The 32nd annual New York Jewish Film Festival (NYJFF) will take place January 12 through 23, 2023 presenting the finest documentary, narrative, and short films from around the world that explore the Jewish experience.
Presented by the Jewish Museum and Film at Lincoln Center, the festival will feature in-person screenings at the Walter Reade Theater, 165 West 65th Street, NYC, and two virtual offerings. The NYJFF line-up showcases 29 wide-ranging and exciting features and shorts (21 features and 8 shorts), including the latest works by dynamic voices in international cinema, as well as the world premiere of a new 4K restoration of the groundbreaking 1997 documentary A Life Apart: Hasidism in America by Oren Rudavsky and Menachem Daum.
In the Opening Film, America, director Ofir Raul Graizer follows up on the international success of his acclaimed drama The Cakemaker with an enveloping and visually sumptuous story about sexual identity and personal trauma, following a swimming coach living in Chicago whose return to his home country, Israel, after his father dies, triggers a series of life-altering events for him and his childhood friend.
This year’s Centerpiece is Charlotte Salomon: Life and the Maiden, receiving its world premiere at the NYJFF. This new documentary on artist Charlotte Salomon by Delphine Coulin and Muriel Coulin offers an intimate and expansive look at the young woman who, though she was murdered in Auschwitz at age 26, completed an astounding amount of art, including some 1,300 paintings, before her deportation. The film delves into her youth in Berlin, her escape to the south of France after the rise of the Nazis, her love affair with a music teacher, and the creative explosion that resulted in her brilliant body of multimedia work.
The Closing Film is Alegría. Filmmaker Violeta Salama makes her moving and wise feature debut with this layered, comic-tinged drama about women breaking free from patriarchal tradition in a contemporary Jewish diasporic community. Set in Melilla, an autonomous, multicultural Spanish city on Africa’s north coast, the film centers on Alegría, a single mother who has returned to her hometown from Mexico for her niece’s Orthodox Jewish wedding, although Alegría does not acknowledge her own Jewish heritage. Salama’s film sensitively depicts Alegría coming to terms with her roots and the cultural past she rejected, while reconnecting with family and friends.
Several other notable highlights in this year’s festival include June Zero, Where Life Begins, I Am Not, This Is National Wake, and Krzysztof Wodiczko: The Art of Un-War.
In June Zero, from American filmmaker Jake Paltrow, the 1961 trial of Adolf Eichmann, architect of the mass murder of Jews during World War II, is revisited from the three disparate perspectives of Eichmann’s Moroccan prison guard; a Polish Holocaust survivor who helped capture the infamous Nazi war criminal; and a 13-year-old Jewish Libyan immigrant. Based on true accounts, Paltrow’s gripping and surprising new drama reminds us that the same histories are experienced differently by people all over the world.
Set in the bucolic Calabrian countryside during the citron harvest, Where Life Begins, an intimate and elegantly rendered romantic drama about family, faith, and freedom, is the directorial debut of veteran French actor Stéphane Freiss. The film follows the blossoming attraction between the farm owner and a rabbi’s daughter who is questioning the constraints of her religious upbringing.
Acclaimed filmmaker Tomer Heymann’s latest documentary, I Am Not, is a deeply emotional work that follows the life-changing journey of Oren, who was adopted from Guatemala by an Israeli family when he was a baby and now returns to his birth country to seek out his biological family and sense of self.
In This Is National Wake, her energetic and revelatory directorial debut, Mirissa Neff tells the amazing story of National Wake, a group of young Jewish and Black musicians who dared to start a band in 1979 against the rupture and racism of South Africa’s apartheid regime.
Maria Niro’s compelling documentary Krzysztof Wodiczko: The Art of Un-War pays tribute to the artistry and political commitment of Polish artist Krzysztof Wodiczko, whose large-scale works, often projected onto the facades of major architectural monuments, disrupt the complacency of a public increasingly inured to violence.
