24th Toronto Jewish Film Festival | May 4-14, 2017



   Programming for the Festival over the last few years has given me the chance to learn about iconic figures from different countries and eras.

   It’s amazing to rediscover someone through the eyes of a filmmaker, forcing us to realize how little we actually knew about them. This year's Festival spotlights individuals who changed the world in one way or another.

    I was particularly fascinated by Léon Blum, Loathed and Adored. Prime minister, socialist and Zionist, Blum accomplished a lot in France, bringing major social reforms to the country and its people. The film goes beyond his achievements, exploring his Jewish identity and how his troubled path was very similar to the one of Dreyfus a few years earlier.

    On a different note, Louis-Ferdinand Céline tells the story of one of France’s most famous authors of the 20th century, whose notorious anti-Semitism made him highly controversial. Featuring an incredible performance by Denis Lavant, Céline’s story is told through the eyes of an outsider, an American Jewish author who is fascinated by his writings.

    As I grew up learning about Zionism as well as famous writers on the subject, I am extremely excited about our pairing of The Raven: Ze'ev Jabotinsky with Martin Buber: Itinerary of a Humanist, a unique way to learn about two leaders who, with different political ideals, wrote about their hopes for the State of Israel.



    I’m a fan of all of the arts. Each year the Festival presents a diverse line-up of documentaries, shorts and fiction features about the arts and this year is no exception. There are three films at the Festival that stand out for me, both for introducing me to artists I was unfamiliar with and for their exploration of the intersections between artistic production and Jewish identity.

    Eva Hesse is a wonderful portrait of the innovative artist who broke through in the male-dominated art world of the 1960s. This documentary expertly shows how Eva’s Jewish identity, which was informed by having escaped Nazi Germany as a young child, is woven throughout her pioneering work.

    Did you know that the first person to extensively photograph the American West was Jewish? Neither did I before I watched Carvalho’s Journey, which tells the fascinating story of Solomon Nunes Carvalho, an observant Sephardic Jew who joined famed explorer John Fremont’s 5th Western expedition. Being Jewish played a central role in his life and informed his encounters with a wide variety of people including Native Americans and early Mormon settlers in Utah.

    The beauty of Yuri Dojc’s photographs are reason enough to watch Last Folio, a moving look at the fullness of Jewish life in Slovakia before the Shoah, and how the act of photographing deepens Dojc’s own understanding of what it means to be Jewish.

    These are just three of the many must-see films at the Festival. Enjoy the movies!



    Welcome to the 2016 Festival! This year we have had many memorable films come before our eyes that present complicated stories of Jewish experiences, not only in our time but in times past. As I continue to pay special attention to films that focus on North African and Middle Eastern Jewry, I am very excited to draw your attention to three films that, together, offer a well-rounded portrait of Mizrahi Jewish life in Israel. Yuval Delshad’s Baba Joon presents a familiar yet emotionally powerful immigrant story where generations collide and learn to thrive as one family attempts to establish a business in Israel. Eyal Sagui Bizawe and Sara Tsifroni’s Arabic Movie is a delightful window into the linguistic aspect of Mizrahi culture that allowed Arabic speaking Jews to retain certain practices of their culture with the support of Israeli state resources. Eran Barak’s My Beloved Uncles allows us to follow the director as he embarks on a difficult personal journey that is all too familiar to many North African and Middle Eastern Jews. Investigating and paying homage to the lost Mizrahi babies of the 1950s and 1960s, Barak enlists the help of his uncles to find out how their little brother disappeared so many decades prior. 

    These three films reflect our continued commitment to be inclusive of minority or peripheral Jewish narratives, and in effect, add to the formation of a more rich and well-rounded understanding in Toronto of Jewish identity. 



    This year there are a few films that really resonated with me for various reasons. Some are beautiful to look at; some speak to my passion for social justice; some are fascinating stories about which I previously knew nothing; and some I just connect with on a personal level.

    A Demonstration in the White City is a documentary I found myself instantly drawn into. Understated in its beautiful black and white cinematography, filmmaker Tal Haim Yoffe masterfully tells a profound and multi-layered story about Tel Aviv’s history as a city of culture built on the backs of immigrants, and yet today is a place filled with racial tension.

    I find that some of the strongest films this year are the short films, which often get overlooked. Home Movie stands out to me and tops my list of favourites this year. I love it for its simplicity and sheer beauty. This short film documents Welsh filmmaker Caroline Pick’s family history told entirely through the home movies of her childhood. This movie is a simple yet stunning reflection on one family’s hidden past, as the film unfolds in a subtle yet powerful narrative.

    Finally, and possibly a tie for top of my list, is Numbers Guy. Like a love letter, this film was created with deep respect and admiration, and captures both its hero and the City of Toronto with authentic beauty and honesty.  



    How do you solve a problem like Shylock? This is the question posed by renowned author Howard Jacobson in the entertaining documentary Shylock’s Ghost. Various scholars debate Shakespeare’s purported anti-Semitism but the question becomes 'beside the point' as the film looks at the way the character has been interpreted over time. In the hands of a talented director and actor, a sympathetic rendering of Shylock can be as valid as the traditional villainous one, regardless of intentions. To that point, do not miss our screening of the Globe's production of The Merchant of Venice starring Jonathan Pryce. 

    Writers and literary adaptations feature prominently in this year’s Festival. In Call me Bullie, A.B. Yehoshua proves to be as sympathetic and sensitive in person as his writing would suggest. The newly-restored print of Three Days and a Child, based on one of his novels, is a classic piece of New Wave-inspired filmmaking and must-see viewing for fans of Israeli Cinema and Yehoshua alike. Another icon of Israeli literature, the poet Yona Wallach, is the subject of the gripping biopic Yona. Director Nir Bergman, known for his work in the series In Treatment, frames Yona as a psychological portrait, focussing on how her mental illness and time spent being institutionalized fuelled her poetry. 

    Finally, closer to home, David Bezmozgis adapts his prize-winning story collection, Natasha and Other Stories, for the screen, delivering a tragic story of young love.


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