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Streaming from October 22 – November 1, the TJFF boasts of screening over 50 entries and 19 Canadian premieres

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The short film Mimi and Panda is a Canadian co-production directed by cousins Panda Shi Berman & Miriam Luc-Berman. For their joint Bat Mitzvah, they explored what it means to them individually to be both Jewish and Chinese.

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The Toronto Jewish Film Festival (TJFF), for the first time in its 28-year history, has gone digital. Typically, in anticipation of the best Jewish-content films from across Canada and around the world, TJFF would see ardent filmgoers queued up across the GTA. This year, given the COVID-19 pandemic, viewers can enjoy the best of Jewish storytelling in the comfort of their own homes. 

“Film is an escape and film can serve to introduce you to the parts of the world and people in the world that you would never encounter,” said Helen Zukerman, Toronto Jewish Film Festival founder and Artistic Director. 

The pandemic has wreaked havoc across all economic sectors, and the Arts is no exception. In May, the TJFF had been set to debut 80 – 100 films. 

“When reality hit that we were not going to be in theatres, distributors and filmmakers became realistic,” Zukerman explained, “either the film is going to have to sit until next year or we do it now.” TJFF went digital creating a spring and fall edition. 

TJFF will stream exclusively online from October 22 – November 1, Ontario-wide. Viewers can watch the 50+ films from their computer or tablet, or connect via Apple TV, Chrome Cast or Roku. For those in need of assistance the website provides technical support.

The festival boasts the largest film distribution market in Canada, with 1/3 of the schedule being Israeli programming, and offers free films on Saturday. There are six wholly Canadian-made films including four shorts, and there are four Canadian co-productions screening (listed at the end of this story).

Among the crop is a 90s pop group sensation, beauty pageant queen, iconic fashion designer, top chefs, esteemed civil rights activists and more, in frisky documentaries, poignant dramas, charming comedies, archival films and shorts. Movies are available to view for 48 hours, and many will have live zoom Q&As with directors, cast and documentary subjects.

A portion of the TJFF online fall-edition ticket sales will be donated to grassroots organizations Mazon Canada and The Stop Community Food Centre.

In an interview, TheJ.ca asked Zukerman to share her favourite 2020 picks.

“I think the festival has become one of my children and the films have become my grandchildren,” said Zukerman. As any bubby knows, you can’t choose one over the other, but Zukerman narrowed her top choices:

Debuting opening night is Sublet, directed by Eytan Fox Israel/United States. This film shows the transformative power of love through a cross-generational encounter. We see a middle-aged writer arrive in Israel to write a travel article. He sublets an apartment from a twenty-something gay film student who offers to be his local guide. Over the course of five days together, the two form a connection that liberates them both. It’s a moving film about re-discovering life.

“Eytan Fox is a preeminent Israeli filmmaker. He also did Walk On Water and The Bubble…we have played those at the festival before,” said Zukerman. “I think this [Sublet] is his best film.”

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Army of Lovers in the Holy Land, directed by Asaf Galay/Israel. This documentary is about the Swedish 90s pop group sensation Army of Lovers—equal parts ABBA, disco, and camp. Thirty years after their debut, Army of Lovers’ flamboyant front man, Jean-Pierre Barda, feels the pull of his Jewish heritage and uproots his life to live in Israel.

“I love it because it’s so much fun. It’s not the kind of fun you would expect to see at a Jewish film festival,” said Zukerman.

Trailer for Army of Lovers in The Holy Land: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c24PF4Axj5g

Picture Of His Life, directed by Dani Menkin and Yonatan Nir, United States/Canada/Israel. This film has world-renowned wildlife photographer Amos Nachoum living out his one final photographic dream –to photograph a Polar Bear underwater, while swimming alongside it. We follow Nachoum who, with the help of local Inuit, embarks to capture the shot of a lifetime. Emmy award-winning cinematographer Adam Ravetch delivers breathtaking images of the Canadian Arctic. Outremont and the Hasidim. Canada Director, Montreal native filmmaker, Eric Scott (Leaving the Fold, Je Me Souviens) examines both the deepening conflict between the Hasidic residents of Outremont and their non-Jewish neighbours, as well as the efforts by residents and local leaders to arrive at a place of understanding. 

