Bernstein & Bahr’s AJFF Best Bets
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Bernstein & Bahr’s AJFF Best Bets

Matthew H. Bernstein and Bob Bahr share their choices of outstanding films at this year’s festival.

Anthony Hopkins, left, portrays Nicholas Winton, who saved more than 600 children from the Holocaust.
Anthony Hopkins, left, portrays Nicholas Winton, who saved more than 600 children from the Holocaust.

The 150 members of the screening committee of the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival watched more than 650 films and wrote over 15,000 evaluations to come up with the 40 features and documentaries that make up this year’s program. Here are half dozen of the best.

“Shoshana” is the story of an unlikely romance in pre-World War II Palestine.


Bernstein: This is a compelling portrayal of the period in the 1930s when the British administered Palestine, a subject that hasn’t gotten much attention in the Israeli cinema. It’s centered on a romance between Shoshana Boroslav, the title character, and one of the British police officers, Thomas Wilkin, who is in Tel Aviv trying to keep the peace.
Ultimately, the film is about the ways political extremism and violence drives wedges in between people, forcing them apart. Of course, given what’s happening in this film and now, in our own country, it’s a very relevant story. I recommend it very highly.

Just prior to the Holocaust, Roman Vishniac documented the life of Eastern European Jews.


Bahr: All three of my Best Bet choices are films that have at their heart a hero. That was certainly the case with the subject of this documentary about the life of Roman Vishniac, who for three years in the mid-1930s went on a mission to document the lives of ordinary Jews and their communities in Eastern Europe, just before they were decimated by the Holocaust.
This masterfully edited production combines archival materials with dramatic recreations, a restrained musical score and narration. We should all feel a deep sense of gratitude for Vishniac’s sensitive eye and his profound commitment to this unique body of work.

Monkey House

Bernstein: The latest film from the veteran Israeli director, Avi Nesher, is a meditation on mortality and the question of what we will be remembered for. And like all of Ari Nesher’s films, it has a lot of heart and passion. This film has a wistful tone that alternates with its undeniably comic moments. It’s an absolutely marvelous, wonderful, warm, funny film.

Remembering Gene Wilder

Bahr: A documentary that reminds us of what a great person and what a great comic actor Wilder was. Much of his best work was created with Mel Brooks, who also appears in this film. They created such classics as “The Producers,” “Blazing Saddles,” and “Young Frankenstein.” They are all here plus a lot more.
The film is often narrated by Wilder, himself, using the audio from a book he recorded in 2005. But for all the laughs in this wonderful tribute, there is heartbreak as well. His first wife, Gilda Radner, succumbed to ovarian cancer only six years after they were married. Later in life, Wilder suffered from and died of Alzheimer’s disease.
You may need a Kleenex or two for this one, but you don’t want to miss it. Give yourself a gift and go.

One Life

Bernstein: A film based on the life of Nicholas Winton, a London stockbroker who for nine months devoted himself to rescuing over an estimated 600 children, mostly Jewish, who had escaped from Prague in 1939 at the start of World War II. It features outstanding performances by Anthony Hopkins and Helena Bonham Carter. This story demonstrates what one person can accomplish with determination and a sense of responsibility,
Once again, we have a film that’s very relevant to today’s world. As one critic put it, the film serves as an urgent reminder of the importance of individual action at a time when the world refugee crisis is out of scale. Getting tickets may be tough. The distributors only agreed to the two screenings on the condition that no more than 500 tickets be sold.

Edgardo Montara was only six years old when he was taken from his family to be raised by the Catholic clergy of Pope Pius IX.

Kidnapped – The Abduction of Edgardo Mortara

Bahr: This is the dramatic retelling of how a six-year-old boy played a major role in upending the political power of Pope Pius IX and the Catholic Church in Italy. Edgardo Mortara, who was born to a Jewish family in Bologna in the middle of the 19th century, was forcibly taken as a child from his family by the Catholic Church.
He was taken to Rome, where he lived under the protection of Pope Pius IX. Rather than resign himself, his father undertook an international campaign to raise awareness outside Italy to the abuses of power that the Pope during the time was responsible for.
He rallied to his cause such important supporters as the Rothschilds in London, the ruler of France, Napoleon III, and much of the world’s great newspapers. It helped end the Papacy’s 1,100-year rule over much of Italy and eventually led to the creation of the modern Italian state.
This richly told tale of Jewish power amidst seeming powerlessness is a surprisingly absorbing film that demands to be seen.

Matthew H. Bernstein is the Goodwin C. White Professor of Film and Media at Emory University and Secretary of the AJFF Board of Directors.
Bob Bahr is the former Managing Editor of the CNN Documentary Unit and writes frequently about film and media for the Atlanta Jewish Times.

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