Live screenings return for JCC’s annual film festival in Marblehead

Movies also are available to watch online

Jérémie Renier and François Cluzet in a tense moment in the French thriller, “The Man in the Basement.”

By Shelley A. Sackett

MARBLEHEAD — The Jewish Com­munity Center of the North Shore International Jewish Film Festival is celebrating both its ninth year and its return to in-person screenings with a diverse menu of 12 films inspired by Jewish history, culture, and humor.

All in-person screenings will be shown at the Warwick Cinema in Marblehead. Films also are available to view virtually for those who choose to watch at home.

The festival runs from April 24 through May 5 and includes prerecorded and live Zoom conversations with filmmakers. Fran Levy-Freiman and Izzi Abrams are cochairs. The festival is sponsored by Sharon and Howard Rich and Leslie and Bob Ogan and is partnering with the Central Mass International Jewish Film Festival at the Worcester JCC.

Opening night presents the tense, psychological thriller, “The Man in the Basement,” a French film about a Parisian couple who sells their basement apartment to a seemingly well-mannered former teacher. Their world is turned upside down when they discover he has hidden his secret life as an antisemitic conspiracy theorist, leading to a sinister standoff.

Two historical dramas set in 1942 recount the plight of Jews living in France during the Nazi occupation.

Rebecca Marder and Cyril Metzer star in the French historical drama, “A Radiant Girl.” Photo Credit: Jérôme Prébois

Set in Paris, “A Radiant Girl” is the charming story of a 19-year-old aspiring actress whose carefree life and indomitable spirit are put to the test by the growing Nazi threat to her entire world, especially her close-knit family.

“Valiant Hearts,” starring Camille Cottin, tells the true story of six Jewish children forced to take refuge among the Louvre Museum artworks hidden in the Chateâu de Chambord. This story of exceptional bravery is suitable for the whole family.

Another family choice is “Alegria,” a dramady centered around a matriarch who returns to her native Melilla in Spain for the Sephardic wedding of her niece. Along the way, she reunites with her estranged daughter and reconnects to her roots, illuminating Melilla’s multiculturalism and the richness of her relationships with the women in her circle.

In “Plan A,” a newly released mystery/drama, a Jewish Holocaust survivor meets a radical group of Jewish resistance fighters in 1945. They, like him, have lost hope for their futures after their families were killed by the Nazis. They hatch a revenge operation that takes the concept of “an eye for an eye” to a new level. They will kill six million Germans – one for every Jew slaughtered.

On a lighter note, “The Specials” is an uplifting story about two friends – one an ultra-Orthodox Jew, the other a Muslim – who join forces to advocate for autistic teens that have been rejected by state-run hospitals.

Menachem Begin addresses a crowd in the documentary, “Upheaval: The Journey of Menachem Begin.”

Rounding out the dramatic offerings is the Israeli film, “Greener Pastures,” a comedy about a widowed man obsessed with escaping the nursing home his family has placed him in against his will – until he discovers potentials provided by legal medical cannabis the residents all enjoy and rely on.

Five documentaries complete the lineup. “The United States of Elie Tahari” chronicles the life of fashion designer and mogul Elie Tahari, from his childhood in Israel to his arrival in New York City in 1971 with $100 in his pocket to his fashion empire, worth over a $1 billion today.

Israeli-born filmmaker Becky Tahel grapples with her understanding of religion, love, and identity after her younger sister marries a non-Jew in her introspective film, “American Birthright.” Her quest leads her on an extraordinary journey of self-discovery.

The Israeli film, “Yerusalem: The Incredible Story of Ethiopian Jewry,” describes the brave Ethiopian Beta-Israel immigrants and the people who risked their lives to help them make Aliyah between 1977 and 1985. Despite their long history of observing Jewish traditions and the trauma of a tumultuous exodus, the Beta-Israelis can’t shake their outsider status in Israel, where they still struggle to prove their Jewishness and earn a legitimate place in Israeli society.

“Upheaval: The Journey of Men­achem Begin” portrays the life and essence of the brilliant and proud man who never compromised when the survival of Israel and the Jewish people were at stake.

Finally, closing night (May 5) showcases the film “The Automat,” a valentine to the iconic 100-year food chain, Horn & Hardart. Featuring an original song written and performed by Mel Brooks, the movie includes interviews and reminisces of such notable former customers as Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Howard Schultz, Colin Powell, and others. The in-person screening will be introduced live by Richard J.S. Gutman, America’s leading diner expert.

For more information and to buy tickets, visit jccns.org/film-festival-2022.

Salem Film Fest celebrates ‘Fiddler’s’ 50th anniversary

Chaim Topol and Norman Jewison on the set of “Fiddler.” Photo: Zeitgeist Films

By Shelley A. Sackett

SALEM — Two Jewish films that run the gamut from life to death – “Fiddler’s Journey to The Big Screen” and “On This Happy Note” – make their way to the Salem Film Fest March 24-April 3. These enjoyable, feel-good movies are the perfect respite from this endless winter.

Salem Film Fest, the all-documentary film festival now in its 15th year, will screen 47 features and shorts during its hybrid 2022 season. From March 24-27, all screenings will be in person only at Cinema Salem, Peabody Essex Museum and The Cabot in Beverly. From March 28-April 3, the fest will be exclusively virtual.

