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Spokane Jewish Film Festival Turns 20 This Year; Showing 17 Films


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Spokane Jewish Film Festival Turns 20 This Year; Showing 17 Films

News Story by Nina Culver | FāVS News

The 20th annual Spokane Jewish Film Festival is set to kick off Jan. 27 with an opening night gala featuring the film “Remembering Gene Wilder.”

The festival, put on by Spokane Area Jewish Family Services, stayed alive during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic by moving online, and this year’s festival includes a mix of online viewing and in-person events for film buffs. The gala, held from 6 to 9:30 p.m. at the Montvale Event Center, 1019 W 1st Ave., will also feature a silent auction and food will be provided by Feast World Kitchen.

Jewish Family Services director Neal Schindler said he thinks people will enjoy the film on Gene Wilder, an actor and comedian known for his role in the 1971 film “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.”

The film being shown at the gala is narrated by the late actor using previously recorded voice clips.

“It’s lovely to hear his voice talking about his life and his experiences,” Schindler said. “It’s really a lovely tribute to Gene Wilder. His being Jewish is only a part of the film.”

The Festival’s Modest Beginnings

When the Spokane Jewish Film Festival began it was three feature films shown in one weekend.

“It started pretty modestly,” Schindler said. “It was kind of by the Jewish community for the Jewish community with limited attendance.”

But over the years the festival expanded, both in the number of films shown and the reach of the festival.

Schindler said he sees the festival as a way for people to learn more about what it means to be Jewish.

“It is an event for the Spokane area,” he said. “It’s for everyone. It’s not just for the Jewish community. It’s important to provide a kaleidoscopic view about what being Jewish means.”

This year there are 17 films on the schedule, some short and some feature length. They’re a mix of romantic comedies, historical dramas and documentaries.

Returning Favorites

In honor of the 20th anniversary of the film festival, some of the films on the schedule were hits in previous festivals. One of those returning favorites is “Zero Motivation,” a satire of military life in Israel.

“It was a hit in Israel,” Schindler said. “It’s very smart and funny and memorable. It really packs a punch.”

Schindler said the goal is to pick Jewish-themed films that have attracted attention. Films of all types get submitted for film festivals around the country and Schindler and a committee of volunteers narrow the list to about two dozen contenders, which are then watched and rated before the top films are selected for the festival.

Schindler said people should expect to see movies that would appear in mainstream theaters.

“Part of our job as a film festival is to show things that you might never see,” he said.

Pre-Oct. 7 Selection

This year’s films were selected long before the October attack on Israel by the Hamas terrorist group and the subsequent retaliatory attacks on the Gaza Strip. So none of the films address that, Schindler said.

However, some of the films either do examine the historic relationship between Israel and Palestinians or were made by Israelis and Palestinians working together.

One of those films, which is also one of the returning favorites, is the 2014 film “A Borrowed Identity,” which follows a Palestinian teenager who attends a high school in Israel for a year.

“It’s a beautiful film,” Schindler said. “People really enjoyed it when we first showed it.”

One of the new films this year, titled “Where is Anne Frank,” examines the Holocaust and the experience of Anne Frank, but in a less direct way.

It is set in the current time as seen through the eyes of Kitty, Frank’s imaginary friend, who wakes up in Amsterdam and tries to find Frank. But despite its subject matter, it’s not a dark, heavy film, Schindler said.

“It’s playful,” he said. “It’s colorful. It examines Anne Frank’s legacy and all that’s changed since her time. It’s certainly not a portrayal of her diary.”

Another new film, titled “March ’68,” is a romance set in 1960’s Warsaw, Poland. It is focused in part on the rise of antisemitism and fascism as well as the overall threat to democracy, which holds up a mirror to some of what is happening in American politics, Schindler said.

The Bonus Material

Nearly every film showing, including the online ones, includes some sort of bonus material, whether it’s a panel discussion or a Q&A with filmmakers and stars. Some will be live via Zoom and some will be pre-recorded.

“We want it to be a rich experience,” Schindler said.

In-person screenings are Jan. 27-28 and Feb. 3-4. Online screenings run Jan. 28-Feb. 8. Ticket prices are $15 for adults and $10 for students and seniors and can be purchased online. A full film schedule is also available online.

Call (509) 747-7394 for more information.

Nina Culver
Nina Culver
Nina Culver is a freelance journalist and North Idaho native who has called Spokane home for the last 30 years. She started working at The Spokesman-Review in 1995 as a work study intern while still a journalism student at Gonzaga University and stuck around for the next 22 years, covering everything from religion to crime. She has an adult daughter and two grandsons who keep her hopping and if she has any free time she likes to read.

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