A particularly vibrant array of films, especially some focusing on both visual and performing arts, are coming to Mobile and Baldwin Counties in January with the 2014 Mobile Jewish Film Festival. Every year, this festival delivers thought-provoking, moving and beautifully produced films. But only this year is there a Broadway sing-along.

The festival, sponsored by the Mobile Area Jewish Federation and the University of South Alabama, presents films that somehow reflect the Jewish experience. This year seven films will be screened at eight venues in Mobile and Baldwin Counties. In addition, the festival will present a student film at four area high schools.

The festival begins on Thursday, Jan. 9 at the Mobile Museum of Art with “Portrait of Wally,” a documentary tracing the history of Egon Schiele’s portrait of his young lover, “Wally.” From the painting’s creation to its seizure by the Nazis from a Jewish family to its surprise resurfacing and the legal battle that ensues, “Portrait of Wally” tells of the case that brought the story of Nazi art loot out into the open, forcing museums in Europe and the U.S. to search their own collections for suspect objects.

Many museums ended up returning art to Jewish families who had abandoned hope until “Wally” showed institutions could be held accountable for holding property stolen during the Holocaust. The film will be shown at no charge at 2 p.m. and at 7 p.m.; the matinee is first-come first-served, while the evening screening requires reservations.
"Fill the Void" tells the story of the youngest daughter of a Hasidic family who is about to be married off to a promising young man when fate intervenes.

On Sunday, Jan. 12 at 3 p.m. at the Springhill Avenue temple is “BESA — The Promise.” This true story weaves Albania’s heroism in WWII through the journeys of two men. Shown in more than 20 Jewish Film Festivals, this screening will be enhanced by having one of the film’s producers as a guest speaker. On Tuesday, Jan. 21, it will be screened again at the University of South Alabama Baldwin County’s Performance Center in the heart of Fairhope at 7 p.m.

The next three films are on Tuesday through Thursday, Jan. 14 – 16 at Laidlaw Performing Arts Center in the campus of the University of South Alabama. Each film begins at 7 p.m. Tuesday’s feature film is “Suskind,” which tells the gripping story of a Jewish industrialist who saved hundreds of Dutch children from the death camps during WWII. This film was voted best feature at the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival. Roy Hoffman will lead a discussion after the film.

Fill the Void will screen Wednesday, Jan. 15; this feature tells the story of 18-year-old Shira, the youngest daughter of a Hasidic family who is about to be married off to a promising young man when fate intervenes. When Shira’s sister dies giving birth to the family’s first grandchild, the family’s intense grieving postpones her own wedding, and when the son-in-law suggests he might leave the country with the baby, Shira’s mother proposes that Shira marry her sister’s widowed husband instead.

The moving and provocative film “The Other Son” will be shown Thursday Jan. 16 at USA. A shocking revelation that two men were switched at birth turns both their lives upside down, as one prepares to join the Israeli army and the other is from a Palestinian family on the West Bank. The identities and beliefs of everyone involved are challenged.

Switching gears, “Broadway Musicals: A Jewish Legacy” explores the unique role of Jewish composers and lyricists in the creation of the modern American musical. This is the first film of its kind to examine the phenomenon that, over the 50-year period of its development, the songs of the Broadway musical were created almost exclusively by Jewish Americans. With performance footage of David Hyde Pierce, Matthew Broderick, Nathan Lane, Fanny Brice, Dick Van Dyke, and many, many more, this delightful documentary will be followed by a no-less-delightful dessert reception and a Broadway sing-along. The screening is Sunday, Jan. 19 at 3 at the Ahavas Chesed Synagogue, 705 Regents Way.

The festival moves to Bernheim Hall at the Mobile Public Library’s main branch on Wednesday, Jan. 22 for another film focusing on the Jewish experience in the performing arts, Orchestra of Exiles. Featuring Itzhak Perlman, Zubin Mehta, Pinchas Zuckerman and others, this film chronicles how one man, violinist Bronislaw Huberman, helped save Europe’s premier Jewish musicians from obliteration.

For the first time in the history of the festival, an undisclosed sneak preview is on the roster; undoubtedly destined to screen at many major festivals in the upcoming year, a surprise film will be shown at Springhill Avenue Temple, free of charge, at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 23. Reservations are required.

Festival tickets are $8 for adults and $6 for students and seniors, and may be purchased at the box office or online at mobilejewishfederation.org, where you can also view trailers for all festival films. For films that require reservations, the phone number is 251-343-7197.