Feature: Buffalo International Jewish Film Festival celebrates 30 years


For the second straight year, I wrote a feature on the Buffalo International Jewish Film festival for the Buffalo News.

In film festival terms, 30 years is not just impressive – it’s downright legendary. After all, festivals come and go with regularity. The Buffalo International Jewish Film Festival, on the other hand, is not going anywhere. As the 30th edition of the annual collection of film screenings proves, the BIJFF is just getting started.

As with previous editions, this year’s festival is a two-pronged affair. The first half of the festival kicks off on Friday and runs each night through May 21 in the Amherst Dipson Theater (3500 Main St.). Then, after a brief break, the festival restarts at the JCC Benderson Family Building Seller Theatre (2640 North Forest Road, Getzville) from May 31 through June 7.

JCC of Greater Buffalo Cultural Arts Director Jordana Halpern said breaking up the festival makes it easier for audiences to catch everything on their “must” list: “We know it’s difficult to see them all in a solid two week period, so we show each film twice – once at each location.”

It’s a smart move, since each year features such a diverse, ambitious collection of offerings.

“Our chair, Mike Silverman, and our committee members are passionate about only offering the best films on the market,” Halpern said. “If we can’t afford a film, we wait a year and try again as prices drop after it is first released.”

“The Return,” which screens May 19 and 31, could be this year’s most interesting selection. The drama focuses on four young Jewish women in present-day Poland who are struggling to determine their cultural identities in a nation with a buried past.

“Above and Beyond,” a documentary produced by Nancy Spielberg, sister of filmmaker Steven Spielberg, tells the remarkable story of the foreign airmen in the ’48 War. These American pilots met and trained in secret and, ironically, flew versions of the very Nazi planes they had tried to shoot down in World War II. The film screens May 20 and June 7.

“The Outrageous Sophie Tucker” is a documentary about the inimitable “Last of the Red Hot Mamas.” This film highlighting Tucker’s rags-to-riches story screens May 19 and June 1.

Buffalo native Liz Swados is featured in the documentary “Sosua: Make a Better World,” the story of Jewish and Dominican teenagers who helped stage a musical about the Dominican rescue of 800 Jews from Hitler’s Germany. It screens May 17 and June 4; the May 17 screening will be followed by a Q and A with co-director Renee Silverman.

The festival also features animated films, romantic dramas and two special events.

The BIJFF anniversary gala runs from 6 to 9:30 p.m. May 21 in the MusicalFare Cabaret (4380 Main St., Amherst). The gala features open bar and hors d’oeuvres, entertainment, and a screening of the acclaimed 2004 thriller “Walk on Water.”

Meanwhile, the Closing Festival Dinner will be held from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. June 7 in the JCC Benderson Family Building in Getzville. The kosher buffet dinner will include a screening of “Above and Beyond.”

For gala and closing dinner tickets, the complete festival schedule, and more information, visit bijff.com.

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