Wednesday, 23 April 2014 13:43

May Indie Film: The Jewish Film Festival Enters Its 16th Year

Written by  Josh Spanninga
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Disobedience: The Sousa Mendes Story Disobedience: The Sousa Mendes Story

One of the best aspects of film, besides providing entertainment, is its ability to introduce audiences to other cultures' perspectives. On May 4-8, the 16th annual Jewish Film Festival of Grand Rapids will introduce audiences to different Jewish cultures and subjects at Celebration! Cinema North. The festival is put on by the Jewish Federation of Grand Rapids, an organization dedicated to celebrating Jewish culture and providing social services and help for the elderly, poor or any other group in need within their community.

“We are not a congregation,” Programming Director Sari Cohen said. “We are like the umbrella of all the Jewish organizations in town.”

Although the federation has been around since the 1940s, it wasn't until 1999 that they started putting on the film festival in response to similar Jewish film festivals popping up all over the country. In that time, it has grown in size and moved to its current home at Celebration! Cinema. One thing that hasn't changed about the festival is its main purpose. 

“The mission of the festival is to entertain from one side, but to educate from the other,” Cohen said. “We are always trying to bring, not only to the Jewish community, but to the general community, a variety of subjects, Jewish issues and Jewish culture, anything that is related to anything Jewish.”

In order to find the films that best represent what the festival is about, Sari and a committee of around 10 people preview a number of films to ensure the selections meet their initial goal of exploring Jewish culture while providing enough variety to please everyone.

“I get maybe 50, 60 different films to preview. We check all of them and try to get to the six that we usually get in our festival,” Cohen said. “And the idea is to have a variety of subjects and a variety of films. We have something for the family, something for the adult audience, something that is a documentary, a comedy, a drama.” 

If variety is their goal, they've succeeded.

First, there's the family friendly adventure/comedy film The Zigzag Kid, which is featured as the festival's opening family matinee and is free for general audiences.

On the other side of the spectrum is the French drama The Attack, which focuses on an Arab surgeon in Tel Aviv as he discovers that his wife not only died in a suicide bombing, but is singled out as the prime suspect.

If documentary lovers are feeling left out, they need not worry. Broadway Musicals: A Jewish Legacy examines the profound impact Jewish directors, lyricists, composers, writers and performers have had on the American musical. Prior to the screening of this film, Ran Kempel and Elliot Beck will put on a live performance of a number of the songs featured. 

Other events include an Eastern European dinner on Wednesday night and a guest appearance by Harry Oesterreicher, a descendant of French refugees who received visas from Sousa Mendes during World War II (Oesterreicher is scheduled to speak before the film Disobedience: The Sousa Mendes Story).

Tickets for all films are $6 (not counting the free screening of The ZigZag Kid). For a list of show times and event details visit


UICA and West Michigan Design Week Team up to Screen Exit Through the Gift Shop

On May 6, the UICA will have a special one-time screening of Exit Through the Gift Shop in conjunction with West Michigan Design Week. The documentary was directed by world renowned street artist, Banksy, and explores the world of street art and those it inspires. 

Sara Klele, Design Week chair for AIGA West Michigan, explains that while the film is technically about street artists, not designers, it's still a relevant choice for the event. 

“That line can get really blurry because street artists like Banksy have influenced pop culture, which in turn influences and can even become design,” Kele said. 

She points to Shepard Fairey, an artist featured in the film as a perfect example.

“His most recognized work is probably his series of Obama campaign posters created in 2008, including the 'Hope' poster,” Klele said. “Though they had nothing to do with the original creation of the illegally created poster the Obama campaign latched on and it has since become one of the most iconic, and effective, campaign posters of all time.”

For more details on the event, or to learn more about West Michigan Design Week, visit

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