21st Toronto Jewish Film Festival | May 1-11, 2014

Programme Director's Notes



It’s my favourite time of year again—it’s Toronto Jewish Film Festival time, which means 11 days of great movies. This year we celebrate the 20th year of our Festival.

This is my 8th Festival as Programme Coordinator/Programme Director. Before that, I spent a number of years on the Programming Committee, and I wrote about the Festival for a number of local publications even before that. So in one way or another, I have been around for most of those 20 years.

Despite that long connection to the Festival, I still marvel at the fact that so many “Jewish” films are being produced. Every year we get more than 400 submissions to the Festival and every year I wonder whether it will ever end. Not that I want it to. I love watching films; more so, I love that it is part of my job.

The other thing that always surprises me is where these films come from. This year we have close to 100 films in the Festival from 15 countries. We even have 12 films from Germany. Who would have thought?

And we had a bumper crop of “Holocaust” films this year. Our only problem was finding room for all of them. We have a German film called Wunderkinder about two Jewish musical prodigies who save the family of a non-Jewish friend and this friend later hides the Jewish family from the Nazis.

We have two films about Israeli heroes. Follow Me tells the story of Yonatan (Jonathan) Netanyahu, the commander of the rescue mission at Entebbe. An Article of Hope is about Ilan Ramon, the pilot who became the first Israeli astronaut to orbit the earth.

We have a beautiful film about the largest Jewish cemetery in Europe (In Heaven Underground). Although located in the Berlin area, this cemetery survived the Nazis.

We have Holocaust films that show a different side of the story. Born in a Concentration Camp tells of seven women who gave birth in Kaufering, a satellite camp of Dachau. And one of the women, along with her son who was born there, will be in attendance at the screening.

As a special treat, we are showing a “work in progress”. Memory After Belsen is a film that looks at the challenges of Holocaust awareness in art and education. The producer, Joshua Green, will be in attendance and will show about 45 minutes of clips from the still-unfinished film, and will talk about the project and the people he has interviewed and filmed.

These last two films strike a special resonance with me. Not only did I live in a DP camp in Germany for two years as a child, but my best friend when I attended John R. Wilcox Public School here in Toronto, was born in the Bergen Belsen concentration camp several weeks before the camp was liberated. He is now a film professor at a university in the United States.

We also have two interesting events for those of us who speak Yiddish or are interested in the Yiddish language. In Search of Yiddish follows a Russian scientist/poet/singer on a journey to the areas of the former Soviet Union where he was born. He is searching for any Yiddish speakers who may have survived the War, and trying to determine whether any Yiddish is still spoken in those areas. And Eric Goldman, an expert on Jewish and Yiddish films, will give a lecture on modern Yiddish cinema and will show clips.

Finally let me talk about our Opening and Closing presentations. Both are outstanding films. We open the Festival with A Bottle in the Gaza Sea, a Canadian, French and Israeli co-production, about a teenage girl in Israel who has her brother throw a bottle into the sea. Inside the bottle is a note with her email address. A young man in Gaza finds the bottle and the two begin a correspondence that eventually leads to a special friendship.

Our closing night presentation is a very special film that we are presenting as a “Sneak Preview” and has never been seen. It tells the story of Jerome Felder, better known as Doc Pomus, who overcame a great deal of adversity in his life to become one of the great composers of the early rock era.

As a youngster, Pomus began listening to African American music. He was one of the first and only white soul singers of the late 40’s and early 50’s. Then when he began writing songs, he composed such classics as Save The Last Dance For Me, This Magic Moment, A Teenager In Love, and many more. He also wrote many of the songs that appeared in the Elvis Presley films of the 60’s. This promises to be a memorable evening and we will have one or two special guests at the screening, including Doc Pomus’ daughter, Sharyn Felder.

These are a few of the highlights of a wide-ranging slate of films we will be presenting this year. No matter what your taste or your interest, there is sure to be a lot for you to enjoy.

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