The top 6 Jewish films to watch at TIFF 2021

Ben Foster stars as Harry Haft, a Holocaust survivor turned pro boxer, in Barry Levinson's The Survivor.

From Oscar-hyped animated features to action-packed Middle Eastern documentaries, the selection of Jewish and Israeli films at the 46th Toronto International Film Festival won’t disappoint movie buffs.

This year’s rendition of the famous film festival offers audiences multiple ways to enjoy each movie: viewers can choose between digital at-home screenings or attend in person at either a drive-in, open air or indoor cinema. However, because of the pandemic, there are about half the number of films as would usually appear.

But whether you’re bundled up on the couch or craning your neck to catch a glimpse of Ben Platt from on the red carpet, there’s something for you to get excited about. Here are The CJN’s top six most anticipated Jewish films at the festival this year.

Where is Anne Frank 

This gorgeously animated film by Oscar-nominated Israeli director Ari Folman (Waltz with Bashir) captures the story of Anne Frank through the eyes of her imaginary friend and alter-ego, Kitty. With Anne’s diary as her only source of information, Kitty sets out in search of her friend, only to discover the unsettling truth about how her legacy has evolved in the 21st century. This looks to be a heartbreaking adventure about the importance of remembering the lessons behind every hero’s story, and a timely response to the recent rise of antisemitism in North America and Europe.

Ahed’s Knee (Ha’berech)

Acclaimed Israeli writer-director Nadav Lapid (Policeman, The Kindergarten Teacher) brings us a deeply personal and angsty account of a filmmaker grappling with censorship when presenting his new film. Lapid is renowned for his critical political and sociological lens, and his latest work appears to operate in a similar fashion. “See you afterward for a session of questions and answers,” the main character says in the film’s trailer. “Although there are no answers.” Inspired by real-life Palestinian activist Ahed Tamimi, Ahed’s Knee dives headfirst into the complex political realities of being an artist in the Middle East. 

The Survivor 

Still courtesy BRON Studios

A Jewish man, egged on by a sadistic Nazi officer, survives Aushwitz by fighting his fellow captives in boxing matches. Based on a true story, the film flips back and forth between memories of the camps and postwar life in America, where Harry (Ben Foster, Hell or High Water) continues boxing to get by. As the narrative progresses, he’s led on a journey to reconnect with those he lost. The film is directed by veteran filmmaker Barry Levinson (The Natural, Wag the Dog) and scored by his old friend Hans Zimmer—himself a German Jew—who won his only Oscar for Levinson’s 1988 film, Rain Man


Still courtesy of Elevation Pictures

Co-directed by Canadian directors Eric Warin and Tahir Rana, and inspired by the true story of German-Jewish painter Charlotte Salomon, this star-studded animated film will be holding its world premiere at TIFF 2021. The story follows the tragic life of Salomon, who was born into a wealthy Jewish family in Berlin. (Her father, a surgeon, helped pioneer the field of mammography.) A gifted artist, Salomon moved to France after the Nazis rose to power, where she began working on her seminal autobiographical painting series, Life? or Theatre? This new film follows Salomon (voiced by two-time Oscar nominee Keira Knightley) as she completes 769 paintings before she was shipped to Auschwitz at age 26, where she died, five months pregnant. 

The Devil’s Drivers

This high-intensity documentary invites audiences into the passenger seat while two Bedouin cousins speed through the Negev desert twice daily, attempting to smuggle Palestinian workers across the border into Israel, where they hope to find work and build a life. The film offers a raw look at the way Palestinians in transit are viewed by Israelis, as well as the personal costs of making a living illegally: filmed over a span of eight years, filmmakers Daniel Carsenty and Mohammed Abugeth follow the Bedouin drivers as they grow up and realize the precarity of their situation as the conflict unfolds around them. 

Dear Evan Hansen

This is the highly anticipated film adaptation of Jewish writer Steven Levenson’s Tony award–winning Broadway musical. Ben Platt (also Jewish) reprises his role as Evan, sharing the screen with Oscar-winner Julianne Moore, Oscar nominee Amy Adams and Amandla Stenberg (TIFF 2018’s The Hate U Give). With a stunning soundtrack by duo Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (Pasek is also a member of the tribe), this powerful story about mental health, adolescence and overcoming grief has proven onstage to inspire tears, laughter and a strong desire to listen to the songs on repeat. Will the motion picture capture the same magic?