Baltimore Jewish Film Festival Celebrates 30 Years with Diverse Slate

“1945” is a film about fear, suspicion and ultimately guilt. (Photo provided)

From David Ben-Gurion to Sammy Davis Jr., from World War II Hungarian villagers to modern-day Tel Aviv Palestinians, to the complexities of challenging, or even forbidden, relationships. All that and more is on offer at the 2018 William and Irene Weinberg Family Baltimore Jewish Film Festival due to light up the Gordon Center’s silver screen from April 10 to May 3.

The film fest, now in its 30th year, has a long track record of bringing enlightening and thought-provoking Jewish-interest films to Baltimore audiences, and this year the festival committee has hit it out of the park, according to Gordon Center artistic director Alyson Bonavoglia.

“I think that the committee did a particularly good job this year,” Bonavoglia said. “This is a fantastic lineup, it’s very diverse. I’m excited about every single one of these movies.”

The festival kicks off its 11-film slate on Tuesday, April 10 at 7:30 p.m. profiling a giant of modern Jewish history in “Ben-Gurion, Epilogue,” a 2016 Israeli/French documentary directed by Yariv Mozer. The film is based on six hours of previously unknown 1968 footage of the State of Israel’s founder, when David Ben-Gurion was 82. The film won a 2017 Israeli Film and TV Academy Award. David Ben-Gurion’s grandson, Alon Ben-Gurion, is guest speaker.

Next up, take a step back in time to post-World War II Hungary with the 2017 Hungarian drama “1945,” directed by Ferenc Török, on Thursday, April 12 at 7:30 p.m. Two Orthodox Jews get off a train and travel through a village with a large box. Villagers, preparing for a wedding, become curious, then fearful, suspicious and ultimately guilt-ridden. Winner of the Yad Vashem chairman’s award at the 2017 Jerusalem Film Festival, “1945” was described by the Los Angeles Times as “a lean, unadorned parable about guilt and the nature and consequences of evil.”

Sammy Davis Jr. (Photo provided)

On Sunday, April 15 at 1 p.m. “Sammy Davis Jr.: I’ve Gotta Be Me” showcases the life and times of the consummate and popular entertainer who converted to Reform Judaism in 1961. His civil rights involvement is a focus of the 2018 documentary directed by Sam Pollard.

“I’m really looking forward to seeing audience reaction to the Sammy Davis Jr. movie,” Bonavoglia said. “He’s such a Renaissance man and led a really interesting life. And his life in some ways really reflects the racial progress, or perhaps lack of progress, that we made in the 20th century.”

“The Cakemaker,” showing Thursday, April 19 at 7:30 p.m., is a 2017 German/Israel production directed by Ofir Raul Graizer that explores the lives of Thomas, his deceased lover, Oren, and Oren’s widow, after Thomas, a talented baker, begins working at her café.

“Yearning and melancholy are baked into every frame of ‘The Cakemaker,’” said Screen International.

“Israeli Love Story” (Photo provided)

Delphine Gamburg, director of cultural affairs at the Embassy of Israel, is the guest speaker for “An Israeli Love Story,” a 2017 Israeli drama directed by Dan Wolman, which screens Sunday, April 22 at 1 p.m. as part of an Israeli mini-film fest in recognition of Israel’s 70th birthday. “Between Worlds,” a 2016 Israeli drama directed by Miya Hatav is set for 4 p.m.

“We’ll show two movies in one day,” Bonavoglia said. “We’re going to have an Israel fair in the lobby, and members of the Baltimore Israel Coalition will be there offering information about their agencies. We’ll have food, and it’ll be a fun opportunity for people to come in and see how connected Baltimore is to Israel and to learn more.”

“Bye Bye Germany,” a 2017 post-WWII era drama/comedy/mystery by German director Sam Garbarski screens Tuesday, April 24 at 7:30 p.m. David Bermann and his friends decide to start a business with the potential to allow them to immigrate to the U.S., but Bermann’s secret (Nazi?) past soon comes to the attention of U.S. officer Sara Simon, who begins investigating.

“Shelter.” (Photo provided)

“Shelter,” a 2018 Israeli suspense/thriller directed by Eran Riklis brings together a Mossad agent and a post-plastic surgery Lebanese informer sheltering in a safe house. The film, set for Thursday, April 26 at 7:30 p.m., was nominated for a best actress and best music award at the Israeli Film Academy.

“Keep the Change,” showing Sunday, April 29 at 3 p.m., is a U.S. drama that brings together two special needs adults and explores their already challenging lives that prove more complex as their relationship develops. Directed by Rachel Israel, the 2017 film received a Focus Features best film award and alumni award for best film at Columbia University Film Festival.

“This is a great JCC movie because it’s actually set in the JCC in Manhattan,” Bonavoglia said. “This movie really takes you on a journey [and] gives you the perspective of the person with special needs.”

“An Act of Defiance” (Photo provided)

On Tuesday, May 1 at 7:30 p.m., the 2018 Dutch historical drama and political thriller, “An Act of Defiance,” centers on a group of South African political activists, including Nelson Mandela, on trial in 1963 for alleged sabotage. Their defense attorney, Bram Fischer, risks everything to defend them. The film’s special guest speakers are professor Michael Higginbotham of University of Baltimore School of Law and professor Peter Danchin of the University of Maryland Carey School of Law. Directed by Jean van de Velde, “An Act of Defiance” won best film award at the UK Jewish Film Festival.

The fest winds up with the 2016 hot-topic film, “In Between,” on Thursday, May 3 at 7:30 p.m., about three Palestinian women who have chosen to live in Tel Aviv to pursue education, escape homophobia and live more secular lives, although always aware of their “outsider” status. Director Maysaloun Hamoud received a best young talent award at the Cannes Film Festival and two “In Between” cast members won Ophir Awards for best actress and best supporting actress.

“We’re always looking for a nice mixture of movies from different parts of the world,” Bonavoglia said. “We look at different genres, we look to have dramas and comedies and documentaries. We try to make it an event. There’s always something extra that we offer to fill out the experience and make it more meaningful. These are movies that you are not going to see anywhere else together, like this.”


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