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Buffalo International Jewish Film Festival opens today

Every year, the Buffalo International Jewish Film Festival tries to capture two fundamentals of Judaism: its diversity and its unity.

The diversity is expressed through the sheer breadth of films shown annually at the festival, now in its 28th year and one of the longest-running Jewish film festivals in North America.

This year’s festival, opening today and continuing through June 16, has 16 films from seven countries, including contemporary dramas (“The Fifth Heaven,” screening Wednesday and June 16), classic comedies (“Joshua Then and Now,” Monday and June 16) and documentaries about everything from Canadian novelist Mordecai Richler (“Mordecai Richler: Last of the Wild Jews,” Friday and Wednesday) to Jewish basketball players in 1960s Brighton Beach (“The Boys of 2nd Street Park,” Tuesday and June 14). Most films have never been previously screened in Western New York or even been released in the United States, organizers said.

In selecting the films, the “main priority is that they have to have Jewish themes, they have to be diverse and they have to be high quality,” said festival chair Michael Silverman. “That’s what comes first.”

The unity, however, emerges from the unofficial “theme” that the festival committee sees in each year’s films. Silverman said that, after the screening committee narrows down a selection of new films, it starts looking for “a shared thread” to make the final decisions for what will screen.

Last year’s theme was people from diverse backgrounds coming together to help each other, as expressed in films like “Precious Life,” “Free Men” and “The Rescuers.” This year’s theme is even more appropriate for a Jewish film festival: perseverance.

“Of course, you’re going to find that to some extent in any decent films with conflict in them,” Silverman noted. Still, he said that this year’s lineup comprises “quality Jewish films” about “people facing adversity, but persevering whatever difficulties are in their life and whatever challenges they have.”

Pressed to pick a favorite, Silverman named three films that he found especially moving: “Remembrance” (Saturday and Thursday), a German film about the romance between two Holocaust survivors; “A Bottle in the Gaza Sea” (Saturday and June 15), a French film about the long-distance relationship between an Israeli girl and a Palestinian boy; and Israel’s “The Fifth Heaven,” which chronicles the life of a 13-year-old orphan after World War II. In that film, Silverman said, the girl’s perseverance is “symbolic of the state of Israel.”

The festival opens at 8 tonight with a screening of the Israeli drama “Mabul,” featuring an appearance by producer Ina Fichman. Writer and director Jeff L. Lieberman will also visit the festival for the screening of his documentary “Re-Emerging: The Jews of Nigeria,” which starts at 5:30 p.m. Monday.


What: Buffalo International Jewish Film Festival

When: Opens today through June 16

Where: Maxine and Robert Seller Theatre, Jewish Community Center, 2640 N. Forest Road, Getzville

Tickets: $10 a film or $50 for a six-film flex pass