An 18-year-old from an Orthodox Hasidic family is pressured to marry the husband of her late sister. A German-Jewish political theorist reports on the 1961 trial of ex-Nazi Adolf Eichmann. The son of Polish-Jewish immigrants converts to Catholicism, joins the priesthood and is appointed Archbishop of Paris. And the great Milton Rogovin documents the lives of some of Buffalo’s poorest residents, resulting in a body of work that still moves and inspires.
These are just a few of the diverse stories that will be told at the 29th annual Buffalo International Jewish Film Festival, a cinematic feast that sits comfortably near the top of the Western New York film festival list in terms of quality and ambition.
Uniquely, it’s a two-pronged affair. The first half of the festival kicks off Friday and runs each night through next Thursday in the Amherst Dipson Theatre. Then, after a two-week break, the festival restarts at the Jewish Community Center’s Benderson Seller Theatre, from June 8 to 15.
Part of what makes the festival unique is its mix of nationally and internationally renowned films with ambitious local-centric projects. One of the latter is “Blue Tattoo,” a documentary on the friendship between Holocaust survivor Dina Jacobson, an Elmira resident, and Ithaca singer-songwriter Joe Crookston.
The result of the acquaintance was Crookston’s song “Blue Tattoo,” which tells the story of Jacobson’s life in powerful fashion. In addition, Jacobson has described the horrors of Auschwitz to schoolchildren throughout the Southern Tier.
Directed by local journalist Rich Kellman, formerly of WGRZ-TV/Channel 2, and produced by Kellman and Marty Kerker, “Blue Tattoo” debuts at 5:30 p.m. Sunday in the Dipson Amherst. Additional screenings are Wednesday in Dipson Amherst and June 12 in the Benderson Seller Theatre.
“The Rich Have Their Own Photographers” is a 60-minute account of Rogovin’s life and work, and as anyone familiar with the legendary photographer can attest, his most certainly was a life less ordinary. The acclaimed social documentarian was famously called before the House Un-American Activities Committee in the 1950s, an experience that fueled his photographs of residents of the Queen City’s Lower West Side. Director Ezra Bookstein’s film screens Wednesday in the Dipson Amherst and June 12 in the Benderson Seller Theatre.
“Blue Tattoo” and “The Rich Have Their Own Photographs” are two highlights, but they are two of many.
“Fill the Void” might be the most high-profile selection on the list, and easily the most acclaimed. Rama Burshtein’s film earned star Hadas Yaron best actress honors at the Venice Film Festival, and deservedly so. Yaron gives a stunning performance as the teenager who must decide whether to marry her late sister’s husband after her death during childbirth.
“Fill the Void” played Buffalo last summer, but its BIJFF screenings present another opportunity to see this delicate, involving, simply told drama that raises real, fascinating questions about faith, family and free will.
Barbara Sukowa, the star of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s “Berlin Alexanderplatz” and “Lola,” gives one of her finest performances in “Hannah Arendt,” a biopic screening at the Amherst Dipson on Monday and the Benderson Seller Theatre on June 10. Arendt famously covered Eichmann’s trial for the New Yorker; the subtitle of the book that followed introduced a now well-known phrase: “the Banality of Evil.”
Meanwhile, “The Jewish Cardinal” screens at the festival a few weeks after a run in the resurrected North Park Theatre. It is the true story of Jean-Marie Lustiger, the Catholic convert whose appointment as Archbishop of Paris drew controversy. Catch the historical drama in the Dipson Amherst on Sunday and the Benderson Seller Theatre on June 12.
The Buffalo International Jewish Film Festival “pre-opens” at 3 p.m. Friday with a screening of the documentary “Next Year Jerusalem” and follows with a “formal opening night” screening of the World War II drama “Orchestra of Exiles” on Saturday. The second half kicks off June 8 with a gala and screening of “Fill the Void” at the Benderson Seller Theatre.