A series of six Jewish and Israel related film screenings is set to kickoff this spring at the Gershman Y in Center City.
There has rarely been a better time to be a fan of Jewish film than now. The Israeli Film Festival is in full swing, with multiple sold-out showings. There are three Jewishly themed films in mainstream theaters as well — Gett: the Divorce of Viviane Amsalem; Deli Man and Zero Motivation — as well as the Helen Mirren-starred release, The Woman in Gold, due out next week
And this all comes on the heels of yet another successful Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival this past fall. Proving that she has no intention of resting on her news releases, Olivia Antsis, the director of the PJFF, has decided to build off the festival’s momentum by hosting a series of six film showings this spring.
The series, titled CineMondays, is now in its second year and will feature six films making their Philadelphia premieres.
This year’s CineMondays, like every festival she has been a part of, developed its unofficial theme organically, as the 11-person screening committee watched dozens of possible candidates, says Antsis. “This year seems to be about collaboration, building alliances and teamwork and how those qualities can promote personal growth, although some of the films take a darker perspective than others.”
That is certainly true of the opening film in the series, Mr. Kaplan, which screened on March 23. This dramedy by the Uruguayan director, Alvaro Brachner — Uruguay’s submission for this year’s Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film — looks at a 76-year-old retiree who escaped Poland during World War II who decides that it is time to make something of his life. That something: hunting Nazis. Teaming up with his chauffeur allows the titular character to embark on a journey that reveals more than he bargained for.
Two films on the docket have local connections. The first, Touchdown Israel, screening on April 27, is a documentary about the efforts being made to gain a foothold for American football in Israel, a country not renowned for its love of the pigskin. American Football in Israel has been working in the country since 1988, and has grown to include more than 90 contact and non-contact teams, including the Israeli Football League. This 10-team league is patterned after the NFL, and, as such, will be the subject of expert analysis in a post-screening talkback with Greg Cosell, the senior producer at NFL Films in Mount Holly, N.J.
The film features around the friendship between Jeremy Sable, a native of Cheltenham and lifelong fan of the Philadelphia Eagles, Saud Kassas, an Arab from Jaffa, and Roni Srisuren, a Christian from Thailand who lives with his family in Israel.
The series’ Closing Night film on May 4, Raise the Roof, is a documentary about the efforts of a Massachusetts couple to reconstruct the roof of an 18th-century wooden synagogue in Poland that was the inspiration for one of the most iconic synagogue designs in the United States. “Frank Lloyd Wright was inspired by the pyramid structure” of the Gwozdziec Synagogue when he was designing Beth Sholom Congregation in Elkins Park, Antsis explains. Those with even just a passing familiarity with the Old York Road landmark will be able to recognize the similarities between the two structures.
In addition to having Rick and Laura Brown — the people who led the reconstruction of the roof using only period-authentic materials and tools, and who are neither Jewish or Polish — at the post-screening talkback, the audience will also be able to talk to the Jewish filmmakers, the father-and-son team of Cary and Yari Wolinsky, as well as two Philadelphia artists who spent several summers with some of the reconstruction project’s 300 volunteers, teaching them how to paint like artisans would have in the 1700s.
The talkbacks for CineMondays will be a hallmark of the series — each film will be followed by a chance for the audience to speak with people involved with its production. In addition to the ones already mentioned, the star of Mr. Kaplan, Héctor Noguera, will be in attendance on Opening Night, and one of the translators who are the subject of the documentary, The Muses of Isaac Bashevis Singer, which will be shown on March 30, will participate in that evening’s talkback. The film looks at Singer’s proclivity for employing literally dozens of women as translators of his Yiddish works into English and other languages — in spite of their not knowing Yiddish. Antsis relates the story of how, when one of the translators wanted to learn Yiddish so she could translate better, “he told her, ‘No one needs to learn Yiddish!’ He would translate it from Yiddish to English, and then they would polish up his translation and make it so that any audience could enjoy his work.”