Film festivals aren’t just reserved for Cannes or Sundance. In fact, each year right in the North Shore’s backyard, the Merrimack Valley Jewish Federation hosts The Merrimack Valley Jewish Film Festival.
Now in its seventh year, the festival originated by Executive Director Laurie Tishler Mindlin out of a need for more Jewish cultural programs in the community. Each year, a committee reviews a handful of films and picks the winners. “Watching the contenders is like my own little home festival,” laughs Mindlin, who has been working at the MVJF for 10 years.
In preparation, the team of 12 reviewers take notes as they watch eight to ten films before coming together to decide which ones to show. That collection of Jewish films is based on those that are trending and receiving good reviews.
Over the years, they have shown many types of films –from humorous to thought provoking to historical, covering topics such as World War II and the Arab Israeli conflict. There are even, occasionally, films that produce a bit of controversy. “Once, when we showed the film ‘The Attack,’ directed by a Lebanese American film maker, someone felt it wasn’t a ‘Jewish’ movie,” explained Laurie regarding the film about the aftermath of a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv. Yet, the discussion that followed only further capitalized on the purpose of the festival – to bring new ideas and encourage imaginative thinking.
With time, they’ve formed a system and a sense of the films that the audience will enjoy, while still keeping variety year to year. One year, they were able to include a children’s film, “An American Tale,” to help make the festival a family affair, and in the instance of “Jews and Baseball” they were able to book an appearance from Martin Abramowitz who was featured in the film.
While finding films that will be well received is a priority, there are other important factors. Mindlin discussed how the committee likes to pick films with a good story line, ones that are historically based and ones related to Israel. This year’s double feature selections include “Fanny’s Journey” and “The Women’s Balcony.”
Based on a true story, “Fanny’s Journey” is a Holocaust era coming of age story. The main character is Fanny, a young teenager who winds up in charge of several children in 1943 during the Nazi occupation. Produced by Lola Doillon, it is the winner for “Best Film” in Hamburg and “Audience Awards” in Atlanta, San Diego, Denver and Providence. The film is in French and will be shown with English subtitles. While the real Fanny is still alive, she will not be able to make the showing.
“The Women’s Balcony”, nominated for five Israel Academy Awards, is about a women’s balcony in an Orthodox synagogue in Jerusalem that collapses. What unfolds is a congregation in crisis and a divide between women and men. The committee chose it in part because it focuses on a Sephardic Israeli Orthodox congregation, which offers a different perspective than the Ashkenazi background that most Jews in the area observe. In addition, the film touches upon many relevant themes to today’s Jews. “This spectrum of observance that exists is an interesting issue facing Israeli and all Jews today,” says Mindlin about why they chose this film. “It touches upon the many different ways there are to connect to Judaism.”
The film festival itself is an exercise in the many ways Jews stay connected. There are so many external demands on our time that the festival serves as a fun opportunity to bring uninvolved people to a community building event.
The film festival will draw participants from all over, including those from Boston, Newton and New Hampshire, say organizers, despite the many film festival options. The MVJF expects to draw 100 people and encourages attendees to buy tickets in advance. The double feature festival will take place at Osgood Landing in North Andover on Sunday, May 7, beginning at 2:30 p.m.
More information can be found at mvjf.org.