Stories that unite: Jewish film festival brings messages of hope, courage and resilience
"It is stories like these that aim to unite us and renew our faith in humanity," says Hillary Wenk, co-director of the 10th annual Jewish Community Centers Chicago Jewish Film Festival, which runs Jan. 26-29.
This year's films commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day observed on Jan. 27 -- designated by the U.N. General Assembly to mark the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau. They seek to showcase culturally diverse, Jewishly inspired films that captivate, educate and inspire audiences of all generations.
"Given the current climate, with antisemitic threats looming, we believed it was critical to choose films that speak to this grave subject matter to commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day," festival director Ilene Uhlmann said. "The three films each focus on a particular group of people and speak to the choices they make, both good and evil. These hugely compelling films act as powerful reminders that we must do everything in our power to prevent future acts of genocide."
Of the 10 films selected this year, four were shown in November during the festival's first weekend. The rest will be shown this month and in February.
Three films will be available to stream and at Landmark's Glen Theater, 1850 Tower Drive in Glenview, on Jan. 29. They are:
• "Reckonings," 11 a.m. A documentary by award-winning filmmaker Roberta Grossman recounting the tense negotiations between Jewish and German leaders who saw it as a step toward healing. Trailer: vimeo.com/672967408.
• "The Conference," 12:45 p.m. A drama about leading representatives of the German Nazi regime meeting on Jan. 20, 1942, when they decided on the systematic murder of European Jews. Trailer: youtu.be/FQIQETaG6JA
• "Lost In Transport," 3 p.m. Illinois premiere of a drama about a train deporting hundreds of Jewish prisoners that gets stranded near a small German village occupied by the Red Army. Trailer: youtu.be/6ciLnoz_1i8.
"One of the most moving things about viewing and selecting films for the festival is discovering incredible stories about people who find themselves in unimaginable situations," Wenk said. "In the Illinois premiere of 'Lost in Transport,' a Russian sniper, a Jewish-Dutch woman and village girl wind up sharing the girl's home, forming a bond and making the best of a heartbreaking situation."
Tickets are $15 per person and available only online for virtual or in-person screenings; a $36 festival pass will be offered for three film screenings online or in the theater. For more information, visit jccfilmfest.org.
The pass also will be valid for three films, all dramas, streaming online Feb. 23-26 and also showing at Landmark's Glen Theater:
• "Valiant Hearts," 11 a.m. Feb. 26. Illinois premiere of the odyssey of six Jewish children hidden during World War II, who went to find refuge in the Chambord castle, its park and among the hidden works of art of the Louvre. Trailer: youtu.be/7aVS8Co7Z5k.
• "Farewell Mr. Haffmann," 1 p.m. Feb. 26. In Paris 1941, François works for Mr. Haffmann, a Jewish jeweler. Under the German occupation, employer and employee are forced to strike a deal, upending the fate of all concerned. Trailer: youtu.be/5ZjGjA2lXD8.
• "Where Life Begins," 3:30 p.m. Feb. 26. Midwest premiere of the story of an ultraorthodox Jewish family that comes to a farm in Calabria for a brief stay every year to harvest citrons. When Elio, the farm owner, meets the rabbi's daughter, who is tired of the constraints imposed by her religion, he will find the peace he had lost. Trailer: youtu.be/uQ69pRk-c50.
As a special treat for the festival's 10th anniversary, films will be shown beginning in April in conjunction with "Violins of Hope," an internationally renowned exhibition of 70 violins and string instruments that "survived" the Holocaust.
The Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Skokie will be hosting the films in its Goodman Auditorium, and the opening night concert with the violins will take place April 20 at North Shore Congregation Israel in Glencoe.
JCC Chicago will be bringing the violins to various sites across Illinois through September with a grand opening of the exhibit on April 24 at Gail Borden Public Library in Elgin.
Uhlmann said the violins will be exhibited possibly at libraries in Arlington Heights and Schaumburg, and the North Suburban Synagogue Beth El in Highland Park.
"We will be doing performances, demonstrations, educational visits to schools throughout the entire metropolitan area," Uhlmann said. "Each violin has a story behind it and these are really powerful stories about hope, resilience and resistance ... and really the ability to transcend the evil that man brings to man."
For more information on "Violins of Hope," visit jccchicago.org/violinsofhope.
To date, the JCC Chicago Jewish Film Festival has screened more than 250 films, held more than 100 premieres and engaged more than 60,000 viewers.
"It's been a wonderful 10 years," said Uhlmann, who has been part of the festival since the beginning and worked at JCC Chicago for 30 years. "We were doubling almost every year in attendance. It has really been exciting to watch it grow. We were able to withstand the epidemic and to bring in new audiences. I'm looking forward to the next 10 years to be honest with you."