Annual Rutgers Jewish Film Festival features in-person and virtual screenings

DRAMATIC LOVE STORY: Polish film ‘Mars 1968’ makes its East Coast premiere at the 23rd annual Rutgers Jewish Film Festival in northern Brunswick on November 3. During the screening, director Krzysztof Lang will talk about the film, which deals with anti-Semitism in 1960s communist Poland.

By Anne Levin

With films in English, Hebrew, Arabic, Spanish, Catalan, Russian, French, Polish and German, the 23rd Annual Rutgers Jewish Film Festival has a decidedly international reach. Festival director Karen Small and her colleagues screened 150 films before coming up with the final 15, 10 of which are screened at the Regal Cinema in North Brunswick from October 30 to November 6. Eight more are available virtually from November 8-13.

Due to the pandemic, the festival has been mostly virtual for the past two years. Being able to bring viewers together in the theater makes a difference.

“As a film critic and also a director of the festival, I’ve seen many films on my personal television and then on the big screen with an audience,” said Small, who is also general manager of Rutgers’ Allen and the Center. Joan Bildner for the Study of Jewish Life, which sponsors the festival. “It adds so much. When you watch together, you laugh in the same places. You are part of the audience reaction and it changes the experience.

The festival begins on October 30 with Cinema Sabaya, in Hebrew with English subtitles, the only feature film being released both in theaters and virtually. “It’s a beautiful film about Israeli and Arab women who go through a film production course together. It’s about how being behind a camera helps them talk about their lives and their hidden emotions. The whole movie is about that class,” Small said. “They come from all walks of life. It recently swept Israel’s equivalent of the Oscars and is Israel’s Oscar nomination.

The opening day will also feature Love and Mazel Tov, described as “a German rom-com” in a press release about the festival. The film will be followed by a recorded interview with the director, Wolfgang Murnberger. “For many films in person, we have the filmmaker or an academic on hand to talk about it after the screening,” Small said. “It adds a whole other dimension to that behind-the-scenes experience.”

Another screening that its director will attend is March 1968, a Polish drama that will premiere on the East Coast on November 3. “It’s such an interesting slice of history that’s really not well known,” Small said. “It’s a drama based on a young couple, and through their eyes we see this anti-Semitic anti-Zionist purge unfolding, under the communist government. Jews lose their jobs and are essentially expelled from the country. »

Shedding light on a new or unknown story is a goal of the festival. “A lot of our movies don’t make it to theaters or to streaming platforms,” ​​Small said. “Someone told me he loves watching a film at the festival and then being able to talk about it with people he might meet. All kinds of conversations emerge from being part of that. And that’s what we try to encourage.

Other highlights include How Saba continued to sing, about the late David Wisnia, who survived Auschwitz by entertaining his Nazi captors with his beautiful singing voice. Produced by Hillary and Chelsea Clinton, the film follows the journey of Wisnia and her grandson Avi Wisnia to her hometown and Auschwitz, where long-held secrets are revealed. Wisnia, who died last year at 94, was cantor of the Har Sinai Hebrew Congregation in Trenton (now in Pennington) for 23 years.

After its Nov. 6 screening, the film will be screened for public middle and high school students as part of the Bildner Center’s Holocaust education program. Avi Wisnia will be on hand to speak to the students.

Other films focus on such broad subjects as singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen, the practice of conversion therapy for ultra-Orthodox gay men in contemporary Israel, efforts to save the Dead Sea from the shrinking and disappearing, and the struggle to include Orthodox women. in the Knesset (Israeli legislature).

“The festival has been around for 23 years and it’s really become an institution in New Jersey,” Small said. “It’s a cultural opportunity where people come together for this shared experience, to see Jewish life on film. But it’s not just Jewish life. It’s really all kinds of experiences seen through a Jewish lens. Anyone can come and participate. It brings the community together and there is strength in that.

For a complete list of films, visit

Darcy J. Skinner