The Boston Jewish Film Festival (BJFF) is here and just in time to mark the start of the holiday season! From Wednesday, November 8 to Monday, November 20, the Boston Jewish Film Festival invites Greater Boston residents to celebrate the richness of the Jewish experience through film and media. The Coolidge Corner Theatre, one of the festivals featured theaters, will host 12 screenings.

Founded in 1988 by filmmaker Michal Goldman, the Boston Jewish Film Festival has become a destination for members of the community to get together and talk about international award-winning films on Jewish topics and themes.

This year, Ariana Cohen-Halberstam, the festival’s artistic director, wanted to create a cohesive program that creates an arc of the Jewish experience. “Of course, we look for well-made and engaging films, but we’re also working on the program as one cohesive piece that shows us Jewish life in a new light,” she said.

The festival also explores the theme of unseen heroes and highlights strong female protagonists, none more so than Heather Booth. Calling her “the most famous woman you’ve never heard of,” said Cohen-Halberstam as she rattles Booth’s many accomplishments. “She’s been behind many major protests involving civil rights and feminism. Heather  founded a school in Chicago for training organizers.”

Cohen-Halberstam is proud of the foothold the festival has taken in Boston. “We’ve expanded our reach, in 1988 we were doing small screenings at Boston University, and now we have 14 locations in Boston including Cambridge and Somerville,” she says, “We want to be as inclusive as possible in reaching out to the Boston community.”

Over the past few years, the festival has grown to include a variety of arts and media – from musical performances and dance to live podcast recordings.  Cohen-Halberstam says. “It’s important for us to include not only the content of the stories but also the ways in which the stories are being told.”

In 2017, the BJFF featured a live recording of WBUR’s Circle podcast. Similar to NPR’s Modern Love, the producers of Circle finds folk stories from around the world and has real actors retell them. This year, Circle will perform two live podcasts for the BJFF audience: one featuring an Israeli story and a Yiddish story.

Often politically charged issues fall into the trap of traditional clichés which can fall on deaf ears when told through the same lens. This new digital age offers storytellers new mediums to tell stories that not only keep audiences engaged, but also allows them to explore and create their narratives which can lead to more profound discoveries and may change their perspectives.

This year’s Boston Jewish Film Festival is an especially enticing as it will be the first film festival in Boston to include Virtual Reality experiences.

The Festival also prides itself on its in-depth post-screening conversations with filmmakers and other special guests from around the world. “Every guest lends us something different,” Cohen-Halberstam says, “They offer us a glimpse of what brings and draws them to a story.”

For instance, the festival’s opening night will feature a conversation with director Sam Garbarski, who takes a unique approach to a sensitive time in history.

He uses comedy in his film, “Bye Bye Germany, “ which takes place in 1946 right after World War II ends. It spoke to Cohen-Halberstam because she had family in Europe after the war and although it was a time of recovery, the dialogue in the film mirrored how people in her own family would often have serious discussions interlaced with humor.

On the same note, “32 Pills: My Sister’s Suicide,” a documentary that takes a very personal and heartbreaking story that have universal experiences reflecting the close relationship siblings share. Through the course of making the film, the director revisits everything about her relationship with her sister. Cohen-Halberstam admires the director’s courage, “The ability to tell a story like that on camera is why sharing stories are so important,” she said.

Though the Boston Jewish Film Festival is not a competition-based film festival, audiences are encouraged to vote for their favorite films in both the documentary and narrative film categories after each screening. The winning films will be announced on our website and social media after Thanksgiving. In addition to award recognition, the winning films will also receive a chance to be shown again during the Boston Jewish Film Festival’s summer showcase.

The Festival engages and inspires the community to explore the full spectrum of Jewish life, values, and culture. “Each story can be both personal and universal,” Cohen-Halberstam says pensively, “How we view other’s experiences can influence how we interact with the world.”

By Sophia Marie