by Mark Kirchhoff, Center for Jewish Life
The second week of the 14th Annual Jewish Film Festival will feature two films – 24 Days on Sunday, Aug. 9 and Besa: The Promise on Tuesday, Aug. 11. Show times are 7:15 p.m. in the JCC Theater. Admission cost is $5 for Sunday’s film; Tuesday evening is free of charge.
The LA Times described 24 Days as “gripping, impossible to forget” and The Huffington Post called it “Brilliant…the gripping film – which speeds along like a fast-paced thriller – is based on true events.” The winner of the coveted Lia Award of the Jerusalem Film Festival, jury remarks included “This suspenseful drama manages to avoid clichés and intricately presents the experience of anti-Jewish violence in France. This is a film of great social significance that shows the tragic consequences that arise when violence is ignored and when racist stereotypes are accepted.” The story takes place in January of 2006. A young woman walks into a Parisian cellphone shop. She asks for the sales attendant’s phone number, and calls the young man later that evening asking to meet. The next time 23-year-old Ilan’s family hears from him is as they are preparing for a group meal – and are shocked to learn of Ilan’s abduction. His parents go to the police, who fail to recognize the anti-Semitism behind the attack. The film depicts the next 24 days during which time the Halimi family receives over 700 threatening phone calls from Ilan’s kidnappers. Tensions rise, as days go by without Ilan’s safe return. The film is a chilling depiction of the real-life events surrounding the attack and presents a commentary on growing anti-Semitism in France. The film is “one of the most wrenching and politically astute films to come out of France” (Screen Daily). (2014, Directed by Alexandre Arcady, France, French with English subtitles, 108 minutes.)
Besa: The Promise which has won seven awards at festivals around the world, tells the story of heroism found in Albania during WWII through the actual journeys of two men. One is Norman Gershman, a renowned Jewish-American photographer who travels to Albania, determined to document first-person accounts of those who rescued Jews during the Holocaust. The other is Rexhep Hoxha, a Muslim-Albanian trying to fulfill the promise his father made to a Jewish family during the Holocaust and return a set of Hebrew books they left behind. For Rexhep, the promise is part of his “besa” — an honor code that pledges all Albanians to offer safe harbor to refugees. Rexhep’s quest takes him to Bulgaria and Israel and brings about discoveries of faith and family. Through the stories of Rexhep and his fellow Muslims comes a story of a nation of everyday heroes different from the narrative of violent Islam and anti-Semitism portrayed in media today. Besa: The Promise presents stories of gratitude from Jewish survivors to Muslim rescuers who have gone unheard for almost 70 years. It is a story that bridges generations and religions, uniting fathers and sons, Muslims and Jews. The film was underwritten by a generous grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. (2012, Director Rachel Goslins, United States, English, 90 minutes.)
This year’s festival is a joint effort with the Center for Jewish Life (CJL) and the Institute for Holocaust Education (IHE). The additional dates and films for the festival are, Aug. 16, The Last Mentsch and Aug. 23, Above and Beyond.
The festival is made possible by generous sponsorships provided by Todd and Betiana Simon, the Henry Monsky Lodge B’nai B’rith plus the following funds of the Jewish Federation of Omaha Foundation: The Klutznick Chair of Jewish Civilization at Creighton University; Special Donor Advised Fund; Samuel & Bess Rothenberg Memorial Endowment Fund and Avy L. & Roberta L. Miller Foundation by Lindsey Miller-Lerman.
The Omaha Jewish Film Festival is presented jointly by The Center for Jewish Life as part of its mission to maximize involvement of Omaha’s Jewish community in imaginative, compelling and meaningful Jewish experiences, and the Institute for Holocaust Education with its mission to provide educational resources, workshops, survivor testimony, and integrated arts programming to students, educators, and the public. For more information about the 14th Annual Omaha Jewish Film Festival please call 402.334.6463 or 402.334.6575.