(JTA) — If you enjoy bagels or sport a big, fuzzy beard, you’re Jewish enough to enjoy the Toronto Jewish Film Festival.
That at least is the message of the upcoming festival’s new ad campaign. The series of 15-second ads and posters are a conscious attempt to broaden the festival’s appeal, according to the man behind the campaign.
“You’ve got these great, diverse films that you’re probably not going to see elsewhere,” Jon Flannery, chief creative officer of advertising agency FCB Toronto, told Marketing Magazine last week. “Yet [the festival] has this built-in audience limit in that people automatically assume since it’s a Jewish film festival, it’s for and by Jewish people, and that’s not really the case.”
In each video ad, a person performs a mundane activity with a loose Jewish connection, like toasting a bagel, saying “gesundheit” after someone sneezes or combing a lush beard. Then, the words: “Jewish enough” appear on-screen alongside the festival’s logo — followed shortly by “for the Toronto Jewish Film Festival: May 5-15, tickets at tjff.com.”
Some of the ads could be nitpicked by an actual Jew. The Hasidic beard-hipster beard parallel is pretty well-worn territory. And the actual Yiddish sneeze response is “zu gesunt,” which translates roughly to “to your good health.” But the whole point is to appeal to non-Jews. So fine.
The fourth video — a reference to circumcision — will viscerally connect with men, Jewish or not.
Watch all the videos below.
The Tribeca Film Festival brings no shortage of Jewish topics this year, from Mel Brooks joking about the Holocaust, to an anti-Semitic Hungarian politician turned Orthodox Jew.
Here are our favorite films about the chosen people playing at the New York event, which runs April 13-24.
Last Laugh (USA)
In this documentary, director Ferne Pearlstein delves into the taboo topic of joking about the Holocaust. Through a weaving together of performances by Jewish comedians (including Mel Brooks, Sarah Silverman and Joan Rivers) with a portrait of a Holocaust survivor, viewers are left to form their own opinion about whether Holocaust humor makes the cut.
Keep Quiet (UK, Hungary)
Csanad Szegedi, an anti-Semitic politician in Hungary, is shocked to discover that his maternal grandparents were actually Jewish. This documentary chronicles his unlikely transition from passionate Holocaust denier to Orthodox Jew.
Auschwitz (USA, Poland)
This short documentary explores the history of the concentration camp location, including its surprising pre-war history. The film, which was produced by Steven Spielberg and narrated by Meryl Streep, premiered at Auschwitz with 300 Holocaust survivors in attendance.
Junction 48 (USA, Germany, Israel)
Palestinian rapper Kareem struggles as he gains popularity in the Tel Aviv hip hop scene, in this film written by Israeli-American producer Oren Moverman and Israeli-Arab rapper Tamer Nafar (who also plays the main character). Kareem’s rise to fame brings on problems, including conflicts with Jewish artists and disapproval from his girlfriend’s family.
Joe’s Violin (USA)
A 91-year-old Holocaust survivor forms an unlikely connection with a 12-year-old underprivileged girl when he donates his violin to an instrument drive in this short documentary.
The Tenth Man (Argentina)
Ariel returns home to the Jewish quarter of Buenos Aires, as he reflects on his religion and his childhood. The film focuses on Ariel’s relationship with his father, who during his childhood always eagerly rushed to make a minyan (hence the title) whenever it was needed in the Jewish community, at the expense of spending time with his family.
This short film, directed by film student Ben Hakim, follows a single mom who kills people on a daily basis in her job as a human drone operator. Hakim explores the moral dilemmas of the profession and whether the main character can manage to separate her job from her family life.
A smitten Jewish boy tries to get the girl of his dreams by impressing her Jamaican family in this short romantic comedy, set in a racially tense 1990s New York.
Moriah Films is a division of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and is responsible for a dozen documentaries of Jewish interest. Filmmaker Richard Trank has been with Moriah from the beginning, a journey that included an Academy Award in 1997 for “The Long Way Home,” about Holocaust Survivors rebuilding their lives and the State of Israel.
Of all his productions, his latest, “The Prime Ministers: The Pioneers,” was probably the easiest. It seems all he had to do was point a couple of cameras and say “Action.”
Those cameras were pointed at Yehuda Avner, author of the book on which the film is based and a long-time Israeli government official. He is also a heck of a raconteur.
Avner was born in Manchester, England, immigrated to Israel in 1947, and eventually took on a number of public relations and English speech writing roles for five Prime Ministers. He also served as an ambassador to England, Ireland and Australia.
“The Prime Ministers” is the first of two films based on his 715-page book of the same name. “Pioneers” covers Avner’s work with Levi Eshkol and Gold Meir, and with Yitzhak Rabin when Rabin was Israel’s U.S. Ambassador.
The second, “Soldiers and Peacemakers,” is scheduled for release in the spring; it covers Avner’s work with Rabin as prime minister as well as with Menachem Begin and Shimon Peres.
The documentary is less biographical than anecdotal. The average viewer will learn a lot; students of Israeli history, already familiar with much of what “The Pioneers” contains, will still pick up a nugget or two and find the documentary a worthwhile and pleasant experience.
When Kings Point in Delray Beach, Fla., opened in 1972, it wasn’t the Promised Land, though many thought it was close. For a $1,500 down payment, refugees from New York exchanged cold winters, drugs and crime for a gated community filled with their peers.
First-time director Sari Gilman’s late grandmother was a resident for a while, sparking a five-year long project. The result is “Kings Point,” a documentary short that was nominated for an Oscar and that premieres March 11 on HBO (with subsequent play dates throughout the month).
I should confess that like Sari, I have a familial relationship with the facility. My in-laws moved there in the mid-1970s and lived first in Saxony J (a one bedroom unit) and then Monaco C (two bedrooms). My family spent many overcrowded vacations there.
But the facility was great. There were indoor and outdoor pools, activities, card games and mah-jongg. There weren’t enough hours in the day for residents to do everything. Or so it seemed. But then time happened. Spouses and friends died, and loneliness set in.
“Kings Point” focuses on several seniors who ruminate about aging. They don’t come across as happy or sad, but resigned to their fate in a Peggy Lee “Is This All There Is?” kind of way.
Every frame in Rachel Loube’s “Every Tuesday: A Portrait of the New Yorker Cartoonists,” now screening at the Boston Jewish Film Festival, together with “The Art of Spiegelman,” threatens to dissolve into cliché. There is the premise itself: Every Tuesday, New Yorker cartoonists, young and old, submit their work, and then go for lunch. It is a beautiful, invisible New York tradition, the kind that Gay Talese would have celebrated in luxurious prose, the kind that the media is intent on reminding us no longer exist. The restaurant is appropriately shabby. The food scenes are all set to jazz.
There is no question that if “Every Tuesday” were any longer it would become unbearably familiar and impossible to watch. But at 20 minutes, it’s perfect. The cartoonists come alive in short bursts. Zachary Kanin, a Harvard Lampoon alumnus, is legitimately hilarious. Their very different apartments and workspaces quickly tell us about their different styles and approach to the craft. We watch some cartoonists revise and edit their work on imposing Apple Monitors, and others retrace their cartoons on top of a light box. Some aim for perfection, while others have started to embrace artistic imperfection. Wouldn’t it be better if a rectangle weren’t so rectangular?
“Every Tuesday” is everything you want in a short film: It brings you into a unique world, gives you enough information to make you feel like you understand the key issues, and leaves you absolutely wanting more.
Watch a teaser for ‘Every Tuesday’:
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