Baker’s dozen of Jewish-related films star at St. Louis festival

Just as fall brings a dazzling display of foliage to St. Louis, the annual St. Louis International Film Festival delivers its own colorful collection of cinema from around the world. 

This year’s festival, which takes place Nov. 7-17, features four films from Israel as well as nine films with Jewish themes from countries such as Hungary, Canada, France and Germany. Of these 13 films, five are documentaries and eight are narrative features. 

One of the most anticipated features is director Terrence Malick’s “A Hidden Life,” a historical drama about a German man who resisted the Nazis based on moral beliefs. There are several other Oscar hopefuls and film festival favorites with Jewish interests in the mix.

Another gem is “Curtiz,” a Hungarian film dramatizing the making of the classic “Casablanca” by Hungarian-born Jewish-American director Michael Curtiz, just as America was entering World War II. 

“One of the great parts about the open submission process [that the festival uses] is the sheer delight of discovery from finding a diamond in the rough like ‘Curtiz,’ which is the first feature by its Hungarian director (Tamas Yvan Topolanszky),” Cinema St. Louis Artistic Director Chris Clark said. “I think it’s fantastic.”

The Cinema St. Louis staff of four work year-round to stage the annual festival. 

“We initially started with nearly 2,600 submissions and several hundred films from a variety of domestic and international distributors, studios and sales agents,” Clark said. 

Those are whittled down to about 400 films shown at the festival, with films from all over the world. 

“Our mandate has always been to present films that speak to the human experience and promotion of cross-cultural understanding,” Clark said. “Plus we love movies that are just plain entertaining.”

When asked to recommend a favorite Jewish-related film at this year’s festival, Cinema St. Louis Executive Director Cliff Froehlich said there are too many excellent films to pick just one. 

“Let me cheat and pick several,” he said. “The documentary ‘Latter Day Jew’ has strong local connections. The subject is a native of St. Louis and is both funny and provocative. ‘Witness Theater’ is an absolutely lovely film about cross-generational connection between Holocaust survivors and Jewish teens. And ‘Made in Auschwitz,’ which was co-produced by UMSL professor Rita Csapo-Sweet, explores an important but little-known aspect of the Holocaust.”

Clark said the festival offers something for everyone, from newcomers to the world of film to the most passionate fans of the cinematic arts. 

“You don’t need to be a film scholar to enjoy the festival, which also includes 60-plus free screenings from end to end,” Clark said. “All you have to be is alive and willing to take a chance on fresh cinematic experiences from all over the world.”