The 27th annual St. Louis Jewish Film Festival will be held virtually this spring, March 6 – 13, presenting a selection of documentary and feature films from around the world. While all films depict a piece of the Jewish experience, the themes are universal and are meant to appeal to all, regardless of faith. In addition to 13 compelling films, the Festival offers discussions with filmmakers and others associated with the films. A complete list of films and discussions, including trailers, can be found at stljewishfilmfestival.org.
Greener Pastures – Dov, a widower, lives in a nursing home where he feels like he’s in jail. He dreams of buying back his old house, but he has no money since losing his pension, for which he blames the State. When he realizes that everyone in the nursing home has access to state-sponsored medical cannabis, he finds the solution.
High Maintenance – Dani Karavan has created nearly 100 environmental installations around the world and won some of the most prestigious international art awards. This is not your ordinary documentary!
Tiger Within – The incomparable Ed Asner stars in this tender saga that recounts the story of Samuel, a Holocaust survivor, and Casey, a punk teen runaway. Despite their respective traumas and initial mistrust of one another, they manage to provide a sense of family and mutual support for each other.
Not Going Quietly is a passionate documentary that brings light the fight against ALS.
Lighter films that entertain include Tango Shalom and The Conductor.
An all-Access Pass is $98 (plus fees) and individual films are $15 each (plus fees). Tickets will go on sale January 17 and films will be available for purchase and viewing at community.jccstl.org, the J’s virtual platform.
The 2022 Jewish Film Festival co-chairs are Marilyn K. Brown, Jeffrey Korn and Paula Sigel. The Jewish Film Festival is a program of the Jewish Community Center. Here’s a complete list of films:
Palestine | English and Arabic/Hebrew with English subtitles
Director: Ameen Nayfeh
Feature: 96 minutes
A life-threatening journey of 200 meters…
A Palestinian father embarks on a perilous journey to reach his hospitalized son in this tense yet tender family drama about the human toll of a divided people. Due to economics, construction worker Mustafa and his wife live separated by the West Bank wall. After his son has an accident, Mustafa is denied access at an Israeli checkpoint, forcing him to hire a driver to smuggle him to the other side. Thrown in with a motley crew of strangers, desperate Mustafa must surmount myriad hurdles and indignities to be at his child’s bedside.
Israel/Canada/Belgium | English/Hebrew with English subtitles
Director: Michal Weits
Documentary: 82 minutes
An exploration of Israel’s past and an uncomfortable truth…
The Jewish National Fund’s beloved Blue Box campaign was internationally successful in raising support for the purchase and forestation of land in Palestine. The trees have since spread their roots, but evidence remains of the Palestinian communities displaced by the one-fragile seedlings. Joseph Weits was a key figure in the organization. His great-granddaughter looks into his private diaries which reveal the story of the massive land takeover that led to the creation of the State of Israel. She objectively questions his actions with members of her family.
Israel | Hebrew with English subtitles
Director: Matan Gugenhaim and Assaf Abiri
Feature: 90 minutes
Cannabis + an elderly dealer = a riotous comedy…
Dov (75) a widower, lives in a nursing home where he feels like he’s in jail. He dreams of buying back his old house, but he has no money since losing his pension, and he blames the State. When he realizes that everyone in the nursing home has access to state-sponsored medical cannabis, he finds the solution. Not by smoking, but by selling cannabis, which he gets from the other tenants. When love, police, and the local mafia enter the picture (oy vey!), Dov has to decide whether he would be willing to risk everything for what really matters to him.
High Maintenance — The Life and Work of Dani Karavan
Israel/Poland | English and French/Hebrew/Italian with English subtitles
Director: Barak Heymann
Documentary: 66 minutes
Humor, pathos, charm and sweeping visuals…
Dani Karavan has created nearly 100 environmental installations around the world and won some of the most prestigious international art awards. Yet Karavan is not satisfied. His monumental structures are deteriorating. His advanced age is starting to catch up with him. The political climate in his country is driving him mad, as does the director of this film…(“The guy doesn’t know what Guernica is”). Finally, Karavan becomes embroiled in a political conflict over his latest commission, a monument to Poles who risked their lives saving Jews during WWII.
Discussion: Jewish Light Editor, Ellen Futterman interviewing the director, Barak Heymann
France/Switzerland | Arabic/Hebrew/Kurdish/Turkish with English subtitles
Director: Mano Kahlil
Feature: 124 minutes
Friendship, love, and solidarity in times of repression and despotism…
In a Syrian border village in the early 80s, Sero attends school for the first time. A new teacher has arrived with the goal of making strapping Panarabic comrades out of the Kurdish children. The lessons upset and confuse Sero because his long-time neighbors are a lovable Jewish family. With a fine sense of humor and satire, the film depicts a childhood that manages to find light moments between dictatorship and dark drama. Inspired by the director’s personal experiences.
