This year, view films digitally at home Oct. 4-30.
The Lenore Marwil Detroit Jewish Film Festival will be different in timing and delivery this year, but the content will be very much as originally planned before COVID-19 limited in-person gatherings.
More than 20 films scheduled for the original theater showings can be seen digitally Oct. 4-30, and there will be plenty of speakers as interviewed by Elliot Wilhelm, director and curator at the Detroit Film Theatre (DFT) and film instructor at Wayne State University.
Films, often falling into overlapping categories, will be available for fans specifically seeking out drama, comedy, documentary, Israel and Holocaust themes. Examples, in order of category, include Budapest Noir, about a crime reporter investigating a murder; Love in Suspenders, about romance the second time around; Back to Maracanã, about multi-generational shared experiences; The Rabbi from Hezbollah, about a spy who becomes a rabbi; and The Mover, about a man who saved Jews from the Nazis.
“I realize this is a big change for our regular audience, and we hope that everyone gives us a chance and tries it out,” said Eric Lumberg, who has been festival chairman for seven years and is a longtime fan of independent and foreign films.
“Given the circumstances, we are developing a new kind of festival that I think people will love. Our committee watches between 100 and 150 films depending on the year and narrows them down to our top choices.
“We want to have a wide variety of types of films. Our mission is to highlight films that have Jewish themes or subject matter or come from the Israeli film industry, which has really upped its game by producing films that deal with everything.”
Lumberg explained that the committee decided to request a partnership with the DFT to broaden the audience base for the festival, utilize different marketing avenues through DFT resources, make the digital experience more well-rounded and tap into Wilhelm’s expertise for the discussion sessions.
Jaemi Loeb, senior director of cultural arts at the Jewish Community Center, explained that one reason the film festival is being held in the fall instead of the spring is because planners did not want to wait two years between events.
Also, they had to delay the timing from spring to fall because of the changes that had to be put in place for digital programming. Besides the technical considerations, they had to get streaming rights from distributors.
“There was one film that we wanted to show in May, but the timing didn’t work out then,” Loeb said. “Now we’ve been able to include They Ain’t Ready for Me.”
The film, a documentary about Tamar Manasseh, addresses a number of contemporary issues. It explores the life of a woman holding both Black and Jewish identities and tackling Chicago gun violence through the organization Mothers Against Senseless Killings (MASK).
While the speakers are still being chosen, among those already scheduled is Adar Shafran, producer of Douze Points, a comedy-thriller centering around a song contest. The live presentation will run from noon-1 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 8.
“I’m thrilled by the way creative communities are adapting to the pandemic,” Wilhelm said. “It’s not the same experience as being in a theater, but it’s the ability to keep up and see new films. It’s a world still in formation, and it has involved a lot of technological work.
“I’m going to be involved with at least half of the films with discussions, interviews, panel moderations and questions from the audience, and the details will be up online. People need to buy tickets to the films, but the discussions are going to be open free of charge. The educational aspect was really appealing to me.”
Although Loeb knows she will miss the in-person aspects of the festival, she points out what she considers some digital advantages:S
“People can watch whenever they like during the time of the festival, and the discussions will stay on our YouTube channel. We’re building a TV app for smart televisions [to make viewing] super easy, and easy is what we’re going for.”
Not Sure What To See? We’ve Got You Covered
By Andrew Lapin, editor
Here are some notable highlights from this year’s selection:
Incitement: This provocative Israeli historical drama is set in the days leading up to the 1995 assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, and follows Yigal Amir, the Israeli right-wing extremist who committed the atrocity. It was selected as the country’s Best International Feature Film entry for the 2020 Oscars.
Abe: For more lighthearted, family-friendly fare, check out this comedy about a half-Israeli, half-Palestinian boy in Brooklyn (played by Noah Schnapp from Stranger Things) who sets out to unite his family through the power of fusion cuisine.
Chichinette: The Accidental Spy: This moving documentary profiles Marthe Cohn, a 98-year-old French Jewish woman who reveals her secret past as a spy in Nazi Germany. Posing as a German nurse, Cohn gathered information on planned Nazi strikes and snuck the details to French intelligence following the liberation of Paris.
City of Joel: The New York village of Kiryas Joel has a huge population of Yiddish-speaking, ultra-Orthodox Satmar Chasidic Jews … and their numbers grow by leaps and bounds every year. This documentary profiles the local power struggles over land and resources between the religious and secular communities.
Mossad!: This goofy spy spoof does for Israeli national security what Get Smart and Austin Powers did for America and British secret agents: milks the whole enterprise for (kosher) laughs. In fact, American spoof legend David Zucker (Airplane!) is a credited consultant on the film.
The Lenore Marwil Detroit Jewish Film Festival can be accessed digitally Oct. 4-30. A festival pass begins at $180 for one person. Each film begins at $5 per person. A pass lets a viewer watch all the films as many times as wanted over the three festival weeks. Without a pass, it’s like renting a movie on demand. Films are not on the YouTube channel. For a full listing and to get tickets, go to culturalarts.jccdet.org/filmfest/.