Film Preview: The Boston Jewish Film Festival is Back and All Over Town

By Ed Symkus

Under the guidance of Artistic Director Lisa Gossels, this year’s fest has, in her words, “something for everyone.”

Boston Jewish Film Festival’s Artistic Director Lisa Gossels. Photo: courtesy of the artist

The 35th annual Boston Jewish Film Festival gets underway this week with narrative features, documentaries, shorts programs, guest speakers, and more, presenting in-person screenings running from Nov. 1-12 at at multiple venues including The West Newton Cinema, the Brattle Theatre, The Museum of Fine Arts, the Coolidge Corner Theatre, and the Jewish Community Center of Greater Boston. For those who prefer watching from the comforts of home, selected films from those programs will also be available as virtual screenings from Nov. 13-15.

As in previous editions of the festival, consideration has been given to picking themes that audiences would find enthralling. Among this year’s are moral courage and resistance.

But according to the festival’s Artistic Director, Lisa Gossels, fitting the puzzle pieces of the event together consists of much more than just themes.

“One of my goals is to have something for everyone,” she said. “You can’t please everyone with any particular films, but having films from different genres that will appeal to different age levels and interest areas is always important.

“We try to create programs that are compelling, that bring in our existing audiences as well as new audiences, both inside the Jewish community and outside of the Jewish community,” she added.

Of course, one of the main challenges in designing a film festival is the availability of desired films as well as matching them up with participants to attend the screenings.

Gossels sounded extremely pleased when she said the schedule includes 15 different programs, two of which consist of shorts, and that 36 guests — including filmmakers, actors, and subjects of documentaries — will be speaking.

“It’s all about bringing people together to celebrate the art form and stories,” she said. “But it’s not just about programming the films; it’s about programming a whole slate of films that is somehow telling a story.”

Because there are so many films, and because Gossels is so involved in every aspect of the festival, she is undoubtedly the person to ask about recommendations for viewers who can’t get to all of them. Not wanting to catch her off-guard, she was sent an email with a request for six titles a few days before speaking with her. Though she’d given it plenty of thought, she seemed a bit forlorn that she wasn’t allowed to select every film. But she was game, and offered a few thoughts with each of her six picks.

REMEMBERING GENE WILDER – “It’s our opening night film, a feature-length documentary about the life and legacy of Gene Wilder – a heartwarming, beautiful, inspiring portrait of him, where we meet his family members and legendary collaborators, including Mel Brooks, Alan Alda, and Harry Connick Jr, who was his neighbor.”

A scene from No Name Restaurant.

NO NAME RESTAURANT – “Ben, who is a Hassidic Jew from New York City, played by Luzer Twersky – who will be with us at the screening – is on a mission to save the Jewish community in Alexandria, Egypt. But he ends up being stranded in the Sinai Desert, and this is the story of Ben meeting Adel, a Bedouin played by Hitham Omari. It’s a road buddy movie about how these two men have to overcome their differences in order to survive in the desert.”

A scene from Finding Light.

FINDING LIGHT – “It’s our spotlight film about the choreographer Stephen Mills and the creation and re-staging of his incredible dance piece called ‘Light/ The Holocaust & Humanity Project.’ We’ll be welcoming the filmmaker Paul Michael Bloodgood and Stephen Mills.”

IRENA’S VOW – “This is based on a true story about Irena Gut Opdyke, who at age 19, and a nursing student in Nazi-occupied Poland, is conscripted to work in the home of a Nazi officer. She has 11 Jews under her charge as seamstresses and tailors, and it’s about how she risked her life to save their lives. It’s a film about goodness, generosity, and the power of individual action.”

A scene from I Like Movies.

I LIKE MOVIES – “It’s a charming film by Canadian filmmaker Chandler Levack, about Lawrence Kweller, a high school senior who has a passion for film and wants to be a filmmaker. We see him getting his first job at a video store. He alienates some of the people he holds the most dear. But we end up really caring about him and falling in love with the person he becomes. There will be a conversation with Chandler and the lead actor Isaiah Lehtinen.”

MY ARCHITECT – “It’s the 20th anniversary of this Oscar-nominated documentary, and it’s had a 4K restoration. The film was directed by Nathaniel Kahn. His father, the architect Louis Kahn, died when Nathaniel was 11. It’s the story of Nathaniel’s search for his father through speaking with celebrated architects and collaborators, and through his buildings. It’s a very moving and spiritual film.”

“We hope that people will be inspired and entertained and be thinking about the films at the festival,” said Gossels, “and that they’ll be talking about them long after they’ve seen them.”

For more on this year’s BJFF, see Peter Keough’s Doc Talk.

Ed Symkus is a Boston native and Emerson College graduate. He went to Woodstock, interviewed Edward Gorey, Ray Bradbury, Ted Nugent, and Kathryn Bigelow, and has visited the Outer Hebrides, the Lofoten Islands, Anglesey, Mykonos, the Azores, Catalina, Kangaroo Island, Capri, and the Isle of Wight with his wife Lisa.

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