Tickets to the 11th annual Boulder Jewish Film Festival went on sale on October 6. The next day we woke up to find our world irrevocably changed.
While at first it seemed that the timing could not have been worse, I quickly began to view it as an opportunity to provide a comforting place where the community could come together for meaningful conversation and insightful films highlighting our shared humanity. I realized that, sadly, the JCC’s mission of community engagement was more critical than ever.
Indeed, the audience this year was exceptionally enthusiastic and appreciative, and the talkbacks were especially lively and enriching.
I found myself watching the films I selected many months ago through a different lens, finding new relevance in each one. While a film festival is not a forum for political debate, it does offer a much-needed opportunity to share thoughts and feelings in an intimate setting.
Many of the films also offered a welcome distraction. Hearing the uproarious laughter at the screening of the French comedy “Stay with Us” did my heart good. Our music-filled films were also inspiring and joyful, from the warmth and humor of “Rock Camp” to the heartfelt celebration of “Idina Menzel: Which Way to the Stage?” The live music performed by Alicia Svigals and Donald Sosin at our Centerpiece screening of “The Man Without a World” provided the excitement of a unique cinematic experience.
I am frequently asked if I have a favorite film, always a difficult question. This year I usually demurred by saying that what I most enjoyed was our Vanished World series focusing on life in the shtetl, a collection of films that serendipitously revolved around a world about to be extinguished by the Holocaust. “Shttl,” which continues to wow festival audiences around the country, certainly had a powerful impact.
Our Israel at 75 series proved even more impactful than I imagined when I selected these five films so many months ago. Our mission has always been to foster understanding of the Jewish experience around the world and throughout history, and showcasing the Israeli experience can only inspire the empathy so desperately needed at this moment.
I would also note that I was struck by the thematic concerns that connected many of the films, something I only became fully aware of by seeing them back-to-back. The pernicious antisemitism that has percolated throughout Jewish history certainly hit home with extra force. The challenges artists face as they bring light to the world, as well as the resiliency of the human spirit in the face of adversity are related themes that also took on special meaning for me in these dark times.
But if you held my feet to the fire, I would have to confess that “Only in Theaters” was a personal favorite, in part because it is a nostalgic love letter to cinema – which has had a profound influence on my life – as well as a suspenseful drama about legacy, survival, and one family’s passion. The documentary also makes an eloquent argument for both the importance of great movies and of seeing them on a big screen with an audience – underscoring the value of film festivals. Ironically, I must note that it is now available to stream at home on Amazon Prime, as is our opening night documentary, “Rock Camp: The Movie.” “Idina Menzel: Which Way to the Stage” is available on Disney+.
The rest of the titles in the festival have an unknown future. They may eventually become available on streaming services, or play in select theaters, but one of the many benefits of a film festival is the ability to see movies you may never be able to see otherwise.
Being able to share our individual reactions to our films’ stories is always the best part of the festival for me, and I am deeply gratified that so many audience members participated in the illuminating discussions following the screenings. I am also eternally grateful to all the sponsors who are responsible for the festival’s existence.
In case anyone has not yet had a chance to watch the prophetic short film “The Boy,” which is set on the kibbutz where filmmaker Yahav Winner was raised and where he was killed in the Hamas massacre, I highly recommend it. CLICK HERE TO WATCH
If you missed any of my recorded interviews, the links are below. The conversation with Tel Aviv-based filmmaker Laura Bialis, who had to run to her safe room when sirens went off a few minutes into our interview, was one of the most interesting I have ever had the pleasure of conducting.
I hope that all who attended found some measure of solace sharing in the communal cinematic experience. Community matters, now more than ever.