At the top of a promotional email about its upcoming fall film festival, Philadelphia Jewish Film and Media included the following lines:
“The events on and since Oct. 7 are a stark reminder of the importance of telling the stories of the Jewish people and the people of Israel – stories of survival, resilience, sorrow and joy.”
The line was an acknowledgment of Hamas’ attack on Israel, which killed 1,400 people, took more than 200 hostages and started a war. But it was also a statement about how the local nonprofit did not need to change its schedule for its big fall event.
The films selected before Oct. 7 told Jewish stories. After Oct. 7, they were perhaps even more important to tell.
PJFM’s Fall Fest begins on Nov. 11 at 7 p.m. at the Weitzman National Museum of American Jewish History with a screening of “Remembering Gene Wilder,” a documentary about the Jewish actor and comedian.
“We use film and digital media to help fight antisemitism. The way we do that is by sharing these stories and to help people appreciate the diversity of the community,” said Kristen Arter, PJFM’s executive director.
The event runs until Nov. 18. About 400 tickets have been sold to the organization’s fall slate of screenings, which includes non-festival dates.
Arter discussed some of the more exciting festival screenings.
“Remembering Gene Wilder”
Wilder was known for his collaborations with Mel Brooks (“The Producers,” “Blazing Saddles”) and Richard Pryor (“Silver Streak,” “Stir Crazy”). Brooks is interviewed in the documentary. Director Ron Frank will be in attendance for a question-and-answer session after the screening.
“Gene Wilder is such a beloved actor. For our audience, that’s just such a wonderful point of interest,” Arter said.
“The Rugrats Movie”
Nickelodeon’s “Rugrats” was one of the first animated kids shows to portray Jewish characters and holidays, according to PJFM. The hit series’ 1998 movie made $140.8 million at the box office. A 25th-anniversary screening, set for Nov. 12 at 11 a.m. at the Kaiserman JCC in Wynnewood, is for both kids and their millennial parents who loved the show.
Tommy Pickles, the show’s main character, had a Jewish mother, Didi.
“It’s an animated representation of a Jewish character. That was not necessarily prevalent in animated series,” Arter said.
On Nov. 12 at 4 p.m. at the Weitzman and on Nov. 15 at 2 p.m. at Gratz College, this documentary about a Jewish farming community in South Jersey will make its “Philadelphia premiere,” according to PJFM. It tells the story of 43 Jewish families who escaped religious persecution in 1882 imperial Russia “to a desolate plot of land in Salem County, NJ.”
There, they created the Alliance Colony, “considered to be the first successful Jewish farming community in the United States.” They did that after arriving with no farming skills.
“It’s about folks having to escape religious persecution, and not having much knowledge and skills to produce and do what they did. It’s such a story of resilience,” Arter said.
PJFM festivals always have a night dedicated to short films, and this one will take place on Nov. 12 at the Weitzman. One of the shorts will be about a woman going to get an abortion as her great-grandmother talks to her in her head. Another is about two Orthodox Jews and their quest to become “openly queer,” according to PJFM.
“Those are stories that we don’t necessarily get to hear very often,” Arter said.
This is also a Philadelphia premiere, playing on Nov. 13 at 7 p.m. and Nov. 14 at 2 p.m. at the Weitzman. Three Israeli teenagers are about to enroll in the Israel Defense Forces. But before they do, they visit concentration camp sites in Poland with their class.
“Private insecurities and emotional pains are soon unveiled as Frisch, Nitzan and Ido are forced to confront their history and responsibilities as Jews,” reads PJFM’s promotional email. “Amidst the tragic past that is literally presented in front of them, these teens come to question their own decisions, unsure of themselves as their next chapter in life – protecting their state – soon approaches.”
“Here in Philadelphia, I’m sure these stories aren’t necessarily known or understood from this particular perspective,” Arter said.