The 33rd annual Buffalo International Jewish Film Festival -- the third longest festival of its kind in North America -- is back with a dozen films from around the world, including Israel, India, Hungary, Denmark, Poland, Sweden, Australia, Austria and the United States.
Among the often poignant and powerful films is "A Tale of Love and Darkness" -- featuring the directorial debut of Natalie Portman, who also stars in the Israeli production.
"We're always looking for high-quality films with Jewish content that are recognized internationally, a balance of diversity from different countries and films that people otherwise might not have a chance to see," said Michael Silverman, who chairs the film selection committee.
"We hit all of our main points this year, and are getting a lot of positive feedback," he said.
The film festival will open with a 7 p.m. gala event this Saturday featuring the film "Shalom Bollywood: The Untold Story of Indian Cinema," at Taste of India, 3192 Sheridan Drive, Amherst. A full-buffet dinner and henna tattoos will be provided. Tickets are $50, presale $45.
All other films will be shown from March 9 to 15 at Dipson Amherst Theatre, 3500 Main St. Single film tickets are $10, or buy a flex pass of six tickets for $50. Children 18 and under enter free. Films are not shown Friday night and during the day on Saturday to observe the Sabbath.
Silverman's favorite is "The Testament," about a Holocaust investigator who uncovers some surprising and unwelcome truths about his own family.
"It's the film I admire the most because of what it conveys about Jewish identity and the search for the truth," Silverman said.
The films have a universal appeal, so it's not necessary to be Jewish to appreciate them, said Jordana Halpern, cultural arts director at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Buffalo.
Sal Natale, a native Buffalonian who graduated the University at Buffalo in 2017, produced the 10-minute short, "How to Ride an Elevator on Shabbat." It concerns the conflicted life of a middle-aged Hasidic Jew who is gay and living in Jerusalem.
The film was made last summer at the Jerusalem Film Workshop, attended by 20 young filmmakers from around the world. Hannah Skolnick, from England, directed. The Foundation for Jewish Philanthropies in Buffalo contributed to Natale's travel expenses.
"My Hero Brother," a co-production of Israel and India, tells the story of a group of young people with Down syndrome who are part of a demanding trip through the India Himalayas.
"From all accounts, this is a great story of 11 pairs of siblings and their journey through the Himalayas, and we're pretty excited to see this film like everyone else," said Matt Mancuso, co-founder of 21 Connect, a not-for-profit group that works to change perceptions of individuals with Down syndrome.
"They test the limits of what they can and can't do, not as people with Down syndrome, but as people, and I think that message is powerful."
Here is a full list of what is playing:
A Tale of Love and Darkness
Screenings: 8 p.m. March 11; 3:30 p.m. March 13.
The film is based on the memories of Amos Oz, who grew up in Jerusalem before Israeli statehood with an academic father and dreamy, imaginative mother.
Israel. In Hebrew, with English subtitles. Directed by Natalie Portman. 95 minutes. Rated PG-13. Nominated for Golden Camera Award at Cannes Film Festival.
Across the Waters
Screening: 8 p.m. March 12.
Unsure of whom they can trust, a Jewish musician and his family make a frantic escape from Nazi-occupied Denmark, putting their fate in the hands of strangers whose allegiance and motives are not always clear. Based on true events.
Denmark. In Danish, with English subtitles. Directed by Nicolo Donato. 95 minutes. Rated PG-13.
Fever at Dawn
Screenings: 3:30 p.m. March 11; 8 p.m. March 13.
A Hungarian man freed from a concentration camp, with 6 months to live, in search of a wife sends letters to 117 Hungarian girls who are also being treated in Sweden. Lili likes his letter, and starts corresponding.
Hungary, Sweden. In Hungarian, with English subtitles. Directed by Peter Gardos. 114 minutes. Not rated, but PG-13 equivalent.
Screening: 7 p.m. March 10.
