Start the new year with a series of thoughtful, hopeful film screenings, many incorporating live music, for the 17th year of the Mobile Jewish Film Festival. Festival organizers promise the most diverse lineup yet, with films that will take viewers though the Himalayas, to Las Vegas, from the Holocaust through the 1960s, and to contemporary Tanzania.
The festival opens Thursday, Jan. 11, at 2 p.m. at the Mobile Museum of Art with “As Seen Through These Eyes,” a documentary focusing on works of art created by Holocaust survivors, many during their time in concentration camps. Intriguingly, many of these artworks were commissioned by the artists’ Nazi captors, including the infamous Dr. Josef Mengele, who forced Dina Gottliebova Babbitt to paint thousands of portraits of her fellow Gypsies.
Another subject of this documentary, Ela Weissberger, was a child forced to perform in an opera production mounted in a concentration camp. The melancholy harmonica music of Henry Rosmarin that forms the film’s score is played on the same harmonica Rosmarin was forced to play in the SS hall throughout the war. These works of art saved these people’s lives, and now stand as testament to the suffering and bravery of these incredible survivors.
On Sunday, Jan. 14, at 3 p.m. at Ahavas Chesed Synagogue, the insightful and entertaining documentary “Sammy Davis Jr.: I’ve Gotta Be Me” features interviews with Jerry Lewis, Whoopi Goldberg and Billy Crystal as it explicates the complex identity of the legendary song-and-dance man. Preceding the film, vocalist Doug Breau will set the mood with music from the Rat Pack era.
The next three films will be shown at the University of South Alabama Laidlaw Center for the Performing Arts, beginning Tuesday, Jan. 16, at 7 p.m. with “1945,” an eloquent drama filmed in lustrous black and white. In a Hungarian village, the return of an Orthodox man and his grown son leads the villagers to fear they will reclaim their ancestor’s illegally acquired property.
On Wednesday, Jan. 17, at 7 p.m., the series continues with “Harmonia,” a modern adaptation of the mythological triangle between the childless Abraham and Sarah and the young Hagar. Set in contemporary times, “Harmonia” also weaves the ancient tale through a dramatic encounter between Western and Eastern music.
The final film, also to be shown on the USA campus, is “My Hero Brother” on Thursday, Jan. 18, at 7 p.m. It is an inspirational documentary about a group of young people with Down syndrome who embark on a demanding trek through the Himalayas with their siblings. Cast member and co-producer Enosh Cassel will attend the screening as a special guest. This film is the Reita Franco memorial film, honoring one of the festival’s founders.
The comedy “The Women’s Balcony” makes a delightful addition to the festival, screening Sunday, Jan. 21, at 3 p.m. at Shavas Chesed Synagogue. An accident during a bar mitzvah celebration leads to a gender rift in a devout Orthodox community in Jerusalem in this rousing, good-hearted tale about women speaking truth to patriarchal power.
Audience favorite “Fanny’s Journey” will be shown Tuesday, Jan 23, at 7 p.m. at the USA Performance Center in Fairhope. It is an incredible tale of bravery, strength and survival, a story of a daring young girl who will stop at nothing and fear no one as she leads 11 children to safety in Switzerland.
On Wednesday, Jan. 24, at 7 p.m., “An Act of Defiance” will be screened at Bernheim Hall in the Ben May Main Library. Winner of the Best Film Award at the 2017 U.K. Jewish Film Festival, it is a riveting historical drama that captures an important moment in 1963 in the fight against racism by South African Jews, combining a political thriller with a courtroom drama.
On Thursday, Jan. 25, at 7 p.m., the festival moves to Springhill Avenue Temple for “A Night from the Heart,” with the feature film “A Heartbeat Away,” about an Israeli pediatric cardiologist who performs life-saving operations in Tanzania. Preceding this feature film is the charming romantic short “Dear God.”
The festival concludes with “Joe’s Violin” on Sunday, Jan. 28, at 7 p.m. at Springhill Avenue Temple. A short film documentary Oscar nominee, this tells the story of a violin being passed from Holocaust survivor Joe Feingold to a 12-year-old Bronx girl named Brianna Perez, and will continue with a short violin and piano recital by Enen Yu and Christopher Powell.
View trailers for all these films, plan your visits and purchase tickets at mobilejewishfederation.org. Call 251-343-7197 for more information.