“Golden Voices”

Mariya Belkina and Vladimir Friedman in “Golden Voices” 

With many people proceeding with caution as indoor entertainment venues reopen, the Mandel Jewish Community Center in Beachwood is following suit with regard to its 15th annual Cleveland Jewish Filmfest. Twenty-five international films will be showcased in person with limited capacity and a mask requirement, in a parking lot, as well as virtually.

According to Deborah Bobrow, the JCC’s director of arts and culture, she and her colleagues are not just being vigilant.

“After hearing feedback from our full virtual season last year, it was clear to us that offering films in a hybrid format will provide access to a much broader audience,” she said.

Festivities begin at 7 p.m. Oct. 14 with an opening-night showing of the award-winning comedy, “Golden Voices,” at the newly renovated Cleveland Museum of Natural History’s Murch Auditorium. The Israeli film, which runs 88 minutes and is in Hebrew and Russian with English subtitles, features Raya and Victor Frenkel, who were the golden voices of the Soviet film-dubbing world. After the collapse of the USSR, they decide to immigrate to Israel where attempts to use their talent result in funny and often absurd experiences. At its core, this heartwarming film about cultural displacement recognizes ingenuity as an essential survival skill

From the over 500 submitted works,

11 full-length dramatic/comedic films, seven full-length documentaries and seven short-form films have been chosen for this year’s festival, based on their production quality, Jewish content and entertainment value. They were made in the United States, Israel, France, Argentina, Norway, Denmark, Switzerland, Germany, Austria and the United Kingdom.

Two of the short films come with local connections. The 16-minute “Make Me a Sanctuary,” created by Beachwood filmmaker Jacob Pincus and available for virtual viewing only, is a touching documentary about the life of the congregation that built Green Road Synagogue’s original building in 1973, and the difficult decision to demolish it and rebuild.

“Escape from Treblinka: The Joseph Polonski Story” is a 29-minute documentary that chronicles the life of a Polish death camp escapee who immigrated to America and built a thriving business and a loving family. His daughter is a Cleveland area resident. A question-and-answer session with the film’s narrator and producer, Michael Berenbaum, will follow the screening at the Cedar Lee Theatre.

Festival programming also includes a virtual showing of “Labyrinth of Peace,” a six-part Swiss mini-series with English subtitles. It’s 1945 and Europe is reduced to rubble. Thirty million people are displaced, and at the heart of the ravaged continent lies Switzerland. The small neutral country, which has been all but spared by the war, becomes a hub for Nazi war criminals, allied secret services and Holocaust survivors. Filmpulse Magazine calls the series “compelling” and “a production that even Netflix could hardly have produced better.”

There will be two drive-in screenings offered in the Mandel JCC parking lot, which is romantically referred to as “Cinema Under the Sky” by filmfest personnel. “The Crossing” tells the World War II story of an adventurous 10-year-old and her brother who attempt to reunite the two Jewish children hidden in their basement with their parents in Sweden after their own parents have been arrested for being part of the Norwegian resistance movement.

“Here We Are” is a drama about Aharon and his son Uri, who has autism. Now is the time for Uri to live in a home for similar young adults, but is he ready for this separation? Is his father?

New this year is the creation of The Jack & Minda Audience Award, which will allow audiences to select favorite films using an online balloting system. The winning film will receive a free encore screening at Mandel JCC’s Stonehill Auditorium following the festival. The endowment fund, established by Dr. Jack Jaffe and recognizing his late wife, Minda, will be an annual element of the Cleveland Jewish FilmFest.

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