The fifth annual Boulder Jewish Film Festival was billed as “a festival with heart” to denote the inspirational nature of the films this year. This year’s festival featured an unusually large number of warm-hearted movies, the kind that leave audiences feeling good – or hopeful, or inspired, or simply awed.
Indeed, many of the films presented in the recently concluded festival revealed the heart and soul of the Jewish people. Much of the stimulating talkback discussion focused on emotions, personal insights and inter-personal connections. Many participants took time to tell me how meaningful the films were, a sentiment echoed on the survey.
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Hearts swelled with pride at the opening night screening of “On the Map,” with Tal Brody and Dani Menkin. Tal Brody is a sports star and a national hero. Tal’s decision to forfeit an NBA career to play basketball for Israel impressed the audience. Tal followed his heart, and ended up making a real difference in the world. Dani Menkin devoted several years of his life to preserving Tal’s legacy. Hearing Tal and Dani discuss the importance of a sports victory that revolutionized Israel’s image in the world and at home was an experience not soon forgotten.
Hearts were torn by the combination of sadness and joy in “Wedding Doll,” a bittersweet Israeli drama about a radiant, naïve young woman whose dreams of a “normal” life may be beyond her reach – or are they? “Wedding Doll” was one of several films addressing the issue of limitations imposed on the differently abled, in contrast to the decision not to live a limited life. The question of what constitutes personhood came up over and over during the festival.
Hearts certainly beat faster during our two thrillers: “Remember” and “A Grain of Truth.” Also, suspense quickened the pulse at “Wild Tales,” which kept audiences in a state of shock and amazement at the sheer audacity of the six short films, each drop-dead funny and intensely dark.
An exploration of the extremes of human behavior – revenge and retribution chief among them – “Wild Tales” thrilled audiences on closing night. Easily the most dazzling piece of cinema in the festival, it had everyone talking. A handful of people walked out scratching their heads, while the majority went crazy for the brilliant drama from up-and-coming Jewish Argentinian filmmaker Damian Szifron.
Hearts melted at “My Hero Brother” and “39 Pounds of Love,” which provided viewers with inspirational stories depicting the relationship between people with disabilities and their family and friends. In both films, we admire the people facing challenges, and admire even more the way they are treated as people.
“A Heartbeat Away” may have been the most heartfelt evening of the festival. Our tribute to Dr. Bill Shiovitz reminded us that we have heroes in our own community, worthy of a film, and it was very special to hear his story while honoring the Boulder medical community. Bill has been both a beloved doctor and a patient, and his story complemented the film beautifully.
“Fever at Dawn” and “Big Sonia” – two audience favorites – tugged at heartstrings. Both stories of survival deal with the impossibility of “recovering” from the Holocaust, and yet allow us to marvel at human resilience. “Fever at Dawn,” one of the most cherished films in the festival, is one dear to my heart. a touching and unassuming little film, shot in black and white, which sums up so many of the themes of the heart. “Fever at Dawn” may be coming back for another showing.
The “audience favorite” will be announced next week after the surveys are closed. Read the BJN next week to see what everyone said about the festival!
Another film about heart – it has the word love in the title – was “For the Love of Spock,” which left Leonard Nimoy fans with a sympathetic portrait of a hugely talented human being who turned to his Jewish heritage while playing an alien. Generation Spock, it turned out at the full house, includes a wide range of pop culture enthusiasts.
“Last Laugh” took on a tough subject, humor and the Holocaust, but did so with great tenderness and affection. The Holocaust survivor who serves as a guide in the documentary has much the same warmth and spirit, and love of life, as Big Sonia herself.
Meanwhile, survey results are in from the national Jewish Film Presenters Network. Favorite films of the year: “Dough,” which we showed last year; “Remember,” which we showed this year; “Once in a Lifetime,” which we showed at CU last year; “Son of Saul,” a last-minute entry last year with three sold-out screenings; and “Wedding Doll,” which we showed this year – and was one of the few films not to have a full house! Go figure.