As TJFF celebrates its 25th anniversary, I am honoured to be part of this Toronto institution, and to have been accepted into its warm family of staff, volunteers and filmgoers.
The past few years have brought new challenges in putting together one of the world’s largest Jewish film festivals. Perhaps the greatest is defining the role of a film festival when there are so many other opportunities for viewing movies. However, there is still an irreplaceable pleasure in the big-screen experience. Submissions to the Festival are often viewed by our programming team on laptop computers, so I can’t wait to see, for example, the stunning and complex visuals of Eliya Swarttz’s Like a Lotus Flower on the big screen, as well as the breathtaking restoration job done to the archival footage in Ben-Gurion, Epilogue.
In addition, Naomi Wise’s observant and smart portrait of her mother and the dynamics of her parents’ marriage in Rhoda will have a ring of familiarity for some people. It is this kind of communal experience that makes events like the Festival invaluable. These are just a few of the screenings and discussion opportunities that I look forward to.
Over the past few years, I have been most excited about curating the archival screenings. This year we have two special sidebar series of which I am very proud.
As Canada celebrates its 150th anniversary, TJFF honours one of the country’s most famous Jewish icons, writer Mordecai Richler. Our series, Richler On-Screen offers the most comprehensive collection to date of film and TV adaptations of his stories as well as pieces on which he worked as a screenwriter-for-hire. What made this series so much fun for me to put together is that we are not only screening the classic films that make up the Richler film cannon (The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, Joshua Then and Now), but also long-forgotten adaptations of his work (e.g. the CBC productions of Duddy Kravitz and The Bells of Hell), and films in which Richler’s participation remains little known (No Love for Johnnie, the early Peter Sellers shorts, Dearth of a Salesman and Insomnia is Good for You). The CBC productions of Duddy Kravitz, The Acrobats, It’s Harder to be Anybody and The Bells of Hell in particular offer fascinating pieces of Canadian television history, as Richler pushed the envelope when it came to representing the Jewish community on television. The screenings in the Richler series will be accompanied by special guests who will help contextualize the productions as well as discuss Richler’s work.
It is my pleasure to honour filmmaker Dan Wolman at this year’s Festival. He was part of a young generation of Israeli filmmakers who first appeared in the late 60s and 70s (along with Uri Zohar, Judd Ne’eman, Avram Heffner, and others) and rejected previous conventions of Israeli film—the two-dimensional heroism, the broad ethnic comedies. Wolman is one of the first filmmakers to depict male sensitivity in the country’s cinema, as he offers portraits of male gentleness. As a filmmaker, he exhibits great empathy for the feelings of children, women and the elderly— people on the margins of patriarchy. So, in addition to his new feature An Israeli Love Story, we are also screening his 1974 work, My Michael, based on Amos Oz’s novel, as well as Hide and Seek (1980), which was honoured at last year’s Berlinale Festival. All three films are set during the last days of the British Mandate and the early years of the State of Israel, and allow us to revisit these times from a unique perspective. Wolman will be in attendance at our screenings of all three films.