Jewish Film Festivals return to the screen in Mobile and Baton Rouge in January.
The Mobile Jewish Film Festival will be in numerous venues around Mobile and Baldwin Counties from Jan. 7 to 21, while the 18th Baton Rouge Jewish Film Festival continues its run at the Manship Theatre, Jan. 10 to 14.
For the Mobile festival, most of the films will have a virtual option in addition to the in-person screening. As part of the festival, the Julien Marx Student Holocaust Film Series will teach the lessons of the Holocaust to students throughout Mobile and Baldwin Counties.
The comedy “My Neighbor Adolf” kicks off the Mobile festival, Jan. 7 at 2 p.m. at Springhill Avenue Temple. The comic drama is set in 1960 in Colombia, as a grumpy Holocaust survivor, Marek Polsky, is convinced that his new neighbor is actually Adolf Hitler, because right after Eichmann was captured in Argentina, a mysterious old German man moved in next door to him. Nobody believes Polsky, so he works to become closer to the neighbor, to gather evidence. An opening reception will follow the screening.
The next three films are at the Laidlaw Performing Arts Center on the campus of the University of South Alabama. On Jan. 9 at 7 p.m., the festival revisits “Rock in the Red Zone,” which was shown nine years ago. The documentary focuses on Sderot, a town half a mile from the Gaza border, whose Jews are mainly of Middle Eastern and North African descent. Ever since Hamas took over the Gaza Strip in 2007, Sderot has been under a recurring barrage of rocket fire. Despite that, a successful music industry developed in the town, and the film shows how they create under a challenging atmosphere.
Currently, the town of 30,000 is almost deserted after the Hamas attack of Oct. 7, which killed around 40 residents. Alabama has close ties to Sderot, as the Alabama-Israel Task Force is a major supporter of the Israel Leadership Institute there. “Rock in the Red Zone” Director Shoshana Treichel will introduce the film.
On Jan. 10 at 7 p.m., “Rabbi on the Block” highlights the Jewish and African-American communities’ quest to work together. Tamar Manasseh, a charismatic rabbi and community activist from the south side of Chicago, sees herself as a bridge between the African American and Jewish communities. An anti-violence activist, she was previously featured in a documentary, “They Ain’t Ready for Me.” The more recent work, which focuses on her spiritual journey, debuted at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival in July.
Her mother “reverted” to Judaism, and Manasseh grew up attending a Jewish day school, taking the bus from Chicago’s South Side to an affluent neighborhood where the school was located. After her daughter’s bat mitzvah, she enrolled in the International Israelite rabbinical school, studying with Rabbi Capers Funnye, but after several years of the institution refusing to ordain a woman despite her service to the community, Funnye took it upon himself to ordain her in 2021.
According to j., the Jewish news of Northern California, the film does not delve into Hebrew Israelism, which is often seen as outside of mainstream Judaism. While there are some radical Hebrew Israelite movements hostile to white Jews, many Hebrew Israelite congregations want to be part of the broader Jewish world, and Manasseh sees reluctance as white Ashkenazi gatekeeping.
In the film, she says “I’d like for American Judaism to be based on good deeds and good works, and not what you look like.”
The film won the Audience Award at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, and Director Brad Rothchild will have a Zoom question and answer session after the screening.
“You Will Not Play Wagner” will be screened on Jan. 11 at 7 p.m. Because of Wagner’s antisemitism and the Nazi embrace of his music, public performances of Wagner are banned in Israel. The film depicts the passionate debate between a young Israeli conductor who chooses to perform Wagner in an international competition, and Esther, a major contributor to the competition and a Holocaust survivor, who forbids it.
Author Roy Hoffman will lead a discussion following the screening, and a reception will follow the discussion.
The festival moves to Ahavas Chesed on Jan. 13 at 7 p.m., for “Matchmaking.” The comedy won the Audience Award at the Miami Jewish Film Festival, is Israel’s top box office hit of 2023 and has been selected as this year’s Reita Franco Memorial Film. The film depicts Moti, a popular bachelor who can have anyone he wants, but he falls for one that he can’t have, his sister’s friend from a Moroccan Mizrahi family. The film is described as giving a light Orthodox twist to “Romeo and Juliet.” A reception will precede the screening.
A Southern Jewish historical film, “The Levys of Monticello,” will be on Jan. 16 at 7 p.m. at the Fairhope campus of the University of South Alabama.
