Mobile Jewish Film Festival reverts to virtual for this year

After holding a virtual event last year, the Mobile Jewish Film Festival was planning on a hybrid event this year, returning to its model of numerous films in several venues, while preserving a virtual option for all but one of the films.

But at the end of December, the rapid spread of Omicron compelled the organizers to announce that the festival will be virtual-only this year.

“We are holding our breath to see what the next month holds,” said festival co-chair Barry Silverman last month. “If things worsen, we may revert to virtual again as we did last year.”

One positive from the Covid-era festival last year was connecting to filmmakers over Zoom, Silverman said, and there are plans to have question and answer sessions with three filmmakers this year. With the festival going virtual, the timing of introductions and question-and-answer sessions may change.

The festival will run from Jan. 13 to 30. “Breaking Bread” was supposed to be the final film in the series but was not available for online screening, so it has been dropped from the schedule. All films will be available virtually starting at 8 a.m. on Jan. 13.

Organizers hope to screen “Breaking Bread” in person later this year, along with a few other films, when Covid wanes.

Since the festival has shifted to online, in-person tickets can be exchanged for online tickets. Those preferring not to view films online can get refunds. Films may be viewed online from Jan. 13 to 30, but once a film is started, it must be completed within 48 hours.

Individual film tickets are $9, and a festival pass is $65. Tickets are available here. Sponsorships start with Friend at $100 to Executive Producer at $2500.

The first film will be “Chasing Portraits.” The film details the works of Moshe Rynecki, a prolific artist in Warsaw who painted scenes of the Polish Jewish community. He was murdered at the Majdanek concentration camp in 1943. After the war, his wife was able to find only a small fraction of his work, but a lot more of his pieces survived. His great-granddaughter, filmmaker Elizabeth Rynecki, embarked on a decade-long quest to find his works, with unexpected success. Rather than reclaim them, she explores how the works wound up where they are, and whether they should remain there.

Rynecki will have a question and answer session following the film, via Zoom. The group screening was planned for Jan. 13 at 3 p.m.

Many people embark on significant new careers, though it would initially seem like Carl Laemmle would be hard-pressed to top his initial achievements. The documentary about his achievements goes by the same name, “Carl Laemmle.”

A German immigrant, Laemmle invested in nickelodeons and fought Thomas Edison’s attempts to monopolize the film industry. He headed to California and in 1912 founded Universal Pictures.

Laemmle hired many talents who would go on to become Hollywood legends, including Walt Disney, John Ford, William Wyler and Irving Thalberg, and also hired many female directors.

In 1936 he changed course, forced to sell Universal because of the Depression. He had annoyed Adolf Hitler with his 1930 Best Picture winner, “All Quiet on the Western Front.” Now, he set out to save lives, battling Nazis and the notoriously antisemitic U.S. State Department to rescue more than 300 Jewish refugee families in his original hometown from the Holocaust before he died in 1939.

There will be a question and answer session with filmmaker James Freedman after the screening, which was planned for 3 p.m. on Jan. 16.

Inspired by true events, “Persian Lessons” depicts a Jewish prisoner during the Holocaust who pretends to be Iranian in a bid to save his life, then is forced to teach Farsi — which he does not speak — to a Nazi officer.

David Meola, Jewish and Holocaust Studies Chair at the University of South Alabama, will lead a discussion after the film. The screening was planned for Jan. 18 at 7 p.m.

Thou Shalt Not Hate” is an exploration of emotion and morality. Simone, a surgeon who is the son of a Holocaust survivor, rushes to a hit-and-run accident, but upon seeing a swastika tattoo on the victim’s chest, he lets nature take its course. After, he confronts the ethics of his choice, further complicated by feelings of guilt and how he bonds with the neo-Nazi’s daughter.

Author Roy Hoffman will lead a post-film discussion, originally planned for 7 p.m. on Jan. 19.

Kiss Me Kosher” is a romantic comedy about two families from very different cultural and religious backgrounds frantically planning a same-sex wedding in Israel, and how they try to overcome their differences — except for one grandmother of the Israeli partner who insists Germans and Jews should not marry, while she has her own skeleton in the closet.

Irmi” is a deeply personal film made by a daughter who is inspired by her mother’s story and her spirit, exploring the way in which unexpected events and chance encounters can both shape a life and reveal its true nature.

Actress Hanna Schygulla reads from the memoir of Irmi Selver, a native of Germany who lost her first husband and two children in the Holocaust, detailing how she traveled from country to country, picking up the local language and showing strength, resilience and joie de vivre. She died in New York in 2004 at the age of 97.

My Name is Sara” is based on the true-life story of 13-year-old Sara Goralnik. After escaping a Jewish Ghetto in Poland and losing her family at the outset of the Holocaust, Sara hides in plain sight, using a classmate’s name to pass as an Orthodox Christian in the Ukrainian countryside, where she is taken in by a farmer and his young wife. She soon discovers the dark secrets of her employers’ marriage, compounding the greatest secret she must strive to protect, her true identity.

Filmmaker Mickey Shapiro said he did not know many details of his mother’s story until she visited the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum with her grandchildren. She was interviewed for the Shoah Foundation oral history project in 2012. Springhill Avenue Temple Rabbi Edward Boraz will introduce the film, originally scheduled for Jan. 25 at 7 p.m.

A story accessible to all ages, “The Crossing” tells the story of the adventurous 10-year-old Gerda and her brother Otto, whose parents are in the Norwegian resistance movement during the Second World War. One day, just before Christmas in 1942, Gerda and Otto’s parents are arrested, leaving the siblings on their own. Following the arrest, they discover two Jewish children, Sarah and Daniel, hidden in a secret cupboard in their basement at home. It is now up to Gerda and Otto to finish what their parents started: To help Sarah and Daniel flee from the Nazis cross the border to neutral Sweden and reunite them with their parents.

Don Berry, director of the Gulf Coast Holocaust Center, will introduce the film, which was originally scheduled for Jan. 27 at 7 p.m