Every year for 39 years prior to this, there is a Gershman Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival at the Pine Street YMCA, and with it comes intimate audiences looking to talk to the filmmakers and each other about the very nature of cinema.
Those conversations were initiated, in the first place, by Ruth and Archie Perlmutter, the Co-founders of the Gershman Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival (GPJFF), first to each other, and then to the city and then to the world at large as their gathering of Jewish movie mavens was revolutionary in its display.
Now, due to COVID-19, the Gershman Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival is an on-line only gathering of film aficionados and creators – check the lineup on PJFF.org, several events are free – November 7 through 21. Friends of the fest will have ample opportunity to take part in virtual interactive events and screening discussions and lectures.
Talking and watching and watching and talking is how it all started.
“Archie was a great conversationalist, a supremely witty and funny man who loved to travel and loved to devour film,” said Ruth of her late, great husband. She mentioned how Archie was a chemical engineer in his youth, attending MIT after going to Yeshiva in Brooklyn and how, before going to the front during for the Army in World War 2, was invited to take part in the Manhattan Project and the creation of the atom bomb. “The Oak Ridge portion, not the Los Alamos research division,” said Ruth. “He could never tell anyone, not even his mother what he was doing. He could not even hint at the information over the phone in Yiddish because everyone he worked with was Jewish and spoke Yiddish; the scientists and the engineers, all involved in the secrecy.”
Archie was an incredible man, devoted to making Israel into a state, always driven by his love of heritage and language. “He was a linguist and a joker, and a charming man who knew everything about everything, film in particular, and wanted to see Jewish filmmakers on the East Coast celebrated as were those on the West Coast with the start of the San Francisco Jewish Film Fest.” A year-round, non-profit film institution dedicated to creating connections through Jewish cinema and storytelling, both Jewish film fests touch on value, culture, and community.
Ruth doesn’t currently maintain too much of a hand in the curation of the Gershman Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival. “I’m not screening everything anymore, and therefore not recommending,” she said. “But, I’ve lived that life, urged my husband to start the festival, and forever looked after it like a flower.”
And of the fest’s virtual nature, Ruth is sorry that people won’t be able to gather in hallways and lobbies after each film and talk. “That’s a shame… maybe next year, I hope,” she said. “But they can talk online all they want. And see movies, lots of Jewish movies which is the point.”
From the initial press release:
GPJFF highlights homegrown talent with FROM PHILADELPHIA TO THE FRONT. The locally-produced documentary was selected from the festival’s 40-year archive by GPJFF co-founder Ruth Perlmutter in honor of her late husband Archie Perlmutter, and Philadelphia artist Judy Gelles. Judy, who passed away earlier this year, co-directed the documentary with another Philadelphia-based artist, Marianne Bernstein. Another local production making its debut at the festival is MY ISRAELI STORY. The five-minute film was created by students from Israel American Council’s Eitanim group as a submission to GPJFF’s 2019 My Israel Student Short Film Competition.
On Opening Night, Saturday, November 7, GPJFF presents the Philadelphia Premiere of GOLDEN VOICES. This Israeli dramedy directed by Evgeny Ruman (Igor & the Cranes’ Journey) tells the story of an elderly couple, famed for dubbing the classic films of the 20th century for Soviet audiences, beginning their life anew in Israel upon the collapse of the Soviet Union. GOLDEN VOICES screens one night only.
The Centerpiece Film, HONEYMOOD, is a romantic comedy directed by Talya Lavie (Zero Motivation). Screening on Saturday, November 14, at 8 PM, the film follows a bride and groom on a surreal urban odyssey through the streets of Jerusalem. HONEYMOOD is available to stream for 48 hours.
The festival closes with BREAKING BREAD on Saturday, November 21, at 8 PM. This moving documentary spotlights an Arabic food festival in Israel. Jewish and Arab chefs pair up to create tasty new interpretations of their ancestors’ old-world recipes. This mouth-watering documentary honors the roots of Arabic and Israeli cuisines and their unique cultural heritage. BREAKING BREAD is available to stream for 24 hours.
The festival features several films that explore LGBTQ issues, including TRANSKIDS, SUBLET, SHIVA BABY, and TAHARA. All four films are available to stream for 48 hours.
Two powerful documentaries that explore the Black-Jewish Alliance in America are featured in Fall Fest 2020. THEY AIN’T READY FOR ME and SHARED LEGACIES: THE AFRICAN AMERICAN-JEWISH CIVIL RIGHTS ALLIANCE are back by popular demand after having premiered in GPJFF’s summer film series, Shared Stories: The Intersection of Black and Jewish Experiences in America.
In addition to BREAKING BREAD, festivalgoers interested in arts & culture should add two documentaries to their “must-see” lists. ON BROADWAY is any Broadway lover’s dream — especially amid a global pandemic that caused theaters worldwide to go dark. Music lovers should not miss IN YOUR EYES, I SEE MY COUNTRY, a touching documentary that explores the Judeo-Moroccan musical heritage. The film features music and songs by Neta Elkayam and Amit Haï Cohen.
Fans of Sephardic culture and those seeking insight into the Jewish diaspora will want to keep their eyes peeled for FROM CAIRO TO THE CLOUD: THE WORLD OF THE CAIRO GENIZA. This fascinating documentary uncovers an astonishing collection of ancient manuscripts hidden for centuries in a Cairo synagogue and follows their remarkable odyssey to the modern world.
The festival also highlights new talent with two films featuring GPJFF Breakout Star Shira Haas (Unorthodox, Shtisel). In ASIA, a critically acclaimed Israeli drama, Shira plays a young woman coming of age and living with physical disabilities. In BROKEN MIRRORS, another Israeli drama, the Emmy-nominated actor plays the rebellious daughter of an IDF commander whose obsession with discipline and order undermines his relationship with his family. A stand-up comedian named one of Time Out New York’s “Comedians to Watch” in 2019, GPJFF Rising Star Rachel Sennott is our favorite discovery in the indie festival scene. Playing the lead in TAHARA and SHIVA BABY, her raw, disruptive take on Hannah and Danielle will make you want to cry, laugh, and scream in all the best ways.