Baton Rouge, Mobile Jewish Film Festivals in January

The Man in the Basement

The Baton Rouge and Mobile Jewish Film Festivals, which will both take place in January, have two films in common this year.

“Farewell Mr. Haffman” opens the Mobile festival, Jan. 8 at 2 p.m. at Springhill Avenue Temple, and closes the Baton Rouge festival, Jan. 15 at 3 p.m. It was also screened as part of Sidewalk’s Jewish Film Week in Birmingham in November.

Based on a multi Moliere Award-winning play, the French film is set in occupied Paris in 1941. When a decree is issued for Jewish residents to come forward and identify themselves, jeweler Joseph Haffman is concerned and arranges for his family to flee, and lets his employee take over the store for the interim. But when his escape plan falls through, he is forced to seek his assistant’s protection, moving in with his assistant and assistant’s wife, leading to a Faustian bargain, with his presence in the basement proving to be growingly hazardous.

Another French film, “The Man in the Basement,” will be in Baton Rouge on Jan. 14 at 7:30 p.m. In Mobile, it will screen twice — Jan. 17 at 7 p.m. at the South Alabama Fairhope campus, and on Jan. 24 at 7 p.m. at the South Alabama campus in Mobile. Author Roy Hoffman will be the guest speaker.

The psychological thriller is about a real estate transaction gone awry — a Jewish couple in Paris sells the unused basement in their building to a nondescript former history teacher, who seems normal. But they soon realize he is an antisemitic conspiracy theorist, and they struggle to rescind the sale. Complicating matters, he insinuates himself with the couple’s naïve teen daughter, turning their world upside down.

Mobile festival is back in person

As the Mobile Jewish Film Festival returns to in-person programming, there will be one event that isn’t a film.

A live performance of “Anne and Emmett” will be on Jan. 12 at 7:30 p.m. at Joe Jefferson Playhouse. The performance is a gift from the festival, and a limited number of tickets will be available through the festival website, on a first come, first served basis.

The one-act play is an imaginary conversation between Anne Frank and Emmett Till, both of whom were victims of intolerance and hate. They meet in a place called Memory, where they learn about each other and their traumatic pasts — Frank being murdered in a concentration camp after being in hiding from the Nazis, and Till being murdered after being accused of whistling at a white woman in Mississippi in 1955.

The play is produced by the Mississippi State University Theater Department, which hosted the show in November 2020, along with William Carey University in Hattiesburg. In November, the show was performed in Birmingham, including two school performances the day after the public performance.

The Mobile festival opens on Jan. 8 at 2 p.m. at Springhill Avenue Temple, with “Farewell Mr. Haffman.” A dessert reception will follow.

On Jan. 10 at 7 p.m., also at Springhill Avenue Temple, “Why the Jews?” explores Jewish achievement. The 2018 Canadian documentary asks the touchy question of why Jews over-achieve in so many places, and what the consequences have been, both positive and negative.

For example, 22 percent of Nobel Prize winners, 33 percent of Oscar-winning directors and 40 percent of world chess champions have been Jews, despite there being just 15 million Jews in the entire world.

Adaptability has been a secret to survival, but that very success often attracts resentment.

The director, John Curtin, was raised Catholic but had a Jewish father.

The festival continues with “The Man in the Basement” on Jan. 17 at the University of South Alabama in Fairhope, and Jan. 24 on the Mobile USA campus. Both screenings are at 7 p.m.

“Bad Nazi. Good Nazi.” will screen at the Mobile Museum of Art on Jan. 19 at 3 p.m. It is the story of Wilm Hosenfeld, immortalized as the Nazi who saved The Pianist’s life in Roman Polanski’s film. The film centers on a controversy in Thalau, Germany, over whether to erect a statue honoring him.

He was a devout Nazi in the 1930s while principal of Thalau Elementary School. But a look at his diaries shows how his views changed completely as he saw the atrocities being committed by the SS and Gestapo, especially on infants and children. It turns out that pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman is one of 60 people he ultimately saved, before he was captured, tortured and executed in a Soviet prison camp.

The film is an exploration of how narrative films shape personal legacies.

David Meola, professor in the USA history department, will speak following the film.

“The Narrow Bridge” will be on Jan. 25 at 7 p.m. at the Mobile campus of USA. It tells the story of four people who lost a child or parent in conflict, and now belong to Israeli Palestinian Bereaved Families, working to end violence and battling against political and family opposition.

“Rose,” on Jan. 26 at 7 p.m. at USA in Mobile, is a family matriarch who is suddenly widowed at age 78. She rejects social pressure to “act her age” and decides it is never too late to seek happiness. A dessert reception will follow the film.

The final film, “Exodus 91,” is the Reita Franco memorial film. It will be at Ahavas Chesed on Jan. 29 at 2 p.m. The docu-narrative film is the story of Asher Naim, an Israeli diplomat of north African origin, who is sent to Ethiopia to negotiate the escape of 15,000 Ethiopian Jews from famine and civil war.

He works with colleagues who were themselves smuggled out of Ethiopia a few years earlier. They begin to question if the operation is serious or a publicity stunt in the face of charges that “Zionism is racism.” As the rebels close in on the capital, Naim’s faith is put to the test as he navigates bureaucracy and politics.

Tickets for the festival go on sale on Dec. 18 through the Mobile Area Jewish Federation website. Festival passes are $55, individual movies are $9.

Sponsorship levels start at $100 with two complimentary tickets. The $500 level has eight complimentary tickets and first access to two tickets to “Anne and Emmett.” Levels progress to the $2500 Executive Producer level, with 21 complimentary tickets and first access to eight tickets to “Anne and Emmett.”

There will also be a virtual option for all of the films.

Baton Rouge festival at the Manship Theatre

The Baton Rouge Jewish Film Festival returns to the Manship Theatre for its 17th season, highlighting the diversity of the Jewish experience through film.

The festival opens on Jan. 11 with “Karaoke” at 7 p.m., an Israeli film about a married middle class couple in their 60s, dealing with empty-nest boredom. They are then drawn to their new neighbor, a charismatic bachelor who holds karaoke nights in his apartment, who reawakens their sleepy relationship, but also become dependent on their new friend.

Grand winner of the Israeli Academy Awards and winner of three major awards at the Israeli Documentary Awards, “Speer Goes to Hollywood” presents the enigma of Albert Speer: the highest-ranking Nazi in Nuremberg who, despite his crimes, was spared the death sentence. Instead, he served 20 years in prison, becoming a free man in 1966.

Based on months of audio cassettes recorded by screenwriter Andrew Birkin, the film features Speer’s callous attempt to whitewash his past in a feature film. The rare archival materials selected to illustrate his account offer a chance to look beyond his words and ponder whether this eloquent but ultimately self-serving narcissist was recording history — or recording his story.

The film will be screened on Jan. 12 at 7 p.m.

Two films also in the Mobile festival will conclude the Baton Rouge festival, with “The Man in the Basement” on Jan. 14 at 7:30 p.m., and “Farewell, Mr. Haffman” on Jan. 15 at 3 p.m.

There is a VIP Movie Club for the festival, which includes early bird access to seats, two free tickets to opening night, $2 off the other screenings, and drink and snack coupons.

Season passes are also available through the theatre. More information is here.