2021 marked the 50th anniversary of the beloved “Fiddler on the Roof,” the film The New Yorker’s Pauline Kael called “the most powerful movie musical ever made.” Narrated by Jeff Goldblum, “Fiddler’s Journey” captures the humor and drama of director Norman Jewison’s quest to re-create the lost world of Jewish life in Tsarist Russia and re-envision the stage hit as a wide-screen epic.

Filmmaker Daniel Raim was most interested in the inner lives of the cinema artists making the film. “Ironically, most of the cinema artists making ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ were not Jewish. And that’s what makes this film that much more interesting – because it explores their approach to authentically re-creating Jewish life in Tzarist Russia in 1905,” Raim said in an email.

“I wanted to learn about their exploration of Jewish identity both in front of and behind the camera,” the native Israeli said. Developing these themes into a concise narrative structure was “probably one of the more challenging and rewarding aspects of making this film.”

He remembers his grandparents, who survived the Holocaust, introducing him to “Fiddler” when he was 13 years old. “It was a window into the world my grandparents came from, which no longer exists,” he said.

“On This Happy Note”

Tamar Tal Anati’s remarkable film, “On This Happy Note,” heralds and honors death by documenting the deliberate and thoughtful way one woman chose to live her last days.

We first meet Anat Gov, one of the most influential playwrights in Israeli theater, as she prepares for her death from cancer just a couple of months away. A chain smoker, she is unafraid of her fate. But when she asks her longtime literary agent, Arik Kneller, to be the executor of her will, he struggles to accept the humor, serenity and grace with which she faces her upcoming end.

Gov believes there is such a thing as a happy ending and that it is possible to die in peace. She wants her death to open doors for others by leaving footprints for them to follow. Gov wishes to leave a spiritual legacy.

As it turned out, she also leaves a cinematic legacy.

“On This Happy Note” was launched when Kneller decided to film his final meeting with Gov. She agreed, and the two longtime colleagues and friends recorded as they talked about her work and hopes for how she will be remembered.

Kneller showed the footage to Israeli-born director Anati, who would work with it to create a film. Two weeks later, Gov died and the project temporarily froze.

In the meantime, Anati dove into Gov’s writings, learning about her creative process. She read Gov’s plays and television scripts and, in the course of doing this research, wrote a new script from the scenes and writings Gov left. The film weaves performances from her plays and footage of her family and political world to create a tapestry that highlights the very thin line between documentary and real life and the stories that connect the two.

For Anati, Gov’s way of thinking and dealing with death was not shocking. “In a way, she gave clear and very accurate words to what I felt. The most important thing to her is that fewer people fear death. She thought that if we talked about death and accepted it as part of life, we would live better,” she said from Florence, Italy, via email.

Like Gov and her writings, the film spotlights black humor to address challenging matters and difficult themes. At the film’s premiere, she was shocked by the number of places where people roared with laughter. “It’s kind of a nice release,” she said.

Gov’s family saw the film, and shared their strong, positive reaction to it. “They said they felt like she had returned to life for an hour,” Anati said.

“Fiddler’s Journey to The Big Screen” will screen in person only at Cinema Salem on March 25, 2:45 p.m. “On This Happy Note” will screen virtually from March 28-April 3. For more information go to salemfilmfest.com

JCC’s International Jewish Film Festival presents a virtual array of history, culture, and inspiration

by Shelley A. Sackett

MARBLEHEAD – The Jewish Community Center of the North Shore International Jewish Film Festival is celebrating its eighth year – and second straight virtually due to the ongoing COVID-19 restraints – with a diverse menu of 13 films inspired by Jewish history, culture, and values.

The festival runs from April 5 through April 25 and includes prerecorded and live Zoom conversations with filmmakers.

This year marks the first time the festival has partnered with the Central Mass International Jewish Film Festival, widening its audience to include the Worcester area. Tickets are $15 for individual films, with three discount packages for six, nine, or all 13 films. Films may be purchased ahead of time or when you are ready to watch. Eventbrite is the festival’s box office and screening platform, with tickets and information available at jccns.org.

Opening Night (April 5) presents the blockbuster “Six Minutes to Midnight,” starring Dame Judi Dench and Eddie Izzard. Set in 1939 at a finishing school in an English seaside town where influential families from Nazi Germany have sent their daughters, this taut, heart-racing espionage film heats up when a teacher figures out what is going on and tries to alert British authorities.

The social justice documentary, “Shared Legacies,” uses a treasure trove of archival materials to weave together crucial historical lessons of Black-Jewish alliances, starting with the founding of the NAACP in 1909. Narrated by eyewitnesses, activists, Holocaust survivors, and movement leaders, a prerecorded conversation with head writer-director Shari Rogers and members of the ADL’s Black-Jewish Alliance is included.

Among the other documentaries, “Code Name: Ayalon” recounts the 1975 discovery of The Ayalon Institute, a secret ammunition factory built by Haganah underground youth in 1947 during the British Mandate. The David vs. Goliath story includes interviews with surviving group members and a live discussion with the film’s producer, Laurel Fairworth, on April 21 at 7 p.m.

In 1977, Aulcie Perry, a basketball legend from Newark, New Jersey, was recruited by Maccabi Tel Aviv while playing a pickup game in Harlem. “Aulcie” chronicles this inspiring story and includes a live discussion with the director, Dani Menkin, and the raffle of a basketball signed by Aulcie on April 13 at 7 p.m.

