The 29th New York Jewish Film Festival features documentaries, dramas and romcoms about the Jewish experience around the world, including about sports, fashion, civil disobedience, immigration, war, hope and resilience.
As always, you do not have to be Jewish to enjoy international films with universal themes.
A special event is a 50th anniversary showing of The Garden of the Finzi-Continis, the iconic drama by renowned director Vittorio de Sica.
- This beloved Italian drama, based on the classic novel by Giorgio Bassani, is set amidst the rise of Fascism in the 1930s.
- The wealthy, intellectual Finzi-Contini family’s estate serves as a gathering place for the local Jewish community that tries to remain sheltered from the country’s growing anti-Semitism.
- While romance unfolds behind the tall, stone walls of the garden, an increasingly hostile reality sets in.
This year’s festival includes:
- an inspiring documentary about Aulcie Perry, the legendary athlete who put Israeli basketball on the map, a
- a documentary about an Auschwitz survivor confronting her past,
- Crescendo, a gripping drama about a conductor’s determination to create an Israeli-Palestinian youth orchestra that transcends borders, religion and politics,
- a documentary about the Holocaust survivor who founded Gottex, the trend-setting swimwear empire.
Another film is told through 8mm images from the 1930s about German Jewish immigrants to the USA, struggling to find their way in a new culture.
Yet another follows a young Jewish woman in Mexico City in struggling to navigate a forbidden love, in a contemporary take on a timeless love story.
The New York Jewish Film Festival is January 15-28, with nearly 40 films include from Israel, Germany, Switzerland, Hungary, and Mexico, including several world, U.S. and New York premieres and special events that include Q&A sessions with the director.
There is more than one screening a day, at different theaters in Lincoln Center, and several films have multiple screenings on different days, to fit your schedule.
Opening Night · New York Premiere · Aulcie Perry, Dani Menkin, and Nancy Spielberg in Person
In 1976, Aulcie Perry was playing basketball in Harlem when scouts from Maccabi Tel Aviv spotted and signed him. A year later, he led the team to their first European Championship, converted to Judaism, and become an Israeli citizen. Dani Menken’s documentary tells the story of this legendary athlete.
Centerpiece Selection · Introduced by Richard Peña
Anouk Aimée and August Diehl star in this astounding autobiographical drama by Marceline Loridan-Ivens, an iconoclastic filmmaker and memoirist from France who passed away in 2018. The film follows an Auschwitz survivor who returns to the camp to confront her past and the young descendant of an SS guard she meets there
Closing Night · New York Premiere · Alice Brauner and Michael Zechbauer in Person
When a world-famous conductor (played by Toni Erdmann’s Peter Simonischek) accepts the job to help establish an Israeli-Palestinian youth orchestra, he steps into a firestorm of conflict and mistrust. Can the two factions of young musicians come together in harmony?
World Premiere of the Restoration · Live Piano Accompaniment by Donald Sosin
This long-lost 1919 silent gem, based on the same Sholem Aleichem stories as Fiddler on the Roof, follows Tevye the milkman’s daughter Khavah, who falls in love with the gentile boy Fedka and must navigate the reverberations from this with her community and her family. Restored by the National Center for Jewish Film. With live piano accompaniment by Donald Sosin.
World Premiere · Julia Mintz in Person
This essential documentary tells the stories of the Jewish partisans who took up arms against Hitler’s war machine in World War II. The last surviving partisans tells their stories to director Julia Mintz who shines a spotlight on their bravery through interviews, archival footage, and historic war records.
50th Anniversary Presentation · Introduction by André Aciman on January 26
Presented for its 50th anniversary, this classic, Oscar-winning Italian drama is set amid the rise of Fascism in the 1930s. The wealthy, intellectual Finzi-Contini family’s estate serves as a gathering place for the local Jewish community that tries to remain sheltered from the country’s growing anti-Semitism.
