With 15 narrative films, 12 documentaries, two docudramas, 11 shorts, one master class and a “From the Vaults” screening at 10 different venues throughout the Philadelphia area, the 38th Gershman Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival (GPJFF) is a lot to take in.
This year’s festival will take place from Nov. 3 to 18.
“The festival really does have something for everybody,” GPJFF Executive Artistic Director Olivia Antsis said. “It shows Jewish life around the world. … [In Shalom Bollywood: The Untold Story of Bollywood Cinema], we see the origins of Bollywood cinema. [In The Syrian Patient], we see what it’s like working in an Israeli hospital when you have Syrian refugees coming every night who have — it’s terrible to say — body parts missing. … We have film noir, thrillers, comedies like Shoelaces.”
The Gershman Y, which hosts the festival, is set to leave its building on Broad Street by the end of November and transform as an organization into solely a film festival that hosts events at different area venues. This change will direct more attention and support to the organization’s film events.
“Jewish film festivals have really worked for Jewish organizations in growing audiences and getting people interested in Jewish life, Jewish culture, Jewish heritage,” Antsis said.
The festival opens on Nov. 3 at 7:30 p.m. at the Philadelphia Film Center with a showing of The Interpreter. The narrative feature follows Ali, a Jewish interpreter who heads to the home of the Nazi he believes killed his parents. Instead of the Nazi, he meets the Nazi’s son, Georg. This screening will include a conversation with Peter Simonischek, who plays Georg.
The festival’s centerpiece film is Working Woman, an Israeli film that will play on Nov. 10 at 8 p.m. at The Gershman Y. In the film, Orna, a mother of four and primary breadwinner of her family, receives a promotion, but her boss makes persistent sexual advances on her, making her work unbearable.
Director Michal Aviad began working on Working Woman in 2012, but in the midst of the #MeToo movement, its themes have become more timely.
“I do hope [#MeToo] has a future of making real change in culture. … It’s much larger than this specific issue of they complain and they complain,” Aviad said. “It speaks of men-women relationships, relationships of power in which women and boys can often be manipulated through using their sexuality in this relationship of power. I hope it will help us make a new society.”
The festival also includes several spotlight films, which the screening committee chose as the ones they believe will most resonate with the audience, said Antsis, who is part of the committee .
One of these films is Who Will Write Our History on Nov. 7 at 7 p.m. at the National Museum of American Jewish History. It’s a documentary about a group of Jewish intellectuals in the Warsaw Ghetto who wrote about their struggle so that the Nazi version of their story will not be the only version that prevails.
The Invisibles, which plays on Nov. 11 at 7 p.m. at The Gershman Y, is another spotlight film. This docudrama reenacts the story of four young German Jews who disguise themselves as gentiles in Berlin during the Holocaust rather than go into hiding or face deportation.
The final spotlight film is The Museum on Nov. 18 at 1 p.m. at The Gershman Y. The documentary explores the inner workings of The Israel Museum, Israel’s national museum in Jerusalem.
On Nov. 17, the festival’s closing night film is the premiere of Promise of Dawn at 7:30 at The Gershman Y. This biographical feature explores the relationship between writer and war hero Romain Gary and his mother.
The festival also includes several special events.
The first is the “From the Vaults” screening of the Gentleman’s Agreement. The fictional film, which will play on Nov. 12 at 7 p.m. at the Lightbox Film Center at International House Philadelphia, follows a journalist who goes undercover as a Jew to write a series of articles about anti-Semitism. Gentleman’s Agreement won best picture, best director and best supporting actress at the 1948 Academy Awards and set off a wave of social justice films. Following the screening, Cecilia Peck — a director and daughter of Gregory Peck, who plays the journalist — and film historian Claudine Stevens will give a presentation on the film.
The festival also includes a master class. This year’s master class, which takes place on Nov. 16 at 11 a.m. at 401 Fisher-Bennett Hall at the University of Pennsylvania, Paul Lieberstein — who played Toby Flenderson on The Office — and Jennifer Prediger, will teach about indie filmmaking. The two of them worked together on Song of Back and Neck, a film about a man who struggles with standing up for himself as well as with chronic pain. Song of Back and Neck will also screen at the festival on Nov. 15 at 7 p.m. at the Ritz East.
The final special event, which will conclude the festival, is Dreaming of a Jewish Christmas on Nov. 18 at 5 p.m. at The Gershman Y. This fun musical documentary explores the Jewish roots of Christmas songs in the setting of a fantasy Chinese restaurant. After the film, there will be a Christmas-themed Chinese buffet, and the festival encourages attendees to wear their ugly Christmas sweaters.
“I really hope people curate their own festival experience, look through all these films online at pjff.org, look through our brochure and choose the films that resonate with their own experience,” Antsis said, “but also the films they think are going to challenge them and see the world in a new way. We’re very much a festival that cares about creating community and connection.”
Tickets, which are available at pjff.org, are $15 for general admission and $13 for seniors. Students may attend regularly priced films at The Gershman Y for free and buy tickets at other venues for $7.
Every year I look forward to attending the very successful GPJFF with my fiancée, and am saddened by the demise of the icon Broad and Pine location, which cries out more than ever for the Jewish community to scout out sites in Center City for a full-size JCC, which has long been needed to serve all people here in the City of Brotherly Love.