Tamar Manasseh, the subject of “They Ain’t Ready for Me,” is a force to be reckoned with. Tired of the violence that has plagued her south side Chicago neighborhood, the Black rabbinical student builds bridges between her two worlds with grassroots activism and Jewish community celebrations. This timely and moving portrait includes a live discussion with director Brad Rothschild and Manasseh on April 23 at 7 p.m.

Filmed over 10 years, “A Lullaby for the Valley” introduces Eli Shamir, an Israeli artist who paints the view from his studio overlooking the Jezreel Valley in northern Israel. Director Ben Shani documents the artist at work, neither guessing at the changes that would occur over their decade together. A live discussion with the filmmaker is April 18 at 2 p.m.

The remaining seven features range from comedy to drama to historical docudrama. “Adventures of A Mathematician” reenacts the story of Stan Ulam, the brilliant Polish-Jewish scientist who worked on the top-secret Manhattan Project to develop the atom bomb. A live discussion with the film’s team will take place on April 11 at 1 p.m. In “A Starry Sky Above the Roman Ghetto,” the discovery of a puzzling photograph sparks an Italian student to probe the history of Rome’s Jewish ghetto and the fate of one little girl.

Sparks fly in the screwball romantic comedy, “Kiss Me Kosher,” when two families from wildly different cultural backgrounds – German and Israeli – collide to plan a same-sex wedding. On a more serious but no less romantic note, the historical drama, “An Irrepressible Woman,” tells the true story of Janot Reichenbach, who fell in love with French-Jewish socialist and three-time Prime Minister Léon Blum when she was a teenager and abandoned all to be by his side decades later when the French government fell to the Nazis.

“Here We Are” is the touching story of a devoted father who has dedicated his life to raising his autistic son. The docudrama “Winter Journey” features Swiss actor Bruno Ganz in his final screen role. The film blends reenactments and archival materials to relate a Jewish-German couple’s poignant pre-World War II romance and is based on the book by their son, NPR radio host Martin Goldsmith.

Finally, closing night (April 25) showcases “The Crossing,” the story of Gerda and Otto, Norwegian siblings whose parents are arrested for resistance activities. They discover two Jewish children hidden in their basement, and decide to risk helping them cross into Sweden to escape the Nazis.

For more information and to buy tickets, visit jccns.eventive.org.

From Marblehead to Hollywood, where she now makes movies that touch the soul

Filmmaker Jerri Sher and former NFL quarterback Mark Rypien on the set of “Quiet Explosions: Healing the Brain.”

by Shelley A. Sackett

Jerri Sher is no shrinking violet.

In the 1980s, she and her husband Alan, a tax accountant, were raising their family in Marblehead. Their daughters, Heather and Amy, attended Hillel Academy (now the Epstein Hillel School), and Alan volunteered as treasurer of the Jewish Journal. After teaching at Endicott College, Jerri decided to enter the business world. But, she didn’t just quietly switch careers; she smashed through a glass ceiling as the first woman to work in the transportation industry in the Northeast corridor.

Sher rose quickly in the sales and marketing department at Guaranteed Overnight Delivery, where she was trained by Tony Robbins, the top life coach and business strategist. “The male-oriented industry of transportation was difficult because people were not used to dealing with a woman, so I had to prove myself to be better than any man,” she said from her Los Angeles home.
Sher learned on the job, and she learned fast, negotiating freight contracts for Fortune 500 companies such as Gillette and Raytheon. “Little did I know that all of the skills I was learning were getting me ready to be a producer,” Sher said.

Sher’s schooling and first career were in the arts. The Fall River native earned a bachelor’s degree in fine arts degree at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and a master’s in art education from Springfield College, where she later became its youngest professor. Despite a demanding schedule in the trucking business, her creative drive never slowed down. With no formal training, she wrote a novel about a woman in the trucking business. “The Twig Painter,” a medical thriller that became a screenplay, fused her two careers – art teacher/painter and trucking sales representative – and wet her appetite for her third: movie screenwriter, director, and producer.

She dove in, determined to learn as much as she could about the filmmaking process. She helped out on any movie set that came to the North Shore and before long, one director recognized her business smarts and creative skills and told her she should set her sights on being a producer rather than “just” an art director.

Although a member of the elite LA-based Directors Guild since 1998, she had no access to its benefits from Massachusetts. After successfully producing several movies for others, she decided it was time to direct her own. “I was in my mid 50s when I said, ‘let’s move to LA,’” Sher said.

That was 18 years ago.

Other than missing friends and family, Sher found Hollywood spectacular. Despite never attending film school, her career flourished as she finally had direct entrée into the hub of the industry’s network. “I knew I was right where I was supposed to be,” she said.

Although Sher faced obstacles as a woman in another male-dominated industry, she already had overcome that challenge once and never let it bother her. “I am proving myself in this industry and am climbing to the top of the ladder despite the discrimination,” she said. “The word ‘no’ did not exist in my vocabulary. I had all the tools I needed to make films and thrive.”