When President Thomas Jefferson died in 1826, he left a mountain of debt. His prized home, Monticello, had to be sold. Uriah Levy, dismayed at what had become of the home, bought it to preserve it for the nation. He embarked on a restoration, attracting tourists. He died in 1862, leaving the property to the United States as a school for orphans of naval officers. The Civil War complicated matters, and after the war and a lengthy legal battle, Levy’s nephew, Jefferson Monroe Levy, wound up as owner. In 1923, the newly-founded Thomas Jefferson Foundation purchased the property.
Uriah Levy was a fifth-generation American and a Naval hero. Despite everything, the Levys had to deal with antisemitism and being considered “outsiders” throughout their time owning Monticello.
David Meola, Jewish studies professor at USA, will introduce the film, and there will be a reception following.
On Jan. 18 at 3 p.m., the Mobile Museum of Art will host “The Shoah Ambassadors.” Two young ambassadors from Detroit seek to share knowledge of the Holocaust with their generation, becoming caretakers of the stories of five Holocaust survivors. A Zoom question and answer session with the film’s director will follow.
The final film of the festival will be on Jan. 21 at 2 p.m. at Ahavas Chesed. “Remember This” is a solo performance by Academy Award nominee David Strathairn, portraying Jan Karski in a true story of a reluctant World War II hero and Holocaust witness. Karski was a witness to Nazi atrocities early on, when there was still time to stop them. He escaped a Gestapo prison, witnessed the despair of the Warsaw Ghetto and a death camp. He risked his life to bring eyewitness accounts to the West, including the Oval Office.
A Zoom question and answer session with co-writer Clark Young will follow the film. The afternoon will conclude with a closing reception.
Individual tickets, both virtual and in-person, are $9. Festival passes, both virtual and in-person, are available for $60. Sponsorships start at $100 and go to $2500.
Baton Rouge Festival
The Baton Rouge festival opens with a film about a film legend — “Remembering Gene Wilder,” Jan. 10 at 7 p.m.
Much of the film is narrated by Wilder himself, using the audio from his 2005 memoir. He inhabited numerous iconic characters, especially Willy Wonka in “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” and Frederick Frankenstein in “Young Frankenstein.” His credits also include “The Producers” and “Blazing Saddles,” and his lesser-known portrayal of a bumbling Polish rabbi, opposite a bank robber played by Harrison Ford, in “The Frisco Kid.”
Born Jerome Silberman, Wilder said he wanted “to be wilder,” and thus took that name. A Milwaukee native, he often paired with the Borscht Belt Mel Brooks, who is featured in this retrospective.
Though known for making others laugh, Wilder had his struggles, including sexual abuse as a child, losing his first wife, Gilda Radner, to cancer, and his decline through Alzheimer’s.
“Closed Circuit,” on Jan. 11 at 7 p.m., is a raw film about a 2016 terror attack at Sarona Market in Tel Aviv, when two men opened fire at the popular café, killing four. Directed by Tal Inbar, the film is produced by Nancy Spielberg, deconstructing the events of that night.
The film includes raw footage from security cameras, and interviews wit survivors, including a father breaking the Ramadan fast with his family, a police officer who unknowingly saves one of the fleeing terrorists, a girl who escapes but her father was killed, and how the lives of the Arab and Jewish employees were forever changed.
“Not Quite Kosher,” on Jan. 13 at 7:30 p.m., is a comedy about Ben, an ultra-Orthodox Brooklyn Jew who is sent to Alexandria, Egypt. He is slated to be the 10th man for Passover in an attempt to keep what was once the largest Jewish community in the world from shutting down, as an ancient agreement held that if the Jews are unable to celebrate the holiday, the community would be absorbed by the state.
As the Alexandria community awaits his arrival, he misses his flight from Israel, then is kicked off a bus headed to Cairo, stranded in the desert with five days to get to Alexandria. Adel, a Bedouin, stumbles upon Ben while looking for his missing camel, and when Adel’s car breaks down, the unlikely pair learn about each other while trying to survive and get where they are going.
The festival concludes on Jan. 14 at 3 p.m. with “Vishniac.” One of the foremost photographers of the 20th century, Roman Vishniac is known for his travels in Eastern Europe, depicting Jewish life in the region in the mid-1930s so the American Joint Distribution Committee could raise funds for impoverished communities. Few would have suspected that these would be the last visual records of communities that would be completely wiped out.
The film is about his entire career, from Berlin in the Weimar era to chronicling post-war Jewish immigration in the United States. In addition to his historical contributions, Vishniac was also a scientist, with considerable advances in microscopic photography, and a “Living Biology” series of films depicting life through a microscope.
Tickets are $8.50, and there is a VIP Movie Club for freebies and discounts.