LEFT: Forgiveness. CENTER: From Cairo to the Cloud: The World of the Cairo Geniza. RIGHT: Carol Kane (Hester Street) and Amy Irving (Crossing Delancey) will discuss their memories of working with pioneering director Joan Micklin Silver May 23.
LEFT: Forgiveness. CENTER: From Cairo to the Cloud: The World of the Cairo Geniza. RIGHT: Carol Kane (Hester Street) and Amy Irving (Crossing Delancey) will discuss their memories of working with pioneering director Joan Micklin Silver May 23.

This year’s Lenore Marwil Detroit Jewish Film Festival, running May 2-23, offers virtual viewers a variety of cinematic themes and relevant speakers.

From a documentary about finding and remotely circulating priceless historical documents to a fictional comedy about bumbling bank robbers, this year’s Lenore Marwil Detroit Jewish Film Festival, running May 2-23, offers virtual viewers a variety of cinematic themes and relevant speakers. 

On the serious end of the spectrum, From Cairo to the Cloud: The World of the Cairo Geniza explains how a cache of medieval materials was uncovered in the storeroom (geniza) of an Egyptian synagogue (Ben Ezra), divided mostly between Cambridge University in England and the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) in New York and made available to interested researchers through the web. 

David Kraemer, director of the JTS library and JTS professor of Talmud and rabbinics, appears in the film and will be interviewed online about the movie content and implications of the materials.

On the comedic end of the spectrum, Forgiveness explores evolving reconciliation attitudes of two inept conspirators, one who is imprisoned and one who gets away. The Israeli film, with English subtitles, is produced by Adar Shafran, who spoke remotely to Michigan audiences when an earlier festival presented his production Douze Points.

This year’s event breaks away from the web for one evening (Thursday, May 6) by offering a drive-in opportunity showcasing classic Marx Brothers films. The closing night (Sunday, May 23) presents a remote discussion by award-winning actors Carol Kane (Hester Street) and Amy Irving (Crossing Delancey) as they remember working with pioneering director Joan Micklin Silver. 

Historical Significance

From Cairo to the Cloud does an exceptional job in telling about what is arguably one of the most significant historical discoveries of the last century-and-a-half,” said Kraemer, who will be interviewed by Susan Adelman, Michigan author of After Saturday Comes Sunday, which examines the history of Christian and Jewish communities in Mideast countries. 

“We have samples of everything the collection contains — prayer books, rabbinic texts, Biblical texts, personal letters, commercial lists, compositions by people like Maimonides, Judah Halevi poetry, marriage documents and exercises for children learning how to write.”

All the documents remain in their original languages, whether Hebrew, Aramaic, Arabic or Judeo-Arabic for scholars to translate. 

“A major point [in the collection] was the great acculturation of the Jewish community in the Arab-Muslim community of medieval Cairo,” said Kraemer, who has spoken many times at local synagogues and the University of Michigan. 

“Jews spoke Arabic, lived in ways very similar to their neighbors and were very much involved with the lives of their neighbors but [remained] powerfully Jewish. [The Geniza] is about people living together in ways that are often quite unexpected.”

Other documentaries being showcased this year include Mrs. G, which tells about the woman who designed and established a booming swimwear business; Hollywood’s Second World War, which reveals how successful European-born directors returned to Europe and risked their lives to make films about U.S. Army triumphs, such as the liberation of Dachau; and Maverick Modigliani, which chronicles the life of the Jewish Italian artist.

On the Lighter Side

“I remember talking to a Michigan audience as a nice experience with everything very well organized, and I love Forgiveness because I love comedies,” said Shafran, who has been a producer with his own company, Firma Films, for 15 years and has overseen 10 feature movies, TV series and shorts.

“This comedy is warm and funny, and it has a meaning that says although someone or something is harming you, you need to try and find a place to forgive. I hope that people will see this film, laugh and cry, and think about how forgiveness is a great thing.” 

Other festival comedies include Kiss Me Kosher, which is about lovers who don’t seem meant for each other, and If You See My Mother, which is about a young doctor who talks to his mom after her death while starting a romance mom likely would not approve of.

Remaining films delve into relationships, wildlife adventure, Holocaust drama, mystery and other topics that draw audiences to plotlines in varied contexts of Judaism. 

While the documentary On Broadway features big-name stars talking about stage creativity and business, Israeli singer-actress Shiri Maimon, who has starred on Broadway, can be seen in Forgiveness. She is particularly familiar to a Michigan audience who watched her remote musical appearance in a recent Temple Israel program. 

Details:

The Lenore Marwil Detroit Jewish Film Festival runs May 2-23. $5 per film per viewer
available in a 24-hour time frame. For a full listing of films, associated programming, sponsorship and festival passes, go to culturalarts.jccdet.org/filmfest. (248) 609-3303.