There is good news and bad news for fans of Jewish-themed films. The good news: There is a new film festival in the county, the Boca Raton Jewish Film Festival, which opens today, runs for eight days and shows 27 movies from around the world.
The bad news: All seats for all screenings are already sold, going to patrons, sponsors and passholders before single tickets ever had a chance to go on sale.
Wait, there’s more good news: All screenings will have a wait list and, according to the festival’s artistic director, Wendy Honig, those who show up at the Cinemark Palace 20 are likely to get in.
“We expect to be able to fulfill everyone who comes to the theater. Life happens and for different reasons, people don’t show up,” she reasons. “I’m sure we will be able to accommodate people who come to the theater.”
But, we hear you wondering, isn’t there already a Palm Beach Jewish Film Festival? That’s true, but many of that January event’s screenings were in Palm Beach Gardens, which prompted the newer festival’s organizers to create their own for greater convenience’s sake.
“When enough people stepped up to financially support this, many of them said ‘We’re not going to the Cobb in Palm Beach (Gardens). We’re not going to Miami. But we go to Telluride, we go to Sundance, we go to the Toronto Jewish Film Festival.’ This is Boca,” says festival director Ellen Safran. “These people travel all over the world. But when they’re here in the winter, they don’t want to drive far.”
The Boca Raton Jewish Film Festival came together quickly. It was late August of last year that the Levis Jewish Community Center agreed to be the festival’s presenter and Safran created a Jewish Film Society of those most enthusiastic about the idea. In addition to them making a financial commitment to the program, “along with it came the privilege of sitting on a screening committee. They devoted a morning every week,” explains Safran. “Within two months we had already created the infrastructure and started selecting films.”
To select this year’s lineup of features, documentaries and shorts, the committee looked at more than 300 films. With an emphasis on global diversity, the films come from Denmark, France, Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Japan, The Netherlands and, of course, Israel. In fact, eight of the films are nominees for Israel’s version of the Academy Awards.
Honig is justifiably proud that nearly every selection is a premiere of some sort. “We have a U.S. premiere, a Southeast premiere, an East Coast premiere, 10 Florida premieres and nine Palm Beach County premieres,” she says.
Asked to single out some of her favorites, Honig sighs, “This is really hard, because I love all of these films. I love ‘Past Life,’ from acclaimed Israeli filmmaker Avi Nesher. I like ‘The Price of Sugar,’ the story of 1700s Jewish plantation owners who owned slaves in Suriname. It’s a story that most Jews don’t know about. I very much like ‘The Interrogation,’ which is taken from the interview transcript of Rudolph Höss. An amazing film.
“҅҅҅҅ ҅Across the Waters’ is a film about how Danish Jews survived by going across the water to Sweden, helped by non-Jewish fishermen. Another of my favorites is ‘Persona Non Grata,’ the story of (Chiune) Sigihara, the consul of Japan in Lithuania, who wrote the visas and saved so many Jews against what his country was allowing.”
Because of the festival’s sold-out success, it has already scheduled four encore screenings – one a month from May through August on Wednesday afternoons at the JCC’s Sandler Center. These begin on May 3 with Persona Non Grata, but expect tickets to go rapidly.
Safran concedes that she was taken aback by the interest in the festival. “We weren’t quite sure what to expect,” she says. “We were overwhelmed by the responsiveness of this community.”
The festival’s organizers were always planning to make the Boca Raton Jewish Film Festival an annual event, but now they are thinking about ways to meet the demand from the public next year.
“Our idea of the festival is one that is for the whole community, so we’re hoping next year to expand so we can offer our films to the entire community, not just those who initially stepped up to support us,” says Safran. “So we are hoping to expand – either the length of the festival or possibly the number of theaters that we are screening in.”
Asked how soon she and the selection committee will begin looking at films for 2018’s festival, Honig says, a bit wearily, “We’ve already started.”
BOCA RATON JEWISH FILM FESTIVAL, Cinemark Palace 20, 3200 Airport Road, Boca Raton. Passes: $136-$600. Single tickets: $10. Call: 561-558-2520.