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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Monday, October 2, 2023

Boston Jewish Film Festival celebrates 30 years with diverse lineup

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'A City Without Jews' (1924) and 'Sammy Davis, Jr.: I've Gotta Be Me' (2017), two of the featured films at this year's Boston Jewish Film Festival, are pictured.

The Boston Jewish Film Festival (BJFF), which runs from Nov. 7–19, is celebrating its 30-year anniversary this year. The festival will give viewers an incredible opportunity to see rare and award-winning films from around the world covering all facets of Jewish life. This year's festival looks to have a more diverse lineup of screenings than previous years. From short films to documentaries, feature films to binge-events of Israeli television and everything in between, there is sure to be at least one event that will interest everyone.

The BJFF will be an excellent space to facilitate conversation over what it means to be a Jew and how the answer varies depending on one’s piety, geographic location and other factors. While Jewish experiences and traditions may vary greatly from person to person, the festival offers an opportunity for those within and outside the community to connect or catch a glimpse into Jewish faith, life and culture. In these tumultuous times, when anti-Semitism is on the rise, film and other forms of art can help bring people closer together as a community.

The festival's opening night at the Coolidge Corner Theatre will feature Samuel D. Pollard’s documentary, “Sammy Davis, Jr.: I’ve Gotta Be Me” (2017). The screening will be preceded by a live musical event and followed by a conversation with Pollard. The film follows Davis’ life and the obstacles he faces as a black man in America, and how his life changed after converting to Judaism and becoming a part of yet another persecuted minority.

Besides the opening night, the festival will be anchored by two other events: a mid-festival event at Coolidge Corner Theatre on Nov. 14 and a closing night event at the Somerville Theatre on Nov. 19.The first event will screen the Austrian film “The City Without Jews” (1924), a work that was just recently rediscovered at a flea market in Paris after it was thought to be lost for many years. Directed by Hans Karl Breslauer, the film is based on a satirical novel in which an anti-Semitic chancellor expels all the Jews in a particular town, leading to an economic and cultural decline. “The City Without Jews” is a seminal film, detailing the pre-Holocaust life of European Jews and the rampant anti-Semitism then present in Europe. This film could be especially informative for those unfamiliar with the context of the Holocaust and European Jewish life. The film's exploration of Europeans' attitudes toward Jews is sadly not too far off from Europe’s current political descent into right-wing nationalism; it is a must-see not only because of its rarity, but because of its historical significance and present-day relevance. This silent film will be accompanied with live music and followed by a conversation with Tufts alumna Lisa Silverman (F '97), currently an associate professor of history and Jewish studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, who wrote a book that discussed "The City Without Jews."

The festival will conclude with a screening of the Israeli film “Redemption.” Directed by Joseph Madmony and Boaz Yehonatan Yacov, the film follows Menachem, the former frontman of a popular band who becomes an Orthodox Jew. When Menachem's daughter falls ill, he contacts his former bandmates to play at Orthodox Jewish weddings and raise money for his daughter’s treatment. A story of friendship and Jewish ingenuity, “Redemption” promises to be a beautiful ending to a vivacious and deeply rich festival of Jewish film.

No matter a viewer's religious denomination or political beliefs, the BJFF is packed with events and screenings that will challenge beliefs and provide a comforting space for those who need it most. The festival’s website has the complete calendar of events and screenings, as well as trailers for each film. Students can purchase discounted tickets for this festival. For readers who have wondered what exactly a Jewish film is, how art can shape a community or simply what is means to be a Jew, this festival is an excellent opportunity to try and explore all possible answers.