The iconic image of boats approaching Ellis Island filled with people from divergent backgrounds, who cling to dreams of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, resounds with almost all Americans. Preserving one’s heritage and imparting its significance is something special. A means to celebrate cultural roots comes in the form of artistry.
This week, the first annual Wilmington Jewish Film Festival takes hold of Thalian Hall, where attendees can revel in the rich cultural history and impressive cinematic innovations of the Jewish community. The event found its footing when a Wilmington newcomer, Beverly Schoninger, expressed her desire to create a film festival locally. She pitched her idea to the United Jewish Appeal of Wilmington (UJA), and, for the first time, the organization—which typically distributes money to help the Jewish community in Israel and 70 other countries worldwide—decided to keep a small percentage of their raised funds as seed money for the project. The UJA also provided their event chair, Peggy Pancoe Rosoff, to aid in its development.
They first dipped their toes in the cinematic arena last October by hosting renowned filmmaker Michael Kantor and his documentary, “Broadway Musical: A Jewish Legacy.” With a turnout of over 350 people—a figure that even astounded Thalian Hall affiliates—the festival was off to a good start. “I had people from my neighborhood, from my tennis team, and anywhere I went [tell] me how much they enjoyed the whole event,” Rosoff explains.
Rosoff proudly wears her Wilmington Jewish Film Festival button around town, and it never fails to be met with excitement when people notice it. With over 700 local Jewish families affiliated with the Temple of Israel, the B’nai Israel Congregation, or the Wilmington Chabad congregation, as well as a host of others who aren’t tied to any specific congregation, the creation of such a cultural celebration is rejoiced. Festival planning has been long in the making.
“[Programming was] a massive project as everyone, you can imagine, suggested films to [Bucky Stein and] the committee,” Rosoff explains. “Then, it was a process of getting screeners to see them all. As there are over 100 Jewish film festivals in the U.S., we also perused the catalogs to see what had been shown. [Beverly Schoninger and I ] attended the Jewish Film Presenters Conference in New York last June, and we were given many suggestions, as well as DVDs to bring back to view.”
A committee of seven screened and discussed over 50 films. The committee currently consists of Shelly Artin (co-chair), Carl Samet, Barbara Waxman, Arlene Burnes, Elaine Lathrop, Gayle Ginsberg, and Bucky Stein (co-chair). Over the past year, their immense dedication has resulted in the selection of four diverse and enlightening films.
The festival’s programming is designed to take attendees on a journey. On Thursday viewers will travel to Israel where two 13-year-olds, an Israeli and a Palestinian, realize they have been switched at birth in “The Other Son.” The film’s subject matter will obviously touch on the current tensions between the two nations. “[It will be] a major cultural journey for them and their families,” Rosoff informs.
On Saturday, festival-goers will be whisked away to World War II France with “For a Woman.” The drama will shed light on the experiences of a Jewish family.
Sunday will see a matinee and an evening feature. “Fill the Void,” a film which explores the life of a Hasidic Jewish family, will play at 3:30 p.m. The film won seven Ophir Awards (the Israeli equivalent of the Oscars), including Best Film, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Actress, and Best Supporting Actress. Rama Burshstein stands out as the first orthodox Israeli woman to ever direct a feature film. As well, Chana Lieblich, the wife of a local rabbi, will introduce the film and curate a question-and-answer session after the film’s close.
Attendees then will travel to the Czech Republic with “Nicky’s Family.” It details a man who secretly saved 669 Jewish children from extermination during the Holocaust. The screening is sponsored by Wilmington residents Alfred (a Holocaust survivor) and Anita Schnog. “I would say we have a very rich cultural journey,” Rosoff proclaims.
While a celebration of cinema and perspectives from across the globe will embody the event, the coordinators wish to establish a heightened sense of community. Receptions will follow the Thursday- and Saturday-night screenings. On Thursday traditional Jewish desserts will be available for attendees, and on Saturday a French dessert selection will be catered by Angie’s Catering. “The purpose of these receptions is to promote dialogue about the films among the attendees,” Rosoff says.
Folks can call the Thalian Hall Box Office or head over to their website to procure tickets. Thursday and Saturday screenings are $15, and the Sunday screenings cost $18 a piece or can be purchased for a $32 package rate.
Wilmington Jewish Film Festival
Thursday, April 3rd, 7:30 p.m.- “The Other Son”
Saturday, April 5th, 8 p.m. – “For a Woman”
Sunday, April 6th, – “Fill the Void,” 3:30 p.m. & “Nicky’s Family,” 7 p.m.