Thursday, December 7, 2023

Third annual Jewish Film Fest tackles honor and education alongside entertainment

The third annual Wilmington Jewish Film Festival features the largest selection of movies thus far, some tied into three solemn and celebratory international observances. Courtesy image.
The third annual Wilmington Jewish Film Festival features the largest selection of movies thus far, some tied into three solemn and celebratory international observances. Courtesy image.

It’s fitting that this year’s Wilmington Jewish Film Festival falls right during three major observances.

For one, the budding annual series of screenings is itself turning three. And two of those observances – Holocaust Remembrance Day and Israeli Independence Day – tie directly into the festival’s goal to provide tribute and teaching alongside theatrical releases. And, third, what mom wouldn’t want to be treated to a movie and a bite to eat on Mother’s Day?

Call it good fortune or fastidious planning (or maybe a little of both) but Peggy Pancoe Rosoff calls it the perfect opportunity to shape the festival’s offerings around three very significant occasions.

The 2016 event kicks off with a bang, the crime thriller “Labyrinth of Lies,” at 3 p.m. Sunday in the main stage theater at Thalian Hall, 310 Chestnut St.

Since the based-on-a-true-story movie centers on a prosecutor’s unraveling of a Nazi cover-up attempt by big business and governments, New Hanover County’s own chief prosecutor, District Attorney Ben David, will introduce the film. Following the screening is the grassroots festival’s signature servings of a discussion and catered dinner.

“We like to involve a speaker and a program after every film and we also feed people, which is a good way to bring people out,” Rosoff joked.

Jokes aside, the communal and conversational touches set the Wilmington Jewish Film Festival apart, and they’re signs of the core principles behind the fledgling annual event.

“Our mission is to be able to have an educational component to it, and also entertainment…and to try and unite the Jewish community. There are many people moving down here from up north, and many are relocating in Leland, but they are not affiliated with the temple or synagogue here,” Rosoff noted.

And it appears to be working. Rosoff recalled the inaugural event started off with a “nosh,” a mini-festival to whet the appetites and gauge the reaction. It was followed months later with four films.

In 2015, that number rose to six and this year, the festival will show eight feature films – including serious dramas, documentaries and a comedy – as well as eight shorts.

“So, yeah, it has definitely grown,” Rosoff said.

And Rosoff and her fellow organizers are seeing a variety of movie-goers. While the demographic tends to be largely older, female and Jewish, the crowds can be much more diverse and looking for experiences as varied as religious understanding or, simply, an afternoon flick.

“A friend of mine said every religion should have its own festival,” Rosoff said. “There is so much we just don’t know about each other.”

While each year the fest aims to bring little-known Jewish films to the big screen with purpose, this time around, the growing committee of more than 40 behind the effort was able to go a step further, picking poignant selections to align with those three solemn and celebratory occassions.

The start of Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day, on Wednesday evening, for example, is acknowledged with the French film, “Once in a Lifetime,” about students from the tough streets of the Paris outskirts who find themselves motivated, inspired and connected to stories of the Holocaust. A post-screening session will focus on the importance of teaching that tragic fact of history in modern classrooms.

Rosoff said the pick for Mother’s Day, Sunday, May 8, is a “feel-good kind of film” called “Noodle,” about a childless Israeli flight attendant who finds herself suddenly thrust into the role of caretaker for a Chinese boy whose mother has been deported.

And the Wilmington Jewish Film Festival wraps up on the evening Wednesday, May 11,vthe start of Israeli Independence Day, with “Beneath the Helmet: From High School to the Home Front.” The documentary follows a diverse group of five young people who have enlisted in the Israeli Army. Israel requires compulsory military service, with few exemptions, for all adults over the age of 18.

In between those highlights are gems like “Dough,” which originally came to Wilmington by way of last year’s Cucalorus and Rosoff’s personal favorite, “Raise the Roof,” a documentary capturing two non-Jewish architects’ attempt to build a synagogue in the style of those destroyed by Hitler, and using the same tools employed during that time period.

The festival runs May 1-4 and again from May 8-11, and most of the features are combined with a short and dinner or dessert. New this year is an all-festival pass for $80 that grants entry into each of the events.

For passes, as well as a full schedule and ticket pricing, visit the Wilmington Jewish Film Festival’s website.

Hilary Snow is a reporter at Port City Daily. Reach her at

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