The 24th annual St. Louis Jewish Film Festival, featuring cinematic gems highlighting Jewish themes from around the world, will begin Sunday and run through June 6 at Landmark’s Plaza Frontenac Cinema. It boasts an excellent lineup of 14 documentaries and full-length features from seven countries, plus two bonus films later in the summer.
“It is a great variety of films,” said Zelda Sparks, director of arts and culture at the Jewish Community Center. “Dramas, documentaries, some comedies. And again, it is more of an international film festival. Films from Israel and the United States, and also Canada, Denmark — which we don’t get a lot of films from Denmark — Germany, Poland.”
The selection process goes on pretty much year-round, said Marilyn Brown, who co-chairs the festival with Jeffrey Korn and Paula Sigel, all of whom helped select the films.
Korn said his favorite selection is “Carl Laemmle,” a documentary about the founder of Universal Studios (see related review on page 14) that opens the festival at 4 p.m. Monday. Director James Freedman will introduce the film. Korn and his wife, Elaine, are sponsors of the film screening.
“[Laemmle] was just a marvelous guy, and he warmed my heart. He saved 300 kids” from the Holocaust by getting them out of Germany, Korn said.
Brown said many people haven’t heard of Laemmle, but they know the classic films Universal Studios produced, such as “Frankenstein,” “Dracula” and “The Mummy.”
“I don’t think a lot of people know what a philanthropist he was,” Brown said. “He saved a lot of European Jews.”
The second opening-day film at 7 p.m., is “Golda’s Balcony,” in which star Tovah Feldshuh re-creates her award-winning, one-woman stage show about Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir. Producer Dave Fishelson will introduce the film.
“[Feldshuh] is fantastic, fantabulous,” Korn said. “It was on everybody’s best list.”
Sparks said: “When you think of ‘Golda’s Balcony,’ this is the woman, Tovah Feldshuh, who originated the role. She really became Golda.”
“Working Woman,” a contemporary Israeli drama about an ambitious young businesswoman grappling with workplace harassment, will be shown at 7 p.m. Tuesday. (See review on page 16.)
This year’s Senior Mitzvah film, is the documentary “Reinventing Rosalee.” It comes with an extra treat: brunch with the title subject, 101-year-old Holocaust survivor Rosalee Glass, and Lillian Glass, Rosalee’s daughter and director of the film. Some of Rosalee’s surprising adventures include appearing in a Super Bowl commercial at age 97 and dog-sledding in Alaska at 100. The brunch will be at 10 a.m. Wednesday, June 5 (brunch costs $15 and RSVPs are required); the film will be shown at 1 p.m.
“Shoelaces,” an Israeli family drama-comedy, is another favorite film at this year’s festival, Brown said.
“It is a very poignant film,” she said. “Everybody hears about disabled children and the things that are being done for them … but what happens to these children when they become adults, and they no longer have parents. Who takes care of them? This is a little something that Israel is doing.”
Other films include:
• The Israeli documentary “Inside the Mossad.” (See review on opposite page.)
• “The Unorthodox,” an Israeli narrative film, offers a humor-laced look at ultra-Orthodox Sephardic Jews challenging the politically dominant Ashkenazi.
• The docudrama “Who Will Write Our History,” about a clandestine effort in Poland to preserve Jewish history during World War II.
• “Joseph Pulitzer: Voice of the People,” an inspiring documentary about the former Post-Dispatch publisher who transformed journalism.
• “A Fortunate Man,” a Danish historical drama about a non-Jewish man working his way into the social circle of a wealthy Jewish family. It will be introduced by Eric Hinrich, president of the Danish Club of St. Louis.
• “Prosecuting Evil: The Extraordinary World of Ben Ferencz” is a documentary about the last living Nuremberg prosecutor (Review above.)
• “Holy Lands” is a quirky family drama about a Jewish American doctor (James Caan) who retires to Israel — to run a pig farm
• “The Other Story,” a poignant Israeli drama, tells about a young woman who has become ultra-Orthodox and plans to marry despite her family’s objections.
“Winter Hunt,” a German psychological thriller, focuses on a Nazi hunter engaging in a cat-and-mouse pursuit with her quarry.
The two bonus films later this year are: “Stockholm,” an Israeli comedy miniseries, on July 14; and “Chasing Portraits,” a documentary about a woman seeking to recover her great-grandfather’s artwork, which disappearead during the Holocaust, on Aug. 18.
Organizers say nearly all of the films sell out and recommend buying tickets in advance, which cost less than day-of-show tickets.
St. Louis Jewish Film Festival
WHEN: June 2-6 (see full schedule here)
WHERE: Landmark Plaza Frontenac Cinema
HOW MUCH: Opening day films are $15 each (with tickets to both available for $26); weekday tickets are $12 in advance, $13 at the door; student tickets (16 and under) are $10 for opening day, $8 for weekday films. A four-pack of weekday tickets is available for $45.
MORE INFO: For more information or to purchase advance tickets, visit stljewishfilmfestival.org, call 314-442-3179 or stop by the J’s box office until Saturday, after which they are available only at Plaza Frontenac Cinema.