Fostering understanding

The Boulder Jewish Film Festival returns with a simple message

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Shalom Bollywood
Caitlin Rockett | Boulder Weekly

The objective of the Boulder Jewish Film Festival is clear to its founding director, Kathryn Bernheimer: “To educate, to foster an appreciation, to create a deeper understanding.”

And all three tenets will be on display March 8–18 at the Boulder Jewish Community Center and the Dairy Arts Center for the sixth annual Boulder Jewish Film Festival (BJFF).

Screening 21 films from eight countries — including stories from India and Japan — BJFF loops in talkbacks hosted by community members and area intellectuals, which keeps BJFF from being “just a bunch of movies.”

“The most important aspect of the film festival is that we talk about all the films and that people stay and participate and think about the films and the connections they have and their relevance,” Bernheimer explains.

Connections and relevance play key roles in Bernheimer’s programming. Every year, she starts by viewing movies, 150 by her count, to “see if there are any patterns or trends or anything I can hang my hat on.” Once that’s established, she tries her best to balance out the festival’s tone.

“You could have a documentary that’s very light-hearted and fun, like Shalom Bollywood or like Curious George,” Bernheimer says. “And you can have a documentary that’s pretty intellectual, even academic, as in Hitler’s Hollywood. But the feelings are very different.”

Shalom Bollywood: The Untold Story of Indian Cinema (March 13, 3:45 p.m. and March 17, 8 p.m.) recounts the surprising story of four Jewish superstars of the Indian screen who gained prominence as early as the silent era. Like Monkey Business: The Adventures of Curious George’s Creators (March 13, 4 p.m.), Shalom Bollywood is a lighter story that focuses on the power of images, which is something Hitler’s Hollywood (March 11, 1 p.m.) also does, but from a much darker side of the spectrum.

“I’m trying to balance light and dark,” Bernheimer says. “It’s a combination of both wanting variety and also wanting to have some things to talk about throughout the course of the festival.”

And there will be plenty to discuss throughout the festival, especially surrounding the topic of inclusion.

“That is a deeply embedded mission for the Jewish Community Center,” Bernheimer explains. “Any people who have had the history of persecution we’ve had could not be other than a bastion against any form of prejudice.”

BJFF kicks off at the Boulder Jewish Community Center on March 8 with Keep the Change, a New York romantic-comedy starring actors on the autism spectrum. In conjunction with the screening, Bernheimer will highlight dozens of agencies in the community offering resources to anyone living with disabilities.

“We’re going into the community to honor that work,” Bernheimer says. “One of the things I hope is that there are some people who come who aren’t plugged into the wonderful resources and see where they might fit.”

Where people fit in the community also gets to the heart of another theme found in this year’s festival: Orthodox World in Focus.

Spanning several movies in the festival, Bernheimer sees Orthodox World in Focus as the perfect opportunity to discuss “the other.”

“We’re very interested in the other because the Jews have been the other throughout history,” Bernheimer explains. “Even within our own community, we have a group we don’t understand very well necessarily. … We may have misconceptions or myths or even negative feelings.”

To assist with selecting potential speakers for Orthodox World in Focus, Bernheimer recruited Yehudis Fishman, a prominent Orthodox teacher in the community, to provide “a cultural context that invites contemplation.”

“I feel that orthodoxy, or traditional practice, is something that’s survived and even thrived through different cultures,” Fishman says. “I think that’s part of the fascination people have.”

As Fishman points out, these movies convey traditional practices through a modern medium. She singles out BJFF’s closing night movie, The Wedding Plan, and particularly how writer/director Rama Burshtein conveys orthodox religious beliefs to a younger generation.

“I think part of [Burshtein’s] motivation is to try to show the meaningfulness and relevance of what otherwise people would think are old-fashioned traditions and don’t have anything to say to the new generation of Jews,” Fishman says.

Be they old or new, each generation can learn something from a movie, even if it’s just a healthy dose of empathy.

“That’s always our goal: to foster understanding,” Bernheimer says. “And film is a great, non-threatening way to experience other cultures.”

On the Bill: Sixth annual Boulder Jewish Film Festival. March 8–18, The Boulder Jewish Community Center, 6007 Oreg Ave., Boulder; Dairy Arts Center, 2590 Walnut St., Boulder.

For venue information, show times and tickets, visit boulderjcc.org and thedairy.org.