Several films in this year’s line-up incorporate the Yiddish language, including: Jewish Life in Lwow, Shaul Goskind and Yitzhak Goskind; A Letter to Mother, Joseph Green and Leon Trystand; A Life Apart: Hasidism in America, Oren Rudavsky and Menachem Daum; and SHTTL, Ady Walter.
See below for the slate of films with full descriptions and schedule.
Ofir Raul Graizer
Israel/Germany/Czech Republic, 2022, 127 min.
Hebrew with English subtitles
Following the international success of his acclaimed romantic drama The Cakemaker, writer, director, and editor Ofir Raul Graizer presents an enveloping and visually sumptuous story about sexual identity and personal trauma, following a man whose return to Israel triggers a series of life-altering events. Having lived in Chicago for a decade, Israeli swimming coach Eli (Michael Moshonov) goes back to Tel Aviv after the sudden death of his estranged father. While there, he visits his childhood friend Yotam (Ofri Biterman) and Yotam’s fiancée, Iris (Oshrat Ingedashet), with whom he runs a flower shop; however, the reunion leads to a shocking turn of events that will affect everyone’s lives forever. The patient storytelling style Graizer forged in his previous film is in full evidence in America, a penetrating, tactile study of the inner lives of three people who will forever be physically and emotionally entwined, set in dramatic natural locations.
Charlotte Salomon: Life and the Maiden
Delphine Coulin and Muriel Coulin
France, 2022, 75 min.
French with English subtitles
The extraordinary life of artist Charlotte Salomon has inspired novels, plays, operas, ballets, and even an animated film. This new documentary by Delphine Coulin and Muriel Coulin offers an intimate and expansive new look at the young woman who, though she was murdered in Auschwitz at age 26, completed an astounding amount of art, including some 1,300 paintings, before her deportation. Narrated as though from her own voice and featuring a cascade of her images, the film delves into her youth in Berlin, her escape to the south of France after the rise of the Nazis, her love affair with a music teacher, and the creative explosion that resulted in her brilliant body of multimedia work—ahead-of-their-time creations mixing gouache, text, and music. The film features the voices of Vicky Krieps, Mathieu Amalric, and Hanna Schygulla.
Spain, 2021, 104 min.
Spanish and Chelja with English subtitles
Violeta Salama makes her moving and wise feature debut with this layered, comic-tinged drama about women breaking free from patriarchal tradition in a contemporary Jewish diasporic community. Set in Melilla, an autonomous, multicultural Spanish city on Africa’s north coast, the film centers on Alegría (Cecilia Suárez), a single mother who has returned to her hometown from Mexico for her niece Yael’s Orthodox Jewish wedding, although Alegría does not acknowledge her own Jewish heritage. Salama’s film sensitively depicts Alegría coming to terms with her roots and the cultural past she has rejected, while reconnecting with family and friends. It features a standout performance from Suárez and a gorgeous evocation of a fascinating and beautiful corner of the world not often seen on-screen.
MAIN SLATE FILMS
Israel, 2022, 108 min.
Hebrew with English subtitles
An ultra-Orthodox twenty-something couple in Israel, unable to conceive children, find their lives upended in this provocative drama about faith and sexual exploitation. After Naftali travels to Ukraine during Rosh Hashanah to pray for a child, his wife, Feigi, is left alone with her in-laws, who invite the rabbi Elijah for the holiday. Claiming to be a healer of barren women, Elijah convinces Feigi to undergo his treatment, starting a chain of events that lead to crises of belief, conscience, and marriage for the couple once Naftali returns. Director Mordechai Vardi based his film on true events, raising fundamental theological questions and revealing the vulnerability of women living within such enclosed religious environments.
Israel, 2022, 90 min.
Hebrew, Amharic, and English with English subtitles
In his vital, gripping film, director Micah Smith brings a historical moment to vivid life through a hybrid of documentary and dramatic narrative. Smith returns to the politically complex May 1991 event known as Operation Solomon. Israeli diplomat Asher Naim travels to Ethiopia to act as negotiator for the release of 15,000 Ethiopian Jews, hoping to save them from a country plagued by famine and civil war. This seemingly altruistic mission, however, is thrown into doubt and skepticism when Naim begins to suspect the rescue mission might be a publicity stunt for his home country, and the Ethiopians wonder whether they have been little more than pawns. At the same time that the escalating situation on the ground becomes combustible, Naim’s crisis of faith grows.
