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Reel Life

JCC Film Festival strives to entertain and educate.

During the Yom Kippur War, the enemies were Syria and Egypt.

After the war, all fingers pointed at Lt. Gen. David “Dado” Elazar.

Once respected and beloved throughout Israel, Elazar was chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces from 1972 to 1974. A government commission blamed him for Israel’s terrible losses during the war while Defense Minister Moshe Dayan and Prime Minister Golda Meir remained initially, and inexplicably, unscathed.

Elazar resigned, and by 1976 he was dead of a heart attack. He was 51 years old.

Though later exonerated, Elazar remained something of an enigma, both to the country and his own son, Yair.

Thirty years after Elazar’s death, Yair decided to make a film about his father. He could never have imagined the man he would discover.

Missing Father will be shown at 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 24, at the Berman Center for the Performing Arts in West Bloomfield, following the communitywide Yom HaZikaron ceremony honoring Israeli soldiers who have fallen in battle.

It is one of more than 30 films in the Jewish Community Center of Metropolitan Detroit’s 14th annual Lenore Marwil Jewish Film Festival, to be held April 22-May 3 in West Bloomfield, Royal Oak, Ann Arbor and Flint.

“Once again the world of film comes to the JCC’s Lenore Marwil Jewish Film Festival,” said the event’s chair, Eric Lumberg. “There is something for everyone’s interest — something to entertain, inform or educate.

“In particular, this year’s documentary films are outstanding and show that sometimes truth is just as compelling as fiction.”

The event’s opening night will feature Buried Prayers, followed by a presentation from the film’s writer and producer, Matt Mazer, at the Berman. Buried Prayers begins in 1943, when a handful of Jews who survived the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising are taken to Majdanek. There, they decide to hide the few, small items they still have rather than let these fall into the hands of the Nazis. So they bury the photos, the coins and the jewelry 6 inches in the earth, where they lay hidden for years, untouched.

But not forgotten.

Most of those Jews at Majdanek were murdered, but the ones who survived never forgot the secret the earth kept for so many years. One day, they return to see what remains.

Buried Prayers, which received the Best Documentary at the Cinequest Film Festival in 2010, brings together survivors and researchers from Australia, the United States, Germany, Israel, Italy and England who return to Majdanek to unearth the keepsakes.

Eventually, more than 80 items are found — the largest recovery of valuables from any Nazi death camp.

“Seeing this film is an unforgettable experience,” said Film Festival Director Rachel Ruskin. “It is truly moving to watch the team uncovering the personal objects.”

This year marks Ruskin’s first as Lenore Marwil Jewish Film Festival director, and she is certain she has just walked into Paradise.

A Detroit native who also lived for several years in Israel, Ruskin often told friends that her dream job was to choose all the films shown on a TV movie channel. As director of the film festival, she was able to do virtually that, offering a selection that is diverse and fresh.

There are a number of Israeli films this year and a workshop with Israeli screenwriter Galit Roichman (Homecoming). Ruskin admits to a strong affinity for Israeli films, “even if they’re bad!”

Unlike American cinema, which often invites audiences to experience worlds as far from reality as possible, movies made in Israel ask audiences to experience even more reality, with themes often including war and terrorism, intermarriage and societal problems.

That’s why Ruskin loves them.

“Watching Israeli films is like peering into Israeli society,” Ruskin says. One of her favorites is Walk on Water, the story of a Mossad agent dealing with the death of his wife, searching for a Nazi war criminal, falling in love with his German goddaughter and (yes, there’s more) addressing his own homophobia.

Israeli movies are her favorites, but Ruskin also recommends foreign films of all kinds, including Bride Flight, which will be shown Saturday, April 28, at the Berman and Wednesday, April 25, at the Emagine Royal Oak.

A Dutch film, Bride Flight is an epic romance that takes place just after World War II. As the story begins, three Dutch women, named Esther, Ada and Marjorie, are on their way to New Zealand to meet their future husbands. Also on board is a charming young man named Frank, and all their lives are about to become entangled. (Please note: This film contains mature material and sexual content.)

According to Ruskin, the movie’s “beautiful scenery and cinematography make this film especially engaging on the big screen.”

But if you’re not interested in a love story, there’s plenty more to fall in love with at the film festival, Ruskin says.

Just consider the extraordinary diversity of the topics: Sholem Aleichem, a small group of Jews who escape to Colombia during World War II, wounded soldiers who participate in an extraordinary ski program, an Israeli astronaut, a quirky family reunion, a rabbi accused of sexual abuse, Building Bridges for Peace participants, the mysterious history of a famous painting and Muslims who helped Jews during World War II. (For a complete list, see the Accompanying Schedule.)

By Elizabeth Applebaum, a marketing specialist at the Jewish Community Center of Metropolitan Detroit.




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