Ever wonder how the entries are selected for the William and Irene Weinberg Family Baltimore Jewish Film Festival, now it its 30th year?
It’s an “intense and multi-layered” process, according to Alyson Bonavoglia, artistic director of the Gordon Center for Performing Arts.
Two years ago, the festival, which runs from April 10 through May 3, revamped its protocol so that more people — 27 to be exact — could have a say.
“First, the committee members watch and rate the movies at home,” says Bonavoglia. “Based on their assessments of the films, some are selected for what we call ‘movie minyan.’ That’s when we watch all the best movies together. Twice a week, the whole committee is invited to watch, discuss and submit written evaluations.”
Bonavoglia says the final selections for the festival, of which Jmore is a co-sponsor, are made from the movies that did well, both at home and at the movie minyan.
Shelly Hendler is a member of the festival’s three-person steering committee, along with Sima Abarbanel and Gary Meliker. Hendler says she thoroughly enjoys being part of the selection process.
“As a relative newcomer to the committee, it’s surprising how many films we watch before we find films that are festival-worthy,” she says. “It’s a very time-consuming process, and the committee takes its role very seriously.”
This year’s festival includes 11 films from various countries that will be screened at the Gordon Center, located at 3506 Gwynnbrook Ave. in Owings Mills.
Two additional films will be shown off-site. “Body & Soul: An American Bridge,” a documentary about the intersection between Jews and African-Americans in the music business, will be screened at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African-American History & Culture, 830 E. Pratt St. in Baltimore, on April 8. “Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story,” a documentary about the Jewish screen legend and technology pioneer, will be screened at North Oaks Senior Independent Living, 725 Mount Wilson Lane in Pikesville, on May 6.
In partnership with the Baltimore Israel Coalition — a consortium of local organizations that provides Israel-related programs, education and advocacy — and its “Israel at 70” initiative, the festival will include a large percentage of films exploring the history, politics and culture of the Jewish state.
The April 10 screening of “Ben-Gurion, Epilogue” includes six hours of recently discovered archival footage of Israel’s first prime minister filmed during the last five years of his life. Following the screening, Alon Ben-Gurion will speak about his grandfather’s life and legacy.
On April 22, the festival will partner with the BIC to present an Israel expo and “mini-Israeli film festival” in honor of the 70th anniversary of Israel’s founding. The expo will take place in the Gordon Center’s lobby from noon to 4 p.m. and will include exhibitors from eight BIC organizations – the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, AMIT, the Baltimore Zionist District, the Macks Center for Jewish Education, Baltimore Hebrew Institute, the Development Corporation for Israel, the Maryland/Israel Development Center and Hadassah Greater Baltimore.
The event will also include a 1 p.m. screening of “An Israeli Love Story,” based on the real-life affair between director and actress Pnina Gary and Eli Ben-Zvi, son of Israel’s second president. Delphine Gamburg, director of cultural affairs for the Embassy of Israel in Washington, D.C., will speak following the screening.
At 4 p.m. that afternoon, “Between Worlds” will have its Maryland premiere. A drama about an Orthodox Israeli mother called to the hospital after her secular son is wounded in a terrorist attack, the 2016 film explores issues of love, familial ties, betrayal, faith and acceptance. Rabbi Daniel Cotzin Burg of Beth Am Synagogue in Reservoir Hill will be the discussant.
While Hendler believes festival-goers will be impressed by this year’s roster of films, she said she expects “In Between,” a controversial Israeli drama directed by female Palestinian director Maysaloun Hamoud and co-presented by the Jewish Women’s Giving Foundation, to stand out.
“I think it will provoke a lot of discussion and thought,” says Hendler.
The film, which tells the story of three young Palestinian women roommates from remarkably different backgrounds, explores what it means to be an outsider living in a predominantly Jewish city. “It shows a different perspective than we have seen before,” says Hendler. Avi Meyerstein of the Alliance for Middle East Peace will speak following the screening on May 3.
Another festival selection tclose to Hendler’s heart is the American film, “Keep the Change,” which will be shown on April 29. Written and directed by Rachel Israel, the film is a love story about two young adults on the autism spectrum who meet at Adaptations, an existing program for people in their 20s and 30s at the Marlene Myerson Manhattan Jewish Community Center. The film stars two non-actors who have autism and actually attended the program portrayed in the film.
“[Watching the film is] a little uncomfortable at first,” says Bonavoglia. “But then you get totally involved in the story. It’s very realistic and well done.”
The film’s stars, Brandon Polansky and Samantha Elisofon, will be on hand to share their reflections with audience members.
For information and a full listing of Baltimore Jewish Film Festival offerings, visit jcc.org.