Farewell, Mr. Haffmann
France, 2021, 116 min.
French with English subtitles
In this acclaimed, engrossing drama set in Paris during the Nazi occupation, beloved French actor Daniel Auteuil (Jean de Florette) stars as Joseph Haffmann, a Jewish jeweler who sends his family away to safety, with the intention of joining them later. Haffmann has decided to hand off the business to his trusted assistant François Mercier (Gilles Lellouche) and Mercier’s wife, Blanche (Sara Giraudeau), who are recently married and struggling to conceive a child—though Haffmann’s plans go awry when he is unable to escape the city under the watch of German authorities. After Haffmann returns home, the Merciers agree to let him stay in their basement, but they strike a deal that will change the course of all their lives. Based on a play by Jean-Philippe Daguerre, Farewell, Mr. Haffmann is a twisting, turning, and satisfying tale that reveals the complex and contradictory sides of humanity pushed to its darkest limits.
France, 2021, 101 min.
French with English subtitles
A warm, witty, and wildly stylish testament to women working together, this Paris-set drama stars the captivating and elegant French standout Nathalie Baye as Esther, a seamstress for Dior on Avenue Montaigne. Now on the verge of retirement, the cutting and acerbic Esther has given her life to her job, which has created conflict in her personal relations, including with her estranged daughter. After an unexpected and seemingly random course of events brings her face to face with Jade (Lyna Khoudri), a young woman from the Parisian banlieues, Esther makes the surprising decision to pass down her skills to Jade, taking her on as an intern and giving her life a new meaning and aspect. French writer-director Sylvie Ohayon’s second feature is an absorbing and tactile experience whose delight is equally attributable to its caustic, smart script and its precise focus on the hard work that goes into creating high fashion.
I Am Not
Israel/Guatemala, 2022, 96 min.
Hebrew, English, and Spanish with English subtitles
Acclaimed documentary filmmaker Tomer Heymann’s latest film is a deeply emotional work that follows an outcast teenager’s life-changing journey. Oren was adopted from Guatemala by an Israeli family when he was a baby. Long unable to find his place in society, the teenager has been subject to ridicule and racism for years, while at the same time dealing with recurring false diagnoses of mental illness. Oren decides to take up a small video camera and document his own life. He embarks on a quest back to the country of his birth to seek out his biological family in the hopes of better defining his own identity.
I Like It Here
USA, 2022, 88 min.
An American documentarian for more than 50 years, Ralph Arlyck, at age 82, has created one of his most personal films. A clear-eyed meditation on the reality and surprising beauties of aging, I Like It Here finds the filmmaker reflecting on his life with discursive wit and composure while spending time with friends and lovers, neighbors and colleagues, children and grandchildren. As Arlyck reckons with the physical and emotional obstacles of growing old, he also considers the tranquility and pleasure that can come with moving into one’s final years. Threaded through with wistfulness rather than sadness or regret, situating the filmmaker within the natural beauty of his upstate New York farm, this is an eloquent cinematic statement about finding inner peace and accepting life in all its joys and challenges.
Jews of the Wild West
USA, 2022, 83 min.
Widening the historical lens, this documentary focuses on an under-explored aspect of Jewish history: the role that Jews played in Western American expansion, both in real life and in the movies. Through a tapestry of archival footage, photographs, and interviews, Amanda Kinsey’s pioneering film entertainingly excavates the past through the stories of an array of people, from known names like Max Aronson (the real “Bronco Billy Anderson” of early Hollywood) and Levi Strauss, to some you may not have heard about, like the Prussian immigrant who became a tribal leader in New Mexico and the Sephardic painter and photographer who documented the Kansas, Colorado, and Utah territories in the 1800s. Kinsey also surveys the experiences of those persecuted European Jews who picked up stakes and left the American Northeast, forging westward for better opportunities. Through the narratives of such trailblazers, and interviews with contemporary Jewish Westerners, the film tells a tale of American resilience and determination too often left out of the official history books.
