When is a festival not a festival? When it is the Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival’s aptly named Pre-Fest, the event equivalent of a pop-up.
The PJFF hosts its third annual Pre-Fest, featuring four independent films, Oct. 10 to 12, that center around the theme of survival and finding the will to live.
Olivia Antsis, director of the PJFF, said the Pre-Fest will get audiences excited for the two-week festival, which takes place Nov. 7 to 21. Even though these four films did not make the cut for the main festival, she said, they are still worthy of watching and were rated highly from the screening committee.
The PJFF Artistic Screening Committee, which includes Antsis, reviewed all of the prospective films for the festival and chose which ones to show based on ratings of plot, spoken thought, character, diction, melody and spectacle.
The committee is composed of an eclectic mix of community members, ranging from film critics to amateur cineastes.
Antsis said some people really connect to the films and change their perspectives on issues after seeing them, and she’s looking forward to seeing audience reactions to the films. Although the 35-year-old main event usually attracts a larger audience — about 3,500 people attended last year — she’s hoping for around 600 to 700 for the Pre-Fest.
The weekend kicks off with Sabena Hijacking — My Version, which tells the true story of the 1972 hijacking of Sabena Flight 571 from Vienna to Tel Aviv by the Palestinian terrorist group Black September.
The crew and passengers were held hostage for 30 hours, and both current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and one of his predecessors, Ehud Barak, were part of the team that took them out.
The director based some of the film on previously undiscovered audio recordings, eyewitness reports and Netanyahu’s and Barak’s testimonies, weaving in archival footage and exclusive interviews from the attack.
The docudrama is also a finalist for the 2015 Ophir Awards, also known as the Israeli Academy Awards.
Although still related by theme, she said Brundibar Revisited is more of a testament to the lasting power of art. This documentary tells the story of Jewish Czech composer Hans Kasa’s famous children’s opera, Brundibar, which was originally performed by children of the Theresienstadt concentration camp.
Their performances were exploited as Nazi propaganda, and most of those children were sent to their deaths at Auschwitz and Treblinka.
Antsis said for the children who performed in the opera, it was a symbol of hope; their hope that good can persevere over evil. She said the film works on so many levels, and art can still inspire people to overcome struggles today.
To Life! Auf Das Leben! takes a narrative approach to portray the theme of survival. It chronicles two people from different backgrounds — a retired Yiddish cabaret singer who is a Holocaust survivor and a young German laborer — who instill a reason to live in each other through their developing friendship. They learn to cope with their pasts and change how they see their futures.
PJFF is also pairing up with DesignPhiladelphia to present two art-related events within the Pre-Fest.
The Film Poster Exhibition will display art by Moore College of Art student and PJFF summer intern Kathleen (Kit) Kazmier. She created two dozen film posters illustrating her take of all of the films for this PJFF season.
Following that, Imber’s Left Hand will be shown. The documentary follows the journey of a man surviving a medical illness through his will to live for the purpose of his artistic endeavors.
It follows Jewish painter Jon Imber’s final months as he battles ALS and comes to terms with his physical limitations.
He quickly lost mobility all throughout his body, starting with his dominant right hand. He taught himself to paint with his left while he still could, creating more than 100 portraits of friends and family over a few months.
It won the Audience Award at the Boston Jewish Film Festival this past season. In addition, Antsis said a clinical neurologist will be at the screening to answer any questions about ALS.
“These four films approach this theme in a unique way, but they ultimately demonstrate the power of human resilience in the face of adversity,” Antsis said.
“Even though Pre-Fest hasn’t caught on as the same level as the fall festival has with our audience, there’s still a lot of people that really support it, and we’re hoping that it grows every season.”
The four films will take place over three days at different locations. The opening film, Sabena Hijacking — My Version, will be showing on Oct. 10 at 7:30 p.m. at the Gershman Y.
On Oct. 11, Brundibar Revisited will be showing at 1 p.m. at Temple Sinai, and To Life! Auf Das Leben! at 7:30 at Congregation Beth Or.
The Film Poster Exhibition and Imber’s Left Hand will be at the Gershman Y on Oct. 12 beginning with the exhibition at 5:30 p.m. and the film at 7:30.
Tickets are $35 for a Pre-Fest pass to all four films or $10 for each individual screening.