The Jewish Museum and Film at Lincoln Center will present the virtual 2021 New York Jewish Film Festival (NYJFF) virtually from January 13 through 26 showcasing 17 features and seven shorts.
The Opening Night selection is Here We Are, a moving tale of parental devotion about a divorced dad who goes on a road trip with his son with autism. Winner of multiple Ophir Awards, including Best Director for Nir Bergman, the film examines the intricacies of love, disability, and community with gentle humor.
This year’s Centerpiece film is Winter Journey, co-directed by Anders Østergaard and Erzsébet Rácz and inspired by classical radio host Martin Goldsmith’s book The Inextinguishable Symphony: A True Story of Music and Love. The late veteran actor Bruno Ganz stars in this father-son story based on the lives of Goldsmith and his musician parents, who fled Nazi Germany. Told with layered visuals and sounds, the film deftly combines history and drama.
The Closing Night selection is Irmi, a documentary that tells the inspiring story of Irmi Selver, a Jewish refugee who faced tragedy while escaping Nazi Germany in the 1930s but went on to live a long, resilient, and colorful life. Co-directed by Susan Fanshel and Veronica Selver (Irmi’s daughter), Irmi combines archival images, and interviews with a narration taken from Irmi’s memoirs and voiced by the legendary actress Hanna Schygulla.
Another notable film in this year’s festival is Shared Legacies: The African American-Jewish Civil Rights Alliance. This searing documentary delves deep into the longstanding relationship between Jewish and Black communities in the United States. Director and clinical therapist Dr. Shari Rogers shows how this union originated in a mutual recognition of the suffering of segregation, violence, and bigotry; and in the bonds of strength that emerged with the formation of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909 and the rise of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the ’50s. But she also illustrates how this alliance has diminished in recent years. The film features archival footage and current interviews with leaders, witnesses, and activists, including the late Congressman John Lewis, UN Ambassador Andrew Young, the scholar Susannah Heschel, and many others. Shared Legacies is presented collaboratively by Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan, the Jewish Museum, and Film at Lincoln Center. The film will be shown in the JCC’s Cinematters: NY Social Justice FIlm Festival, which takes place January 14-18.
Also included in the lineup is Asia directed by Ruthy Pribar, Israel’s entry to the 2021 Oscars. In the film, the spirited teenage daughter of a young single mother falls very ill, demanding an overhaul of their strained relationship.
The festival also includes the World Premiere of the National Center for Jewish Film’s new 4K digital restoration of Edgar G. Ulmer’s 1939 feature, The Light Ahead. Known as one of the greatest Russian shtetl films ever made, this restored classic – adapted from a Mendele Mokher Sforim tale – is a sweetly romantic part-comedy, part-satire.
2021 New York Jewish Film Festival Lineup
Wednesday, January 13
Here We Are
Nir Bergman, 2020, Israel/Italy, 92m
Hebrew with English
Set in Israel, Nir Bergman’s warm and moving tale of parental devotion focuses on divorced dad Aharon (Shai Avivi), who has given up his artistic career to look after his autistic son Uri (Noam Imber). They live a quiet life, and as the boy reaches young adulthood, his mother decides that he needs to be placed in a boarding facility more equipped to cater to his needs. Resistant at first, Aharon runs away on a road trip with Uri. But this break from their routine quickly leads to difficulties. With gentle humor, this beautiful film—winner of multiple Ophir Awards, including Best Director—examines the intricacies of love, disability and community, and change.
Thursday, January 14
Johanne Helgeland, 2020, Norway, 90m
Norwegian with English subtitles
Adapted from a best-selling novel by Maja Lunde, this film tells the story of four Norwegian children on the run from the Nazis during a freezing December in 1942. 10-year-old Gerda is a bright, energetic girl who enjoys reading The Three Musketeers and bugging her older brother, Otto. But suddenly, before Christmas, her parents are arrested. It turns out that they are part of the resistance and have secretly been sheltering two Jewish kids in their basement. Now bound together and on their own, the young group decides to leave Norway and cross the snowy terrain into neutral Sweden. Director Johanne Helgeland has crafted an accessible, family-friendly film about friendship, trust, and courage.
Olivia Peace, 2020, USA, 78m
This poignant and comic story traces the coming-of-age of two Jewish teenage girls—one white and straight, and the other Black and queer. Set in Rochester, NY, the film begins at the funeral service of their former Hebrew school classmate who suddenly commits suicide. A complicated romance unexpectedly arises as the best friends navigate their feelings about this tragedy and themselves, and try to make sense of their teacher’s well-meaning but misguided advice about grieving.