USA/Israel, 2022, 105 min.
Hebrew and English with English subtitles
The 1961 trial of Adolf Eichmann, architect of the mass murder of the Jews during World War II, is revisited in a gripping and surprising new vision from American filmmaker Jake Paltrow (The Good Night). This Hebrew-language drama—based on true accounts—tells its story from the intertwined perspectives of three largely unrelated figures: Eichmann’s Moroccan prison guard; a Polish Holocaust survivor who helped capture the infamous Nazi war criminal; and a 13-year-old Jewish Libyan immigrant. Largely shot on 16mm film, Paltrow’s vividly textured work uses these disparate points of view to paint an image of the diasporic Jewish people and, in its unorthodox narrative approach, reminds us that the same histories are experienced differently by people all over the world, and we are connected through shared traumatic pasts.
Krzysztof Wodiczko: The Art of Un-War
USA, 2022, 61 min.
English, French, Italian, and Japanese with English subtitles
Polish artist Krzysztof Wodiczko has devoted his career to work that calls attention to the inhumanity of war, imploring us to dismantle and change our perceptions of human conflict so we can drive toward peace—a concept he calls “Un-War.” Now 79 years old, Wodiczko is the subject of a compelling documentary by Maria Niro. The film pays tribute to his artistry and political commitment, demonstrating how his large-scale works, which include slide and video projections onto the sides and facades of major architectural sites and monuments, serve to disrupt the complacency of a public increasingly inured to violence. Delving into Wodiczko’s extensive array of stirring installations as well as his own past traumas—which include his having been born in 1943 Warsaw, two days before the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, as well as growing up in a Communist Poland still feeling the tragic aftereffects of World War II—Niro’s film also features interviews with fellow artists and activists in its pursuit of the heart and soul of a major artist whose work will, unfortunately, never be irrelevant.
Poland, 2022, 115 min.
Polish with English subtitles
In this gripping coming-of-age story set against the volatile backdrop of late-1960s Communist Warsaw, Hania, a student at the state theater school, experiences political awakening and her own personal revolution. At first, Hania is blinded by love, falling intensely for technology student Janek, whom she meets at a play opening; gradually, however, she comes to realize that her fellow Jewish citizens—including Hania’s doctor father—are being persecuted in a series of antisemitic purges conducted in response to the hate-fueled rhetoric of Poland’s leader, Władysław Gomułka. When her family decides to emigrate for their own safety, Hania doesn’t want to join them, and instead tries to build a life with Janek. However, things spiral out of control, leading to a powerful climax set during the infamous events of March 1968. Inspired by a moment in time that shaped the social consciousness of director Krzysztof Lang, the film depicts the momentous collision of history and romance.
The Narrow Bridge
Australia, 2022, 76 min.
Arabic, Hebrew, and English with English subtitles
The Narrow Bridge is an eye-opening work of nonfiction about trauma and healing that follows four individuals, Palestinian and Israeli, who have each suffered unimaginable grief—the loss of a loved one to violence—but who manage to use their misfortunes to find a way to healing and reconciliation. The film’s four main subjects, Bushra, Rami, Meytal, and Bassam, are part of an organization called Israeli Palestinian Bereaved Families, a union of people who aim to turn their personal devastation into social change through workshops, talks, and public memorials. As Australian filmmaker and trauma psychologist Esther Takac’s sensitively drawn documentary shows, their objectives are met with strong opposition, yet they are driven along their brave path toward some form of peace that exists beyond politics.
Austria, 2022, 110 min.
German with English subtitles
This dynamic, lavishly mounted historical drama about the scars of war and the long road to revenge explores the lives of Austrian Jews in the years following World War II and the legacies of anti-Semitism and racism that follow them. Set in Vienna in the 1960s, Schächten follows a young Jewish businessman named Victor who bears witness to an unthinkable miscarriage of justice: the acquittal of an SS commandant who oversaw the murder of Victor’s mother, sister, and grandparents when he was a child. As a result, Victor loses faith in the ability of the legal system to mete out proper punishment and vows instead to take the law into his own hands. Thomas Roth’s film sensitively handles difficult subject matter and builds to a haunting conclusion.
