The 14th annual edition of the Windsor Jewish Film Festival runs May 2 to 5 this year.
It will show 10 films, opening with Canadian director Atom Egoyan’s Remember, starring multiple Oscar-winner Christopher Plummer. It closes with Labyrinth of Lies, a German film that explores how that country’s first domestic war crimes trial came about, a decade after the Nuremberg trials.
Jewish film festivals may be commonplace in larger cities, but Windsor, with a population of 200,000 and a Jewish community of 1,200, was one of the early rare examples of a small community running its own public film event.
Festival spokesman and retired University of Windsor professor Stuart Selby said than when the festival started, “we may have been second only to Toronto,” though now there are several Jewish film festivals in cities across Canada.
The Windsor festival originally was part of the Detroit Jewish film festival, a “fourth location,” if you will, across the border, Selby said. But, because of copyright issues, films shown in Canada had to be sourced from Canadian distributors.
“So at that point we said let’s just do it ourselves – with trepidation – but it worked out.”
All festival films are screened at the Cineplex Devonshire Mall, rented at a reduced rate. Last year, the event attracted more than 2,000, a testament to its growing popularity among the Windsor community at large.
Selby said a lot of the growth has been through word of mouth. “It’s when people tell their friends, ‘Hey, we saw a great film, let’s go together this year.’”
To put on the festival, a scheduling committee chooses from about 30 mostly recently released films, often screened at other festivals or listed in film distributors’ current catalogues.
“The whole process of previewing films has become a lot simpler because the distributors will either send screener DVDs or they’ll send it digitally,” Selby said.
But choosing films can be a bit tricky.
While organizers seek a mix of topics, it’s a fact of life that the preponderance of Jewish films are Holocaust-themed. And while many of those are, of course, screened at the festival, films with other themes, be it the immigrant experience or contemporary Jewish life, are also sought.
“We’re always looking for light-hearted films and they’re rare,” Selby says.
But this year’s selection demonstrates that even films about the Holocaust can be nuanced and don’t necessarily have to take place during World War II.
“While several touch on the Holocaust, all avoid images of the horror of that time, confronting instead the lingering psychological effects on people’s lives,” the festival says in a release.
In Remember, nominated for three Canadian Screen Awards this year, an aged nursing home resident with dementia overcomes his disability to avenge the murder of his friend’s family in Auschwitz. And in Magic Men, a child survivor of the Greek Holocaust returns 60 years later with his estranged son to find his rescuer.
Other films in the lineup show considerable diversity.
Dough is about the last kosher baker in East London, who takes on a Muslim Darfur refugee as an apprentice, leading to some humorous cultural clashes. The Dove Flyer is set in the 1950s Jewish community in Iraq. A Tale of Love and Darkness starring Natalie Portman is based on the Amos Oz memoir about growing up in Jerusalem from the British Mandate period to independence. Deli Man is a delightful, bittersweet chronicle of the once ubiquitous but increasingly scarce Jewish delicatessen.