Life Will Smile, directed by Drey Kleanthous, Greece/United States/United Kingdom. The Greek island of Zakynthos has the unique distinction of having saved all 275 of its Jewish inhabitants during WWII.  Its story is told by one of the survivors, a man named Life. Life Will Smile is screening with Ismail’s Dilemma and The Righteous Gypsy. “These films depict a trilogy of people who go above and beyond the call of duty and we will never understand why some people stop and help someone who’s fallen and other people just walk on by and don’t want to get involved,” said Zukerman.

Army of Lovers is about a 1980’s Swedish dance music group with a deep connection to Israel. “I love it because it’s so much fun. It’s not the kind of fun you would expect to see at a Jewish film festival,” said TJFF Artistic Director Helen Zukerman.

Ismail’s Dilemma is a short film by director Dhimitri Ismailaj/Albania. During World War II, nearly 3,000 Jews were successfully hidden in Albania. The desire to help those in need is rooted in Besa, an ancient Albanian code of honour and conduct.  Besa is a promise that cannot be broken under any circumstances, even when facing one’s own certain death. Ismail is a poor peasant in a Nazi-occupied Albanian village, torn between protecting his family or upholding Besa and saving the two Jewish men he has been hiding for a year.

The Righteous Gypsy, directors Dominik Sedlar, Jakov Sedlar/Croatia. We meet Hajira Imeri Mihaljic, the only Roma person ever to be awarded the honourary title of Righteous Among the Nations at Yad Vashem. A former employee of the Levi family in Croatia Mihaljic was visiting them at a holding camp in Mitrovica, Kosovo, when the grandmother of two-year old Esther asked if she would take the child and raise her as her own. Mihaljic agreed and bravely risked her own life by disguising Esther as Roma thereby saving her. This previously unknown story is brought to life in a moving documentary recounted by Esther Levi herself.

A Father’s Kaddish by director Jennifer Kaplan/ United States, In this free short documentary, Potter and teacher Steven Branfman says kaddish for his late son by making a new Japanese tea bowl every day for a year.

“It took my breath away,” said Zukerman. “Instead of going to synagogue and saying kaddish, he made a different tea bowl every single day for 365 days. The process of his grieving took the form of these tea bowls.” 

Helen Zukerman, Toronto Jewish Film Festival founder and Artistic Director, provided TheJ.ca with a summary of her personal favorites entered into the 2020 exhibition. Photo Credit: Ryan Emberley

TJFF will close with Shared Legacies: The African-American Jewish Civil Rights Alliance by director Shari Rogers/United States. The African American-Jewish civil rights alliance is revisited through archival material and eyewitness interviews with those who worked with Dr. Martin Luther King and Jewish leaders.

The timely documentary revisits the crucial lessons of Black-Jewish cooperation and serves as an urgent call for renewed solidarity in times of rising intolerance.

Founded in 1993, TJFF was created to heighten awareness of Jewish cultural diversity in Toronto and around the world.  Here is the Trailer for TJFF2020 Online Fall Edition: https://vimeo.com/463522470/9d20f0c34d.

Visit tjff.com for the complete film calendar – and join the Festival online staring October 22. 

To support Canadian filmmakers, here are their entries:

Shorts: Finding Harold, From Generation to Generation, Mimi and Panda, and Wife Me

Also, Grierson and Gouzenko (archival), and Outremont and the Hasidim (documentary).

Canadian Co-productions: Antisemitism, Anton, Shiva Baby, and Picture of His Life.

Canadian journalist Susan Minuk is both humbled and heartened by everyday stories with the power to touch or inspire her readers’ lives. Susan’s work has appeared in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star and Canadian Jewish News.

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Thank you for choosing TheJ.Ca as your source for Canadian Jewish News.

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We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

But we can’t do it alone. We need your HELP!

Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

Monthly support is a great way to help us sustain our operations. We greatly appreciate any contributions you can make to support Jewish Journalism.

We thank you for your ongoing support.

Happy reading!

Thank you for choosing TheJ.Ca as your source for Canadian Jewish News.

We do news differently!

Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

But we can’t do it alone. We need your HELP!

Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

Monthly support is a great way to help us sustain our operations. We greatly appreciate any contributions you can make to support Jewish Journalism.

We thank you for your ongoing support.

Happy reading!

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