Ukraine/France, 2022, 114 min.
Yiddish and Ukrainian with English subtitles
This ambitious and technically astonishing film tells the expansive, multi-character story of a Jewish village in Ukraine on the border with Poland 24 hours before Nazi Germany invades the Soviet Union. Shot in a single take in Ukraine, the film unspools with our knowledge of imminent terror and destruction looming, while at the same time focusing on the vitality of lives about to be destroyed. Featuring a remarkable cast that includes Moshe Lobel (who appeared in Broadway’s Yiddish Fiddler on the Roof revival) and Yiddish-fluent actor Saul Rubinek, this is a ruminative, philosophical work of naturalism that insightfully depicts a place brimming with vibrancy and the romance, politics, and intrigue of everyday life.
This Is National Wake
South Africa/USA, 2022, 66 min.
In her energetic and revelatory directorial debut, Mirissa Neff tells the amazing story of young musicians who dared to start a band together against the rupture and racism of South Africa’s apartheid regime. Launched in 1979, National Wake was the collaboration of a Jewish guitarist from Johannesburg, Ivan Kadey, and two Black musician brothers from Soweto, Gary and Punka Khoza, at a time when it was illegal for them to play or live together. Though the government shut them down, the bandmates filmed their rebellious, brave performances on Super 8, capturing themselves for posterity. Neff uses this archival footage, along with audio interviews, to create a grainy, visually appropriate plunge into the past, telling the immersive story of a short-lived yet remarkable countercultural attempt at using music to fight an entrenched, racist world.
Where Life Begins
Italy/France, 2022, 101 min.
Italian and French with English subtitles
Set in the bucolic Calabrian countryside, this intimate and elegantly rendered romantic drama about family, faith, and freedom is the directorial debut of veteran French actor Stéphane Freiss. An ultra-Orthodox family has arrived in the south of Italy from their home in eastern France to assist with the annual harvest of the citron fruits used during the Jewish holiday of Sukkot. Among them is Esther (Lou de Laâge), a rabbi’s daughter who is increasingly dissatisfied with her life, chafing at the bonds of her religious upbringing and resentful of her imminent arranged marriage. When she meets and feels a growing attraction for the farm’s owner, Elio (Riccardo Scamarcio), she dares to imagine a different, potentially happier path for herself. Where Life Begins is an intelligent and honest depiction of the pain of questioning one’s faith and community that offers no easy answers.
Israel, 2021, 55 min.
Hebrew with English subtitles
Set in Sderot, a city in the south of Israel, this loving documentary portrait follows the life, culture, and rituals of an 84-year-old named Yamna. A miracle worker and a righteous woman, Yamna is regularly approached by people asking for help. Ilanit Swissa’s film frames Yamna’s life in prismatic fashion, allowing us to get to know her through those seeking her blessings, including a seemingly infertile woman who wants to get pregnant and a grandson who dreams of success in the music industry. At the same time, Yamna hopes to pass her mystical powers down to her daughter, Shula, though Shula has yet to discover how to embody them. In her observational work of nonfiction, Swissa portrays this unique and delightful individual with a combination of joy and curiosity.
Turkey, 2021, 18 min.
Turkish with English subtitles
In Turkish director Sami Morhayim’s provocative drama, young Susam, on the morning of his bar mitzvah, locks himself in his bedroom and refuses to leave. His family is unable to convince him to come out and, abiding by strict Shabbat rules, cannot break the door down, leading to an intellectual debate about religious faith and manhood.
A Letter to Mother
Joseph Green and Leon Trystand
Poland, 1939, 106 min.