Friday, January 15
Ruthy Pribar, 2020, Israel, 85m
Hebrew and Russian with English subtitles
Asia (Alena Yiv) is the young single mother of the spirited teenager Vika (Shira Haas, the Emmy-nominated star of Netflix’s Unorthodox), a girl who spends her days at the skatepark. Based in Israel, they are immigrants from Russia. They co-exist as roommates, barely interacting, and often clashing in their small home. But when Vika falls very ill, their relationship demands an overhaul. Asia, a nurse, can no longer treat her daughter like an acquaintance. Through the act of devoting herself to Vika, Asia reconsiders why she has always held motherhood at an arm’s length. Meanwhile, Vika contends with a deep desire for romantic and sexual experience in the face of her increasing limitations. In time, she learns to accept Asia’s unconditional love and the possibilities that arise from their new reality. Ruthy Pribar’s beautiful and moving feature debut won multiple Ophir Awards, including Best Picture, and is Israel’s entry for the 2021 Academy Award for Best International Feature Film.
Shared Legacies: The African American-Jewish Civil Rights Alliance
Shari Rogers, 2020, USA, 95m
This searing documentary delves deep into the longstanding relationship between Jewish and Black communities in the US Director and clinical therapist Dr. Shari Rogers shows how this union originated in a mutual recognition of the suffering of segregation, violence, and bigotry; and in the bonds of strength that emerged with the formation of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909 and the rise of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the 1950s. But she also describes how this alliance has diminished in recent years. The film features archival footage and current interviews with leaders, witnesses, and activists, including the late great Congressman John Lewis, UN Ambassador Andrew Young, the scholar Susannah Heschel, and many others.
Sunday, January 17
Beth Elise Hawk, 2020, USA/Israel, 85m
English and Hebrew with English subtitles
Founded by the inspiring Dr. Nof Atamna-Ismaeel––the first Muslim Arab to win MasterChef Israel––the hugely popular A-sham Arabic Food Festival promotes social change through shared cuisines. Breaking Bread captures this annual event, where Jewish and Arab Israeli chefs collaborate on mouth-watering dishes, working together to transform traditional recipes and celebrate their unique cultural heritages.
The Red Orchestra
Carl-Ludwig Rettinger, 2020, Germany/Belgium/Israel, 112m
German, French, Hebrew, and English with English subtitles
This documentary re-examines the story of the Red Orchestra: the most important resistance network in Nazi Germany, whose operations extended from Berlin and Brussels to Paris. The leading figures of the group included Leopold Trepper and Harro Schulze-Boysen, who gathered military secrets to share with the Soviets. In 1942, Hitler’s henchmen were able to track down most of the group by picking up radio transmissions. The legacy of this extraordinary tale has long been compromised by contrasting viewpoints and politically tinged filmic interpretations from East and West Germany. Carl-Ludwig Rettinger illustrates this by carefully excerpting feature films made in the early 1970s and interspersing them with interviews with the descendants of the group’s members, offering a fresh approach and a well-rounded historical account.
Monday, January 18
Adventures of a Mathematician
Thor Klein, 2020, Germany/Poland/United Kingdom, 102m
Polish and English with English subtitles
This dramatic film is based on the true story of Stanislaw Ulam (Philippe Tlokinski), a Polish Jewish mathematician who studied in the U.S. during the late 1930s and became an American citizen after tragically losing many members of his family in the Holocaust. His skills led him to participate in the building of a hydrogen bomb in secret for the Manhattan Project. Adapted by Ulam’s autobiography of the same name, Adventures of a Mathematician explores the questions of duty and morality Ulam faced when the war ended in 1945. Some of the scientists on his team immediately resigned, and Ulam had to decide whether to continue working on such a potentially destructive task. Thor Klein weaves a warm and honest tale out of Ulam’s story, painting a deft portrait of a brilliant and ambitious man caught in an ethical crisis.
Tuesday, January 19
Eric Steel, 2020, USA, 118m
Adapted from a story by David Bezmozgis set in Brighton Beach in the 1980s, Minyan follows David, a young Russian Jewish man, as he comes to terms with his homosexuality. David is strongly attached to his family, his background, and his faith. His closest confidante is his recently widowed grandfather, Josef (Ron Rifkin). David wants to move in with him to help him grieve, and while securing an apartment for them, he gets to know an elderly male couple who live as “roommates” in the same building. This heartfelt introduction to romantic gay love is juxtaposed with scenes of David cruising the city for sex and meeting his own special person against the emerging backdrop of the AIDS epidemic. Told in a textured, understated manner, this is a powerful narrative debut by the director of the controversial documentary The Bridge.
