First Jewish Film Festival in Birmingham

This Chanukah, the Levite Jewish Community Center hopes members will give themselves the gift of film as it hosts the first annual Birmingham Jewish Community Film Festival during Chanukah, Dec. 4 and 5.

“We have a very unique, high-quality Jewish community in the Birmingham area. We have very strong agencies, organizations as well as institutions to help involve and unite us,” said Rabbi Ira Flax, Jewish Educator at the LJCC and one of the film festival’s lead organizers, along with LJCC Adult and Senior Programming Director Mindy Cohen.

“We personally love quality films and thought it would be nice to unite many folks from the Jewish community for a social gathering without an agenda. This is something that is fun and enjoyable — a great reason for us to get together as Jews and also celebrate the Chanukah holiday,” added Flax.

The festival kicks off at 7 p.m. on Dec. 4 with the Israeli film “Noodle.” The story is about Miri, a flight attendant who returns home and is asked to watch her Chinese housekeeper’s young son while the housekeeper runs an errand. When the housekeeper fails to return, Miri and her co-workers make it their mission to reunite the two. Miri herself is a two-time war widow with a bleak view of life, but finds purpose in this mission.

At 9:30 p.m., the evening gets even bigger with “A Matter of Size.” Directed and written by Sharon Maymon, “A Matter of Size” is about a group of hefty people from the Israeli city of Ramla who are fed up with the sanctity of the diets and the “Dictatorship of Thinness” of the diet workshop they participate in.

They leave it and discover the world of sumo wrestling, where they feel fat people are honored as well as appreciated. The comedy came out in 2009 and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Film.

On Dec. 5  aat 11:30 a.m., the festival continues with “Surviving Hitler: A Love Story.” Written and directed by John-Keith Wasson, the documentary centers on Jutta, a German girl who founds out when she turns 15 that her mother was Jewish. She was labeled a half-Jew and enemy of the state according to the Nuremberg race laws.

Jutta meets and falls in love with a young German soldier, Helmuth. A few years later they marry and she encourages him to join the German resistance against Hitler and the Nazis. Their love story and family story enjoys a happy ending at the end of the war. Helmuth was an amateur cinematographer and was able to capture some very rare, close-up footage never before seen.

“Surviving Hitler: A Love Story” was featured at the annual Sidewalk Film Festival in Birmingham back in September.

At 1 p.m., the next feature will be “Ajami,” another Israeli film that was nominated for Best Foreign Film in the 2010 Academy Awards. Named for the religiously mixed community of Muslims, Jews and Christians in Tel Aviv, the movie tells of life in the area through five unique stories and perspectives.

There will be a Chanukah party at the LJCC at 3 p.m., at which latkes can be purchased. After the break, attendees can choose from “Jews and Baseball: An American Love Story,” which was the subject of last month’s Beholder’s Eye column in Southern Jewish Life, or two shorter feature films in one block — “Circumcise Me” and “Matzo and Mistletoe.”

“Jews and Baseball” celebrates the contributions of Jewish major leaguers and the special meaning that America’s pastime has had in the lives of Jews. Directed by Peter Miller, written by Ira Berkow and narrated by Dustin Hoffman, the movie presents insight, footage and interviews about Jewish baseball greats including Detroit Tigers Hall of Fame outfielder Hank Greenberg and Dodgers Hall of Fame Pitcher Sandy Koufax.

It also features great Jewish players of today, including outfielder Shawn Green and catcher Brad Ausmus. Interesting perspective also comes from the story of Elliott Maddox, an African-American Mets outfielder in the 1970s who fell in love with Judaism and converted.

That is also what Joseph (now Yisrael) Campbell did years ago. The Philadelphia native converted to Judaism and today lives an Orthodox life in both the U.S. and Jerusalem. His unique story, decisions and observations inspire his stand-up act along with this documentary featuring him – “Circumcise Me.” Some have called Campbell the “Matisyahu of Comedy.”

The film is about 45 minutes, as is “Matzo and Mistletoe.” Another documentary, the movie explores what it is to be a secular Jew and how the outside world views the Jewish people.

Tickets to each screening are $10, except for “Surviving Hitler,” which is $8. A festival pass is also available for $40.

The Birmingham Jewish Film Festival is sponsored by the LJCC, Knesseth Israel, Birmingham Hadassah, the Birmingham Jewish Foundation and the Epsman Center for Creative Expression.