You'll laugh. You'll cry. You'll be touched. That's because you'll see movies that examine facets of the Jewish life that are rarely explored on the big screen. At least that's the intention of local community leader and attorney Robert Epstein, who worked diligently to finally bring a Jewish Film Festival to life in Indianapolis.
The Indianapolis Jewish Film Festival will premiere here next weekend (May 3), starting with the screening of the movie "David" shown at Indianapolis Central Library. The series will continue through the following Saturday (May 10) with a different film shown each evening, with nine total.
Executive producer of the Circle City's festival, Epstein thinks that there has been a gap in the local film scene for quite some time -- especially considering the fact that the United States is home to more than 60 Jewish film festivals, but Indianapolis has never hosted one. Last September, he met with other like-minded film enthusiasts to discuss remedying what he believed to be a cultural deficit of the community.
"Several of us are film buffs and enjoy films so we decided, 'Let's see what we can do to pull this thing off,'" says Epstein. A couple months after their first meeting, he brought the group of individuals back together to begin the film-selection process for the event.
David Shank, a volunteer and consultant for the festival, recounted the lengthy, albeit entertaining, task of culling out the keepers. "Bob came to us and said 'I've got about 20 different films that I'd like for all of you for preview. Take a good, hard look at them, see if they are appropriate, if they hold your attention, and if they're something you think other people would like to see.' So we screened the films in different groups and then came back together and said 'these are the ones we really like.'" Not exactly rocket science, it was more like gut instinct that got the job done. And if he and the others in the group did it well, the week that follows will be sheer entertainment for Indy movie buffs and anyone interested in learning more about various aspects of the Jewish lifestyle.
Epstein used the group's feedback, along with the input of individuals involved with other Jewish film festivals in other cities around the country, to help him narrow the selection to the final nine films.
Shank says it was important to Epstein that they be particularly mindful to include more than just the type of films usually associated with Jewish culture, such as those dealing with the holocaust. "He [Epstein] said we're going to show films that uplift the human spirit, show a different kind of human condition, and we're not going to just get hung up on some of the really sad ones, as important as they are.'"
- Courtesy Menemsha Films
"A Matter of Size" blended Israeli and Japanese directing styles. Sumo scenes were meant to depict Japanese paintings, while the directors sought to inject the Israeli city of Ramle into the narrative.
Epstein hopes the films in this festival will "spread the good word about Jewish filmmaking and Jewish culture, both with films that have been made in the United States and with those created outside of the United States."
For this, its inaugural year, the film festival required a great deal of effort to help ensure it provides film-goers a unique, engaging experience. The May 4 screening of "The Band's Visit" at Indianapolis Central Library will be accompanied by an Egyptian belly dancer and band, as well as Mediterranean food and a cash bar. The humorous film tells the story of an Egyptian police band en route to Israel to perform at an Arab cultural center. Instead of making it to that destination, the group gets on the wrong bus and becomes stranded in the desert for two days.
Many of the festival's events offer opportunities for conversation about the films' subjects, including the film "Trembling Before G-D." This documentary tells the stories of Hasidic and Orthodox Jews who are gay or lesbian and face the profound dilemma of reconciling their faith and their sexuality. Prior to its May 10 screening at the Christian Theological Seminary, a panel composed of a rabbi, a priest, and a Protestant minister will facilitate a panel discussion about how different religious groups address homosexuality and faith.
The film "Live and Become" is about a young man in Operation Moses, a 1984 airlift operation to bring Jews from Sudan to Israel, who is not Jewish but is taken in by a Jewish family. A family from Ethiopia will be present at the movie's viewing at Light of the World Christian Church to talk about what it was like to grow up Jewish in Ethiopia.
The selections for the festival are diverse and range from humorous, like the film "A Matter of Size", a film about overweight Israeli men that embrace their bodies through Japanese sumo wrestling, to hard-hitting, adventurous documentaries like "Where I Stand," a film about Hank Greenspun, a convicted gun-runner, newspaper publisher, Las Vegas visionary, target of Watergate burglars, and hero of Israel's Independence war. At the showing of "Where I Stand," Scott Goldstein, the film's director, will be present for a question-and-answer session.
Epstein hopes to make the festival an annual event, but one with a purpose. "[It should be] not just to attract a Jewish crowd, but to really entertain the overall community in Indianapolis, who will be quite pleased with the selection of films and [who will] learn a fair amount of what's going on in the movie world."
The festival runs from Saturday, May 3rd through Saturday, May 10th, with a new film to be shown each day. Visit the Jewish Film Festival website and Facebook to find more information and to purchase tickets.
Cover image: film still from "The Other Son."