BY VINCENT ABBATECOLA
The 11th JCC Rockland International Jewish Film Festival was a signifiant cultural event for the county. With 19 screenings, as well as a preview screening for the documentary, “The Outrageous Sophie Tucker,” hundreds showed up to experience these films that were screened between March 19 and April 30.
One of the most memorable aspects of the festival was the variety of topics that the films tackled. Some focused on the Holocaust and its aftermath, others focused on LGBT issues, some focused on Israel-Palestine relations, and others were heartfelt coming-of-age stories. No matter what an audience member’s taste was, there was at least one film in the line-up that had the potential to reach someone.
My top two favorites of the festival were similar to Steven Spielberg’s historical masterwork, “Schindler’s List,” in that they were true-story accounts of individuals who saved many would-be victims from facing certain death during the Holocaust. Those two films were Rudolph van den Berg’s “Süskind” and Joël Santoni’s “Disobedience: The Sousa Mendes Story.”
“Süskind” tells the true story about Walter Süskind (Jeroen Spitzenberger), a member of Amsterdam’s Jewish Council who, in the summer of 1942, crafts cunning ways to help save as many children as he can from being sent to the concentration camps. The story is akin to that of Spielberg’s classic, but it’s different because it shows the horrors of the Holocaust from outside the camps. The camps don’t come in until towards the end, but what comes before that are the horrors in trying to hide from deportation. The film gives great detail of a man who’s willing to put his life and family in danger in order to do what’s right, which is to give an oppressed people a chance at life.
In “Disobedience,” the film chronicles Sousa Mendes (Bernard Le Coq), a man who defies orders from his government and issues visas out of Occupied France to around 30,000 refugees, including about 10,000 Jews. It’s a drama that will draw in both film and history buffs, and includes a strong central performance from Le Coq. Similar to “Süskind,” the film provides a thorough insight of what a man has to risk in order to save the many that he does, and in the film’s last 15 minutes, we see what his selflessness has cost him.
The festival was not just a boon for persons of Jewish identity, but for all lovers of film. I can’t wait to see what’s on the roll for the 12th festival next year.