Film Fest
Friday, 14 October 2011 00:00

Line up set for Jewish film festival

 Doors open on November 5 to November 27


By Richard Bronstein

The Jewish Free Press

RestorationMovie festivals have never been hotter than they are now.  From TIFF in Toronto to Cannes on the Mediterranean, more people than ever are flocking to the movies and gawking at stars.


Calgary may not be on the same map as international movie capitals, but it can be said that our homegrown Beth Tzedec Jewish Film Festival – now in its eleventh season – is one of the “biggest” small festivals you will find anywhere.

And it is not just this newspaper saying it. So many people who appear as guests of the film festival are always impressed by the hospitality of the Calgary Jewish community and the enthusiasm of the audiences for their films.

The festival always tries to showcase a wide diversity of film and subject matter pertaining to the Jewish world. One of the strong suits of the festival is that it does not step back from tackling tough social and political issues through its Tikkum Olam Screening. This focus is being strengthened this year and beyond with the generous endowment of the Dr. Ralph Gurevitch Tikkun Olam screening, a 75th birthday present initiated by Sheila Gurevitch and their children and grandchildren. (See below for more details.)

For festival director Harvey Cyngiser and his volunteer board, this endowment means they can plan for even more challenging films in the years to come.

“This is a very generous gift and will help us improve programming. It really speaks well for the quality of the festival and we are all very grateful to the entire Gurevitch family for their support,” said Cyngiser.

Another triumph arising out of the festival is the release of a new CD by festival regulars Zeev Berger and the Schmoozers.  Although they play around a lot in the community, the ensemble has evolved into the house band providing their brand of traditional and jazz-fused Israeli classics for festival goers. To celebrate the release of their new CD, Zeev and the Schmoozers will perform a special concert at the Beth Tzedec.

A real coup for the Beth Tzedec Jewish Film Festival is the screening on opening night, November 5, of the Oscar-winning documentary, ”Strangers No More.” The film traces the miracle that is the Bialik-Rogozin school in a disadvantaged Tel Aviv neighbourhood. This school is home to children of immigrants, refugees and foreign workers who have often faced poverty, racism, persecution and even genocide.

At Bialik-Rogozin they are not only given educational tools, but a safe, loving and nurturing environment.

The success of the school derives from many factors, but principal Karen Tal is clearly the driving force and she will be in Calgary to meet members of the Jewish community and engage in audience discussion. Karen Tal has recently been named winner of the Charles Bronfman Prize for humanitarian leadership.

Another tough but thoroughly inspiring film is “Slightly, Seriously, Critically Injured.” The documentary is about an IDF squad commander who sustains massive, life-threatening injuries from a roadside bomb and follows the efforts to save his life and the deep impact this has on his family. All too often casualties of Israel’s security situation are statistics – this film will never let you breath easy again.  It is co-directed by one of Israel’s top military journalists, Amir Bar Shalom who will be in attendance here with the other director, Avital Ben-Moshe.

For fans of Yiddish culture, you’ll want to take in “Shalom Aleichem: Laughing in the Darkness,” an exploration of the man who transformed Yiddish into a literary language, which is co-sponsored by the Jewish Historical Society of Southern Alberta.

In the musical vein is another remarkable true story that begins with Israeli rock musician Dudu Tassa and follows him back to a time Jews were a prominent community in Iraq and Tassa’s forbearers were the al-Kuwaity Brothers.  In the 1930’s Daud al-Kuwaity and his brother Saleh were the top musicians in Iraq, popular with both royalty and the masses. Their unique story is told in the film “Iraq and Roll.”

There is also “Zubin and I,” about the famous Zubin Mehta and his 50 year collaboration with the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra.

Among the partners of the Jewish film festival is CJEd, the educational outreach arm of the Calgary Jewish Federation. It is co-sponsoring the film “Dreamcoat: A Documentary,” a 2010 Canadian production about a program in Ottawa called TAMIR, an organization to assist people with developmental disabilities. To celebrate it’s 25th anniversary, TAMIR staged the play “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat employing a cast if disabled performers.

While the film is a treat to watch, it will be enhanced with actual cast members from the “Dreamcoat” production sharing the stage live at Beth Tzedec with members of the choirs of both the Calgary Jewish Academy and Akiva Academy. Bring your sun glasses because there will be millions of flash bulbs going off during this event.

From famed Israeli novelist David Grossman, comes the film “Intimate Grammar,” about a pre-adolescent boy growing up in a dysfunctional family. Co-sponsored by Jewish Family Service Calgary, the film will be followed by a panel discussion about “Youth at Risk: A Communal Response.”

Israel politics is never far from mind these days and the Jewish film festival is mining that with the film “Unmasked:  Judeophobia,”which raises the question about when does criticism of Israel descend into anti-Semitism. The film features participation by many historians and other experts, including Alan Dershowitz, Natan Sharansky, Irwin Cotler, and John Bolton. The film is directed by Gloria Greenfield, who earlier produced the very influential film, “The Case for Israel: Democracy’s Outpost,” based on a recent book by Alan Dershowitz.

The Calgary Jewish Federation is stepping up to the plate to sponsor a free screening of the film “The Heart of Auschwitz.” By director Carl LeBlanc, this 2010 Canadian production painstakingly unravels the backstory of a small, heart-shaped booklet that is in the collection of the Montreal Holocaust Museum. The storyline here is absolutely sensational and heartwarming, even though the background is the Shoah.

The Jewish film festival program also features many contemporary Israeli dramas that have achieved recognition on the world stage. Complete listings are available in the film festival guide that is included in this edition of the Jewish Free Press. You can also check out the listings at

A pass to the entire festival is the same price as last year - $65.00 in advance or $75.00 at the door. There will be the usual fine dessert reception in the Beth Tzedec foyer between screenings and art displays from the local Bezalel Arts organization, as well as independent artists such as Lilly Rosenberg.


A scene from “Restoration,” a 2011 Israeli drama that screens at the Beth Tzedec Jewish Film Festival on opening night of November 5. This elegant, intelligent film was nominated for 11 Israeli Academy Awards and has received acclaim from numerous international film juries.

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