PJFF Double Feature: “Supergirl” and “Bar Mitzvah Project”

Both the documentary feature “Supergirl” and the documentary short “Bar Mitzvah Project” tell the story of strong characters: in one, it’s a 95-pound female teenage powerlifter, and in the other, it’s a Holocaust survivor who managed to live through three concentration camps.

Naomi Kutin seems like a typical teenage girl. She goes to school, does her homework, hangs out with friends — but how many 11-year-olds do you know who could honestly claim to be “supergirl,” the strongest girl in the world?

Raised in an Orthodox Jewish family, 95-pound Naomi is a competitive powerlifter who lifts nearly triple her bodyweight. Under the tutelage of her powerlifting father, Naomi has broken world records in this testosterone-fueled sport since the age of 8, astonishing spectators and lifters alike. Now, along with preparing for her bat mitzvah and training for the biggest competition of her life, Naomi is faced with new challenges, like navigating difficult dietary restrictions, cyber-bullying and coping with a debilitating health issue that may cost her the world record. As Naomi comes of age and confronts these issues head on, the magnitude of her true strength and character is revealed.

Jessie Auritt, the director of “Supergirl,” will give an introduction to the film.

Bar Mitzvah Projectbar-mitzvah-project-hr-pic-1-1-768x789
Bar Mitzvah boy Benji Elkins of Bala Cynwyd interviews Dr. George Horner, a Holocaust survivor who relates his miraculous story of surviving three Nazi concentration camps and a “march of death.” Dr. Horner describes how the Nazis literally broke his back, ending his dreams of becoming a professional pianist. However, they did not succeed in breaking his spirit. In “Bar Mitzvah Project,” we witness Horner perform a moving rendition of “The Terezin March,” a piece of music composed for piano inside the Terezin camp.

The guest speakers for this film screening are Iris Drechsler (moderator), the PJFF artistic chair, and Benji Elkins, the young man who directed and starred in the film.

Buy tickets here. The ticket price covers both films.

PJFF Double Feature: “Cafe Nagler” and “The Last Blintz”

At this screening, the Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival is showing two films: the documentary “Cafe Nagler” and the documentary short “The Last Blintz.” With both films on food themes, come hungry because the screening also includes a Berlin-inspired continental breakfast.

Cafe Nagler
During the 1920s, Cafe Nagler was one of the hottest caféŽs in all of Berlin. Celebrities the likes of Albert Einstein, Franz Kafka and Bertolt Brecht frequented Nagler for afternoon tea and intelligent conversation — or did they?

Israeli director Mor Kaplansky channels the cinematic roots of her acclaimed documentarian grandmother, Naomi Kaplansky, to create a film that tackles the unanswered questions of a nearly century-old family legend. In hopes of making a documentary that will satisfy her grandmother’s sentimental yearning for a past long gone, Kaplinsky sets out to Moritzplatz, Berlin, the home of Naomi’s beloved childhood cafe. Learning that the real CafeŽ Nagler paled in comparison to her grandmother’s glamorous recollections, Mor commits to recreating the myth that was so integral to Naomi’s identity. With the help of some imaginative Berliners, she constructs a documentary — in Hebrew and German with English subtitles — that illuminates the many ways memory, myth and storytelling make us who we are.

The film is an official selection of the 2016 Berlinale Film Festival, the City Food & Film Festival and DOK.fest München. The guest speaker at the screening is Chris Cagle, associate professor of film history and theory at Temple University.

The Last Blintz
In “The Last Blintz,” the imminent closing of a historic cafe in New York City’s Theater District compels its loyal clientele to create a petition to save it.

Historic Cafe Edison, located in the former ballroom of Hotel Edison on West 47th Street, has been a culinary staple in New York City’s Theater District for the past 32 years. When the original owners of the cafe and hotel (both Holocaust survivors) made a pact to keep Cafe Edison open as long as the Strohl Family was willing to run it, their handshake meant their word. Now, with gentrification, and the value of Times Square real estate mounting, the current owners of Hotel Edison are prepared to trade in their beloved neighborhood cafe for an upscale, five-star restaurant.

