Bahr and Bernstein’s Best Bets

Bahr and Bernstein’s Best Bets

Bob Bahr and Matthew Bernstein share their thoughts on some of the top films of this year's AJFF.

The Atlanta Jewish Film Festival offers an exceptionally strong program of 48 feature films and documentaries in its 20th year, plus four programs of short films.

Our Best Bets feature films that explore a series of Jewish characters whose passions range from the sublime to the psychotic.

Oliver Sachs: His Own Life

An incredibly enlightening film about an amazing physician and best-selling author. This is hands down the most moving biographical documentary the AJFF has shown in its 20-year history. A penetrating yet celebratory profile of a man who has what filmmaker Ric Burns calls a “tenacious sympathy for others.” It follows Sachs during the last months of his terminal illness. It offers us a master class in how to complete our lives.

Picture of His Life

The quest by a world-famous Israeli nature photographer to swim with the ferocious polar bears in the Arctic and photograph them in the water close-up, something that has eluded him his entire life. In his relentless search he resembles another man of the sea, Captain Ahab, who risks everything in his search for the great white whale, Moby Dick.


A narrative fictional film that brings together a group of young Jewish Israeli and Palestinian musicians in an orchestra led by a major conductor. The legacy of distrust that each group is heir to provides a major barrier to the success of the undertaking. The film’s uncompromising depiction of this enmity gives the work great power and realism. It is inspired by a similar orchestra created by the famed Jewish conductor Daniel Barenboim and the Arab American academic, Edward Said, in 1999. It is visually rich, and a pleasure to watch, particularly for the performance of the Austrian actor Peter Simonischek.


An Israeli and German production of the life of the former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir with particular emphasis on her last decade in the 1970s. The film includes a recently discovered candid interview that was made in a Tel Aviv television studio after Meir thought the cameras had stopping rolling. It also portrays both the public and private sides of the woman whose fall from grace came after the difficult war between Egypt, Syria and the Jewish state in 1973. Not always seen in this film is the lovable matriarch that so many Americans remember from the early history of Israel.


A dramatic retelling of the story of the assassin who murdered Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995, after Rabin signed the controversial Oslo accords. It was the recipient of Israel’s Ophir Award in 2019 for best picture. A masterful job of portraying this controversial figure without creating sympathy for him. The rhythm of this film is quick and propelling as we witness Yigal Amir’s transformation from a young law student to a killer. He is aided by the loving support of his family and several Jewish religious figures. The rhetoric of incitement we hear in this film is frightening because it remains with us today.

Standing Up, Falling Down

A warm and witty comedy drama, which is a lighter alternative to many of the films in this year’s festival. It is the choice for Young Professionals Night. See Bob Bahr’s more extensive preview in this issue.

The Great Dictator

Charlie Chaplin’s first sound film released 80 years ago gets an encore screening as one of three classic films this year. The production was a rare critical filmed work about the dangers Adolf Hitler presented to the world in the early years of World War II. It is also a reminder of the challenges we face in many parts of the world today. This brave and, at times, astonishing film almost didn’t get made because of the campaign Hollywood studio executives waged against Chaplin prior to the start of production.

In addition to our Best Bets, we recommend the following films worthy of further consideration, what we call our “Honorable Mentions.”

Flawless and After Class, a pair of dramatic comedies featuring young people.

A Cantor’s Head, about the trials and tribulations of a classically trained Reform cantor who finds he’s out of step with changing fashions.

The Mover, a stirring award winner from Latvia about a young man who decides to personally harbor Jews during the Holocaust.

Holy Silence, a timely film about Pope Pius XII’s controversial record during World War II. The Vatican is scheduled to release documents of the period for the first time in March.

Black Mercedes, a skillful and stylish murder mystery set in Poland during World War II.

Those Who Remained, a sensitive and poignant story of two survivors of the Holocaust who begin their lives in post-war Hungary under the Communist regime.

And the opening night film, Shared Legacies: The African-American Jewish Civil Rights Alliance.

Matthew Bernstein is the Goodrich C. White Professor of Film and Media Studies at Emory University and chair of the department. Bob Bahr writes about popular culture for the AJT and teaches about film and modern life through his Center for Media and The Moving Image.

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