(New York Jewish Week via JTA) – Now in its 31st year, the New York Jewish Film Festival, the annual film celebration of Jews around the world, kicks off Wednesday. Its organizers are determined to make the event happen, even amid the spread of the omicron variant.

This year’s festival runs January 12-25 and is co-presented by the Jewish Museum and Film of New York at Lincoln Center. Narrative films, short films and documentaries are on the program, as well as one of the last screen performances of Jewish actor Ed Asner. In recognition of the pandemic, the festival will offer a mix of in-person and virtual screenings. (Lincoln Center requires full proof of vaccination for all in-person film screenings.)

Which movies should you watch? Here are some highlights from this year’s program, compiled by New York Jewish Week.

An image from “Neighbors,” the opening film of the 31st New York Jewish Film Festival at Lincoln Center. (Menemsha Movies)

“Neighbors” (Opening cinema: January 12, in person)

The year is 1980 and a young intrepid storyteller, Sero, lives with his Kurdish family on the Syrian-Turkish border. With the curiosity and naivety of a 6-year-old, Sero experiences the tumultuous changes taking place in his region through small life-changing events, including the death of his mother and the arrival of a new teacher. whose program is mainly composed of anti-Semitism and Syrian nationalism. . These new lessons seem to clash with Sero’s neighbors, the last Jews in the village – they love and care for him as if they were his own family. Sero must reconcile the intense anti-Semitic tropes he learns in school with the love and comfort he has felt from his Jewish neighbors all his life. With dialogues in Kurdish, Arabic and Hebrew, “Neighbors” stages complicated historical events in a way that is both heartbreaking and revealing – only children are still able to move around the world without fully understanding it, able to see who is nice and who is rude. A question-and-answer session with director Mano Khalil will follow the screening. – Julia Gergely

Three men inspecting film

“The Lost Film of Nuremberg” (Courtesy of the Jewish Museum)

“The lost film of Nuremberg” (American premiere: two screenings on January 13, in person)

In 1945, immediately after the end of the war in Europe, brothers Stuart and Budd Schulberg were dispatched by US intelligence to collect film and photographic evidence against the Nazis for use in the upcoming war crimes trial. in Nuremberg. “The lost film of Nuremberg” traces their efforts and tells how the celluloid they collected has shaped our understanding of the Holocaust since then. But the film also tells a more complicated story of how Judge Robert Jackson, the chief prosecutor of the United States, gave Stuart Schulberg the task of filming the trial itself – an idealistic project undermined by the cynicism of the Cold War. Changing alliances have meant that Stuart Schulberg’s film largely sat on a shelf for around 70 years, until it was restored by his daughter, Sandra. Combining snippets from still shocking period films with interviews with academics today, the documentary asks questions about the ultimate lessons of WWII and how they are heard today. Q&A with director Jean-Christophe Klotz and producer Sandra Schulberg will follow the screenings. – Andrew Silow-Carroll

A woman in a bus

“Sin La Habana” (Courtesy of the Jewish Museum)

“Sin La Habana” (Centerpiece film: January 15 and 17, in person)

In this cute on-the-go drama, professional ballet dancer Leonardo (played by actual ballet dancer Yonah Acosta) hatches a plan to escape Cuba with his lawyer girlfriend, Sara, by cheating on an Iranian Jewish tourist (Aki Yaghoubi) to pay for the exit papers so that the couple can start a new life in Montreal. Religious and cultural rites are delicately spliced ​​throughout the film as the three parties consider their own results. A beautiful film that is both artistic and raw, told in English, Spanish and Farsi, “Sin La Habana” is a nuanced exploration of the impacts of migration and resettlement. Q&A with director Kaveh Nabatian, who also composed the music for the film, will follow the screenings. – Julia Gergely

A man in a suit standing in a group of armed militias

“The Will to See” (Marc Roussel)

“The will to see” (January 16, in person)

French Jewish public intellectual Bernard-Henri Lévy delivers his latest politically charged report on the world’s conflict zones in this documentary, a companion to his latest book of the same name. Lévy and co-director Marc Roussel visit the sites of massacres in Nigeria; refugee camps in Greece; training bases for anti-fundamentalist rebel factions in Afghanistan and the Kurdistan region and more. (A long-time supporter of Israel, Levy categorically refuses an editor’s suggestion to file a report from Gaza.) Levy has made these kinds of trips for decades in an attempt to galvanize sympathy in the Western world. He also denounces the strict COVID-19 lockdowns in France, declaring that “Europe is retreating behind barricades” rather than facing the world’s problems head-on. In a fascinating scene, he meets the detained children of people who have joined ISIS and introduces himself as a Jew, saying that for him all religions are brothers. A Q&A with Lévy will follow the screening. – André Lapin

Four women standing with a Torah

“A Kaddish For Bernie Madoff” (courtesy of the filmmakers)

“A Kaddish for Bernie Madoff” (January 17, in person)

When financial fraudster Bernie Madoff was arrested for perpetuating the greatest Ponzi scheme in history, Madoff’s Jewishness – and the Jewishness of many of his victims – hit Jewish writer and musician Alicia Jo Rabins with a blow. After Rabins’ mother told him that the Mourning kaddish had been recited for Madoff in a synagogue where many of his investors / victims were members, his obsession with Madoff turned into a willingness to speak to his victims. This experimental device, carried out before Madoff death in April 2021, finds Rabins and director Alicia J. Rose modernizing an ancient tradition of Jewish excommunication: they say a kaddish for Madoff during his lifetime. A question-and-answer session with Rabins, Rose and producer Lara Cuddy will follow the screening. (Read a long interview with Rabins here.) – Chloe Sarbib

A man and a woman in a kitchen

“Shtetlers” (Courtesy of the Jewish Museum)

“Shtettlers” (virtual)

A massive wave of immigration, followed by the atrocities of the Holocaust, meant that the Jewish communities of Eastern European shtetls had all but disappeared by the middle of the 20th century. But, fascinatingly, some Jewish shtetls in Ukraine and Moldova survived until the 1970s – and a few even remained until the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s. An intriguing documentary by Katya Ustinova , “Shtetlers” paints a picture of life in these forgotten Jewish towns, told through the eyes of nine people who lived there. The film explores a story that is both revealing and tragic. Ultimately, Ustinova shows that the shtetls were a place of deep culture and “neighborhood,” as she calls it. (Read an extended interview with Ustinova here.) – Maddy albert