Welcome in the new year with the Mobile Area Jewish Federation’s (MAJF) 19th Annual Jewish Film Festival. Running Jan. 16 through Feb. 2, this series features 10 films that will help open your eyes to Jewish music, culture and historical significance. Along with the regular festival, MAJF will continue their Julien E Marx Holocaust Student Film Series, offering more than 2,500 students in our area the chance to understand the roots and ramifications of prejudice and racism in society.
“Besa: The Promise”: Thursday, Jan. 16, 5 p.m., Mobile Museum of Art
The festival kicks off with a free screening at the Mobile Museum of Art. “Besa: The Promise” begins with a reception at 5 p.m., the film shows at 5:30 p.m. and a guided tour of the corresponding exhibition follows, led by Marlene W. Yahalom, Ph.D., from the American Society for Yad Vashem.
This exhibition is about the “Righteous Among the Nations” — non-Jews who risked their lives saving Jews during the Holocaust. The film is the never-before-told story of Albania, a small European country that opened its borders to shelter Jewish refugees, even as it endured a brutal Nazi occupation.
It’s witnessed through the prism of two men joined together in a remarkable and unexpected quest: Norman H. Gershman, a renowned Jewish-American photographer determined to record the bravery and compassion of the Albanians, and Rexhep Hoxha, a Muslim-Albanian toy shop owner who sets out to return three precious books to the last-surviving member of the Jewish family his father sheltered 60 years before.
“Fiddler: A Miracle of Miracles”: Saturday, Jan. 18, 6 p.m., Springhill Avenue Temple
Preceded by dinner and live music from the beloved musical, “Fiddler: A Miracle of Miracles” is the first in-depth documentary that chronicles the life and themes of this iconic offering of American culture. It also explores why the story of Tevye the Dairyman is reborn again and again as a form of beloved entertainment and a cultural touchstone the world over. Opening in 1964, “Fiddler on the Roof” held the record for the longest-running musical for almost 10 years. It won nine Tony Awards and spawned five Broadway revivals. The show is still performed more than any other show, from middle schools in inner cities to high schools in rural America, and around the world in grand state theaters from Tokyo to Mexico City.
Dinner reservations are required. General admission, with dinner and music, is $27. Students and seniors are $25.
“Marshall”: Monday, Jan. 20, 7 p.m., Laidlaw Performing Arts Center, USA
Young Thurgood Marshall faces one of his greatest challenges while working as a lawyer for the NAACP in the film “Marshall.” He travels to conservative Connecticut when wealthy socialite Eleanor Strubing accuses black chauffeur Joseph Spell of sexual assault and attempted murder. He soon teams up with Sam Friedman, a local Jewish lawyer who’s never handled a criminal case. Together, the two men build a defense while contending with racist and anti-Semitic views from those who deem Spell to be guilty.
“Prosecuting Evil: The Extraordinary World of Ben Ferencz”: Tuesday, Jan. 21, 7 p.m., Laidlaw Performing Arts Center, USA
Barry Avrich’s gripping documentary tells the fascinating story of Ben Ferencz — the last surviving Nuremberg prosecutor and lifelong advocate of “law not war.” After witnessing Nazi concentration camps shortly after liberation, Ferencz became a lead prosecutor in the Einsatzgruppen case at Nuremberg, which has been called the biggest murder trial in history. He was 27 years old and it was his first trial. All 22 Nazi officials tried for murdering over a million people were convicted. His fight for justice for victims of atrocity crimes continues today.
“Shoelaces”: Wednesday, Jan. 22, 7 p.m., Laidlaw Performing Arts Center, USA
“Shoelaces” tells the story of a complicated relationship between an aging father and his special-needs son, who he abandoned while the boy was still young. Reuben’s kidneys are failing and his son, Gadi, wants to donate one of his to help save his father’s life. However, the transplant committee objects. Through the film’s portrayal of a relationship full of love, rejection, and codependency, it manages to question the importance of human life, shed some light on human connection and ponder if life is even possible without it.
“The Spy Behind Home Plate”: Sunday, Jan. 26, 2 p.m., Springhill Avenue Temple
Morris Moe Berg was an enigmatic and brilliant Jewish baseball player turned spy. Berg caught and fielded in the Majors during baseball’s Golden Age in the 1920s and 1930s, but very few people know that Berg also worked for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), spying in Europe and playing a prominent role in America’s efforts to undermine the German atomic bomb program during World War II.
“The Light of Hope”: Tuesday, Jan. 28, 7 p.m., USA Baldwin County Performance Center (Fairhope)
This film is based on the true story of Elisabeth Eidenbenz and her female co-workers who saved the lives of almost 600 infants in World War II when they transformed an old villa in southwestern France into a birth clinic for pregnant refugees. Despite all hardship, the villa became a haven, filled with the children’s laughter. But soon threats from outside and within took shape: Authorities in Nazi-occupied France demanded that she hand over all Jewish refugees and their children, while Eidenbenz’s deputy, Victoria, sided with the Resistance partisans — a worthy cause, but one that put the lives of everyone in the maternity ward at stake.
“Promise at Dawn”: Wednesday, Jan. 29, 7 p.m., Bernheim Hall, Ben May Main Library
A jaunty coming-of-age story based on the life of French novelist Romaine Gary, as he described it in his autobiographical novel. Charlotte Gainsbourg stars as his beloved mother with great expectations. This comic, touching epic follows him from his childhood in Poland through the South of France and his aviation exploits in World War II.
“To Dust”: Thursday, Jan. 30, 7 p.m., Ahavas Chesed Synagogue
Distraught by the untimely death of his wife, a bereft Hasidic cantor named Shmuel (Géza Röhrig) teams up with Albert, a dumpy, mildly grizzled community college biology professor and total stranger (Matthew Broderick), and the two embark on an increasingly literal undertaking into the underworld. Shmuel seeks to understand the science behind the death of the body in this dark comedy.
“Golda’s Balcony, The Film”: Sunday, Feb. 2, 1:30 pm, Ahavas Chesed Synagogue
This remarkable film captures a solo performance by Tovah Feldshuh — who plays Golda Meir, the former prime minister of Israel, and numerous other characters in the course of the film — during a multi-camera, video recording in front of a live audience of what was the longest-running, one-woman show in Broadway history. The play, written by William Gibson (“The Miracle Worker”), focuses on the period surrounding the 1973 Yom Kippur War when Israel was attacked by Egypt and Syria, and in a larger sense tells the story of the birth of Israel, through an incredible performance by award-winning actress Feldshuh, who portrays 45 different people.
Tickets for the films may be purchased via the Mobile Area Jewish Federation’s website, mobilejewishfederation.org, by speaking with Kathy at the MAJF office (251-490-4872) or on-site prior to each showing. Ticket prices for all showings (except for “Fiddler”) are $9 for general admission and $7 for students and seniors. A festival pass, admitting you to all 10 films, is $75, $55 for students and seniors.
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