New York definitely does not lack for film festivals. If anything, they seem to run nonstop from January through December, from Lower Tribeca to Upper Riverdale. We even boast four separate festivals devoted exclusively to films connected to Israel and other Jewish subjects.. Still, without doubt, one of the best of all of New York's cinematic celebrations in any category is the New York Jewish Film Festival. Sponsored jointly by The Film Society of Lincoln Center and The Jewish Museum, the NYJFF opens its nineteenth annual season this week with the American premiere of Saviors in the Night, Dutch born director Ludi Boeken's stirring drama about a group of Westphalian German farmers who, unlike the vast majority of their countrymen, courageously risk their own lives to hide a Jewish family from the Nazis.
Holocaust linked events are understandably a frequent subject of the NYJFF, a two week long event that runs this year from January 13 to January 28 at the Jewish Museum, the Film Society's Walter Reade Theater and the The JCC on Manhattan's Upper West Side. But while the systematic slaughter of six million Jews and its continuing aftershocks account for many of the festival's features and documentaries, they are by far not its exclusive fare.
The socially pressured life in modern Jerusalem's ultra orthodox enclave, for example, comes to vivacity in Israeli director's Eyes Wide Open, the powerful tale of a strictly forbidden and doomed gay love affair between a deeply religious married man and Ezri, the mysteriously handsome assistant who comes to work for him in a neighborhood kosher butcher shop. Hannah Rothschild's documentary The Jazz Baroness, which has its New York premiere, examines the oddly cross cultured life of Baroness Panninica "Nica" Rothschild de Konigswater, a pal and patron/muse of jazz great Thelonius Monk. Academy Award winning director Adam Elliot offers up his claymation film Mary and Max, the tale of an unlikely but moving pen pal correspondence between Max Horovitz, a 44-year-old, severely obese, Jewish New Yorker who suffers from Asperger's Syndrome, and Mary Dinkle, a lonely 8-year-old Australian girl.
One of the featured highlights is Israel's nomination for this year's Academy Award foreign film Oscar: Ajami, an Israeli-Arab, Israeli-Jewish co-directed crime drama about the often brutal intersection of Arab and Jewish lives in Tel Aviv's multi-ethnic neighborhoods of seaside Jaffa. France offers Jean Bodon's Leon Blum -- For All Mankind, the story of the French Jew who twice served as premier of France, with an interruption for a wartime stint in Buchenwald. Llewellyn Smith's Herskovits at the Heart of Blackness takes us into the world of Melville J. Herskovits, the anthropologist who pioneered tracking Black cultural roots directly to Africa itself.
And strictly for fun, there is a restoration by Brandeis University's National Center for Jewish Film of Bar Miztvah, an all but forgotten 1935 Yiddish feature film starring the legendary Boris Thomashefsky. It's a corny, badly made early talkie, but it's a chance to see the one time heartthrob of Second Avenue at work in a photo-play that gives today's audience a betampte taste of what a Sunday afternoon was like in the great Yiddish theater of yesteryear. It even features some fabulous Thirties song and dance hoofing!