Yiddish with English subtitles
World Premiere of 35mm Film Restoration by the National Center for Jewish Film
A classic of Yiddish cinema, A Letter to Mother (also known as The Eternal Song) was among the final Yiddish films made in Poland before the Nazi invasion. Set in the years leading up to World War I, Joseph Green and Leon Trystand’s film follows Dobrish (Lucy German), a mother of three children trying to provide for her family in a town in Poland (now Ukraine), after her husband moves to America. Struggling against the ever-increasing challenges of poverty and war, Dobrish and her children finally strike out for New York with help from the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) in the hopes of rebuilding their lives for a better future. The most financially successful Yiddish film of its era, and a hit in New York, where it opened just two weeks after Germany’s blitzkrieg over Poland, the landmark A Letter to Mother is a moving work of traditional melodrama and a metaphor for the displacements facing European Jews in 1939.
Jewish Life in Lwow
Shaul Goskind and Yitzhak Goskind
Poland, 1939, 10 min.
Yiddish with English subtitles
This rare 1939 portrait of the daily lives of Jews in Lwow, Poland, now Lviv, Ukraine, home to a thriving Jewish community before World War II, is one of a handful of surviving films from Warsaw-based filmmakers Shaul Goskind and Yitzhak Goskind. Full of vibrant images of stylish women, thriving markets, parks, and promenades, this short documentary captures a prosperous world on the precipice of obliteration by the coming Nazi invasion.
A Life Apart: Hasidism in America
Oren Rudavsky and Menachem Daum
USA, 1997, 96 min.
English, Russian, and Yiddish with English subtitles
World Premiere of 4K Restoration
Celebrating its 25th anniversary, this groundbreaking documentary was among the first American films to offer a full, distinctive, inside look at the traditional Eastern European Jewish communities that found their most vital enclaves in America after mass migrations post–World War II. Taking an analytical and highly informative approach to its subject, Menachem Daum and Oren Rudavsky’s film—which premiered at the New York Jewish Film Festival in January 1997—looks at the rituals, beliefs, challenges, and daily lives of Hasidic Jews in New York City. Narrated by Sarah Jessica Parker and Leonard Nimoy and featuring a score by klezmer musician and composer Yale Strom, A Life Apart presents a plurality of voices to paint a complex and lively picture of a people who had to struggle to establish their community amid ignorance and anti-Semitism.
Shorts by Women
USA, 2022, 5 min.
Yiddish with English subtitles
Employing beautiful, autumnal animation, this short by Yulia Ruditskaya, an immigrant artist from Belarus who lives in New York, is inspired by a poem by the Ukraine-born Yiddish poet A. Lutsky and uses nonlinear narration and phantasmagoric imagery.
Belarus, 2021, 10 min.
Russian with English subtitles
This gorgeously animated fairy tale from Belarus tells the story of reconciling with the loss of a loved one. Using an evocative collage style, Nata Korneyeva depicts the possibility of renewal and the healing magic of music that transcends death.
My Parent, Neal
USA, 2021, 9 min.
Hannah Saidiner uses vivid, colorful animation to reflect on her parent, with whom she shares a birthday, coming out as transgender and how their relationship evolved. My Parent, Neal evokes its emotional landscape through the depiction of domestic spaces and meaningful intimate objects.
USA, 2022, 4 min.
The new film from artist and filmmaker Danielle Durchslag playfully interrogates the cultural prevalence of Fiddler on the Roof, showing a group of schoolchildren singing a darkly comedic, lyrically updated version of the show’s most mournful tune, “Anatevka.”
Castles in the Sky
USA, 2022, 33 min.
English and Yiddish with English subtitles
Filmmaker and professor Pearl Gluck’s provocative latest dramatic short film centers on Malke, a Holocaust survivor and sex-ed teacher who has been leading a secret life for decades: performing slam poetry on the Lower East Side. Castles in the Sky features commanding performances from actor Lynn Cohen, who died in 2020, and poet Venus Thrash, who died in 2021.
Make Me a King
United Kingdom, 2021, 16 min.
English and Yiddish with English subtitles
Award-winning British filmmaker Sofia Olins directed this delightful queer narrative about a young Jewish drag king performer. Though shunned by their parents, the nonbinary Ari continues to pursue their dream, while honoring the legacy of real-life Yiddish vaudeville drag king legend Pepi Litman.