Official Selection at AFI Docs, “The Last Blintz” offers an emotional look at one of the last vestiges of old New York, while examining the cultural and social implications of relinquishing America’s cultural and historic markers.

Buy tickets here. Price includes both films and the continental breakfast.

PJFF Film: “The Last Laugh”

Can humor be found in the darkest of places? For comedians, the Holocaust has often been considered a taboo subject, a no man’s land for jokes — a place you don’t want to go as an entertainer. In “The Last Laugh,” a filmmaker sets out to challenge this assumption and find out if joking about the Holocaust and other human atrocities is ever acceptable.

Juxtaposing clips from films, performances and interviews with top comedians and prominent Jewish leaders (including Mel Brooks, Sarah Silverman, Joan Rivers, Louis C.K., Susie Essman, Judy Gold, Abraham Foxman and Shalom Auslander) with an intimate profile of Auschwitz survivor Renee Firestone (as well as other survivors), director Ferne Pearlstein weaves together a poignant and in-depth exploration into what is and is not off-limits in comedy.

A powerful documentary about a controversial subject, “The Last Laugh” in no way undermines the horrors of the Holocaust, yet it still succeeds in putting a smile on your face. After all, what can be more heartening than witnessing the resiliency of the human spirit in the face of tragedy?

This film was an official selection of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival and the Tribeca Film Festival.

Special Event: The film is followed by panel discussion and reception. The guest speakers are the film’s director, Ferne Pearlstein; Paul Lewis, author and professor of English at Boston College; and Elliot Ratzman (moderator), visiting assistant professor in the Department of Religion at Swarthmore College. There has also been an exciting last-minute addition to this list of special guests: the Emmy Award-winning comic Judy Gold.

Buy tickets here.

PJFF Film: “Sand Storm”

Jalila (Ruba Blal-Asfour), the head of a large household in a Bedouin village in the Negev desert of Israel, is besieged by emotions. Struggling to cover up her humiliation at being rejected while reluctantly participating in the required preparations for her husband’s second marriage to a much younger bride, Jalila privately fears the same fate for her own daughters.

Layla (Lamis Ammar), Jalila’s oldest, is a beautiful and self-confident university student who has fallen in love with one of her classmates. Aware that her husband, Sulimann (Haitham Omari), will not approve of her daughter’s affair, Jalila forbids 18-year-old Layla from seeing her lover again. But when Sulimann reacts more harshly than necessary and arranges a provincial undeserving groom for Layla, she takes up her daughter’s cause.

Director Elite Zexer delivers a riveting and hypnotic debut feature that offers viewers an intimate lens into the world of Bedouin women coming of age in contemporary Israel. This film, in Arabic with English subtitles, is the winner of six Ophir Awards (Israeli Oscars), the top prize at Locarno Film Festival’s First Look on Israel, and the World Cinema Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival. It was also an official selection of both the Berlinale and the Seattle International Film Festival.

The guest speakers at the film presentation will be Steve Dinero, the Carter and Fran Pierce Term Chair for the Liberal Arts at Philadelphia University, and Iris Drechsler (moderator), the PJFF artistic chair.

Special Event: Post-film happy hour at Positano Coast (212 Walnut Street, 2nd floor), with complimentary appetizers and drink specials

Buy tickets here.

PJFF Film: “By Sidney Lumet”

Film legend Sidney Lumet (1924-2011) reveals his life story in this never-before-seen interview shot in 2008. With candor, humor and grace, Lumet divulges what matters most to him as an artist and as a human being.

