Austin Jewish Film Festival Celebrates Its Sweet Sixteen
In its 16th year, AJFF is the largest entirely volunteer-run Jewish film festival in the nation.
By Wendy R. Corn
The 2018 Austin Jewish Film Festival— in its 16th year—included events scheduled over the course of a month, with the highlight being the annual weeklong film festival at the Regal Arbor Cinema.
In early October, the festival hosted a screening of the documentary “Shalom Bollywood: The Untold Story of Indian Cinema.” In AJFF’s first collaboration with the Indie Meme Film Festival, they offered a colorful cultural mashup, serving samosas and rugelach to an enthusiastic crowd at the JCC Community Hall.
Another event featured a special sneak preview of “The Samuel Project” prior to its opening night in Austin theaters, followed by a Skype Q&A with director Marc Fusco and one of the film’s stars, Hal Linden, of TV’s Barney Miller fame.
AJFF co-directors Cynthia Winer and David Finkel pride themselves in offering a diversity of award-winning, international films followed by thought-provoking discussions with filmmakers like Hungarian director Eva Gardos, who spoke about her period film “Budapest Noir” and entertained questions from the audience.
“It’s memorable events like Ms. Gardos’ visit,” Winer noted, “that mark the distinction between a true film festival and just a night at the movies.”
The festival is the largest entirely volunteer-run Jewish film festival in the nation and has grown to expand programming and improvements such as online reserved seating.
The week-long festival’s opening night film, “Sammy Davis, Jr.: I’ve Gotta Be Me,” was preceded by a live musical tribute to Davis. Award-winning singer and songwriter Sheree Brown, whose songs have been featured in the soundtracks of Hollywood films like “The Princess Diaries,” brought the audience down memory lane with sing-along standards such as the Sammy Davis, Jr. hit, “Candyman.”
Two of the festival’s noon screenings featured music-themed films with the 50th anniversary showing of Barbra Streisand’s debut film “Funny Girl” as well as the documentary “Itzhak” that explores the life of Itzhak Perlman, considered to be the greatest living violinist in the world.
Following the screening of “Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story,” AJFF presented a Skype interview with director Alexandra Dean. She shared with the audience the history behind the making of her film, which captured the untold story of the mysterious, beautiful and brilliant celebrity and inventor.
The week-long theater event was followed by a screening of “A Heartbeat Away” at Temple Beth Shalom, in conjunction with their First Friday Shabbat service. The film was featured as part of a bat mitzvah project; it focuses on the efforts of Save a Child’s Heart, an Israeli-based international humanitarian organization providing lifesaving heart surgery and follow-up care for children from developing countries.
The Global Day of Jewish Learning on Nov. 11 at Shalom Austin included a behind-the-scenes look at the Austin Jewish Film Festival, with trailers, clips and quips. Wrapping up that day were two more festival showings, “The Last Supper” and “Bye Bye Germany,” with a special pizza party for audience members in appreciation of their support of the AJFF.
“The Interpreter,” the Slovakian entry for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2019 Academy Awards, was scheduled for screening during the festival. With many festival supporters attending the communitywide vigil at Shalom Austin in response to the tragedy in Pittsburgh, AJFF received special permission to present this film again. The screening will be Sunday, Dec. 9, at 4 p.m. at the JCC Community Hall. AJFF flex passes and badges will be honored, or visit austinjff.org to obtain tickets.
“The Interpreter” depicts an emotional journey through rural Slovakia when an 80-year-old translator joins up with the son of the Nazi officer who murdered his parents during World War II.
This international festival featured films from around the world, including India, South Africa, Eastern Europe, Israel, and the United States. The audience “traveled” to different countries and continents to share in the laughter and tears as a community getting to know the most recent films about the Jewish experience. ■