Sher has since completed 22 film and television projects, including “Santa Monica Cares Step Up,” which earned her 2014 Emmy awards for directing and producing. This short documentary film, about a homeless man rescued by charity, was the highlight of Sher’s career. “It made me realize I only wanted to work on projects that would positively influence society,” she said.
Her latest film, “Quiet Explosions: Healing the Brain,” is a documentary about traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder in veterans, athletes, and others. Released last month on Amazon and Vimeo, the film explores under-publicized, non-pharmaceutical approaches that have led to complete healing in brain injury patients.

Based on “Tales from the Blast Factory,” the book by brothers Andrew and Adam Marr, the film highlights the breakthrough work of Dr. Daniel Amen (psychiatrist, clinical neuroscientist, and brain imaging specialist) and neuro-endocrinologist Dr. Mark L. Gordon, whose patients have been cured by his treatments. Super Bowl MVP Mark Rypien, Ben Driebergen (winner of “Survivor” and ex-Marine), and Shawn Dollar (champion surfer) tell their heart-wrenching stories of trauma and recovery. Podcast host Joe Rogan, an active Wounded Warriors supporter, interviews Gordon and Andrew Marr.

Although the film’s 10 characters are from all different walks of life with different clinical histories, they share one thing: at some point, each wanted to commit suicide. After watching the film together, they cried and hugged each other, grateful that others might understand the agony they had suffered.

“For Dr. Gordon, a neuro-endocrinologist, to come up with this treatment is mind boggling. Why does the whole world not know about this?” Sher asked. Her hope is her film will educate its audience ‒ especially doctors – about these groundbreaking solutions that help those with traumatic brain injury to heal.

Sher had a solid foundation in Judaism, and credits her Jewish background with steering her artistic choices and storytelling toward messages of tikkun olam (repairing the world). “I am definitely all about healing the planet and the people on it. Most of my recent projects are about healing and health,” she said.

Right now, however, she has two goals. One is for an Oscar to keep her two Emmy awards company. The second is to get the Veterans Administration to institute Dr. Gordon’s protocol. “And if we can do that, then I’ve done so much for society,” Sher said.

For more information, visit jerrisher.com and quietexplosions.com.

This year’s Jewish Film Fest will leave you on the edge of your seat

by Shelley A. Sackett

MARBLEHEAD – Jewish film festivals are wildly popular, and according to jewishfilmfestivals.org, moviegoers had 170 to choose from worldwide in 2018 in locations ranging from Nebraska to Nepal. For the sixth year, local residents need travel only a few miles to Marblehead and Salem to view 13 films offered by the Jewish Community Center of the North Shore International Jewish Film Festival from April 28 to May 9.

While films about the Holocaust are natural candidates for a Jewish film festival, this year’s lineup features several films that – although set during World War II – are more character than history-driven. Bookending the 12-day festival are opening night’s “The Catcher Was a Spy,” a thriller starring Paul Rudd based on the true story of Moe Berg, the Red Sox catcher who became a WWII spy, and closing night’s “Prosecuting Evil,” a gripping documentary about Ben Ferencz, the remarkable 99-year-old and last surviving Nuremberg prosecutor.

Gordon Edes, an award-winning sportswriter and Boston Red Sox historian, will speak and answer questions following “The Catcher Was a Spy,” and both films include a post-screening reception.

The remaining 11 films are a well-balanced mix of documentary, drama, and comedy. In “Winter Hunt,” a riveting German contemporary psychological thriller, a young woman on a personal mission of vigilante justice goes to extremes as she seeks reprisal against a suspected ex-Nazi. Powerful performances, an edgy score, and a tight script fuel the suspense.

Jewish women are front and center in three films that look at dilemmas they face as they struggle to forge their own paths in a world complicated by religious tradition and social conformity. “Working Woman” addresses the complexity of contemporary life in Israel, chronicling the predicament faced by Orna (played by the remarkable Liron Ben-Shlush) as she juggles motherhood, marriage to a struggling restaurateur, and a meteoritic rise in the corporate real estate world. When her boss relentlessly sexually harasses her, her entire world is brought to the brink of disaster.

Life for women in pre-state Israel was no less complex, as illustrated by “An Israeli Love Story.” Based on a true story and set in 1947, the well-shot and edited film explores the relationship between an aspiring actress and a kibbutznik who is also a member of Palmach, an elite fighting force. In “Leona,” a young Jewish artist in present day Mexico City finds herself torn between her traditional, observant family and a forbidden love.

On a lighter but no less poignant note, the award-winning “Shoelaces” traces the relationship between Reuven, a surly parent, and Gadi, his charismatic adult son with special needs, as the two slowly develop a tender and life-affirming bond of devotion. The popular film is thought-provoking and unexpectedly funny.

Three documentaries reveal different facets of present-day Jewish life. “Chewdaism: A Taste of Jewish Montreal,” follows two local men on the cusp of middle age as they nosh their way through a series of classical eateries and share their community’s 100-year Jewish history. “Heading Home: The Tale of Team Israel” charts the underdog journey of Israel’s national team to the 2017 World Baseball Classic in a story of sports, patriotism, and growth.

“Sustainable Nation,” shown in partnership with CJP as a free community event in honor of Israeli Independence Day, follows three visionary Israelis as they bring water solutions to an increasingly thirsty planet.

Poland and France are the settings for the rest of the line up. “Who Will Write Our History” is a documentary set in 1940, after Nazis sealed 450,000 Jews in the Warsaw ghetto. The story of Oyneg Shabes, a group of journalists, scholars and community leaders who resolved to fight Nazi propaganda with pen and paper, is told through writings, new interviews, rare archival footage and dramatizations.