This fascinating documentary features compelling clips from Lumet’s prolific catalogue — 44 films made in 50 years — including “Serpico,” “Dog Day Afternoon,” “12 Angry Men,” “Network” and “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead.” Peabody and Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Nancy Buirski (“Afternoon of a Faun,” “The Loving Story”) combines these elements to create an authentic portrait of one of the most accomplished, influential and socially conscious directors in the history of cinema. “By Sidney Lumet,” an official selection of the Tribeca Film Festival, explores the spiritual and ethical lessons at the core of this visionary director’s work. Lumet is first and foremost a storyteller, and his powerful moral tales capture the dilemmas and concerns of a society struggling to uphold its values and ideals.

The guest speaker at this event is Andrew J. Douglas, consultant on film and director of education at Bryn Mawr Film Institute.

Buy tickets for this film here.

PJFF Film: “Karski & the Lords of Humanity”

As a debonair, trained diplomat with a worldly air about him, Jan Karski looked forward to a promising future in the Polish military. Unfortunately, his professional ambitions were cut short when Germany invaded his home country in 1939. Captured by the Red Army and transported to a labor camp in the Soviet Union, his life took an unprecedented turn.

Karski managed to escape Soviet imprisonment and returned to Poland to join the Resistance. Moving on to spy for the Allied forces, he completed multiple undercover missions during World War II, including the infiltration of the Warsaw Ghetto and a Nazi transit camp. His missions succeeded in accelerating the flow of information coming out of occupied Europe to the Allies in both England and the United States, and ultimately supplied substantial proof early on that Polish Jews were being exterminated en masse.

In “Karski & the Lords of Humanity,” Karski recounts his experiences in the Warsaw Ghetto, his witnessing of the brutal torture committed by the Gestapo, and the refusal of President Franklin D. Roosevelt to recognize his claims of Jewish extermination by the Third Reich. Karski’s courageous efforts during the war are explored through Emmy Award-winning director Slawomir GrŸünberg’s ability to combine brilliant animated sequences with the expert use of archival footage and interview segments, taken from Karski’s testimony in “Shoah,” Claude Lanzmann’s 1985 documentary about the Holocaust.

Slawomir GrŸünberg will be a guest speaker at this presentation of his film, along with Rebecca Erbelding, curator and research historian at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

This film was an official selection of the Boston Jewish Film Festival, the Jewish International Film Festival in Australia, and the Westchester Jewish Film Festival.

Buy your tickets to this documentary feature here.

PJFF Film: “Eva Hesse”

Eva Hesse escaped Nazi Germany via the Kindertransport at the age of 3, and although she eventually reunited with her family, she was only 10 when she lost her mother to suicide. Eva went on to have a notable influence on the downtown New York art scene as a young artist in the 1960’s. This brilliant and beautiful painter-turned-sculptor created dynamic works of art informed by abstract expressionism, minimalism and commercial design practices.

Incorporating industrial and everyday materials, like rubber, wire, latex and fiberglass, into her sculptures, Eva redefined her medium and left an enduring mark on the art world. Though her career thrived, Eva still struggled with relationship issues and the double standards imposed on female artists in the art world. All too soon, Eva’s health began to deteriorate, and she was diagnosed with terminal cancer.

Based on Eva’s personal diaries, which she kept religiously until her death at age 34, this poetic and evocative film illuminates why Eva is celebrated as one of the most important and influential artists of the 20th century.

The guest speakers at this film presentation are Ivy Barsky, CEO and director of the National Museum of American Jewish History, and Helen Charash, Eva Hesse’s sister.

This film was an official selection of the Docaviv Film Festival, the Munich Film Festival, the Toronto Jewish Film Festival and the Washington Jewish Film Festival.

Buy tickets to “Eva Hesse” here.

PJFF Film – “Jerry Lewis: The Man Behind the Clown”

Since the early days of television, Jerry Lewis has had audiences laughing at his visual gags, pantomime sketches and signature slapstick humor. Yet Lewis was far more than a jokester. A groundbreaking filmmaker whose insatiable curiosity led him to write, produce, stage and direct many of the films he would also appear in resulted in such adored classics as “The Bellboy,” “The Ladies Man,” “The Errand Boy” and “The Nutty Professor.”

