Stories of family, injustice, love, religion, politics and war encompass the 23rd annual Dayton Jewish International Film Festival slated June 1-29 across three Dayton area venues.
Presented by the Jewish Community Center of Greater Dayton, the festival will feature 11 films including American and foreign films. The screenings will be held at: The Plaza Theatre, 33 S. Main St., Miamisburg; The Neon, 130 E. Fifth St., Dayton; and Dayton Metro Library, 215 E. Third St., Dayton.
The genres range from thriller to drama to documentary. Over 50 films were considered by the selection committee, which features roughly 25 members. The selection process began last August and organizers say variety is key.
“One of our goals is to bring movies to our community that wouldn’t necessarily be shown here – we want to make sure these stories are being told,” said Marc Jacob, senior director of the Jewish Community Center of Greater Dayton. “We are excited to bring an array of thought-provoking, captivating and award-winning films to the community. Our festival allows participants to view excellent movies that might not otherwise make it to the Dayton area. We are thrilled to showcase these unique films. We have something for everyone.”
There is also a push to diversify the festival’s reach beyond the Jewish community. Organizers insist the films have the power to resonate for multiple demographics.
“They are indie films – art films, in most cases – with (themes) that would appeal to students, (particularly) university students, and appeal to people who just like film,” said festival chair Judy Schwartzman. “We want to broaden our base. We have a wide variety of films that should appeal to a broad range of people. You don’t have to be Jewish to love the Dayton Jewish Film Festival.”
Exploring the slate
The opening film, “Persian Lessons,” is a suspenseful account of resistance, resilience and courage in the face of evil partially inspired by German writer Wolfgang Kohlhaase’s short story “Invention of a Language.”
In 1942 France, Gilles (Nahuel Pérez Biscayart) is arrested by SS soldiers alongside other Jews and sent to a camp in Germany. He narrowly avoids sudden execution by swearing to the guards that he is not Jewish, but Persian. This lie temporarily saves him, as one of the soldiers’ superior officers is “looking for a Persian,” and has promised additional rations to the soldier who delivers. Gilles is then assigned a literal life or death mission: to teach Farsi to Head of Camp Koch (Lars Eidinger), who dreams of opening a restaurant in Iran once the war is over. Gilles manages to survive by inventing words of “Farsi” every day and teaching them to Koch.
Screen Daily heralded the film as “a big, widescreen cinematic ride which deftly mixes suspense, laughter and tears.”
“This movie has an interesting story that makes a point and brings a little levity to the Holocaust in a respectful way,” Schwartzman said. “A lot of Jewish people went to extraordinary lengths to save themselves and save other people in the concentration camps and they were very clever in doing so. This is just one example of being clever and resourceful.”
“The film is loosely based on a true story,” Jacob added. “Not a lot of people hear about other stories that happened during the Holocaust so this is another opportunity for us to let people see the different aspects of the Holocaust and how people saved others.”
He also praises “The Man in the Basement,” a French drama with English subtitles concerning family dynamics in the presence of antisemitism.
“Statistics show that, unfortunately, antisemitic incidents in this country are at their highest right now so ‘The Man in the Basement’ is an important movie for us to show and have a discussion afterward for the community,” Jacob said.
Schwartzman finds merit in certain films showcasing the humorous aspects of Jewish life and culture aside from serious fare.
“There are comedies (in the festival),” she said. “(‘iMordecai’) is about the difficulties of older Jewish people dealing with new technology. The film stars Judd Hirsch and Carol Kane. It played widely in South Florida to great success and has also played larger cities such as Chicago.”
The closing film, “Farewell, Mr. Haffmann,” is an adaptation of an award-winning play by Jean-Philippe Daguerre. A French thriller with English subtitles, the story is a tense tale of three people caught in occupied Paris.
“This film has a Holocaust setting but it’s more about greed and abuse of power,” said Schwartzman. “It’s a well-made mystery with many unexpected twists and turns. Our opening and closing films were chosen because we felt they were the most exciting, most telling, movies. We wanted to begin with something that would make people want to come back (during) the festival and end with something that would make people want to come back next year.”
This year, five films will have special guest speakers following their showings.
• Thursday, June 8 showing of “Charlotte” features speaker Edna Carter Southard, Curator of Collections and Exhibitions Emerita, Miami University Art Museum.
• Tuesday, June 13 showing of “Reckonings” features speaker Ori Yehudai, the Schottenstein Chair in Israel Studies and Associate Professor in the Department of History at Ohio State University.
• Thursday, June 15 showing of “Exodus 91″ features speaker Michal Avera Samuel, a former CEO of Fidel, an Israeli educational non-profit.
