TJFF: Wide selection of films at 24th edition of the festival

TJFF runs May 5 to 15 at five theatres across the city
TJFF runs May 5 to 15 at five theatres across the city

David Bezmozgis’s screen adaptation of his story Natasha will open the 2016 Toronto Jewish Film Festival.

From May 5 to 16, the 24th edition of the festival will screen four world premieres, 11 North American and 31 Canadian premieres.

Natasha, a coming-of-age story, explores the modern life of Toronto’s Russian Jewish community through the eyes and imagination of the award-winning writer and filmmaker.


The festival closes with Every Face Has a Name, the Canadian premiere of the documentary about Operation White Buses in which over 15,000 people were rescued from several concentration camps in 1945 and brought to Sweden. Seventy years later, filmmaker Magnus Gertten tracked down some of these refugees to show them original, rarely-seen newsreel footage of their arrival  in Malmo. While watching this footage of themselves, survivors remember faces, names and stories about friends and family.

In between these two films is a wide selection of dramas, comedies, documentaries and special features.

This year’s sidebar series “Jewish images from a Golden Age of Canadian Television” explores expressions of Jewish identity from the first 12 years of CBC Television (1952-64). This includes a look at the comedy duo of Johnny Wayne and Frank Shuster, as well as writer and filmmaker Jack Kuper and actor Sylvia Lennick. (See page 30).

The Senegalese/French documentary Black Jews, the Roots of the Olive Tree will have its Canadian premiere as part of the “Black Jewish Relations” series.  It takes a unique look at the Jews of Cameroon, a community that observes Jewish prayer and customs in a country not always understanding of this foreign religion.

Doing Jewish: A Story from Ghana also gets its world premiere. This Canadian film follows Gabrielle Zilkha, a Canadian filmmaker working in Ghana, who sets off across the country to celebrate Rosh Hashanah with the tiny Sefwi Jewish community.

The Jewish state is  featured in a series commemorating Israel at 68. Among the highlights in this series are Einstein in the Holy Land, an exploration of Albert Einstein’s life, and political views on Israel. Hagiga – The Story of Israeli Cinema is a two-part look at Israel’s rich cinematic history, (page 29) and Sabena Hijacking: My Version is a suspenseful blow-by-blow account of the 1972 Black September attack on an airplane in Tel Aviv. Foodies will love In Search of Israeli Cuisine, a documentary about a country constantly attempting to redefine its identity.

“Women – Front and Centre” features several films and documentaries in which women play a primary role. Imagine: Bette Midler – The Divine Miss M is a must-see look at the funny and outrageous Bette Midler. In the Canadian premiere of the 2014 French film Papa Was Not a Rolling Stone, director Sylvie Ohayon delivers a sensitive comedy-drama about growing up Jewish in La Courneuve, an impoverished suburb of Paris in the mid-’80s. It will be screened with Mushkie, an Israeli short about two best friends and what happens when one of them experiences an embarrassing medical problem.

There are lots of dramas, thrillers, romances and comedies, of course. Highly recommended is the Canadian premiere of the Israeli film Freak Out (Mesuvag Harig). In this dark comedy, 18-year-old Matan is serving in the army and is frightened and misses his mother.  When strange things begin to happen on guard duty, he realizes that none of them will likely get out alive.


Called an Israeli Dr. Strangelove, Atomic Falafel takes on the Israel-Iran nuclear showdown. A widowed falafel seller, his awkward teenage daughter, her computer nerd boyfriend and a German weapons inspector save the region from potential nuclear war.

Ed Mirvish, Big Carrot’s David Teitel and architect Benjamin Brown are among the Canadians featured in several documentaries airing at the festival.

And not to be missed is season 2 of the Israeli TV show Shtisel. The six episodes will be shown in two screenings.

This just touches the surface of what promises to be another successful festival.

The TJFF  runs May 5 to 15 at five theatres across the city. For full schedule and ticket information, click here.