The Sign Painter
Viestur Kairish, 2020, Latvia/Czech Republic/Lithuania, 112m
Latvian, German, Russian, and Yiddish with English subtitles
Acclaimed Latvian opera, stage, and film director Viestur Kairish presents the tragicomic story of Ansis, an easygoing sign painter with artistic ambitions. It is the 1940s, and Nazism is rising across Europe. Ansis is in love with a Jewish girl, Zisele, but his father forbids their relationship. A welcome distraction comes in the form of Naiga, a Christian girl, and Ansis unwittingly finds himself in a love triangle. Meanwhile, he is starting to understand that his job is not as simple as he’d assumed— the imagery and colors that he paints reflect the changing politics of his country.
Wednesday, January 20
The Cantor’s Last Cantata
Harvey Wang, 2020, USA, 12m
This delightful short film follows a local production of the 1947 fringe hit “Brooklyn Baseball Cantata” by a small reform Jewish synagogue in Brooklyn. Written by George Kleinsinger with lyrics by Michael Stratton, the composition tried to counterbalance the Brooklyn Dodgers’ 1930s losing streak by imagining a glorious World Series victory performance sung across the borough. It didn’t work the desired magic, but the charm of that effort continues to captivate the small ensemble at the heart of Harvey Wang’s film and their cantor, who is about to retire. We watch them as they rehearse, prepare, nosh, and finally perform with joy for their congregation.
Mimi and Panda
Miriam Luc-Berman & Panda Shi Berman, 2019, Canada, 4m
In this pair of succinct yet profound short films, first cousins Mimi and Panda reflect on their Chinese and Jewish identities and their family relationships.
Dhimitër Ismailaj-Valona, 2020, Albania, 32m
Albanian with English subtitles
This short narrative film is set in Nazi-occupied Albania in 1944. Ismail is a poor farmer. When two Jewish men on the run seek his help, he welcomes them and allows them to hide in his house. Ismail is upholding a centuries-old Albanian tradition named Besa, a national code of honor which demands that anyone who knocks on your door should be accepted at any cost, no matter their religion or ethnicity. But the Nazis also arrive at Ismail’s door, and he is forced to contend with sacrificing either his family or the guests in his home. Inspired by numerous true stories, director Dhimiter Ismailaj-Valona’s film gives a voice to the many Albanians who protected Jewish refugees at great danger to themselves during World War II.
Emily Cheeger, 2020, USA, 20m
Yiddish with English subtitles
By turns sweet and dark, Emily Cheeger’s humorous short about female empowerment in the Hasidic community involves an errant fish bone, facial hair, and a dazzling protagonist. Set in Brooklyn’s Borough Park, , Neshama (Melissa Weisz) is present at the death of a rebbe, which becomes the catalyst for an unprecedented shift in her mind and body. While infused with magical realism, this tale, set in Brooklyn’s Borough Park, examines the very real issues that many men and women in the ultra-Orthodox community face.
Mazel Tov Cocktail
Arkadij Khaet & Mickey Paatzsch, 2020, Germany, 30m
German and Russian with English subtitles
Khaet and Paatzsch’s entertaining and provocative short film swirls around the story of a 19-year-old Russian Jewish man living in Germany. Note: this film contains strong language.
Thursday, January 21
Anders Østergaard & Erzsébet Rácz, 2019, Denmark/Germany, 90m
English and German with English subtitles
Classical music radio host Martin Goldsmith wrote the book The Inextinguishable Symphony about his musician parents, who fled Nazi Germany. Before they left, however, they were able to play their instruments in a small orchestra that was set up by the Third Reich as a propaganda measure. Ironically, this gave them a form of shelter for a time. Co-directed by Anders Østergaard and Erzsébet Rácz, Winter Journey casts the late veteran German actor Bruno Ganz in his last role as Goldsmith’s father, George, who is interviewed in the film by his curious son (played by Harvey Friedman). This moving story, told with layered visuals and sounds, deftly combines history and drama. At one point in the film, as George mimics the Nazi official who stamped his visa, Ganz references his own performance as Hitler in 2004’s Downfall.
Friday, January 22
Love & Stuff
Judith Helfand, 2020, USA, 79m
Shortly after her mother’s passing, documentarian Judith Helfand adopted a baby girl, becoming an “old new” mother at the age of 50. To make room for the baby’s things, she had to sort through the mountains of “stuff” that her mother left behind in her New York apartment after a long life. In this personal documentary, Helfand is joined by her siblings as she examines, chooses, and discards objects from a multitude of heirlooms, photographs, and personal possessions, while speaking honestly and with humor of her memories, regrets, and love for her parents. Her poignant and beautiful film inspires conversations about family devotion and probes the connections between love and the objects we accumulate and pass on.
