by Micki Leader
The 13th JCC Rockland International Jewish Film Festival is an annual cinematic exploration and celebration of global Jewish and Israel life, history, complexity, diversity, culture and filmmaking for everyone. It is the goal of the festival to both entertain and educate the Jewish and general communities and strive to build bridges of mutual understanding and a community that is more tolerant, engaged and connected. The Festival showcases award -winning international, independent jewish-themed and Israeli films with speakers that include producers, directors, screenwriters, film critics, and international experts.
Here’s a list of what will be screened this week:
- The Last Mentsch (1:30p, Bow Tie Cinema, New City). Having spent a lifetime concealing his heritage, an aging German Holocaust survivor tries to come to terms with his past. Born as Menachem Teitelbaum, Marcus Schwarz) escaped Auschwitz and exterminated his Jewishness. With no synagogue, Jewish friends or family, the hardened old man has done such an effective job of creating a new identity that, when faced with his own mortality, the rabbis refuse his about-face appeal to be buried in a Jewish cemetery. Determined to return to his birthplace and establish his ancestry, he enlists the help of Gül, a brash, chain-smoking Turkish girl with a troubled history of her own. The unlikely duo sets out on a road trip to a village on the Hungarian-Romanian border, a journey that will irrevocably change them both.
- Rosenwald (7:30, Regal Cinemas) Julius Rosenwald, a self made millionaire, rose to become the president of Sears Roebuck and one of the most generous of Jewish philanthropists. His contributions are among the least known. His deep concern for the black community and education led him to work with Booker T. Washington to build 5,300 schools for black communities from Florida to Chicago. His granddaughter, Elizabeth Varet, will speak about him and lead the discussion. Don’t miss this film that reinforces how the Jewish community has a long history in the US of repairing the world by uniting and helping those with human rights needs.
- To Life (7:30, Regal Cinemas) An uplifting drama-romance bringing together two disparate wounded souls, TO LIFE! tells of the growing bond between an aging Polish-born cabaret singer and a young German man driven by a secret.
Ruth (Hannelore Elsner, grand dame of German cinema) and Jonas (Max Riemelt, rising star of Netflix hit original series Sense8) are of different generations and life experiences, who both find themselves at a crossroads, without a home and suffering from romantic loss. Just as the self-reliant but kindly Ruth is evicted from her apartment, Jonas arrives in Berlin burdened with a personal ordeal. Flashbacks divulge the older Jewish woman’s wartime sorrows, while Jonas’ own present vulnerability comes to light. Through shared parallels and camaraderie, and the lusty Yiddish music of yesteryear, this improbable duo rekindles their sense of purpose, finding reason to defiantly toast l’chaim in the face of adversity.TO LIFE! features luminous central performances, a crowd-pleasing story by screenwriter-author Stephen Glantz (Wunderkinder), and snazzy new renditions of Jewish standards affectingly delivered by gifted actress-singer Sharon Brauner. Rabbi Craig Scheff from Orangetown Jewish Center will speak. This is a really moving film that has a very different story.
Son of Saul (7:00p, Lafayette Theater) In october 1944, Saul Ausländer is a Hungarian member of the Sonderkommando in Auschwitz-Birkenau, the group of Jewish prisoners isolated from the camp and forced to assist the Nazis in the machinery of large-scale extermination. While working in one of the crematoriums, Saul discovers the corpse of a boy he takes for his son. As the Sonderkommando plans a rebellion, Saul decides to carry out an impossible task: save the child’s body from the flames, find a rabbi to recite the mourner’s Kaddish and offer the boy a proper burial.
Micki Leader is co-chairman of the JCC Rockland 2016 Jewish Film Festival.