September 18, 2019

In its 10th year, L.A. Jewish Film Festival continues to evolve

The Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival (LAJFF) was founded a decade ago to present films with Jewish content that would appeal to both Jews and non-Jews. The films’ connections to Judaism ranged from obscure to obvious. The subjects include Jewish immigration, the Holocaust, Israel and contemporary Jewish life.

In its 10th year, the LAJFF is one of the younger Jewish-themed film festivals around. Toronto’s is celebrating its 23rd year, New York’s turned 24 this year, and San Francisco’s is marking its 35th year. There are approximately 70 Jewish film festivals held around the world. “There’s a need for people to congregate and bond in an environment other than in their synagogue,” Hilary Helstein, a documentary filmmaker and LAJFF’s executive director, said of the annual event. “It started out as an experiment and turned out to be a really successful Jewish cultural program.”

This year’s program includes 25 feature-length and short films screening at a dozen locations around the city, including Beverly Hills, Hollywood, Encino, Pasadena and the South Bay. The festival kicks off April 30 with “The Outrageous Sophie Tucker,” about the iconic actress/singer’s 60-year career in show business. Producers Susan and Lloyd Ecker will be on hand for a Q-and-A afterward.

The festival is showcasing several new Holocaust-themed films, including “Auf Das Leben! (To Life!),” “Treblinka’s Last Witness,” “Forbidden Films,” “Secrets of War,” “Dancing Before the Enemy: How a Teenage Boy Fooled the Nazis and Lived” and “Belle and Sebastian.” Some of the films also look at the lingering impact of World War II, such as the theft of art from Jews in the French thriller “The Art Dealer” and the movement of young Israelis back to Germany in the documentary “An Apartment in Berlin.” (For more on the festival’s Israeli films, see p. 20)

The LAJFF often partners with community organizations and synagogues to present its films, ranging from the Anti-Defamation League, Dodgers Dream Foundation, Cafe Europa, Yiddishkayt and JDate. This year the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust is co-sponsoring the screening of “The Art Dealer,” Jewish World Watch is co-sponsoring “Zemene,” and Goethe Institut Los Angeles and the Consulate General of Germany are co-sponsoring “Forbidden Films,” among others. TRIBE Media Corp., parent company of the Jewish Journal, is the nonprofit sponsor of the LAJFF.

LAJFF’s films are often followed by live interviews with the film’s directors or cast members. In past years, Larry King spoke after a screening of “When Comedy Went to School,” David Cronenberg presented his film “A Dangerous Method,” and Elliott Gould addressed a crowd after the screening of “Dorfman in Love.”

“We want people to leave the theater having conversations about the films. That’s what makes the festival different from watching a movie on your couch; [it’s] that people can have a dialogue,” Helstein said. “That’s the lynchpin to our success, year after year.”

Find film screenings and buy tickets for The Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival at