If enthusiastic audience response is any indication, this year’s Boulder Jewish Film Festival was exceptionally strong. It’s not that my taste suddenly improved. Rather, it was a remarkable year for international cinema. And thus it was a remarkable year for the festival in terms of quality.
The 6th annual festival consisted of 21 titles and 27 screenings in 11 days. We sold out 14 screenings, added seven additional screenings, and came close to filling the 250-seat Gordon Gamm Theater several times. Our all-important sponsorships continue to grow. Anecdotal audience feedback was phenomenal.
Now you have the chance to officially assess our success. We invite audiences to vote for their favorite film, and to rank the films they saw, in our annual survey. The Audience Award Winner will be announced Monday, March 26. CLICK HERE to take the 5-minute survey, and stay informed about future films.
The 21 films I selected this year reflect the current state of world cinema – its concerns and its quality. A spate of well-made, provocative and enjoyable films appeared in 2017, including an unusually large number of handsome, riveting feature films.
Hence, many of this year’s most popular films were acclaimed international dramas that happened to have Jewish themes or subjects.
There are more than 150 Jewish film festivals across the country, and most primarily rely on the abundance of wonderful features and documentaries produced specifically for this booming market. This year, for example, “Dreaming of a Jewish Christmas,” “Shalom Bollywood,” “The Invisibles,” and “Monkey Business” were directly aimed at a Jewish audience – and hit the bullseye.
However, many of our finest feature films came to us from the more prestigious world of international cinema. We sold out three screenings of “Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story,” which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival last April. (It returns to the Boedecker for a run in April.) Winner of the top prizes at Tribeca this year, “Keep the Change” drew more than 300 people to the Boulder JCC for opening night.
“Paradise” earned Andrei Konshalovsky the coveted best director prize when it premiered at the Venice International Film Festival and swept the Russian Oscars. “Bye Bye Germany,” which premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival, also has a long list of awards, and played at the Boulder International Film Festival a few weeks before our sold-out screenings.
While festivals like ours thrive on independent films that are often highly personal projects – films such as “Menashe” – we were blessed with some big-budget, high-end productions this year. “Persona Non Grata,” produced by Japan in commemoration of the end of WW II 70 years earlier, was filmed in English in America with a Japanese-American Hollywood director. The long-overdue tribute to the “Japanese Schindler” was created for a mass market that includes Japan and America.
Similarly, “An Act of Defiance,” which traces the formative days of the anti-apartheid movement, is a Dutch film intended for wide release in South Africa, Europe, and the United States.
“Sammy Davis Jr.: I Gotta Be Me” is also a lavish tribute created for American audiences; his conversion story may be of special – but by no means exclusive – interest to his co-religionists.
Because I view between 120-150 titles each year in order to select 18-22, and because I also see films outside the Jewish film festival circuit, I am able to observe shifts and trends from year to year. The large number of current films exploring Orthodoxy did not escape my notice, for example, and we programmed the four best for our series, “The Orthodox World in Focus.” One of the highlights of the festival for me was having Leah Wilhelm and Yehudis Fishman speak at “The Wedding Plan,” and Rabbi Yisroel Wilhelm speak at “Menashe.” The films provided an opportunity for audiences to better understand Orthodox life, while the candid talkbacks offered yet another opportunity to break down cultural barriers.
Our closing night screening of Rama Burshtein’s “The Wedding Plan” brought the festival full circle. Our opening was a romantic comedy featuring a couple that happen to be on the autism spectrum; our closing was a Cinderella fairy tale that happened to have an Orthodox damsel in romantic distress.
We opened by focusing on inclusion with “Keep the Change,” shining a spotlight on the local caring community that supports people living with disabilities. We closed by shining a warm light into a corner of our own Jewish community, a mystery to many, fostering understanding through open conversation and personal connections.
While many of the films I chose to present challenge us, as all great art must do, they also provide aesthetic pleasure. They also offer other rewards. I found our films immensely satisfying, and often inspiring, and from your comments I am confident that you did too.
Perhaps Hedy Lamarr, largely uncredited and unseen for who she was, should have the last word: “Give the world the best you’ve got, and the world will kick you in the teeth. Give the world the best you’ve got anyway.”