In her deeply personal documentary, “Chasing Portraits,” filmmaker Elizabeth Rynecki travels to Poland to find the remaining work of her great-grandfather, a prolific impressionistic painter who captured scenes of pre-war Jewish life.

“A Bag of Marbles,” based on a true story, follows two young Jewish brothers as they fend for themselves, making their way through German-occupied France to reunite with their families.

Many films have post-screening guests who will speak to issues raised by the films.

For information and to buy tickets, visit jccns.org or call 781-631-8330.

Salem Film Fest spotlights local filmmakers, adds new Peabody Black Box Theater venue

Hail,Satan!

Salem Film Fest will feature HAIL, SATAN? on Sunday, March 31 at 7:15 pm at The Cabot Theatre in Beverly.

 

By Shelley A. Sackett

 

On Friday, March 29, from 5:30 – 7:30 p.m., Salem Film Fest, one of New England’s leading all-documentary film festivals, will launch its 12th year with a kick-off party at Salem Arts Association at 211 Bridge St. Visiting filmmakers will be on hand to mingle with filmgoers prior to the first two features of the 70 short- and full-length film fest

 

“SFF always focuses on our filmmakers—we do everything we can to make their visits easy, fun and rewarding,” SFF Co-Founder and Director Joe Cultrera wrote in the program liner notes. Filmmakers are scheduled to be present at more than half the screenings, affording audiences the opportunity to learn about the documentary process and engage in intimate, thought-provoking conversations.

 

SFF2019 runs from March 29 to April 4, with films from around the globe screening at CinemaSalem, the Peabody Essex Museum, and the National Park Service Visitor Center in Salem; The Cabot and Endicott College’s Manninen Center for the Arts in Beverly, and the new Black Box Theater in downtown Peabody.

 

Salem Trolley will provide free weekend rides between cities so filmgoers can easily journey through 2019’s stellar lineup. A complete schedule of films, filmmaker receptions and music events, plus information on how to buy passes and individual tickets is at salemfilmfest.com.

 

One half dozen films this year are by filmmakers or about subjects with local connections.

 

Salem is well known for its historical connection to witchcraft. With Lynn native and director Penny Lane’s Hail, Satan?, its contemporary roots in sorcery may eclipse even the Salem Witch Trials for notoriety. The film’s subject is The Satanic Temple, a non-theistic religious organization with active chapters worldwide that is headquartered in Salem on Bridge St. Its co-founder, Lucien Greaves, is the film subject. Lane’s SFF North Shore Spotlight film questions the meaning of religious expression in a secular nation when The Satanic Temple campaigns to place a Satanic monument on the Arkansas State Capitol lawn. Greaves will answer questions after the screening on Sunday, March 31 at 7:15 p.m. at The Cabot.

Councilwoman

COUNCILWOMAN is SFF opening night film on Friday, March 29 at CinemaSalem at 7 pm.

 

Opening night’s Councilwoman is the first feature documentary directed by Watertown, MA-based Margo Guernsey. The film is at CinemSalem at 7 p.m. on Friday, March 29, and tells the story of a Dominican immigrant and hotel housekeeper in Providence, Rhode Island, who wins a coveted City Council seat. Guernsey has worked as a freelance director and producer in the Boston area since 2012 and will be on hand for a post-screening Q&A.

Marcos Doesn't Live Here Anymore

MARCOS DOESN’T LIVE HERE ANYMORE will screen on Wednesday, April 3 at 8 pm at CinemaSalem.

 

Filmmaker and Tufts University alumnus David Sutherland (Kind Hearted Woman, The Farmer’s Wife) has won over 100 international awards and citations for his films. On Wednesday, April 3 at 8 p.m., the New England premiere of Marcos Doesn’t Live Here Anymore will screen at CinemaSalem. Sutherland tells the heartbreaking story of Elizabeth Perez, a decorated Marine veteran, who fights to reunite her family amidst the trauma caused by America’s immigration policy after her undocumented husband is deported to Mexico. Sutherland will be on hand for a Q&A.

CAMOUFLAGE: VIETNAMESE BRUSH STROKES WITH HISTORY will screen on Saturday, March 30 at PEM at 10:20 am.

 

On Saturday, March 30, filmmaker Bestor Cram will be at PEM for a Q&A following the 10:20 a.m. screening of Camouflage (Contemporary Vietnamese artists overcome obstacles that demand personal courage and artistic determination to document a little known side of the aftermath of America’s war in Vietnam). Cram, a Viet Nam Veteran, has over 25 years experience as director, producer and cinematographer and founded Northern Light Production, located in Allston, MA.

Also on Sunday, March 31 are:

GRIT

GRIT will screen on Sunday, March 31 at CinemaSalem at 2:30 pm.

 

Grit (directed by Western MA resident Cynthia Wade and Sasha Friedlander), the story of one of the world’s largest man-made environmental disasters — a tsunami of boiling mud that sinks 16 Indonesian villages — that transforms a teenage survivor into a political activist; and

Balian (The Healer) (directed by Boston- based Dan McGuire), which follows the 20-year rise and fall of Mangku Pogog, a “Balian” or traditional Indonesian healer who is equal parts trickster, scoundrel and saint. His “discovery” by Western tourists leads to serious consequences and McGuire returns 20 years later to learn about his fate. Both films show at CinemaSalem with filmmakers present for post-screening Q&A sessions.

