According to Harriet Dobin, the Director of the Mandell Jewish Community Center Jewish Film Festival, this is the 19th year of the Festival and over 5000 people are expected to attend, and not just a Jewish audience. The films are timely and relevant for a broad gathering. The festival began with an initial collaboration between the Mandell JCC, the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art and Trinity College. Each year up to 100 full length features, shorts and documentaries are submitted from all over the world and first Ms. Dobin and then a committee selects the final listing. Approximately 150 comparable Jewish Film Festivals are held in the USA, Canada and across the globe.
As Harriet Dobin explains it, "At one time this festival was just FOR the Jewish community. We've evolved and placed great emphasis on becoming a festival ABOUT Jews. We branch out into commercial theaters like Bow Tie Cinemas Blue Back Square, Spotlight Theatres and Bow Tie Cinemas Palace 17, the new Infinity Music Hall and Bistro, as well as our own theater at the Mandell JCC, the Herbert Gilman Theater, and two synagogues, Emanuel Synagogue and Beth El Temple. We have a very demanding audience who have come to expect only the most superb films. We're part of a great big world and that's what we want the festival to reflect."
The event will begin with a musical tribute to Sophie Tucker, a native daughter known for her booming voice, her contributions for six decades to musical theater and as "the Last of the Red Hot Mamas." Hartford's new Infinity Music Hall and Bistro will host the grand opening, a 5:30 p.m. dinner reception and 7:30 p.m. Live Cabaret featuring the winner of a Sophie Tucker singing contest, Colleen Welsh, from the Hartt School, University of Hartford, performing with her pianist Paul Feyer. The new film "The Outrageous Sophie Tucker" will tell the tale of the woman who paved the way for so many other stars, from her start in her family's small kosher restaurant to performing in burlesque, films and television, for presidents and even for royalty in England. The film and performance will be open captioned for the deaf and hearing impaired in the community.
Filmmakers and authors Susan and Lloyd Ecker will give a Reel Talk, about their experiences producing the movie, over dessert. On the couple's first date back in 1973, they attended a Bette Midler concert where she shared stories about Sophie Tucker on stage. That sent the Ecker's on an odyssey to research Tucker and learn about her life and career through 400 scrapbooks and countless interviews over an eight year period. Tickets are $75 and boas and bows, sparkles and spangles are the optional Roaring Twenties fun attire. If you can't make the grand evening, on Friday, March 13 at 10 a.m, there will be a Talking Tucker brunch (no film) at the Mandell JCC, $20, as well as on the festival's last day, a film showing on Sunday, March 22 at noon at the Mandell JCC, with tickets $12 in advance and $15 at the door. Call 860-231-6316 or go online to www.hjff.org or firstname.lastname@example.org for a full schedule of showings.
How about a trip to France without packing a bag or getting a passport. "It Happened in Saint-Tropez" is your ticket, with a reception. Want intrigue, then enter the world of Bruce Sundlun who survived being shot down in Belgium in World War II, followed by a Reel Talk. Need a little inspiration, then travel with teenage Mica who pledges to honor his grandfather and the country, Cuba, that saved him during the Holocaust in "Havana Curveball." Learn about Hannah Cohen's desire for a Holy Communion despite the fact she's definitely not Catholic.
Prepare to be wonderfully entertained when the iconic and beloved Theodore Bikel is "married" to the magical words of Sholem Aleichem, the famed Yiddish storyteller in "Theodore Bikel: In the Shoes of Sholem Aleichem." Ever wonder what it might be like to serve as a woman in the Israeli Army then "Zero Motivation" is for you. Have you ever searched your family's history to try to find yourself? If so, you'll want to go on "Hanna's Journey." Imagine creating a euthanasia machine for your aging friends and watch "The Farewell Party" for insights into the end of life issues.
Time for a nosh, like a thick corned beef on rye with a half sour pickle? Come meet the "Deli Man" and learn the history of Jews in a culinary tour across America. Ready for a change of pace, to suspenseful thriller and a compelling example of anti-semitism and terror. Look no further than "24 Days: The True Story of Ilan Halimi Affair." Follow a ten year old boy as he escapes the Warsaw Ghetto in "Run Boy Run," that will be accompanied by talks with the Hartford Stage and their upcoming production of "The Pianist of Willesdan Lane." Change the pace with the tale of two cousins in "The Go Go Boys: The Inside Story of Cannon Films." Travel with Eyad, a Muslim boy, who wins a place as the first Arab in a prestigious boarding school in Jerusalem in "Dancing Arabs" and learn how he struggles to adjust.
In "Berlin Calling," a father and daughter retrace the dad's difficult days in World War II and discover realities they never dreamed possible. Two lonely souls connect in "Felix and Meira" with a forbidden love dictated by religious differences. History buffs will enjoy "The Prime Ministers, Part Two-Soldiers and Peacemakers" as it follows Prime Ministers Rabin and Begin. A childless couple enters into a strange arrangement with a young Jewish refugee they are hiding in "Closed Season." The final film tells the story of volunteer pilots and how they helped win the War of Independence in "Above and Beyond-The Birth of the Israeli Air Force" that includes a Reel Talk and reception. This event is $25. For tickets to any or all of these fine films, call 860-231-6316 or go online at www.hjff.org for the full schedule and locations.
Don't let this fascinating array of movie offerings escape your attention. As the snows of winter hopefully melt in our collective memories, go to the movies for excitement, entertainment, inspiration and warmth.