The 23rd annual Louisville Jewish Film Festival, presented by the Jewish Community Center, opens Thursday, and this year’s event — for the first time — will be entirely virtual.
Festival director Marsha Bornstein said it was “tempting” to take a year off and bring it back in 2022 when it might be safe to gather again.
“I just gave it a lot of thought, and I felt like, even though we were challenged [doing it virtually], it was our mission to do it now more than ever before with everyone locked down and stuck at home,” she said.
It also felt important to focus this year’s selected films on social justice issues and “toward the turmoil in our society in the past year,” Bornstein added.
“We have several films that deal with the intolerance that we’re seeing in our society today,” she said. “And our mission, as a festival, has always been to build bridges, to enrich and educate and entertain. Through the power of film, you can impact people.”
In the end, she chose 11 films, kicking off the entire festival with “Shared Legacies.”
The documentary features interviews with Civil Rights leaders, Holocaust survivors and activists speaking about the bigotry and persecution Black and Jewish people have faced and the need to call out wrongs and stand together.
Other films on the lineup include: the feature film “When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit,” about a nine-year-old and her family fleeing Nazi Germany; “Aulcie,” a documentary on the basketball star Aulcie Perry, who is recruited to join the Maccabi Tel Aviv sports club in the 70s; Toronto director Emma Seligman’s “Shiva Baby”; “They Ain’t Ready for Me” about a Black rabbinical student; and “Asia,” starring Golden Globe nominee Shira Haas.
The festival closes with “Breaking Bread,” which features Jewish and Arab chefs trying to find common ground over food.
There will also be virtual post-film discussions with academics, activists and artists, including one with Haas, perhaps best known for her leading role in the Netflix series “Unorthodox.”
Originally Haas was slated to speak at the virtual festival Feb. 28, closing night. But Bornstein said they had to change the date after Haas learned of her Golden Globe nomination for “Unorthodox.” The award ceremony falls on the same night.
“So go figure she chose the Golden Globe,” Bornstein said with a laugh. “But this is really quite a coup to get her.”
To mark the Jewish holiday of Purim, the festival will also host a free virtual event Feb. 26 that includes an animated film.
Bornstein is glad that they were able to shift to virtual and carry on with the festival this year, but she’ll miss “that personal touch.”
“I always loved the buzz of people gathering in the lobby 20 minutes before the film, seeing people talking, laughing,” she said. “And then sitting in a dark theater where you’re not interrupted, and you’ll hear each other laugh or sigh.”
The virtual festival runs through Feb. 28.
Disclosure: Louisville Public Media is a “film presenting” sponsor of the 2021 Louisville Jewish Film Festival.