 

Balian

BALIAN (THE HEALER) will screen on Sunday, March 31 at CinemaSalem at 5 pm.

 

 

Finally, SFF veterans will be relieved to know nine new Salem Sketches will be unveiled this year. The mini docs showcase portraits of the local scene with one Sketch screened before each feature film. And, new this year, there are five Shorts Blocks—and they are all free.

 

 

A complete lineup of films, listings of all events, and information on how to buy tickets is available at salemfilmfest.com.

Salem Film Fest screens ‘The Accountant of Auschwitz’

by Shelley A. Sackett

In 2015, a frail 93-year-old former Nazi officer made international headlines when he went on trial in Germany, charged with complicity in the murder of 300,000 Jews at Auschwitz.

Nicknamed “The Accountant of Auschwitz,” Oskar Gröning was hardly the architect of the Holocaust. He was a 21-year-old soldier, following orders to collect and account for the items taken from Jewish prisoners as they were herded off trains and ultimately sent to their deaths.

Nonetheless, he was there, witnessing and abetting a system where 1.1 million people died at the notorious Nazi camp.

On the stand over 70 years later, with some who had survived Auschwitz in the courtroom as witnesses and testifiers, Gröning unemotionally described what he saw and what he did. He wanted to speak out as a witness because more than anything, he said, he wanted to debunk Holocaust deniers. On the other hand, as a participant, his hands were hardly clean. The issues raised were murky ethically and morally, asking questions with no clear answers.

Gröning was found guilty but died in March 2018, before he could begin the four-year prison sentence he was given.

If this sounds like it would make a great documentary film, director Matthew Shoychet and producer Ricki Gurwitz agreed. They teamed up to make the award-winning “The Accountant of Auschwitz,” which will screen at Peabody’s Black Box Theater (located inside the ArcWorks Community Art Center, 22 Foster St., Peabody) on Saturday, March 30, as part of the Salem Film Fest.

Shoychet, who grew up in a “pretty secular household” in Toronto, always was interested in Jewish subjects, but felt a special link through film. His grandfather showed him the 1959 film, “The Diary of Anne Frank,” which opened his 7-year-old eyes to the Holocaust.

Years later, “Schindler’s List” had a strong effect on him, Shoychet said. Although he is not a grandchild of survivors, many of his cousins and relatives were murdered. “I knew, as a Jew, I was connected,” he said.

Gurwitz attended Jewish day school in Toronto in a family she describes as a mix of conservative and reform. A “history nerd,” she was always interested in how her Jewish community has persevered through the centuries in the face of constant persecution.

Their paths crossed and they became friends in 2013 during an International March of the Living, the annual educational program that brings individuals from around the world to Poland and Israel to study the history of the Holocaust and to examine the roots of prejudice, intolerance, and hatred.

Shoychet took the trip again in 2015, where he met and befriended Holocaust survivor Bill Glied, who had to leave early to testify at the trial of another former Nazi in Germany.

“I didn’t know Nazi trials were even possible anymore,” Shoychet said.

By coincidence, Gurwitz, who was working as a TV producer, called Shoychet two months later to tell him about a story she just covered: the German trial of the former “Accountant of Auschwitz.” The two combined forces, created a pitch, and started filming as soon as they could.

They faced many challenges. German law does not allow filming inside courtrooms, so animations and graphics fill in the blanks. But the biggest challenge to Shoychet was for people not to dismiss the film as “just another Holocaust film.” His unique storytelling resists a chronological approach, instead interweaving side stories that take history and relate it to Gröning’s trial.

“There is a feeling of a race against time. Soon, Nazi perpetrators and Holocaust survivors will be gone,” Shoychet said.

For Gurwitz, making the film was a “life-altering experience. Witnessing a former SS officer testify in court is something I will never forget,” she said. “I want to challenge preconceived beliefs about justice, punishment, and culpability. There are two sides here, and I could argue both of them. I want audiences to explore the complexities surrounding this trial and ask questions about how we punish war crimes, who is responsible, and what is the statute of limitations.”

Salem Film Fest 2019 runs from Friday, March 29 to April 4. For more information or to buy tickets, visit salemfilmfest.com.

FOCUS ON: DAWNLAND

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Father and child, Indian Island, Maine Photo by: Ben Pender-Cudlip Courtesy: Upstander Project

 

By Shelley Sackett

DAWNLAND tells the story of the state of Maine’s effort to come to terms with a shockingly shameful part of its history, when state welfare workers removed Indian children from their families and placed them in foster care. The film follows the work of the state’s Truth And Reconciliation Commission, set up in 2012, which gathered stories from the state’s indigenous people.  It premiered at The Cleveland International Film Festival and recently won the 2018 Jury Award for Best Documentary at the Woods Hole Film Festival.

Salem Film Fest Selection Committee member Shelley Sackett had a chance to talk with co-director and cinematographer Ben Pender-Cudlip, ahead of DAWNLAND’S North Shore premiere, which will take place at The Peabody Essex Museum on Friday, September 21 at 7:00pm.

SS: How did you first get involved in filmmaking?

