The Fourth Annual JCC Chicago Jewish Film Festival opens March 9 and includes an Academy Award nominee and an exclusive special showing of a star-studded film prior to its national debut.
"We have our richest line up in terms of quality of film and the level of acclaim we are bringing to screens across Chicagoland," said Addie Goodman, executive vice president of JCC Chicago.
The Festival kicks off with the Oscar-nominated documentary, Life, Animated, inspired by the bestselling book by Ron Suskind. The film follows a young man, Owen Suskind, who received an autism diagnosis at the age of 3 when he suddenly stopped communicating. His parents later discovered that by watching animated Disney films, Owen had found a way to reconnect with the world and create his own path.
Owen's mother, Cornelia Suskind, will join festivalgoers on opening night at the Landmark Renaissance Place Cinema in Highland Park for a special discussion following the film's screening. (Check out an interview with her on the next page.)
While Goodman is looking forward to all of the Festival's features, she says Life, Animated is one of the films that has her most excited.
"JCC Chicago is doing a lot of work with the special needs community and inclusion," she said, "and [this film] really speaks to a lot of the core programs we are working on today in welcoming all the families that come through our doors."
The Festival will showcase 25 films at seven different venues across the metropolitan area over 10 days from March 9 to March 19. In addition to the screenings at theaters in the suburbs and city, the Festival teams up with different parts of the Jewish community for specialized programming and showings.
On Sunday, March 12, the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center will host four different films about the Holocaust. The day includes a special session with director, Cellin Gluck, whose film, Persona Non Grata, tells the story of a Japanese diplomat who saved the lives of 6,000 Jews during World War II. Gluck will be introduced by one of those survivors.
There are other special events throughout the Festival to hear from filmmakers, guest speakers, and even some of the people featured in the movies, all listed on the website.
The Film Festival also seeks to attract a younger audience with free screenings of The Wizard of Oz on March 11 in Highland Park and Lakeview. The classic movie's Academy Award winning song, "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," was written by two Jewish composers right before the outbreak of World War II.
Goodman says a team of viewers comprised of JCC staff, lay leaders, and volunteers work over many months to ensure the community is presented with a variety of high caliber films from different genre that also have a Jewish link.
"Our Chicago Jewish Film Festival is really about Jewish peoplehood. The film could be set in a community that is identifiably Jewish. The director or producer could have Jewish roots or the film could be rich with Jewish values...It's also really important to us that the film festival is highly accessible. We want to have not only films that resonate Jewishly, but also that might introduce Jewish film to the community."
To purchase tickets for the Festival and see the full schedule, visit www.jccchicago.org/programs/jcc-chicago-jewish-film-festival.
Mimi Sager Yoskowitz is a Chicago-area freelance writer, mother of four, and former CNN producer. Her work has been featured on various sites including Kveller, Brain, Child Magazine, and in the anthology, "So Glad They Told Me." Connect with her at mimisager.com.
JCC is a partner with the Jewish United Fund in serving our community.