Reeling in New York

A Film Festival’s Global Lens

By Matthew Oshinsky

Published January 08, 2009, issue of January 16, 2009.
  • Print
  • Share Share

For New York moviegoers shrinking at the prospect of Tom Cruise goose-stepping through a Nazi-era spy thriller, the 18th annual New York Jewish Film Festival arrives this month with an eclectic roster of Jewish-oriented films. This year’s edition includes 32 features and shorts — 28 of which are making their world, American or New York premieres — hailing from 17 different countries.

SILVER SCREEN: ‘The Fire Within: Jews in the Amazonian Rainforest’ (above) and ‘Being Jewish in France’ (below) are among the features being screened at this year’s New York Jewish Film Festival.
SILVER SCREEN: ‘The Fire Within: Jews in the Amazonian Rainforest’ (above) and ‘Being Jewish in France’ (below) are among the features being screened at this year’s New York Jewish Film Festival.

The festival, which has established itself as an important showcase for the work of Jewish filmmakers, is the product of a long-term, committed relationship between two of the city’s celebrated arts institutions: the Jewish Museum and Lincoln Center. Launched in 1992, in the wake of the Soviet Union’s collapse, the festival initially presented films that contained explicitly post-communist subject matter.

“It was an exciting time, because there were suddenly well-known Eastern European filmmakers turning their lenses on Jewish topics,” said Aviva Weintraub, director of the festival and an associate curator of the Jewish Museum. “Then, slowly, Israel and some Western European countries were added to the mix, and then it quickly became apparent that it wouldn’t be in the service of creating a very diverse festival to continue a thematic limitation in that way.”

Today, the festival aims to spotlight works from all over the globe, and although the program does not necessarily feature work by the world’s most elite filmmakers, it never goes begging for worthy candidates. This year’s program includes films produced in Peru, India, Kazakhstan and South Africa, and ranges in subjects from Czech Holocaust survivors (Lukas Pribyl’s “Forgotten Transports: To Estonia”), to Pakistani scholars (Georg Misch’s “A Road to Mecca: The Journey of Muhammad Asad”), to the Jews of the Amazonian rainforest (Lorry Salcedo Mitrani’s “The Fire Within”).

Many of the stories are true.

“One of the things that stands out this year is the strength of the documentary submissions that we received,” Weintraub said. No surprise, then, that she and her selection committee elected to open and close the festival with nonfiction films. The opening-night movie, Michael Goldman’s “At Home in Utopia,” tells the story of the United Workers Cooperative Colony, a 1920s-era housing collective based in the Bronx. The closing-night film, “Waiting for Armageddon,” by Kate Davis, David Heilbroner and Franco Sacchi, examines the political power of radical evangelicals who believe that Israel and the Jews are leading the world to the apocalypse. Other festival documentaries consider Jewish relationships of the cultural (Juan Mandelbaum’s “Our Disappeared”), interfaith (Ella Alterman’s “The Woman From Sarajevo”) and familial (Ori Ben Dov’s “A Refusenik’s Mother”) varieties.

But it isn’t only stories that the NYJFF likes to introduce. As it approaches its third decade of existence, the festival has firmly established itself as a haven for some of the world’s most gifted actors and filmmakers, including Academy Award winners (such as Israeli pioneer Moshe Mizrahi, who returns this year with his newest drama, “Weekend in Galilee”) and box office favorites. Indeed, some have made their names and careers in the ever-expanding network of global Jewish film festivals that initially took root in the wake of European communism. While only a handful of Jewish film festivals existed when the New York event was launched, more than 65 now operate around the world.

The increase is due as much to advancements in digital technology and the relative logistical ease with which movies can now be made and screened as to the growing prevalence of Jewish filmmakers. With so many more films and filmmakers to sort through each year, the task of the NYJFF curatorial team is at once easier and harder.

“It really is an ongoing dialogue, because we start to look for next year’s films right away, in February,” Weintraub said. “We travel to a number of other film festivals both within the U.S. and internationally, keeping our eyes open for new productions. But we also like to establish relationships with talented filmmakers, and we hope to introduce and continue to show the work of those filmmakers so audiences in New York can see them.”

Matthew Oshinsky is a freelance writer living in Brooklyn.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "You wouldn’t send someone for a math test without teaching them math." Why is sex ed still so taboo among religious Jews?
  • Russia's playing the "Jew card"...again.
  • "Israel should deal with this discrimination against Americans on its own merits... not simply as a bargaining chip for easy entry to the U.S." Do you agree?
  • For Moroccan Jews, the end of Passover means Mimouna. Terbhou ou Tse'dou! (good luck) How do you celebrate?
  • Calling all Marx Brothers fans!
  • What's it like to run the Palestine International Marathon as a Jew?
  • Does Israel have a racism problem?
  • This 007 hates guns, drives a Prius, and oh yeah — goes to shul with Scarlett Johansson's dad.
  • Meet Alvin Wong. He's the happiest man in America — and an observant Jew. The key to happiness? "Humility."
  • "My first bra was a training bra, a sports bra that gave the illusion of a flat chest."
  • "If the people of Rwanda can heal their broken hearts and accept the Other as human, so can we."
  • Aribert Heim, the "Butcher of Mauthausen," died a free man. How did he escape justice?
  • This guy skipped out on seder at his mom's and won a $1 million in a poker tournament. Worth it?
  • Sigal Samuel's family amulet isn't just rumored to have magical powers. It's also a symbol of how Jewish and Indian rituals became intertwined over the centuries. http://jd.fo/a3BvD Only three days left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • British Jews are having their 'Open Hillel' moment. Do you think Israel advocacy on campus runs the risk of excluding some Jewish students?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.