This is my piece for the Detroit Jewish News on the 17th edition of the Windsor Jewish Film Festival, which gets underway tonight.
The 17th edition of the Ruth and Bernard Friedman Windsor Jewish Film Festival features 10 films over four days from April 29 to May 2, including the acclaimed new documentary Who Will Write Our History.
The film is about a group of writers who kept a secret trove of documents chronicling their conditions in the Warsaw Ghetto. It will be screened opening night.
The festival, Windsor’s oldest movie fest, typically features films that celebrate or depict Jewish culture, including those about the Holocaust.
This year the lineup includes the comedy Humor Me starring Elliot Gould, the documentary Back to Berlin, about a group of Israeli motorcyclists who travel to Berlin for the Maccabi Games, retracing the ride of their forefathers before World War II. There’s also the film 93 Queen, about a group of Hasidic women in Brooklyn who create the first all-female ambulance corps. And the Israeli film Shoelaces is a funny but poignant story of the relationship between a father and his autistic son.
The festival has long had a dedicated group of programmers who choose from dozens of films for the event, held at the Devonshire Mall’s Cineplex Odeon theatre. They select movies based on what has been screened at other festivals and obtain screeners from film distributors.
“We have a committee that typically looks at 60 to 90 films a year to pick the 10 for our festival,” said spokesman and Windsor Jewish Community Centre executive director Jay Katz.
Katz said the fact the festival screens only 10 films means it’s showing pretty much the cream of the crop. “With 10 we’re pretty much getting award winners,” he said.
Katz said the programmers try to create a diverse program.
“They try to make sure there’s some light-hearted ones because in the genre of Jewish-themed films there’s a lot about the Holocaust,” he said. But he added it’s “important to include” the message of the Holocaust because of its centrality to Jewish history.
The festival was originally connected with the Lenore Marwil Detroit Jewish Film Festival, which takes place this May. But it went its separate way many years ago because of a different film distribution system in Canada.
The festival was started by Ruth and Bernard Friedman, philanthropists who were known for organizing a popular community picnic.
“But, you know, tastes change and communities change and they realized 17 years ago that it would evolve to having the film festival because the whole community would and does come together for this,” Katz said.
The festival has almost two dozen sponsors and with ticket sales it turns a profit, which goes to support Jewish community programs.
New this year is an educational component for high school students.
Drawing on funding from the Windsor-based Morris and Beverly Baker Foundation the festival opened its film vault of more than 100 titles from almost two decades, and school boards picked films to teach about the Holocaust.
“We gave them a list of all the films, they went through them and they took some to screen for their students,” Katz said.
One of them is Defiant Requiem, about the Czech concentration camp Theresienstadt and a young composer’s efforts to build morale through the performance of Verdi’s Requiem. Another is Sarah’s Key, the story of a 10-year-old girl during the round-up of Jews in Paris in 1942. A third is Le Voyage de Fanny, about the daring escape of school children to Switzerland.