Toronto Jewish Film Festival Goes Virtual

By RUTH SCHWEITZER

Adapting to restrictions imposed by the spread of COVID-19, the Toronto Jewish Film Festival is going virtual.

The festival’s program director, Stuart Hands, said that instead of postponing the event when the virus hit the city in March, festival organizers decided to try to create the festival experience online.

Half of the festival’s 2020 offerings will be shown this spring and the remainder will be presented in the fall.  

From May 30 to June 7, the TJFF will show 39 films reflecting the international Jewish Diaspora. Each of the films can be viewed on television or on a digital device for 24 hours. Zoom Q & As with directors, producers and actors are scheduled daily from May 31 to June 8. 

The mini-festival opens with The End of Love, by Israeli filmmaker Keren Ben Rafael. Unfolding through Skype conversations, the film follows Julie and Yuval, a married couple with a new baby, as they try to maintain a long-distance relationship between Paris and Tel Aviv while Yuval waits for a visa renewal. 

An archival series honours three Canadian Jewish artists who died recently: mystery writer Howard Engel, documentary filmmaker and actor John Kastner and writer and producer Earl Pomerantz. 

Capturing Cooperman: A Not So Private Investigation of Howard Engel, directed by Scot Morison, celebrates the life and career of Engel, a mystery writer who was known for his Benny Cooperman private-eye series.

The film Dawn stars Kastner in Elie Wiesel’s story of members of the Jewish underground in the British Mandate of Palestine waiting to assassinate a British officer in retaliation for the hanging of a Jew.  Adapted and directed by Jack Kuper, this production of Wiesel’s novel was made by the CBC but never aired.

Pomerantz was a television writer who churned out scripts for award-winning series like The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Bob Newhart Show, The Cosby Show and Cheers. TJFF presents a rarely screened pilot of Pomerantz’s western spoof, Best of the West.

The TJFF is honouring Israeli filmmaker Ram Loevy, whose films over the past 50 years demonstrate his keen eye for the divisions within Israeli society. The festival presents the Canadian premiere of Loevy’s 2019 film, Dead of Jaffa, about three children from the West Bank who are smuggled into Israel to stay with distant relatives who live in Jaffa. Childless Rita embraces the children as her own, while George is wary of the potential ramifications if they are caught hiding illegal aliens. Dead of Jaffa plays alongside Loevy’s 1966 short film, My Name Is Achmad, the first Israeli film that focused on the struggles of an Arab-Israeli. 

The festival closes with Israel, Land of the Series, a documentary about the Israeli TV industry. One out of four Israeli TV shows are either adapted or sold overseas. Series like Fauda, Shtisel and Euphoria are international favourites. The doc’s Zoom Q&A session, June 8 at 1 p.m., includes director, Olivier Joyard; producer, Joachim Landau; the co-creator of Shtisel, Ori Elon; and the head of yes Studios, which produced Fauda, Danna Stern. 

Israel, Land of the Series, is a documentary about the Israeli TV industry
Israel, Land of the Series, is a documentary about the Israeli TV industry.

Highlights of TJFF’s Virtual Festival

When The Apricots Bloom

This is a documentary about children of Russian Jews, the Frenkel brothers, who lived in Egypt after the First World War and became famous as the first Egyptian animators. They created Mish-Mish Efendi, the “Mickey Mouse” of the Arab world. Forced to leave Egypt in 1948, the brothers migrated to France, where success eluded them. After their deaths, their nephew, Didier Frenkel, discovered their films in the basement of the family house. He began restoring them and, in the process, uncovered the story behind their rise and fall, as well as the reasons his uncles kept this surprising chapter of their lives under cover.

When The Apricots Bloom is about the creators of the “Mickey Mouse” of the Arab world
When The Apricots Bloom is about the creators of the “Mickey Mouse” of the Arab world.

Before Tomorrow

A 1969 release, this is the first Israeli feature film that was directed by a woman. Ellida Geyra’s Before Tomorrow is made up of two short love stories centred on unlikely companions. The first segment, “Spring,” is an experimental drama about a young couple’s brief love affair. The second part, “Fall,” co-written by celebrated writer Yoram Kaniuk, is a comic love story between an elderly German-Jewish woman and an old Iraqi falafel seller.

Bully. Coward. Victim. The Story of Roy Cohn 

Roy Cohn established his career prosecuting Julius and Ethel Rosenberg and advocating for their execution. The wide-sweeping effect he had on the conservative American political landscape is examined in this comprehensive documentary, directed by Ivy Meeropol, the Rosenbergs’ granddaughter. Covering his life and career, from counsel to Joseph McCarthy through to his years as a New York “fixer” and personal lawyer and mentor to Donald Trump, this portrait unveils a complex figure whose closeted homosexuality was masked by his outspoken conservatism. Recently unearthed archival material is combined with interviews with figures such as lawyer Alan Dershowitz, playwright Tony Kushner and filmmaker John Waters. The doc’s Zoom Q and A, June 1 at 3 p.m., includes director Ivy Meeropol and Michael Meeropol, the Rosenbergs’ son.

For more information about the festival, visit https://tjff.com