If you see a movie during the upcoming Louisville Jewish Film Festival, Marsha Bornstein has one promise for you.
It’s going to be good.
“Our goal is to get the best films,” said Bornstein, the executive director of the festival, which marks its 21st year this month.
“Obviously, we want people to view films about the Jewish cultural experiences or religious experience — but the films themselves are just good films,” she said. “People may learn something, or see a new perspective, but ultimately these are just good films, and people who see them will enjoy them in that way.”
This year’s festival will present 11 feature films, along with a collection of short subjects by students at Jerusalem’s Ma’aleh School of Television, Film & Arts. The screenings will begin Thursday, Feb. 7, at the festival’s traditional home, Village 8 Theatres, and continue at six venues across the city until Feb. 27.
(You can see the full schedule of showings at the festival’s website.)
Last year’s festival set attendance records, Bornstein said, with crowds of 250 to nearly 300 turning out for comedic features and a hit biopic about entertainer Sammy Davis Jr.
This year’s lineup is a little more dramatic in tone, headlined by an award-winning documentary about the Holocaust and a drama about race and sexual identity. Bornstein said the festival’s screening committee always aspires to present a mix of genre, but this year, the guiding principle of quality above all dictated the final lineup.
“Other film festivals — I’m in a network, and they are all asking, ‘Do you have a comedy (to recommend), do you have something lighter?’” Bornstein said. “Those films just aren’t always there — at least high-quality films. And we are not going to show a mediocre comedy just because it is a comedy.”
Among the expected big draws for this year’s festival is “Who Will Write Our History,” a documentary about the Oyneg Shabes Archive, a detailed history recorded by residents of the Warsaw Ghetto during the Nazi occupation and mass murder of its residents. A group of religious and community leaders decided to record the details of their daily lives during this time of crisis, and the result was 30,000 pages of writing, photographs and other pieces of living history.
Bornstein said she was impressed with the use of the dramatization in “Who Will Write Our History,” which brings a sense of emotional urgency to an already powerful subject.
“It’s pretty extraordinary, because it has new interviews and rarely seen footage — it’s not dry like some other documentaries,” she said. “It’s just beautifully done.”
The film has won numerous awards, at both Jewish and general interest film festivals, and has received generally positive notices in special-event releases. Bornstein added that the film may eventually receive a wide enough release to be eligible for the 2019 Academy Awards.
Director Roberta Grossman will attend the screening on Saturday, Feb. 9, at Bellarmine University’s Wyatt Hall, with a reception to follow. Grossman had three previous works screened at the festival, but this will be her first personal visit to the Louisville event.
Bornstein also expects big crowds for “The Cakemaker,” showing Feb. 21 at Speed Cinema — so much so that the festival has scheduled two showings, a matinée and evening screening. Director Ophir Raul Graizer’s adult drama tracks a romance between Tomas, a young German baker, and a married Israeli man who later disappears. Tomas travels to Israel and begins working in the cafe owned by his lover’s wife, and their relationship breaks stereotypical ethnic and sexual barriers.
The film has won broad critical acclaim and several awards, including Best Feature the at Jerusalem Film Festival and Academy Award nominations.
This marks the third year for the festival at the Speed.
“It’s been a great collaboration I think we have both enjoyed, because it helps us reach our goal of building diversity in the audience,” Bornstein said. “We have an audience, and they have an audience, and working together we can bring people together in the Jewish community and the broader Louisville community.”
Other venues hosting screenings include The Temple and AJ Synagogue.
A new venue for this year’s festival is the Rauch Planetarium, where the Argentinian export “The Tenth Man,” which explores parent-child relationships in the context of Jewish culture, will be screened for free on Feb. 24 in conjunction with Naamani Memorial Lecture at the University of Louisville.
The annual guest lecture, this year featuring author David William Foster, has screened films in the past and reached out this year to the film festival to cross-promote the event.
Screening at Village 8 on Feb. 13 is “Foreign Land,” an award-winning documentary that tracks the impact of rising extremism in Israeli politics on two friends, Ghssan Abbas, a TV star of Arab descent, and Israeli Arab Affairs correspondent Shlomi Eldar, who also directed the film. The film is a deeply personal and, some critics say, stark look at the current landscape.
The serious subject matter is coupled with “Jerusalem in Between,” a more light-hearted short subject that features the life stories and similarities between two boxers, one Arab and one Israeli.
Elad Laor, the director of the Jerusalem Film Workshop, will speak that evening about his program, which connects young filmmakers with the film industry
As usual, Bornstein and two other festival executives screened about 45 films in preparation for this festival. They then passed along 25 candidate films to a broader selection committee, which then finalized this year’s lineup.
Bornstein said the committee’s commitment to quality and appealing to a broad audience are the key factors in the longevity and growth of the Jewish Film Festival, which she believes is the longest-running such event in the city. She added that the festival couldn’t continue to flourish if it appealed only to the Jewish community, which the Jewish Community Center estimates at about 8,500 people.
“Part of our mission is to build bridges and to bring the community together,” Bornstein said. “You don’t have to be Jewish to enjoy these films. These are universal values, these are terrific films. You’ll be glad you came.”
Most tickets are $10 in advance and $12.50 at the door, or $5 for students with a valid ID. For a complete schedule and advance purchase, visit the festival’s website.