC.
Sabena Hijacking: My Version (Israel, 2015, 98 minutes). On May 8, 1972, four hijackers from the Palestinian organization Black September took control of Belgian Sabena Flight 571 from Brussels to Tel Aviv. Director Rani Saar’s film presents a cinematic reenactment of the events woven together with genuine archival material and exclusive interviews with three revered Israeli political leaders who were in charge of the rescue effort at the time, as well as the only surviving hijacker. English, Hebrew, Arabic, and French with English subtitles. Sunday, November 13, 4:15 p.m., at RBS; and Wednesday, November 9, 1 p.m., at the Garden.
The People vs. Fritz Bauer (Germany, 2015; 105 minutes). In 1957 German Attorney General Fritz Bauer received crucial evidence on the whereabouts of Adolf Eichmann. The lieutenant colonel, responsible for the mass deportation of the Jews, is allegedly hiding in Buenos Aires. Facing fierce German determination to repress its past, Bauer has had no success trying crimes from the Third Reich in court. His distrust in the German justice system leads him to contact the Israeli secret service Mossad, and, by doing so, he commits treason. Lars Kraume directs the R-rated film. German, English, Yiddish with English subtitles. Sunday, October 30, noon, at AMC, with speaker professor Atina Grossmann, The Cooper Union; and Saturday, November 12, 9:30 p.m., at RBS.
In Search of Israeli Cuisine (USA, 2016, 97 minutes). James Beard Award-winning chef Michael Solomonov takes us on a journey to Israel through food. He enters people’s lives and their kitchens as they discuss their roots, inspirations, what their grandmothers cooked, and how they are preserving traditions and updating recipes with global influences. The beautiful cinematography and rich human stories in Roger M. Sherman’s film draw a complex portrait of Israel and the many cultures who call it home. English. Sunday, October 30, 12:30 p.m., at RBS, with special guest Roger M. Sherman, director; and Tuesday, November 1, 12:30 p.m., at AMC.
Eva Hesse (USA and Germany, 2016, 108 minutes). Director Marcie Begleiter’s film portrays the brief but extraordinary life of artist Eva Hesse from escaping Germany at age two on the Kindertransport, to her groundbreaking sculptures and rise in the New York art scene in the 1960s, to her death at a young age. Today she is recognized as one of the most important artists of the second half of the 20th century. Her work is held by major museums including the Whitney, MoMA, the Hirschhorn, and the Pompidou in Paris. Sunday, November 6, 12:30 p.m., at AMC.
Fire Birds (Israel, 2015, 105 minutes). Three widows and a handsome stranger cross paths in this Israeli murder mystery directed by Amir I. Wolf. Hebrew with English subtitles. Sunday, October 30, 3 p.m., AMC; and Sunday, November 6, 5:15 p.m., RBS.
Who’s Gonna Love Me Now? (Israel and UK, 2016, 84 minutes). New Jersey premiere of Barak and Tomer Heymann’s story of an HIV-positive gay man living in London who craves the love of a family with fears and prejudices of their own. In Hebrew and English with English subtitles. Sunday, November 6, 2:30 p.m., at RBS, and 7:30 p.m., at AMC, with special guest at both Sunday screenings: Tomer Heymann, director. Also screened on Tuesday, November 8, 2 p.m., at the Garden.
Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You (USA, 2016, 91 minutes). Directors Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady’s documentary on the influential creator of television’s “All in the Family,” “Maude, “Good Times,” and “The Jeffersons” who brought issues of race, feminism, and politics into the living rooms of the 1970s. Saturday, November 5, 7:15 p.m., at AMC, and Sunday, November 13, 11:30 a.m., at RBS.
Denial (USA and UK, 2016, 110 minutes). Director Mick Jackson’s dramatic depiction of Emory professor Deborah Lipstadt’s historic legal trial against Holocaust denial. Rachel Weisz stars. In English, Hebrew and German with English subtitles. Thursday, November 10, 7:30 p.m., at AMC. Speaker: Dr. Dan Leshem, director, Kupferberg Holocaust Resource Center, Queensborough Community College, CUNY.
On The Map special sneak preview (Israel, 2016, 78 minutes). Director Dani Menkin’s documentary recounts the story of the 1977 Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball team’s victory in the European Cup, which put Israel firmly on the map. Featuring interviews with the Jewish American athletes who made history, the film combines the action of a high-stakes game with an incendiary political situation at the height of the Cold War to deliver a film that honors Israeli heroes, captivates basketball fans, and captures the spirit of a triumphant nation. In English and Hebrew with English subtitles. Tuesday, November 1, 7:30 p.m., at AMC, special guest: Nancy Spielberg, producer, and Saturday, November 12, 7 p.m., at RBS, special guest: Dani Menkin, director.
The Women’s Balcony (Israel, 2016, 96 minutes). The U.S. premiere of director Emil Ben Shim’s exploration of how an accident during a bar mitzvah celebration leads to a gendered rift in a devout Orthodox community in Jerusalem and turns into a rousing, good-hearted tale about women speaking truth to patriarchal power. In Hebrew with English subtitles. Tuesday, November 1, 3:30 p.m., at AMC; and Sunday, November 13, 7:30 p.m., at RBS
Tickets are $6 to $13. Advance ticket purchase is strongly recommend For festival formation or to purchase tickets visit bildnercenter.rutgers.edu.