Jewish film festival unites Hamilton and Windsor communities

A photo from Fiddler: A Miracle of Miracles. Zero Mostel, centre, originated the role of Tevye on Broadway. (Pacific Northwest Pictures photo)

Jewish communities in Hamilton and Windsor, Ont., are combining their successful film festivals to help people deal with another spring in lockdown.

The combined event will present 10 Jewish-themed films starting May 2 and running, one a night, until May 13.

For Gustavo Rymberg, CEO of the Hamilton Jewish Federation, combining the festivals is an idea that grew out of the “paralysis” that struck many organizations when COVID shut the world down.

“We started to see the possibilities of working together,” he said. “We thought it makes sense for smaller communities to work together. This is going to be a good example of how smaller communities can help each other.”

Richard Kamen, director of programming and seniors’ services at the Windsor federation, said the combined festival continues a partnership with Hamilton that has allowed both communities to deal with COVID-related isolation.

“In these days we have to get creative. We’ve been reaching out to more and more partners to form joint ventures and partnerships that will help us ensure success in these unique times,” he said. “We’ve had a few events with Hamilton and we thought this would be a perfect fit. They have a successful film festival, we have a successful film festival so we thought there’s no better time to bring them together.

“In these times of isolation anything that can bring people together, whether it’s within this community or with a different community goes a long way,” he added. “At the end of the day we just wanted to provide our communities with a great film festival to help get them through these times of isolation.”

All films in the festival will be available online, streamed through Eventive. Passes are available for single events ($15), five films ($65) or the entire festival ($120). Each ticket unlocks a specific film. Once a ticket is purchased you have 48 hours to unlock the film. Once unlocked you have 48 hours to view it.

Leading off the festival on May 2 is the documentary Fiddler: A Miracle of Miracles. It tells the story of how an old Yiddish tale was turned into a Broadway phenomena and a blockbuster film that captivated the entire world. Featured are rare archival materials and interviews with theatrical luminaries including Stephen Sondheim, Hal Prince, Jerry Bock, Itzhak Perlman, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Joel Grey.

The offering for May 3 is Thou Shalt Not Hate, the story of a renowned Jewish surgeon who, assisting the victim of a hit-and-run accident finds the patient has a Nazi tattoo on his chest. The doctor abandons the man to his fate, but is later filled with guilt and traces the man’s family.

Crescendo, streaming May 4, tells of a world-famous German conductor who accepts a commission to create an Israeli-Palestinian youth orchestra. He is quickly drawn into a tempest of unsolvable problems, exacerbated by the passions of his adolescent musicians.

My Name is Sara, streaming May 5, is a fictional story based on Holocaust survivor Sara Shapiro’s oral history of her escape and survival as a young girl in Ukraine during the Second World War after her entire family was murdered by the Nazis.

Love in Suspenders brings a rom-com touch to the festival on May 6. It’s the tale of absent-minded 60-ish widow Tami accidentally hitting 70-ish widower Beno with her car and finding love.

After a two-day break the festival resumes May 9 with Shepherd: The Story of a Jewish Dog. It’s a Holocaust-era drama following a dog through a life that begins and ends with his loving relationship with his young Jewish owner. The focus, however is on the animal’s life during the war years as a stray on the streets and then as a guard dog working for the SS at Treblinka.

The Keeper, streaming May 10, is a biographical drama that tells life story of Bert Trautmann, a veteran German paratrooper, English prisoner of war, and then brilliant soccer player who tested his adopted country’s willingness to forgive its enemies.

The Upside Down Tree, streaming May 11, is an Israeli film telling the story of a girl separated from her parents during the Second World War and raised on a farm in Ukraine. One night a woman appears claiming to be the girl’s biological mother and wanting to take her to Israel.

May 12’s offering is the Latvian film The Mover, that country’s submission to this year’s Academy Awards. Based on A Boy And His Dog, a very popular Latvian children’s book, it tells the story of Žanis Lipke, an ordinary man whose courage under Nazi occupation saved the lives of many Jews and who was   honoured as one of the Righteous Among the Nations at Yad Vashem.

The festival closes May 13 with The Crossing, another Holocaust drama, this time from Norway. It’s the story of the escape of Norwegian Jews into Sweden. The film centres on the rescuers, two rural children whose parents are in the Norwegian resistance movement, and on their family relationship with each other as they undertake the task of rescuing the two Jewish children their parents have hidden.

All films will start streaming at 7 p.m. on the day they are released.

Tickets and a full program are available at https://whjff.eventive.org/welcome

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