The Jewish Museum and Film at Lincoln Center will present the 29th annual New York Jewish Film Festival (NYJFF), January 15–28, 2020. Among the oldest and most influential Jewish film festivals worldwide, NYJFF each year presents the finest documentary, narrative, and short films from around the world that explore the Jewish experience. Featuring new work by dynamic voices in international cinema as well as film revivals, the festival’s 2020 lineup includes 30 wide-ranging and exciting features and shorts from the iconic to the iconoclastic, many of which will be screening in their world, U.S., and New York premieres. Screenings are held at the Walter Reade Theater, 165 West 65th Street.
Dani Menkin’s documentary Aulcie is the Opening Night selection, screening in its New York premiere on Thursday, January 16. When a scout for the Israeli basketball team Maccabi Tel Aviv spotted Aulcie Perry on Harlem’s Rucker Court in 1976, he recruited the athlete to join their fledgling team. Less than a year later, Perry led the team to a win in the 1977 European Championship, a victory that he repeated four years later. Aulcie delves into the riveting story of this legendary player, who put Israeli basketball on the map, converted to Judaism, became an Israeli citizen, and overcame his demons.
The Closing Night film is the New York premiere of Dror Zahavi’s Crescendo. When a world-famous conductor (played by Toni Erdmann’s Peter Simonischek) accepts the job to create an Israeli-Palestinian youth orchestra, he steps into a firestorm of conflict and mistrust as he tries to bring the two factions of young musicians together in harmony.
The Centerpiece selection focuses on the career of Marceline Loridan-Ivens, the French film director, author, producer, and actress who died in 2018. The Birch Tree Meadow (2003), starring Anouk Aimée and August Diehl, is Loridan-Ivens’s autobiographical drama about an Auschwitz survivor who returns to the camp to confront her past and the young descendant of an SS guard she meets there. This screening is part of an annual initiative highlighting work by women filmmakers that merit broader American recognition.
The 2020 NYJFF marks the 50th anniversary of legendary director Vittorio De Sica’s Academy Award–winning The Garden of the Finzi-Continis. This beloved Italian drama, based on the classic novel by Giorgio Bassani, is set amidst the rise of Fascism in the 1930s. The wealthy, intellectual Finzi-Contini family’s estate serves as a gathering place for the local Jewish community that tries to remain sheltered from the country’s growing anti-Semitism. While romance unfolds behind the tall, stone walls of the garden, an increasingly hostile reality sets in.
The NYJFF will present the World Premiere of the new 35mm restoration of Charles Davenport’s long-lost 1919 silent film Broken Barriers,the first film based on the Sholem Aleichem stories that inspired Fiddler on the Roof. This story is uniquely told from the perspective of Khavah, Tevye the milkman’s daughter, who falls in love with the gentile boy Fedka and navigates the reverberations from her community and family. Donald Sosin will provide live piano accompaniment.
Two documentaries receive their world premieres:
- Julia Mintz’s Four Winters: A Story of Jewish Partisan Resistance and Bravery in WWII revisits the story of Jewish partisans who took up arms against Hitler’s war machine through interviews with the last living partisans.
- Brad Rothschild’s They Ain’t Ready for Me focuses on Tamar Manasseh, an African-American rabbinical student who is combating gun violence on the South Side of Chicago with magnetic, self-assured energy through her organization MASK (Mothers Against Senseless Killing).
Other fiction works of note include:
- Laurent Heynemann’s An Irrepressible Woman, starring Elsa Zylberstein and Hippolyte Girardot, is a touching drama of former French Prime Minister Leon Blum, imprisoned at Buchenwald in 1940, and Jeanne Reichenbach, who loved him since they were teenagers and risks everything to reunite with him at the concentration camp (New York Premiere).
- Yaron Zilberman’s Incitement, Israel’s submission for the 2020 Academy Awards, following the radicalization of Yigal Amir in the year leading up to his assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin (New York Premiere). Writer/director Yaron Zilberman will present a master class in screenwriting and directing on January 19.
- Isaac Cherem’s Leona, about a young Jewish woman in Mexico City who struggles to do the right thing as she navigates a forbidden love.
- Barnabas Toth’s Those Who Remained, Hungary’s submission for the 2020 Academy Awards, which focuses on a 42-year-old Holocaust survivor in Budapest who meets a teenage girl and forms a father-daughter connection that helps them both heal (New York Premiere).
- Caroline Link’s When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, based on the best-selling novel by Judith Kerr, which tells the story of a 9-year-old girl and her family’s jarring dislocation during World War II (New York Premiere).
This year’s festival features an array of enlightening and gripping documentaries. Highlights include:
- Cordelia Dvorak’s Marceline. A Woman. A Century, a moving portrait of the effervescent and iconoclastic French director, author, producer, and actress Marceline Loridan-Ivens (New York Premiere).
- Rachel Rusinek and Eyal Ben Moshe’s I Was Not Born a Mistake, the story of Yiscah Smith, who lived as an ultra-orthodox married man with six children and deep ties in the Hasidic community before abruptly leaving Israel, only to return 20 years later as a trans woman (U.S. Premiere).
- Dalit Kimor’s Mrs. G, a portrait of the Gottex swimwear empire and its larger-than-life founder, Lea Gottlieb, legendary designer and Holocaust survivor (New York Premiere).
Several short films, including a Shorts Program comprised entirely of films directed by women, will be included this year:
- Nili Tal’s documentary Gurit Kadman, portraying the influential dancer and choreographer Gurit Kadman, who helped found the Dalia Folk Dance Festival in Israel, and was instrumental in recording and nurturing dance traditions from both the nascent country and the traditions of Israel’s immigrants (U.S. Premiere).
- Danielle Durchslag’s experimental Eleanor of Illinois, starring four-time Tony award nominee Judy Kuhn, who embodies Katharine Hepburn’s Eleanor of Aquitaine from The Lion in Winter but as a contemporary Jewish mother. (U.S. Premiere).
- Oran Zegman’s Marriage Material, a darkly comic musical where a young woman enrolls in a retreat designed to transform her into “marriage material” after her boyfriend rejects her proposal. (New York Premiere).
NYJFF tickets will go on sale to Film at Lincoln Center and Jewish Museum members on Monday, December 16 at noon, and to the public on Thursday, December 19. Tickets may be purchased online or in person at FLC’s Walter Reade Theater and Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center box offices, 165 & 144 West 65th Street. For complete festival information, visit NYJFF.org.