The annual Jewish Genealogy Film Festival, screening some 40 films, will be a highlight of this summer’s 29th IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy. Films will be shown from Sunday-Friday, August 2-7.
“I’m excited that so many filmmakers are coming through to talk about their films at the conference,” writes festival coordinator Pamela Weisberger in an email . “A lot of these films are very new and Philadelphia premieres to boot!”
Although film selection and scheduling is still underway, Pam wants to let Tracing the Tribe’s readers know about already confirmed films and filmmakers. This year’s edition will span the globe, covering a diverse range of topics, locales and Jewish historical periods.
Here’s a preview:
“The Tree of Life” – A personal family saga that illuminates the fascinating history of the Jewish people of Italy, following Israeli-born director, Hava Volterra, as she travels from the U.S. to Italy to trace the roots of her family tree. She digs up rare historical manuscripts linking her to the da Volterra filmy of banks in Florence of the Medici, Ramhal, a Venetian rabbi and mystic involved in the Kabbalah, Luigi Luzzatti, Italy’s first Jewish prime minister, and back to New York’s own mayor Fiorello LaGuardia. Volterra will be present to discuss her film.
“The Longing: The Forgotten Jews of South America” – A small group of South Americans long to affirm their faith. Their ancestors, European Jews, were forced to convert during the Spanish Inquisition. Isolated in Catholic countries, rejected by local Jewish communities, they battle to become Jews regardless of the consequences. Argentinian-born, producer/director Gabriela Bohm will discuss her film.
“In Search of Bene Israel” – Follows a group of 3,500 Jews in and around Bombay which believes that it was shipwrecked in India 2000 years ago and is in the process of a community-wide migration to Israel. We meet a Jewish Indian filmmaker working in Bollywood, a family who takes care of a rural synagogue, and a young couple on the eve of their marriage and departure for Israel. Director Sadia Shepard will discuss her film and sign DVDs.
“No. 4 Street of Our Lady” – The remarkable, yet little-known, story of Francisca Halamajowa, a Polish-Catholic woman who rescued 16 of her Jewish neighbors during the Holocaust by cleverly passing herself off as a Nazi sympathizer. On the eve of World War II, more than 6,000 Jews lived in Sokal, a small town in Eastern Poland, formerly Galicia and now part of Ukraine. By the end of the war, only about 30 had survived, half of them rescued by Halamajowa. The film draws on excerpts from a diary kept by one of the survivors, Moshe Maltz, whose granddaughter produced the film. The film’s Lviv-based researcher Alex Denishenko will be present to discuss it.
“Philly Hoops: The SPHAS & Warriors” – A look back at the first two professional basketball in the city of Philadelphia that were both owned and operated by Eddie Gotlieb “the mogul of basketball.” Producer Jim Rosin will be present to discuss the film and sign DVD copies.
“House of Life” – The story of the old Jewish cemetery in Prague, the site of layer upon layer of buried members of the once-vibrant Jewish community. Almost a million people from all over the world now visit the cemetery each year, and the film chronicles its history, which is rich in lore, mysticism, tradition and philosophy. Tales of great rabbis and philanthropists and the story of the giant golem, created from clay to protect the Jewish people, are narrated by Claire Bloom. Producer Mark Podwal will discuss the film. He is best known for his drawings on The New York Times OP-ED page and as an author and book illustrator, exhibited in museums throughout the world.
“Horodok – A Shtetl’s Story 1920-1945” – This is the story of vibrant life in an Eastern European Jewish village, before WWII, told by partisan-survivors, who moved to Israel after the war. Horodok was in Poland prior to 1939; then in Russia; invaded by the Nazi’s in 1941 and included into Belarus after the war. The film covers the shtetl’s community and religious life; the shtetl economy; Jewish and secular education; the flourishing Zionist youth movements and political parties; the background story of an early 1930’s film of the shtetl; Russian and Nazi occupation; the creation of the Ghetto and Nazi slaughter; Horodok partisans and the end-of-the-war revenge.
“The Rise and Fall of the Borsht Belt” – At is peak, 1 million New York Jews spent their summers in the Borscht Belt, the birthplace of Jewish-American iconoclastic humor. Many of us spent time there during the 1950s and 60s. This film shows how the Catskills communities were run by women and how class divisions were reflected in the resort hotels: a happy, humane, ironic and bittersweet tale of the past.
“Blessed is the Match: The Life and Death of Hannah Senesh” – Narrated by Joan Allen, “Blessed Is the Match” is the first documentary feature about Hannah Senesh, the World War II-era poet and diarist who became a paratrooper, resistance fighter, and modern-day Joan of Arc. Safe in Palestine in 1944, Senesh joined a mission to rescue Jews in her native Hungary. Shockingly, it was the only military rescue mission for Jews during the Holocaust. Through Senesh’s diary entries and poetry, her correspondence with her mother, and unprecedented access to the Senesh family archive, this film looks back on the life of a uniquely talented and complex young woman who came of age in a world descending into madness.
“My Mexican Shiva”- Set in Polanco, a Jewish quarter of Mexico City, and spoken in Spanish, Yiddish and Hebrew, this is a dramatic comedy about how the death of a man results in the celebration of his life.
“Toyland” – The 2008 Oscar-winning short subject film : Winter 1942. A small town in Germany. Despite her good neighborly relations with the Silbersteins, Marianne Meissner has certain difficulties to be really behind them in those dangerous times. Marianne’s son Heinrich entertains a close friendship with David, the son of the Silbersteins, whose deportation is imminent. What can Marianne tell her son? For his sake in order to protect him she tries to make him believe that the neighbors are going on a journey to “Toyland.” When he hears this, he’s envious…and runs off to join them.
“Against the Tide” – Human lives sold for $50. Rabbis marching on Washington. Epic battles between American Jewish communities. These are just three of the realities documented with finesse in this Dustin Hoffman-narrated documentary which addresses the attitudes of President Roosevelt and his senior advisors, who used the pretext of winning the war against the Nazis to block any Jewish immigration to the U.S. and juxtaposes the events in America with heart-wrenching heroic stories of the doomed Jews of Europe and the leaders of Polish Jewry who had faith that their powerful brothers and sisters in the United States would somehow be able to save them.
“Vienna’s Lost Daughters” – Anita, Dorit, Eva, Hennie, Lizzy, Susanne, Susy und Rosalie live in New York, where they have started families and built up lives. “Vienna’s lost daughters” grew up Jewish in Vienna and had to flee suddenly in 1938/39. Director Mirjam Unger encounters them with impressive openness and emotion, providing insight into and a look back at extremely personal areas of their lives as they open the doors to their pasts in Vienna—a Vienna that lives on in New York.
“On Moral Grounds” – The story of former Uzhgorod, Czechoslovakia resident, Adolf Stern, who wouldn’t take no for an answer and battled the giant insurance company, Generali, in court for not giving Holocaust survivors what they rightfully deserved under their policies. His daughter, attorney Lisa Stern teamed up with attorney William Shernoff to win a landmark settlement that resulted in a US $5.2 billion fund that German companies established to pay reparations to the Holocaust survivors.
The complete film list and schedule will be available online in a few weeks. Tracing the Tribe will post updates as more films and filmmakers are confirmed.