Screening with Love & Stuff:
Absolutely No Spitting
Judith Helfand, 2019, USA, 10m
The documentarian Judith Helfand adopted a daughter at the age of 50, becoming, in her own words, a “new old” mom. In this touching and vibrant short documentary, Helfand asks Theo, her bright four-year-old daughter, to spit––just this once!––into a saliva collection tube for the DNA tracing company, 23andMe. According to the test results, Helfand is 99.9% Ashkenazi Jewish. Her daughter is from a “rainbow” of countries throughout Europe, Asia, and Africa. The two of them embark on a quest to explore their shared and divergent heritage while Helfand reflects on love, community, family, religion, and race.
Oren Jacoby, 2019, USA, 82m
Jacoby’s star-studded documentary pays tribute to one of the most vibrant legacies of New York: the magic of Broadway. Plenty of stunning archival footage is interspersed with testimonies from theater professionals and actors—including Ian McKellen, Helen Mirren, Alec Baldwin, Hugh Jackman, Christine Baranski, Christopher Reeve, and John Lithgow. The film shines a light on the outstanding talent and the legendary producers who fought to put up shows; the constant shifts that they had to adapt creatively to; and the gradual gentrification of Times Square. Also included is a special behind-the-scenes peek at rehearsals for The Nap, a 2018 comedy by Richard Bean.
Sunday, January 24
Who’s Afraid of Alice Miller?
Daniel Howald, 2020, Switzerland, 101m
German, English, French, Swiss-German, and Polish with English subtitles
Born in 1923, Dr. Alice Miller became one of the world’s most famous psychotherapists. She was the bestselling author of The Drama of the Gifted Child and a celebrated advocate of children’s rights. However, when she died in 2010, her son Martin began to tell his own story. As a young boy, he suffered emotional and physical abuse at the hands of both his parents. Daniel Howald’s moving and meticulous documentary follows Martin as he embarks on a road trip throughout Europe with an old family friend from Arizona. They dive into archival research to uncover information about Martin’smother and father, and their relationships with each other and their son. This includes Dr. Miller’s narrow escape from Nazi-occupied Poland during World War II, which she never spoke about. Also in focus is transgenerational trauma and the lasting effects that these horrific experiences continue to have on families all over the world.
Monday, January 25
Kindertransports to Sweden
Gülseren Şengezer, 2019, Sweden/Austria, 94m
Swedish and German with English subtitles
Months before the outbreak of World War II, Jewish children from Germany, Austria, Poland, and beyond were sent without their parents to families and care homes in the UK, Belgium, France, the Netherlands, and Sweden to escape the Nazi terror. Featuring magnificent scenery, this powerful, elegantly made documentary records the personal accounts of four Jewish people who were placed in Sweden as children, capturing the feelings of loss and guilt they endured and the resilience with which they faced their new lives.
The Light Ahead
Edgar G. Ulmer, 1939, USA, 94 minutes
Yiddish with English subtitles
Known as one of the greatest Russian shtetl films, this restored 1939 classic by Edgar G. Ulmer—adapted from a Mendele Mokher Sforim tale—is a sweetly romantic part-comedy, part-satire. Featuring actors from New York’s Artef and Yiddish Art Theaters, the story follows an impoverished young couple, Fishke and Hodel, in their fictional village of Glupsk, near Odessa. They want to get married, and they dream of a future that transcends their own limitations and the constraints of the world. Ulmer, known as a master of film noir, turns the couple’s aspirations into a meditation on hope, love, and the Jewish faith. World premiere of the new 4K digital restoration by The National Center for Jewish Film.
Tuesday, January 26
Susan Fanshel & Veronica Selver, 2020, USA, 70m
This documentary tells the inspiring life story of Irmi Selver, a Jewish refugee who escaped from her hometown of Chemnitz, Germany in the 1930s during the rise of Nazism. With her husband and two children, she boarded a ship which tragically sunk in the English Channel. When Irmi awoke, having been rescued by the British Navy, she found that she had lost her family. After a period of grieving, she said aloud to her friends, “I choose to live.” Irmi went on to marry twice and have more children, and eventually moved to (and fell in love with) New York City. Co-directed by the filmmakers Veronica Selver (Irmi’s daughter) and Susan Fanshel, Irmi combines photographs, archival footage, and interviews with a narration taken from Irmi’s memoirs and voiced by the legendary actress Hanna Schygulla.