Germany/Israel | English
Directors: Yoav and Doron Paz
Feature: 100 minutes
An eye for an eye. 6 million for 6 million…
Set in Germany in 1945 and based on actual events, the film centers on Max, a Holocaust survivor, who meets a small group of Jews determined to take monstrous revenge against the German people. Featuring Michael Aloni (Shtisel), Plan A dramatizes an astonishing piece of Holocaust history: a deadly plot to poison the water supply in Nuremberg. The film addresses profound questions about justice, revenge and morality, dealing with the primal feelings of human nature after surviving unimaginable cruelties.
USA | English
Director: Gabriel Bologna
Feature: 115 minutes
Heart-pumping and heartwarming…an inspiring and joyous celebration…
When a Tango dancer asks Hasidic Rabbi, Moshe Yehuda, to enter a dance competition, there’s one big problem – due to his Orthodox beliefs, he’s not allowed to touch her! But the prize money would save his school from bankruptcy, so they develop a plan to enter the competition without sacrificing his faith, and the bonds of family and community are tested one dazzling dance step at a time in this lighthearted fable.
USA | English
Director: Lisa Hurwitz
Feature: 79 minutes
Once upon a nickel…before fast food, one American restaurant empire was unstoppable
Featuring an original new song written and performed by Mel Brooks, The Automat tells the 100-year story of the iconic restaurant chain Horn & Hardart, the inspiration for Starbucks, where generations of Americans ate and drank coffee together at communal tables. From the perspective of former customers entertainer Mel Brooks, Starbucks founder Howard Schultz, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Secretary of State Colin Powell, the Horns, the Hardarts, and key employees – we watch a business climb to its peak success and then grapple with fast food in a forever changed America
USA | English
Director: Bernadette Wegenstein
Documentary: 90 minutes
A joyful tribute to perseverance, resiliency, and music…
Internationally renowned conductor, Marin Alsop, smashed the glass ceiling when she became the first woman to serve as music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra, and the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra. Born into a musical Jewish family in New York, Alsop set her sights on becoming a conductor when she was nine years old while accompanying her father to one of Leonard Bernstein’s Young People’s Concerts. This exhilarating documentary gives us a backstage pass to the artistry and energy that rewards her audiences and inspires her students today.
Discussion: Eric Findlay, St. Louis Symphony interviewing the films director, Bernadette Wegenstein
USA | English
Director: Rafal Zielinski
Feature: 98 minutes
An unlikely friendship blossoming into a new family unit…
The incomparable Ed Asner stars in this tender saga that recounts the story of Samuel, a Holocaust survivor, and Casey, a punk teen runaway. Despite their respective traumas and initial mistrust of one another, they manage to provide a sense of family and mutual support for each other. While Casey gives Sam a new purpose, Sam in turn gives Casey the guidance and courage she needs to start a new life. The film promotes empathy and understanding in the face of prejudice.
Germany| German with English subtitles
Director: Damir Lukacevic
Feature: 103 minutes
Raw and alive…
Based on a provocative autobiography, this story — set in a largely Muslim neighborhood in Berlin — raises questions of cultural diversity, religious identity, and how they intersect with friendship, especially during the phase of rawness and exploration that are one’s teenage years. Wet Dog follows Soheil, a Jewish-Iranian gang member, who is caught between hiding his Jewish identity and saving his life. After committing a robbery, he embraces who he is and where he comes from, with regular visits to the local library to learn about Judaism.
Not Going Quietly
USA | English
Director: Nicholas Bruckman
Documentary: 96 minutes
The most unlikely political movement in a generation…
A rising star in progressive politics and a new father, 32-year-old Ady Barkan’s life is upended when he is diagnosed with ALS. But after a confrontation with Senator Jeff Flake on an airplane goes viral, catapulting him to national fame, Ady and a motley crew of activists ignite a once-in-a-generation political movement called “Be a Hero.” Together, they barnstorm across the country and empower people to confront their elected officials with personal stories to demand healthcare justice, and Ady holds interviews with Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.
Discussion: Stacy Newman interviewing director Nicholas Bruckman
France | French with English subtitles
Directors: Eric Toledano and Olivier Nakache
Feature: 114 minutes
Endearing, touching with grace and a bit of humor…
This heartfelt comic drama targets structural neglect in the French medical system. Bruno is a Jewish man who runs a shelter for autistic young people turned away by other institutions, while his friend, Malik, mentors underprivileged youths seeking employment. Both men, based on real-life people, are constantly frustrated by the lack of consistent funding and institutional support—which eventually leads them to confront the government head-on. The film crackles with fiery commitment as Bruno and Malik advocate for those marginalized by society. Note: Be sure to watch to the very end!
Lynn Venhaus has had a continuous byline in St. Louis metro region publications since 1978. She is a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, currently reviews films for Webster-Kirkwood Times and KTRS Radio, covers entertainment for PopLifeSTL.com and co-hosts podcast PopLifeSTL.com…Presents, and writes features and news for Belleville News-Democrat and contributes to other publications. She is a member of CCA, AWFJ and St. Louis Film Critics Association. She is a founding member of the St. Louis Theater Circle.