BP-C: In 2009 I was working in computer consulting. My company was a sponsor of a local film festival (IFFBoston), so I used our complimentary passes and saw a ton of nonfiction films. After going to a bunch of Q&As and talking to directors, I decided: I could do this! So I went to work on Monday, gave my two weeks’ notice, and started figuring out how to make films. DAWNLAND is my first documentary feature, and I’m thrilled that it has the chance to have a really robust social impact.

 

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Georginia Sappier-Richardson sharing her story at a TRC community visit Photo by: Ben Pender-Cudlip Courtesy: Upstander Project

SS: How did you get involved with this project?

BP-C: Co-director Adam Mazo and I had collaborated on other issue-oriented documentary projects. Our friend and colleague Dr. Mishy Lesser—the exceptional learning director for the Upstander Project—heard about the TRC in its formative stages via WBUR. Adam reached out to the TRC and REACH and after 8 months of conversation we were invited to make a film about the process. I joined as co-director and cinematographer, and we ended up spending two years traveling back and forth from our homes in Boston to Maine filming the TRCs work, and gathering the material to tell the story of Indigenous child removal in the United States.

SS: What compelled you to tell this story? What about it ignited a fire in your belly?

BP-C: I didn’t know that Native children were being stolen from their homes by state agents, and I wasn’t aware of this country’s long history of separating Native families. I was shocked and wanted to learn more. I’m a non-Native person, and I feel an obligation to try to end institutional racism in the United States. DAWNLAND allows us to tell a story about a present-day investigation that sheds new light on past wrongs, exposes current injustice and contributes to healing and change.

SS: What do you hope audiences take away from this film?

BP-C: I hope audiences understand that this isn’t just a story about the past. The child welfare crisis in Indian Country is ongoing, especially in places like Minnesota where Native children are 20 times more likely than white children to be in foster care. Genocidal policies have a ripple effect from generation to generation, and whole communities are being damaged. And the same basic impulse is playing out at the southern border under the moniker of “family separation,” predicated on the same belief that families of color are worth less than white families.

 

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Father and child, Indian Island, Maine Photo by: Ben Pender-Cudlip Courtesy: Upstander Project

 

SS: What have been some of the audience responses at screenings? Given its special place in the narrative, was the Maine screening different?

BP-C: Before releasing DAWNLAND widely, we held a series of screenings in Wabanaki communities. It was a very emotional experience to watch the film with the same people who had stared down the pain and come forward to share their stories of survival and resilience with the commission. In one community, people sang along to songs in the soundtrack. In another, we had a circle discussion afterwards and somebody chose that moment to share their story for first time. It’s our highest dream that this film will help Wabanaki people heal.

SS: Anything else you’d like to share?

BP-C: We hope DAWNLAND viewers will come to understand that Wabanaki and Native people are still here. We hope teachers will use the film and companion teacher’s guide with students nationwide, and especially in New England where this story is especially relevant. In particular, for teachers on the north shore and greater Boston, we’d love to invite them to participate in the Upstander Academy in Boston in summer 2019 to learn about genocide and human rights with the DAWNLAND team and film participants.

DAWNLAND will screen at the Peabody Essex Museum on Friday, September 21 at 7pm and tickets can be purchased here: http://salemfilmfest.com/2018/films/dawnland/

Scratching below the surface of the notorious Ruth Bader Ginsburg

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By Shelley A. Sackett

While Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik’s 2015 book, “Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg,” arguably branded Justice Ginsburg as a pop-cultural phenomenon, the recently released documentary, “RBG” leaves no room to mistake this woman for a fluffy contemporary trend. The diminutive 84-year-old intellectual powerhouse is fierce, uncompromising and a diplomatic champion of women’s rights. After 25 years on the Supreme Court, she remains a force to be reckoned with.

 

Ginsburg’s determination, courage and steadfast ability to drill down on overwhelming numbers of details are the weft in the fabric of her remarkable life. Even her personal trainer, Bryant Johnson, calls her a “cyborg.”

 

Directors Betsy West and Julie Cohen have crafted an unabashed valentine to the second woman and sixth Jew appointed to the US Supreme Court, peppering their film with interviews, public appearances, archival material and even a Trump tweet. In less than two hours, they cover a lot of ground.

 

Born to impoverished working-class immigrants, Ginsburg’s intellectual prowess was evident at a young age. She credits her mother in particular with encouraging her to reach her full potential.

 

Central to the film and to Ginsburg’s life is the story of her marriage to Marty Ginsburg, one year her senior, whom she met during her undergraduate days at Cornell. “He was the first boy I ever knew who cared that I had a brain,” she says. A gifted tax attorney, Marty was also his wife’s biggest supporter, holding down the domestic front while she made history and greasing the wheels behind the scene to ensure her name was on President Clinton’s list of candidates when Byron White retired from the Supreme Court.

 

Justice Ginsburg’s days at Harvard Law School planted the seed for her trailblazing fight for the rights of women and other marginalized groups. As one of only nine women in a class of 500, she recalls — with neither resentment nor belligerence — the dean asking her why she thought she deserved a seat that belonged to a man.

 

When her husband graduated a year ahead of her and took a job in New York, she transferred to Columbia Law School, where she graduated at the top of her class with distinction. Nonetheless, no firm would hire her. “Being a woman was an impediment,” she says.