New York Premiere · Yaron Zilberman and Tamar Sela in Person
This gripping historical drama, Israel’s submission for the 2020 Academy Awards, follows the radicalization of Israeli ultranationalist Yigal Amir in the year leading up to his assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
New York Premiere
The year is 1940, and the French-Jewish socialist reformer Prime Minister Leon Blum has been imprisoned at Buchenwald. This touching drama tells the story of Jeanne Reichenbach, who has loved Blum since they were teenagers and risks everything to reunite with him in prison.
U.S. Premiere · Eyal Ben Moshe & Rachel Rusinek in Person
This beautiful documentary tells the story of Yiscah Smith, who was living as an ultra-orthodox married man with six children and deep ties in the Hasidic community before abruptly leaving Israel. Twenty years later, Smith returned—as a woman. Screens with Butterflies in Berlin: Diary of a Soul Split in Two.
U.S. Premiere · Dina Zvi Riklis and Arik Bernstein in Person
The Israeli transit camps of 1948-1952 were built to accommodate the surge of immigrants following World War II. This documentary explores the controversial initiative, in which over 300,000 immigrants lived in tents, tin huts, and contributed to the divide between Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews in Israel.
New York Premiere · Dalit Kimor in Person
The Gottex swimwear empire was founded by legendary designer, Holocaust survivor, and larger-than-life character Lea Gottlieb. Her unyielding vision and complex relationships with her daughters are on display in this inspiring documentary. Screening with Gurit Kadman.
New York Premiere · Dani Menkin, Amos Nachoum, and Nancy Spielberg in Person on January 15
Yom Kippur War veteran Amos Nachoum is one of the greatest underwater photographers of all time, but he has struggled to safely photograph one beautiful predator: the polar bear. Picture of His Life is the breathtaking portrayal of Nachoum’s search for the formidable bear and, with it, some semblance of inner peace.
New York Premiere
This synthesis of archival footage, animation, and interviews chronicles the 1964 Rivonia Trial in apartheid South Africa, which led to Nelson Mandela and his nine other black and Jewish co-defendants being sentenced to life imprisonment. There were no cameras in court, but this rousing documentary puts 256 hours of newly discovered audio to brilliant use.
World Premiere · Brad Rothschild and Tamar Manasseh in Person
This moving and timely documentary tells the story of Tamar Manasseh, the African-American rabbinical student who is combating gun violence on the South Side of Chicago with magnetic, self-assured energy through her organization MASK, or Mothers Against Senseless Killing
New York Premiere
The 42-year-old Aldo lives a solitary life in Budapest in the years following his imprisonment and the loss of his wife and child during the Holocaust. When he meets 16-year-old Klara, whose family was also murdered by the Nazis, they form a father-daughter connection that helps them both heal. Screening with Life Is All There Is.
Free and open to the public · Presented by HBO
Join Yaron Zilberman, writer and director of NYJFF selection Incitement, for a master class on screenwriting and directing. In addition to Incitement, Israel’s submission for the 2020 Academy Awards, Zilberman is the award-winning writer-director-producer of A Late Quartet and Watermarks.
The festival is sponsored jointly by The Jewish Museum and Lincoln Center.
Ticket prices are the same as in 2019:
As a journalist, last year’s festival featured a personal favorite of mine,a biography of the newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer. I wish it were being shown again this year, since the role of the media in a fake news universe remains an important subject for all of us, especially in a presidential election year.
Presented in conjunction with the NYJFF Main Slate selection Joseph Pulitzer: Voice of the People, join Jami Floyd, host of “All Things Considered” on WNYC; Adam Moss, editor-in-chief of New York magazine; filmmaker Oren Rudavsky; and Jodi Rudoren, Associate Managing Editor of The New York Times for a multifaceted conversation.
Evelyn Kanter also is the author of several NYC and Hudson Valley guidebooks, including my latest, 100 Things to Do in NYC Before You Die.