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Ann Arbor Jewish Film Festival begins Thursday

Still from "1945," which screens as part of this year's Ann Arbor Jewish Film Festival. (Credit: Michigan Theater)

ANN ARBOR – The Ann Arbor Jewish Film Festival kicks off on Thursday at the Michigan Theater and will run through May 16 with an amazing selection of movies that the Jewish Community Center of Greater Ann Arbor (JCC) hopes "will bring the global Jewish experience to the greater community through the medium of film."

The festival began in 2001 as a satellite of the Lenore Marwil Film Festival in metro Detroit, but became an independent festival in 2015. Each year, there is screening process conducted by a group of volunteers where hundreds of films are whittled down to a select few -- the best of the best -- that are then selected for the festival. From there, guest speakers, related events and programs and more are created, oftentimes built around the films being shown. 

For more information about the 2018 Ann Arbor Jewish Film Festival, visit film.jccannarbor.org, where you can learn more about the films being screened as well as information about the JCC's other upcoming events. 

This year's films include: 

Thursday, May 10

"Scandal in Ivansk"

Filmmaker David Blumenfeld thought he would be documenting a piece of family history as he filmed the descendants of his grandfather’s shtetl, Ivansk, as they restored a long-neglected Jewish cemetery. Little did anyone know that unearthing the past in one small corner of Poland would ultimately unleash a national scandal, sparked by a single word. (5 p.m., Michigan Theater)

Talk Back with Dr. Genevieve Zubrzycki

Special guest Genevieve Zubrzycki, Ph.D., director of the Weiser Center for Europe and Eurasia, will be with the JCC for the screening of "Scandal in Ivansk." After the film, she will discuss the most recent events in Poland regarding its challenges in dealing with its role in the Holocaust during World War II. (6:15 p.m., Michigan Theater)

"Maktub"

Two mob enforcers end up the sole survivors of a terrorist attack on a restaurant. Inspired by their fate, they turn away from crime, and, through their own unique version of philanthropy, go on a quest to answer people’s prayers placed between the stones of the Western Wall. (8 p.m., Michigan Theater)

Sunday, May 13

"Heading Home"

Follow the journey of Israel’s underdog national baseball team, which finally ranks among the world’s best in 2017 and finally qualifies to play in the World Baseball Classic. The line-up is filled with Jewish American Major League players with a tenuous relationship to Judaism, who journey to Israel for the first time where they are greeted as heroes. They then move on to the competition round in Seoul, where the odds and the team’s reputation are against them. (4 p.m., Michigan Theater)

Talk Back with Ira Weintraub

Depending on who makes the playoffs, the JCC will welcome guest speaker, Ira Weintraub, sports director/executive producer at Sports Talk 1050 WTKA to discuss the film "Heading Home." (5:30 p.m., Michigan Theater)

Aron Kaufman, Composer and Musician

Before the screening of “Cuba’s Forgotten Jewels,” the composer of an original work used in the film score, Aron Kaufman, will be with the JCC. He will speak briefly about the composition and join with other musicians to perform.

"Cuba’s Forgotten Jewels"

At a time when most countries shut their doors to Jewish refugees from Nazi-occupied Europe, Cuba was one of the only options for escape. Marion Finkels Kreith, then fourteen, was among those who made it to Havana and found work to support their families in a newly transported trade: diamond polishing. Journey back to 1940’s Havana, a tumultuous, heartbreaking, and intoxicating time, as first-hand survivor accounts reveal this barely known Holocaust refugee success story. (7:45 p.m., Michigan Theater)

*Special guest, Ruth Behar, Ph.D. joins the JCC to speak briefly before the film, and host a Q&A after the film.

