NOVEMBER 1, 2018, NEWTON – “This is Théodore; today is his bar mitzvah, and he’s going to read us the parashah,” says Rivkah, a rabbi living in Paris, about a boy sitting sullenly in a synagogue, hoping his father will arrive. “Is everything OK, Théodore?”
“My father still isn’t here,” Théodore replies before screaming, kicking a chair, and running away. A man named Simon quickly shouts that he’ll take care of it, and runs after him.
“Simon and Théodore” is a French film about the journey that follows this moment. Simon is Rivkah’s husband, and he has just escaped from a psychiatric hospital. Théodore is a rebellious teenager studying with Rivkah for his bar mitzvah. For the rest of the movie, the two offbeat misfits run all over the streets of Paris, forging a close bond in the process.
The film will show at this year’s Boston Jewish Film Festival on Nov. 15 (7 p.m. at the Arlington Capitol Theatre) and Nov. 18 (3:30 p.m. at the West Newton Cinema) thanks to sponsorship from the Ruderman Synagogue Inclusion Project Foundation and a longstanding relationship between the two organizations. According to BJF Executive Director Jaymie Saks, the film ties in well with the two organizations’ goal to show films that provide an honest, three-dimensional glimpse into the lives of people with disabilities. “It’s taking an honest look at mental illness,” said Saks. “Because this film depicts a rabbi struggling with her husband’s mental illness as she tries to lead her congregation, it was a perfect match with the mission of the Ruderman Synagogue Inclusion Project.”
BJF has partnered with the Ruderman Foundation since 2011, and has tried to show at least one film relating to disabilities in its November festival lineup. Last year, to a packed house at the Boston Public Library, BJF closed its festival with “Keep the Change,” a romantic comedy about two people with autism who fall in love after meeting at a social-skills class at a JCC. Both of the leading roles were played by actors on the autism spectrum, which advances Ruderman’s longstanding goal of placing people with disabilities at the heart of the conversation.
“What we try and do is ‘nothing about us without us,’ which is a pretty common slogan in the disability world,” said Mara Bresnahan, who directs the Boston ReelAbilities Film Festival, an annual film festival under the umbrella of BJF that screens films about disabilities, and often includes films about disabilities shown in the main festival in November.
“We try not to watch a movie about someone with schizophrenia and then sit around talking about someone with schizophrenia,” said Bresnahan. “We have someone with schizophrenia participate as a speaker or panelist so we can hear about their personal experience.”
Saks noted that the Ruderman Foundation’s support has been crucial for the ReelAbilities Festival. “They were actually the first funders to come on board,” she said. “Since then, they have been major funders of the festival, and have made it possible. We could not do it without them.”