JCC Chicago Jewish Film Festival goes hybrid

Ninth annual festival reimagined to enable conversation in person and online

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Village children from the film Neighbours. Photo credit: Menemsha Films.

In the film Neighbours , a young Syrian boy discovers antisemitism--and the meaning of friendship. The Seven Boxes tells the true story of a Spanish pharmacist who discovers a puzzle in the form of seven boxes left behind by her mother that reveal a secret Jewish heritage. And, in a change of pace, an elderly widower tries to earn the money to get out of his nursing home by selling marijuana in the comedy Greener Pastures .

These are only a sample of the 15 to 20 films that will be shown at the JCC Chicago Jewish Film Festival's Spring Hybrid Festival, which will run from March 11-27. The films will be available at the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center, The Music Box Theatre, and The Wilmette Theatre in person in small theaters with limited seating. All films will also be available to stream from any computer in Illinois or northwestern Indiana.

"We've never done a hybrid film festival before, but I think it's probably the way of the future because it allows everybody access to the film festival," said Ilene Uhlmann, JCC Chicago Director of Community Engagement and co-director of the Spring Hybrid Festival.

Uhlmann and her co-chair--Hillary Wenk, JCC Chicago's Manager of Operations for Community Engagement--noticed that many Jewish films released in 2021 related to the Holocaust. "It's reflective of the fact that the third-generation--the grandchildren of survivors and perpetrators--are thinking about it," Uhlmann said. "I also think that they're looking at the world from a geopolitical perspective and you can't help but draw some similarities to the 1930s when you think about the anger and antisemitism in the world today."

"The further we get from the Holocaust, memory blurs--and it's important to discuss it and keep it in front of people," she added. The film festival will offer many opportunities for such discussions with filmmakers, actors, and more as part of their talkback series included in the ticket price.

For Wenk, one of this year's Holocaust films-- Plan A --was among this year's most provocative films. Based on the true story of a group of Jewish vigilantes known as the "Avengers," the film covers their effort to poison the drinking water in various cities in Germany to claim as many German lives as Jewish ones were lost during the war.

"I found that very interesting because it's a story I wasn't familiar with," Wenk said. "There's something Ilene and I say whenever we do one of these festivals: Every time we think we've seen everything, there's always a new story."

Another Holocaust-related film, Three Minutes: A Lengthening , was special to Uhlmann. The unique movie is based on a three-minute piece of film shot by a David Kurtz--a Jewish man who honeymooned in Poland in 1938, and inadvertently captured the only known footage of the Jews of Nasielsk before the Holocaust. Narrated by Helena Bonham-Carter, the film also features Kurtz's grandson and a boy featured in the original video, now grown.

By seeing these and other movies, "we want people to walk away having learned something, maybe having adjusted their worldview, and thinking about new things," Uhlmann said. "We're trying to inspire thought and conversation and spur some connection to Jewish identity. Even in a comedy, there's something to be learned."

Whether a viewer watches these films in person or virtually, said Wenk, "we're still getting to the core of what the film festival is, which is starting conversations and bringing people together."

For more information, visit jccfilmfest.jccchicago.org .

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