FilmFest 2019

Beth Robbins, left, and Susan Wasserman, right, are the FilmFest co-chairs.

The Mandel JCC Cleveland Jewish FilmFest from Sept. 5 to Sept. 15 is celebrating its b'nai mitzvah year of consecutive showings of the best of international Jewish cinema.

Twenty full-length and seven short-form films, as well as several special event offerings – chosen based on their production quality, Jewish content and entertainment value – will be shown. This year’s films were made in the United States, Israel, Italy, United Kingdom, France, Canada, Austria, Belgium, Luxembourg, Mexico, Hungary, Ethiopia, Brazil and Germany.

Subjects covered in the documentaries, dramas and comedies range from profiles of Jewish pioneers in industry, politics and the arts, the personal journeys of those stricken by cancer, persecution and family conflict, and tales of triumph, empathy and forgiveness.

“Typical of past filmfests, these films bring to the screen inspiring, relatable characters and highlight the resilience of the Jewish people,” said Deborah Bobrow, the JCC’s arts and culture director.

And several directors will be in attendance throughout the festival, including Albert Dabah of “Extra Innings” on Sept. 9 and Jeremy Borison of “Boxes” on Sept. 12.

Opening night features an Israeli film, “The Unorthodox,” which is the story of Israel’s Shas (“Torah-Observant Sephardim”) political party and its unexpected rise to power. It is told through founder Yaakov Cohen, who begins a grassroots campaign to form a political party composed of Mizrahi Jews after his daughter is expelled from school for being Sephardic.

The closing night film, “Tel Aviv on Fire,” is a Luxembourg-France-Israel-Belgium co-production about a charming 30-year-old Palestinian named Salam, who is living in Jerusalem. He is an intern on a popular TV soap opera and, because he is fluent in Hebrew, is occasionally consulted on dialogue. When he gets ideas for the show from the Israeli commander at the check point he passes through each day, his career takes an interesting turn.

For the fourth consecutive year, the filmfest will offer a film targeted to teenagers. “Belle and Sebastian” is about an orphaned boy who befriends a giant mountain dog in Nazi-occupied France. More than 600 students from classrooms around Greater Cleveland will participate in the Teen Screen, which in partnership with the nonprofit Facing History and Ourselves as well as the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage in Beachwood, will help make the essential connection between history and the moral choices teens confront in their own lives.

“Last year’s festival drew a record 7,500 attendees, which is a far cry from 2007 when the first filmfest featured 10 films and we were concerned about filling seats,” Bobrow said. “With this year’s wide array of genres and captivating stories, we hope that audiences will leave feeling inspired and curious to learn more about these subjects.”

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