The Film Paths Less Taken at the AJFF
OpinionEditor’s Notebook

The Film Paths Less Taken at the AJFF

It’s fun to look a little deeper for more focused film festival connections you might miss at first glance.

Michael Jacobs

Atlanta Jewish Times Editor Michael Jacobs is on his second stint leading the AJT's editorial operations. He previously served as managing editor from 2005 to 2008.

Kenny Blank, a board member of the Arthur Blank Family Foundation, announces a new documentary film initiative.
Kenny Blank, a board member of the Arthur Blank Family Foundation, announces a new documentary film initiative.

The Atlanta Jewish Film Festival always does a good job of breaking down its lengthy lineup into useful categories so that, for example, if you want to see every Holocaust story captured on film, you know right away which movies to include on your ticket wish list.

Just flip through Pages 38 to 42 in this year’s festival program guide, which you can download free at if you didn’t get one in the mail.

But it’s fun to look a little deeper for more focused connections you might miss at first glance.

For example, Mel Brooks is one of the headliners in the documentary about life after 90, “If You’re Not in the Obit, Eat Breakfast.” But arguably America’s greatest living movie funnyman also turns up in “Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story” and “GI Jews: Jewish Americans in World War II,” so if you’re a fan, don’t miss those documentaries.

Serious comic book fans should also hit one of the five “GI Jews” screenings because Marvel Comics master Stan Lee is one of the famous faces discussing war experiences. You’ll also want to see “The Mighty Atom,” whose exploits involving steel may very well may have inspired some of the feats of strength carried out by Superman. And don’t forget “Heading Home: The Tale of Team Israel” — not so much for the superb professional athletes, but for the mythical mascot of untold powers sure to be coming to a comic near you, the Mensch on a Bench.

Steven Spielberg is an obvious theme this festival with at least three films directly linked to the director: his Holocaust epic, “Schindler’s List”; “116 Cameras,” about the holographic survivor stories being created by the Shoah Foundation, which he set up after making “Schindler’s List”; and, of course, “Spielberg,” the documentary about him, which goes into detail about how “Schindler’s List” changed him.

A very different, very fictional Holocaust story, “The Boys From Brazil,” is a good start for a series on the dangers of science with its “let’s clone Hitler” narrative. A sad, real-life companion is “The Twinning Reaction,” an experiment in nature vs. nurture involving twins that might have appealed to Josef Mengele. “Bombshell” provides some balance with the some of the good science can bring the world, albeit with a reminder that sexism can pop up in the lab as well as the boardroom or Harvey Weinstein’s hotel suite.

You can follow at least two tracks through Sephardic history and culture.

Check out “Challah Rising in the Desert: The Jews of New Mexico” and “The Pirate Captain Toledano,” part of Shorts Program 4, for stories of how the Inquisition drove many Jews and crypto-Jews to the New World, and, for comparison, supplement those older stories of oppression and flight with “Cuba’s Forgotten Jewels: A Haven in Havana” and “The Last Suit” for Nazi-driven moves to the Americas. As a relevant bonus, you get to see “Iom Romì,” about Rome’s Jews, in a double feature with “Cuba’s Forgotten Jewels.”

The festival also has stories about the Sephardic communities that survived and often thrived in the Muslim world, including the feature “Remember Baghdad” and the shorts “The Outer Circle” and “El Hara” (part of Shorts Program 2) and “Rebel” (Shorts Program 3).

You can focus on Jewish-Asian connections with “Dreaming of a Jewish Christmas” (much of it takes place in a Chinese restaurant) and “Futures Past” (Leo Melamed’s World War II survivor depended on the heroics of Japanese diplomat Chiune Sugihara). Get caught up in the pro-press hoopla surrounding “The Post” (speaking of Spielberg) and see reporters getting the story at all cost in “The Body Collector” and “Budapest Noir.” Or go Canadian by following “Dreaming” (a Canadian production) with the Montreal-based “Bagels in the Blood” (Shorts Program 3).

Just apply a little creativity to your own festival itinerary.

read more: