Refugees from Sudan and Eritrea seeking new life in Israel.
Woman growing facial hair as she channels a deceased rabbi.
Albanians protecting Jewish men in WWII as the Nazis draw closer.
These are just some of the stories the SLO Jewish Film Festival will help tell starting January 9. With 25 films from at least 17 different countries, the aim of this year’s festival is to highlight the cultural diversity within the Jewish experience and to remind everyone that “we are a global community,” said Bobby Naimark, head of the JCC- (Jewish Community Center) Federation of SLO.
âWe wanted to be able to tell as many stories as possible from around the world,â Naimark said. “There are a lot of things that can divide us today, but when we look back and tell stories in a personal way, we really all come together as one.”
The theme of the festival this year, Our Global Mishpacha, aims to highlight what it means to be Jewish in any environment, time or circumstance a person may live in. Mishpacha is defined as a Jewish family or social unit comprising close and distant relatives, according to the film festival site.
Now in its 12th year, Naimark said the festival always tries to showcase diversity, but all of the current angst and polarization in the world has made it seem like a particularly prescient time to try and craft stories that celebrate the differences.
âWith all the divisions in the world right now, the film festival acts as a beautiful message of hope and unity among all people,â he said. “We have something for everyone.”
Similar to the 2021 festival, the 2022 festival will take place in a mostly virtual format due to COVID-19, with pre-recorded filmmaker Q-and-As. Muara C. Johnston, who co-directs the film festival with Bruce Silverberg, said she completed 18 Q&A on December 20 with hopes of completing a few more before the festival begins.
Normally, Johnston said, filmmakers are interviewed in person at the festival, which can make it difficult for those who can’t attend. But with the virtual format, she was able to interview filmmakers living all over the world, giving festival goers and directors better access to each other. This is a huge plus for the festival, which aims to celebrate the filmmakers.
Another goal of the festival is to bring together members of the SLO Jewish community. It was never about making money, said Johnston, who founded the festival with Lauren Bandari.
âIt was really supposed to build a community and then, of course, encourage others to come,â she said. âI feel honored and privileged to be able to do this every year.â¦ I learn so much about the world and meet so many amazing people.â
Since the festival is invitation-only, Johnston and other committee members are taking suggestions from the film festival community into consideration, Naimark said. Usually starting with a list of 60 to 75 films, they divide and conquer the films, narrowing it down to the finalists who will be screened. The stories they chose, Johnston said, are stories that need to be told, that are surprising and that shed light on a wide range of life in Jewish communities around the world.
These films include documentaries such as Exile in Turkey– which examines how German intellectuals who emigrated to Turkey during WWII helped modernize the country and what remains of their heritage – to stories such as Kiss me kosher– a love story about cultures and families in conflict that follows two generations of Israeli women who fall in love with a German and a Palestinian – and short films that include Shabbos Goy– a comedy about an Orthodox woman who must find a non-Orthodox person to turn off her rogue vibrator on Shabbat.
As with any religion, Johnston said, there is a range of practices – from conservative Orthodox Jews to those at the forefront of social justice to those more grounded in culture than religion.
âNo matter how they experience their Judaism,â¦ they are all part of the Jewish family,â she said. “In a world so fractured and where anti-Semitism is on the rise.â¦ [some] of us learn to understand that what it means to be Jewish is to learn that to be Jewish is not one thing. And it varies by culture and it varies by faith. ”
And good stories are good stories, she said, adding that good storytelling is something that can go beyond the limits set by assumptions and stereotypes.
âStorytelling is what unites us,â she said. ??
Contact Editor-in-Chief Camillia Lanham at [email protected]