• Tuesday, June 20 showing of “iMordecai” in partnership with Hadassah features speaker Tara Feiner, Senior Director for Jewish Family Services of the Jewish Federation of Greater Dayton.
• Thursday, June 22 showing of “The Man in the Basement” features speaker Michael Loadenthal, Postdoctoral Fellow with the University of Cincinnati and the Executive Director of the Prosecution Project – theprosecutionproject.org.
‘This festival brings the community together’
The festival will also feature a free screening of the animated film “Charlotte,” winner of the Audience Award for Music/Art/Design at the 40th Vancouver International Film Festival. In addition, the Father’s Day screening of “Karaoke” comes with a Father’s Day special in which the first 50 dads will receive free admission. Interested patrons must sign up with a special code. For more information, visit www.jewishdayton.org.
A virtual option remains but Schwartzman is confident the festival will be a strong return to in-person community-building nonetheless.
“This is a comeback year for us because people are really coming out to the movies again,” she said. “This is a high quality festival. This festival brings the community together. We want to show the community the beauty of Jewish culture, the difficulty of Jewish culture, and the capabilities and strength of the Jewish community. But we also have fun. We want people to better understand who we are as people.”
She also noted one incentive that reliably entices audiences every year.
“We give free popcorn,” Schwartzman said. “Come join us at the movies and have some popcorn on us!”
2023 Dayton Jewish International Film Festival Schedule
Thursday, June 1
127 minutes, Plaza Theatre
6:30 p.m., Reception
7:15 p.m., Film
This suspenseful account of resistance, resilience and courage in the face of evil is partially inspired by German writer Wolfgang Kohlhaase’s short story “Invention of a Language.”
Tuesday, June 6
“Where Life Begins”
100 minutes, The Neon
(Online June 6-8, 7 p.m.)
Set in Italy, this drama concerns farm owner Elio who meets Esther, a rabbi’s daughter tired of the constraints imposed by her religion.
Thursday, June 8
92 minutes, Dayton Metro Library
(Online June 8-10, 7 p.m.)
This animated drama tells the true story of Charlotte Salmon, a young German-Jewish painter who comes of age in Berlin on the eve of World War II.
Tuesday, June 13
74 minutes, The Neon
Set in the aftermath of the Holocaust, this documentary recounts the tense negotiations between Jewish and German leaders regarding compensation for the survivors of the largest mass genocide in history.
Thursday, June 15
90 minutes, The Neon
This docudrama follows Israeli diplomat Asher Naim on his mission to bring 15,000 Ethiopian Jews to Israel.
Sunday, June 18
100 minutes, The Neon
This bittersweet Israeli comedy spotlights “a middle class suburban couple in their 60s who are drawn to their new neighbor, a charismatic bachelor who has karaoke evenings at his apartment.”
Tuesday, June 20
102 minutes, The Neon
9:30 a.m., Reception
10 a.m., Film
(Online June 20-22, 7 p.m.)
In this comedy based on a true story, a “technology-challenged Holocaust survivor must learn how to manage iPhones, Gen Z, his fretful wife and schlemiel son.”
Thursday, June 22
“The Man in the Basement”
114 minutes, The Neon
Set in contemporary France, this drama “explores the limits of tolerance, the intractability of racism, and the allure of conspiracy theories.”
Sunday, June 25
100 minutes, The Plaza
(Online June 25-27, 7 p.m.)
This comedy “concerns an unmarried 38-year-old who gives up on men but lives the fantasy of being a bride at a wedding so she decides to marry herself. While her selfish mother objects, her hilarious girlfriends support her and plan an extravagant event. What will she do when suddenly the right man shows up?” Wedding cake will be served after the film as well.
Tuesday, June 27
127 minutes, The Neon
(Online June 27-29, 7 p.m.)
In this drama, “an Israeli swimming instructor living in Chicago returns to Israel after 10 years of absence to bury his father. An encounter with a beloved childhood friend and his newly engaged girlfriend sets a series of events in motion that affects everyone’s lives.”
Thursday, June 29
“Farewell, Mr. Haffmann”
115 minutes, The Neon
Centered on a jewelry shop owner, this thriller is “a thoughtful account of the power dynamics between rescuer and rescued.”
HOW TO GO
What: Dayton Jewish International Film Festival
When: June 1-29
Where: The Plaza Theatre, 33 S. Main St., Miamisburg; The Neon, 130 E. Fifth St., Dayton; and Dayton Metro Library, 215 E. Third St., Dayton
Cost: Individual tickets are $12. Opening night film and reception tickets are $18. Season pass (10 films plus opening night) is $85.
Tickets: Visit www.jewishdayton.org.
More information: Call the Jewish Community Center of Greater Dayton at 937-610-1555 or visit www.jewishdayton.org.