It’s a Wrap on the 15th Annual Austin Jewish Film Festival
By Cynthia Winer
The 2017 Austin Jewish Film Festival (AJFF) travelled around the Austin community to bring adults and students the best of Jewish film and filmmakers from across the U.S. and Israel.
Selichot brought the film festival to Congregation Beth Israel (CBI) for a presentation of the documentary “Restoring Tomorrow.” This film traces the rebirth of a national treasure, the opulent Wilshire Boulevard Temple, L.A.’s oldest Jewish congregation. Following the screening, Rabbis Folberg and Epstein—along with the director, Aaron Wolf, from Los Angeles—participated in a discussion about the film, moderated by David Goldblatt, executive director of the AJFF.
The following morning, CBI’s Sunday school students watched “The Funeral,” a film about a son who wants a proper bar mitzvah, complete with a traditional synagogue service, although his father is not a religious man. Aaron Wolf participated in an exciting dialog with the older students.
For November’s “First Friday at Temple Beth Shalom,” the AJFF shared the short film “Muktzeh,” a tale about a Russian immigrant to Israel exploring his religious identity and his Jewish roots.
Congregants enjoyed a Chinese dinner and the movie, followed by a thoughtful discussion led by Rabbi Freedman.
AJFF opened its fifteenth year at the Regal Arbor Cinema with the Hungarian film “1945.” This drama looks at life in a quaint Hungarian village after WWII, when two Orthodox men arrive at the train station one year after the German troops have left and disrupt the established rhythm of life.
The film was introduced by Jake Wolfson, education coordinator of the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission, the film’s sponsor.
Two comedies joined the line-up this season. “The Pickle Recipe” recounted the hijinks that ensue when relatives desperate for cash connive to steal Bubbie’s famous recipe for kosher pickles.
Director Michael Manasseri came from New York for a Q&A session following the film. In “The Women’s Balcony,” a mishap at a Jerusalem synagogue causes a major rift between the community’s women and men. Screenwriter Shlomit Nehama came from Israel for a Q&A session after the film.
Across the street from the theater, at Great Hills Baptist Church, AJFF, through a partnership with Kormim Texas, screened the film “Faithkeepers” to an audience of more than 400. This film documents the persecution of Christians and other minorities in the Middle East, inspiring all people of faith to stand up and act. A Q&A followed the film with Executive Producer Richard Green, Pastor Danny Forshee, Linda Chandler and Congregation Agudas Achim’s Rabbi Neil Blumofe.
The short documentary “Dear Cancer, Love Stacy” brought the important story of Stacy Middleman, a young Austin mother, wife, and BRCA2 gene carrier, as she documents her challenging journey while undergoing treatment for breast cancer a second time. Stacy Middleman and Stacey Summers, the director from Houston, were on hand for a Q&A after the screening.
Local SXSW student filmmaker Rachel Schlesinger presented her short film “Inge,” followed by a Q&A. Rachel’s grandmother, Inge Stanton, thought she would never return to her hometown in Germany. But in July 2016, Inge returned to Nuremberg with her children and grandchildren by her side.
As the 15th annual Austin Jewish Film Festival came to a close, the committee wanted to extend its gratitude for all of its supporters, “Thank you for helping us make a fabulous 2017 film festival.” ■