Monday, May 14

"Shelter" 

An Israeli Mossad agent is sent to Germany to protect a Lebanese informant recovering from plastic surgery to give her a new identity. After two weeks together in the safe house, the relationship they begin to forge is inevitably tested by the threat of terror engulfing the world. Nothing is safe, no one is secure, and everyone is searching for shelter. (2 p.m., Michigan Theater)

"Death in the Terminal"

Six of those present for the Beer Sheva Bus Terminal terror attack in 2015 tell six different stories of a single tragedy. The deeply disturbing footage from surveillance cameras and a mobile phone shows what unfolded alongside each story told, yet the more we see, the less we can divine the truth. This film unapologetically shows the cost of underlying biases and the risk those present for terror attacks face of losing not only their perspective, but their very humanity. (4 p.m., Michigan Theater)

*Warning: This film shows graphic footage of a violent incident.

"GI Jews: Jewish Americans in World War II"

550,000 Jewish American men and women served in WWII. Veterans, both famous (from Mel Brooks to Henry Kissinger) and unknown, bring their war experiences to life: how they fought for their nation, their people, struggled with anti-Semitism within their ranks, and emerged transformed, more powerfully American and more deeply Jewish. (7 p.m., Michigan Theater)

Talk Back with Dr. Deborah Dash Moore

Join Dr. Deborah Dash Moore after the film "GI Jews: Jewish Americans in World War II" for a lively discussion of the film and the history. Dr. Moore is the author of the book “GI Jews: How World War II Changed a Generation” (2004) and served as a senior advisor to the film project, in addition to appearing on camera. (8:30 p.m., Michigan Theater) 

Tuesday, May 15

"History of Love"

Based on Nicole Krauss’ best-selling novel, the story revolves around a long-lost book which mysteriously reappears and connects an old man searching for his estranged son with a girl seeking a cure for her mother’s loneliness. The film spans time and distance, from pre-war Europe to modern day New York City, weaving a complex tale of a doomed romance in pre-war Poland lost due to the Nazi invasion, and the ultimate nature and power of love. (2 p.m., Michigan Theater) 

"Keep the Change"

When 30-something David, in denial about his own autism, is sentenced to time in an autism support group, he meets the irritatingly cheerful Sarah. Their burgeoning romance takes them on a journey of self-discovery, revealing deep feelings, touching moments, and hard truths. The actors anchoring the film have autism. (5 p.m., Michigan Theater) 

"1945"

On a summer day in 1945, when an Orthodox man and his grown son return to a village in Hungary, the townspeople -- suspicious, remorseful, fearful, and cunning -- expect the worst. The town clerk fears the men may be heirs of the village’s deported Jews who have come to demand their illegally acquired property be returned to them. (8 p.m., Michigan Theater)

Wednesday, May 16

"Vitch"

A daughter tells the story of the controversial choices that her father, a Jewish artist from Poland, made in order to survive the Holocaust. Eddie Vitch, aka Ignace Levkovitch, was performing in Paris when the Nazis invaded. The Nazi officer who saw him sent him to perform in Germany. His humanity and flaws as an artist trying to survive one of history’s darkest times provides an arc of colors in a time period otherwise presented in black and white. (2 p.m., Michigan Theater)

Short Films (5 p.m., Michigan Theater)

  • "Wendy’s Shabbat" - Jewish senior citizens in California celebrate Shabbat in the most unlikely of places…with fries on the side.
  • "The Gravedigger’s Daughter" - A gravedigger leaves only one request in his will – that one of his sons will take on his profession. Not one will do so.
  • "The Outer Circle" - Daniel and fiancée Katherine, in the midst of a grueling orthodox conversion, both want approval from his Iraqi family.
  • "Mr. Bernstein" - Years after Debbie learns of her father’s life-changing experience at the Landsberg DP camp, she meets the man responsible.
  • "The Chop" - Yossi, a talented kosher butcher, gets fired and can’t find another job, so he pretends to be Muslim for a job at a halal shop.

"Doing Jewish: A Story from Ghana"

A tiny community in rural Ghana recently discovered that the religion they have been practicing for centuries is Judaism. Filmmaker Gabrielle Zilkha explores their story from isolation to global connection and the challenges they face. (8 p.m., Michigan Theater) 

Check out more Ann Arbor events on the A4 Community Calendar 

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