 

Determined to remove that obstruction for others, she co-founded the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project while on the faculty at Rutgers University Law School and wrote the first legal casebook on gender-based discrimination. She also formulated a slow but steady legal strategy to end sex discrimination fashioned after Thurgood Marshall’s success at ending the US official policy of segregation.

 

She argued six cases before the Supreme Court (winning five), reasoning that the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment barred treating women differently than men, just as it barred racial discrimination. “Ruth Bader Ginsburg quite literally changed the way the world is for women,” NPR’s Nina Totenberg says during an on-screen interview.

 

Nowhere is that more evident than during Ginsburg’s Supreme Court Senate confirmation hearings, when she at times seems to play the role of patient professor lecturing the judiciary panel. “RBG” paints a memorable portrait of an extraordinarily hard-working woman, but it is also at its heart a primer in constitutional law.

 

Overall, despite its passion and solemnity, the film has a light touch, never diving deeply into the grit and controversy that must have swirled behind those hallowed judicial chambers. Ginsburg may be brainy and indomitable, but she is also charming and approachable.

 

That accessibility may explain why Teen Vogue, the e-magazine geared to teenage girls, touts an unlikely pair of stories on its recent home page. One features un-retouched photos of Rihanna’s new lingerie line. The other is “7 Essential Ruth Bader Ginsburg Supreme Rulings to Know About.”

Lights, camera, action! JCC film festival screens in Marblehead, Salem

 

 

 

APRIL 26, 2018, MARBLEHEAD – Film fans on the North Shore who love Jewish movies but don’t love driving over bridges or through tunnels to see them are in for a treat.

From Tuesday, May 8, to Friday, May 18, the fifth annual JCC of the North Shore International Jewish Film Festival will bring 12 award-winning films to theaters in Marblehead and Salem. With a range in genre from historical fiction and documentaries to mystery, comedy, and drama, the 2018 lineup has something to satisfy every taste.

The 21 members of the Film Committee and co-chairs Izzi Abrams and Sara Winer selected films that showcase Jewish- and Israeli-themed topics. None of the films have been previously shown locally and half include post-screening speakers.

The 2018 festival includes two unique Israeli films, one for mature audiences (“The Cakemaker”) and one dealing with an international problem that affects all combat veterans (“When the Smoke Clears”).

Films will be screened at the Warwick Cinema in Marblehead, the Salem Visitor Center and – for the first time ‒ Cinema Salem. Several films will be screened twice, with both evening and matinée offerings.

“This festival is a signature JCCNS event, one that we look forward to bringing to the community each and every year,” Marty Schneer, executive director of the JCCNS and Film Committee member, said in a statement.

Barbara Schneider recalled how the film festival got started. About eight years ago, when she was publisher of the Jewish Journal, the owner of the Gloucester Cinema approached her about collaborating with the Journal. But the timing wasn’t right.

After a brief and loose affiliation with the Boston Jewish Film Festival, the idea lay dormant until Schneer became executive director of the JCCNS in 2012 and revived it.

“Marty was a key motivator,” Schneider said. He started pulling together a group to help organize and plan the film festival. “I said to Marty, ‘If you want this to be successful, you need to get Izzi Abrams,’” Schneider added.

Schneer did just that and Abrams chaired the first festival in 2014 and every one since, sharing the duty for the first time this year. “It really took off. People were very excited,” Schneider said.

“Itzhak” is the Opening Night celebratory screening at the Salem Visitor Center at 7 p.m. on May 8. This inspirational American-made documentary dives below the surface of violinist Itzhak Perlman, disabled polio survivor and masterful musician, to reveal the charming and entrancing essence of the man. Dessert and live music follow the film.

Also noteworthy is “RBG,” a new documentary about the diminutive but fierce legal warrior and Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg. At 85, Ginsburg’s unique personal journey has been largely unknown, but the filmmakers shed light on this daughter of Russian Jewish immigrants and her stunning legacy. It will be shown May 10 at 8:15 at Cinema Salem.

Of special local interest is “Etched in Glass,” the remarkable story of concentration camp survivor Steve Ross, who founded the New England Holocaust Memorial in Boston. Mike Ross, Steve’s son, and the film’s director, Roger Lyons, will speak after the screening (May 11 at 2:30 p.m. at the Warwick Cinema).

While several films share roots in the Holocaust, their styles are completely different. In “1945,” (in Hungarian and Russian with English subtitles), an Orthodox man and his grown son are treated with suspicion and fear when they arrive at a small Hungarian village. Similarly, Holocaust researcher uncovers a long-buried secret that casts doubt on his family history in “The Testament” (Austria). “Bye Bye Germany” (Germany) combines upbeat klezmer music and a fresh historical perspective to tell the story of a Holocaust survivor who returns to postwar Frankfurt to strike it rich.

Rounding out the lineup are: “Humor Me,” a father-son comedy starring Elliott Gould and Sam Hoffman; “My Hero Brother” (Israel), an inspirational story about young Israelis with Down syndrome who trek through the Himalayas; and “An Act of Defiance” (South Africa), a riveting historical drama about the fight against apartheid and the lawyer who risked his life to defend them.

“Les Enfants de la Chance,” a coming-of-age drama set in 1942 France and based on a true story, will be shown at 7 p.m. on Thursday, May 17, at the Salem Visitors Center. Light refreshments and live music by Jack Skowronski follow the film.

For tickets and more information, call 781-631-8330, or visit jccns.org.