A childless Israeli musical couple seeks to form a family in a contemporary adaptation of the biblical tale of Abraham and Sarah set that is inside the inner sanctum of a symphony hall. Things become upended after a horn player of French-Arab descent offers to carry the couple’s baby.
Israel. In Hebrew and Arabic, with English subtitles. Directed by Ori Sivan. 97 minutes. Rated PG-13. Nominated for five Israeli Academy Awards.
How to Ride an Elevator on Shabbat
Screenings: 6 p.m. March 11; 8 p.m. March 14.
A short documentary on the conflicted life of a middle-aged Hasidic Jew who is gay and living in Jerusalem.
United States. Directed by Salvatore Natale. 10 minutes. Not rated but PG equivalent.
Screenings: 6 p.m. March 11; 8 p.m. March 14.
Menashe, a widower who lives and works in the Hasidic community of Borough Park, Brooklyn, seeks to regain custody of his 9 -year-old son, but must cope with a rabbi's decision that he live with a relative unless Menashe remarries.
United States. In Yiddish, with English subtitles. Directed by Joshua Z. Weinstein. 82 minutes. Rated PG. Nominated for the Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival.
My Hero Brother
Screenings: 6 p.m. March 12; 6 p.m. March 14.
A group of young people with Down syndrome are part of a demanding trek through the India Himalayas, revealing unresolved conflicts and the complexities of growing up with a child with Down syndrome. The difficult trials and poignant relationships, set against the richly colorful backdrop of India, foster an understanding of special needs people and their families.
Israel, India. In Hebrew, with English subtitles. Directed by Yonatan Nir. 78 minutes. Not rated, but PG equivalent. Winner of Audience award at Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival.
Raise the Roof
Screenings: 1 p.m. March 11; 1 p.m. March 13.
Artists Rick and Laura Brown set out with a team of 300 to reconstruct a replica of the stunning, mural-covered Gwozdziec Synagogue in Poland destroyed by the Nazis. The documentary is told against the backdrop of the 1,000-year history of Jews in Poland.
United States, Poland. In English and Polish. Directed by Yari and Cary Wolinsky. 85 minutes. Not rated, but G equivalent. Winner of the Audience Choice Award at the Seattle Jewish Film Festival.
Screenings: 3:30 p.m. March 12; 1 p.m. March 14.
The documentary tells the story of philanthropist and business magnate Julius Rosenwald, a high school dropout who became president of Sears, Roebuck & Company. He gave away over $62 million in his lifetime, and joined forces with African-American communities during the Jim Crow South to build thousands of schools.
United States. Directed by Aviva Kempner. 95 minutes. Not rated but G equivalent.
Shalom Bollywood: The Untold Story of Indian Cinema
Screenings: 7 p.m. Saturday (at Taste of India); 1 p.m. March 12, 3:30 p.m. March 14.
This documentary reveals the prominence of Jewish actors in Bombay, going back to the silent movie era. Most changed their names, including many who traced their origins to Iraq.
Australia, India. In Hebrew, English, German and Yiddish, with subtitles. Directed by Danny Ben Moshe. 76 minutes. Not rated, but PG equivalent.
The Last Laugh
Screenings: 3:30 p.m. March 9; 3:30 p.m. March 15.
Using the scope of the Holocaust, the documentary examines what is off-limits in comedy. Includes Mel Brooks, Rob Reiner, Carl Reiner, David Steinberg, Sarah Silverman, Judy Gold and Gilbert Gottfried.
United States. Directed by Ferne Perlstein. 90 minutes. Not rated, but PG equivalent.
Screenings: 6 p.m. March 13; 8 p.m. March 15.
A Holocaust researcher seeking to stop a real estate project in Austria where a brutal massacre occurred toward the end of World War II learns surprising things during his investigation, including his mother's own testimony.
Israel, Austria. In Hebrew, English, German, Yiddish, with subtitles. Directed by Amichai Greenberg. 88 minutes. Not rated, but PG-13 equivalent. Winner of the Full-Length Feature Film Award at the Haifa International Film Festival.