Filmed, and in person

JCC Chicago Jewish Film Festival shows you to your seat

JCC Film Fest 2024  image
: No Name Restaurant is a comedy about an ultra-Orthodox Brooklynite and a grumpy Bedouin. (Photo credit: Menemsha Films)

For the first time since the COVID pandemic, the JCC Chicago Jewish Film Festival will be held exclusively in-person. 

Created and curated by JCC Chicago's Ilene Uhlmann and Hillary Wenk, the organization is excited about a return to the vibrancy of in-person screenings in June. 

"That's what makes a film festival: people coming together in a movie theater," said Uhlmann, JCC Chicago's Director of Community Impact. 

JCC Chicago will show films virtually later this year for community members who are unable to attend in-person screenings or live outside of Chicago.

"The films in the JCC Chicago Jewish Film Festival are from all over the world and reflect all aspects of being Jewish, said Wenk, JCC Chicago's Manager of Operations. "We want people to come out and be inspired. Our overarching theme of JCC Chicago is 'growing hope,"' which is designed to combat hopelessness, fear, and anxiety, and give communities tools of empathy, kindness, and creativity to help build a brighter future."

This year's festival comprises more than 20 films, which will be screened in at the Wayfarer Theater in Highland Park, Landmark Century Centre in Chicago, Gene Siskel Film Center, and Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Skokie, which will feature the Chicago premiere of the documentary, 999: The Forgotten Girls on June 23 at 2 p.m.

Director Heather Dune Macadam spent more than a decade interviewing survivors among 999 young Jewish girls, who, by order of the Nazis, were shipped by the Slovak government to Auschwitz in 1942 as a slave labor force. They survived more than three years in the death camp, longer than any Jewish man.

According to Uhlmann, the festival seeks stories that encourage understanding and promote reconciliation. The Narrow Bridge is a documentary about two Israelis and two Palestinians, who lost children in the ongoing war, and unite to form the grassroots organization Israeli Palestinian Bereaved Families dedicated to ending the violence.

On the lighter side, No Name Restaurant is a delicious buddy comedy about Ben, an ultra-Orthodox Brooklynite and Adel, a grumpy Bedouin, who is Ben's last hope to save a synagogue of the once largest Jewish community in the world from being shut down.

Another comedy, Stay with Us tells the semi-autobiographical story about a French Jewish comedian who returns to Paris after living in New York to convert to Catholicism. Director-star Gad Elmaleh is a celebrity in his native France, and worked with Steven Spielberg on The Adventures of Tintin and has his own Netflix special, Gad Elmaleh: American Dream.

Several films in this year's festival also have Chicago roots. UnBroken chronicles director Beth Lane's international quest to uncover the story of how her mother and six siblings escaped Nazi Germany when they were children. They are driven by their father's urging to "always stay together," but they will be separated, only to be reunited 40 years later. Lane and her mother will attend the Wayfarer Theater and Gene Siskel Film Center screenings.

Rabbi on the Block continues the soul-stirring story of Tamar Manasseh, a rabbi and community activist from Chicago's South Side, whose commitment to forging closer relations between Jews and African Americans was first told in the documentary, They Ain't Ready for Me , also featured at the JCC Chicago Jewish Film Festival.

While planning for the film festival began long before the October 7 massacre and subsequent war in Gaza, the recurring themes are peace, hope, and perseverance. "We're hoping people get the message," Uhlmann said. 

The JCC Chicago Jewish Film Festival begins on June 1. Tickets are $15 per film and special pass pricing is available. For a complete schedule, visit: jccfilmfest.org.

Donald Liebenson is a Chicago writer who writes for VanityFair.com, LA Times , Chicago Tribune , and other outlets.

 


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