Hamilton gets a new Jewish film festival

Leona is the story of a young Mexican Jewish woman struggling to win acceptance for a forbidden love.

The curtain will rise on a new Hamilton Jewish Film Festival March 22.

Featuring three movies over two nights, the event revolves around the theme of rebellion. A special feature will be a question-and-answer session with the Israeli director of one of the films.

“Each of the people portrayed in these films is following a passion, and that is a rebellion against the status quo,” said Wendy Schneider, a member of the organizing committee. “People fulfilling their passions is a form of rebellion.”

The festival opens  on March 22 with The Other Story. It tells of the struggles of  two rebellious young women, one looking to trade a life of hedonism for one of structure and another seeking escape from a stifling traditional community. The pair unexpectedly cross paths in Jerusalem.

Leona, directed by Mexican film maker Isaac Cherem, is the story of a young Mexican Jewish woman facing the age-old struggle of winning family acceptance for a forbidden love with a non-Jewish man.

Cherem is being brought in for a Q-and-A session after a special evening showing of the film. It will be screened a second time on Monday afternoon.

The festival closes Monday evening, March 23, with a showing of The Picture of His Life, a documentary of Israeli photographer Amos Nachoum’s obsession with swimming underwater  alongside a polar bear in the Canadian Arctic and filming the adventure.

It’s a journey that brings him face-to-face with painful memories from his past.

Schneider said the movies were chosen from a list of 12 possibilities. Each was screened by the festival’s four-member organizing committee.

“In the end we chose them by consensus,” she said. “We chose them as a collective.”

The new Hamilton Jewish Film Festival is presented in partnership with the newly renovated Westdale Theatre. The former 1935-era neighbourhood bijou was recently revived with a $2.5 million investment that included art deco restoration, new sound and projection technology, new seats, acoustic panelling, accessible seating and a stage.

The partnership developed after Fred Fuchs, an independent film and television producer, newly resident in Dundas, Ont., reached out to organizers of the 15-year-old Israeli Film Festival held at Beth Jacob synagogue offering them a chance to show their movies in a real cinema.

The Beth Jacob group saw an opportunity to expand the mandate of the festival to include the full range of Jewish films rather than focusing only on Israeli productions. It disbanded itself and reformed as a committee of the Hamilton Jewish Federation.

“When Fred Fuchs reached out to us it just made sense to be able to do this in a proper theatre,” Schneider said. “At the same time it just made sense for the Hamilton Jewish Film Festival to be affiliated with the Hamilton Jewish Federation.”    

The new festival is also being seen as a chance to expose the broader Hamilton community to Jewish culture through movies.

Afternoon screenings of the films are at 4 p.m. Evening screenings are at 7 p.m.

Under the terms of what is being called a pilot project, the Westdale group will pay for the screening rights to the movies and keep the profits of the venture. General tickets for the films will be $9 while the special session with Cherem will cost $18.


For more information visit thewestdale.ca or jewishhamilton.org.