The 16th annual Ann Arbor Jewish Film Festival kicks off May 4, running until May 11, to bring the global Jewish experience to the Ann Arbor community, celebrated through the medium of film and related cultural presentations. Tickets are $10 each and can be purchased in advance at the Michigan Theater box office. The Ann Arbor Jewish Film Festival is a great example of film and culture nurturing and embracing each other.
The Ann Arbor Jewish Film Festival started out as “The Lenore Marwil Jewish Film Festival” 19 years ago, exhibited at the Jewish Community Center of Metropolitan Detroit.
“Sixteen years ago, we established connections to the Lenore Marwil Jewish Film Festival, and were able to forge a partnership to become a sister festival in Ann Arbor. After about 13 years of developing our volunteer leadership and growing a unique audience, we essentially morphed into an independent festival,” says Clara Silver, Director of Operations at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Ann Arbor, who, along with JCC colleague Karen Freeland, has been involved in all aspects of running and organizing the largely volunteer-based and supported festival with great success.
Building a Legacy
What’s the spark that keeps this festival going for over 15 years? According to Silver, “movies are a natural draw for people because film allows them to see through someone else’s eyes. The Ann Arbor Jewish Film Festival provides the community with an opportunity to see not only high quality films that rarely ever see mass distribution, but also to see films with Jewish themes and content.” In this case, she continues, “the audience gets to be the proverbial ‘fly on the wall’ for Jewish topics of interest that pique everyone’s curiosity but may not be readily available to explore outside the festival. In addition, topics that can be hard to talk about are much more accessible through film because watching a film is a very personal experience.”
This year’s Festival features films that push the envelope on sensitive subjects such as politics and sexual identity, as well as reflecting on the past and its impact on the present. This year’s film fest promises to give viewers a lot to reflect on and talk about with films such as The Women’s Balcony and Fanny’s Journey.
The Women’s Balcony is a dramedy that dares to take on the complex nature of religious and gender politics inside a small orthodox Jewish community in Israel. A mishap at the synagogue leads to a widening of an often silent and tolerated divide between orthodox women and men. When the mishap is resolved under the leadership of the charismatic young, but ultra-orthodox, Rabbi, all hell breaks loose. This is a warm and witty film about the pain and frustration experienced when religious extremism is imposed on religious moderates which too often divides communities along gender lines.
Fanny’s Journey tells the true story of Fanny, a 12-year-old girl, who stays in a hidden home far from her Jewish parents during World War 11. She takes care of her two younger sisters until she is forced to flee in a rush, becoming the head of a group of eight children heading across occupied France.
“It’s a riveting story that will keep you on the edge of your seat,” adds Silver, “The courage of these children and their stories is a very timely subject given the current conditions of refugees today and makes one think how lucky we are.”