Lewis’ filmmaking career prevented him from being pigeonholed as a comic performer and launched his reputation as a driving force in Hollywood. Pushing boundaries with his technical innovations, unique voice and keen visual eye, he soon garnered praise overseas, particularly in France among the cultural sophisticates.

While some Americans viewed Lewis as nothing more than an abrasive clown, Europeans recognized him as a true “auteur.” So just who is Jerry Lewis? Is he just another brash, attention-hungry buffoon? Or is he a creative genius?

In celebration of Jerry Lewis’ 90th birthday and his new picture on the way, Lewis and his friends candidly reflect on his remarkable life and decades-long career. Director Gregory Monro takes audiences from Lewis’ legendary partnership with crooner Dean Martin and his incredible rise to Beatles-like fame to his great love affair with the other side of the movie camera. Through his film, Monro invites us to rediscover Jerry Lewis as an influential artist, humanitarian and visionary — the man behind the clown.

The guest speaker for this film presentation is Nick Pinkerton, film scholar and journalist for Sight & Sound, ArtForum, The Village Voice, Moving Image Source and Reverseshot.com. An official selection of the Telluride Film Festival, this film is a documentary feature in English and French with English subtitles.

Buy tickets for “Jerry Lewis: The Man Behind the Clown” here. The ticket price also includes the showing of a 13-minute documentary short on photographer Yasha (Jack) Pashkovsky.

PJFF Film: “Keep Quiet”

By his mid-twenties, Csaná‡d Szegedi, a fervent Holocaust denier and outspoken anti-Semite, rises up through the ranks to lead the Hungarian far-right conservative Jobbik Party. Cofounder of the Hungarian Guard and serving his country in the European Parliament, Szegedi, with his extremist views and racist agenda, ascends the political ladder. That is, until the day a rung gives out and Szegedi comes tumbling down.

Discovering that his grandmother is a survivor of Auschwitz and he is, indeed, a Jew, Szegedi has no choice but to come to terms with his true identity. After the initial shock subsides and members of his own party begin to turn against him, Szegedi, desperate and alone, seeks the help of a local Orthodox rabbi. Agreeing to take Szegedi under his wing despite protests from his peers, the empathetic rabbi aids Szegedi in his unbelievable transformation from raving anti-Semite to devout Jew.

“Keep Quiet” is a powerful and unsettling documentary that leaves you questioning the veracity of Szegedi’s intentions to embrace his faith and start his life anew. With rich archival material, captivating interviews, and incredible véritéŽ footage, viewers are encouraged to make their own judgment. Is Szegedi telling the truth or is it all an act?

The guest speakers at the film presentation are Elliot Ratzman, visiting assistant professor in the Department of Religion at Swarthmore College, and Árpád v. Klimó, professor of Modern European history at the Catholic University of America.

This film was an official selection of the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival. It is a documentary feature in Hungarian with English subtitles. Buy tickets for the film here.

PJFF: The Origin of Violence

In this film, which was the official selection of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, the protagonist, Nathan Fabre, teaches in a French-German school while working on his thesis about French resistance to the Nazis during World War II. During a research trip to Buchenwald, he discovers a photograph of a concentration camp prisoner who strikingly resembles his own father. Back in France, still haunted by the image, Nathan looks to his father for answers but is met with impenetrable silence. Committed to learning the truth, Nathan pursues the matter himself by digging deep into his family history, meanwhile complicating his relationship with a young German woman, whose family history is similarly murky.

By interviewing curators of the Holocaust memorial, tracking down survivors who may have known the man in the photograph, and confronting all of his living relatives, Nathan pieces together secrets that have been kept hidden for more than 60 years.

Based on Fabrice Humbert’s semi-autobiographical, prize-winning 2009 novel of the same name, “The Origin of Violence” will have you on the edge of your seat through its innovative use of flashbacks to provide a reason for the protagonist’s history of unchecked anger.

The film is in French and German with English subtitles. Ian Fleishman, assistant professor of German Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, will be the guest speaker at the film presentation.