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This Year’s Winnipeg International Jewish Film Festival put on by the Rady JCC and Sponsored by the Asper Foundation Was Great!

Berkowits: The Rady JCC will strongly consider offering an in-person film festival experience and an online option in the future

by Rhonda Spivak, March 8, 2021


I attended the 2021 Winnipeg  International Jewish Film Festival put on by the Rady JCC in the last two weeks of February 2021, which was online this year, and it was very enjoyable experience. I would firstly like to thank the Asper Foundation and the Babs Asper Centre for Cultural Arts who generously sponsored the festival for doing so, and for making the festival free to attendees like myself who registered for it. I want to express my gratitude to them for sponsoring the festival, which no doubt uplifted the spirits of the attendees, who could view the films from the comfort of their homes at a time of their choice.


I watched all 15 films offered and was struck by how truly international the festival was with films from Italy, Lithuania, France, Germany , Hungary, etc and Israel, all with Jewish themes. The festival opened with a terrific documentary about the conductor Zubin Mehta and even had the film’s producer give an opening speech about the film. The films selected for the festival (made up of quality dramas and documentaries) touched on very diverse and interesting themes ranging from surviving the Holocaust and rebuilding one’s life, to escaping Hitler’s Germany, to living under Soviet occupation and Nazi invasion, and having a Jewish doctor treat a neo-Nazi. Other films touched on themes such as living in a trendy Tel-Aviv neighborhood, surviving terror attacks in Jerusalem, caring for a sick child in Jerusalem, and the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. One documentary that I found particularly fascinating dealt with a Jewish prisoner of Auschwitz who had an intimate relationship with an SS officer (The viewer had to consider whether the Jewish woman did this as a means to survive or whether she was really in love with him). Another unique film explored an Israeli photographer’s experience of swimming with polar bears in Northern Manitoba. There was even a session where film critic Allison Gilmor discussed the films with festival programmer Karen Burshtein.


I asked Rob Berkowits, Executive Director of the Rady JCC how many people attended the festival, and he wrote to me that "340 people registered for this year’s online Winnipeg Jewish International Film Festival. This essentially means that for any of the film premieres, as many as 340 people could have potentially been online and enjoying. The Rady JCC premiered one new film a day (February 14-28) and each film was available for 48 hours after its premiere. The film festival could have accommodated additional online patrons, if required."   


When I asked Berkowits what kind of feedback he had received about the film festival, he replied, "Festival attendees acknowledged the diversity of the films shown and offered glowing remarks on the power of storytelling. In addition, noted film critic Alison Gillmor’s live talk back session was extremely well received.”  Berkowits added “We have received a significant amount of very positive feedback about our online film festival. Many patrons indicated that they would normally attend one or two premieres but instead watched several films over the two-week online festival.”


I also asked Berkowits whether in future, the Rady JCC might consider having both an in-person festival as well as an online festival, whereby people could choose if they wanted to attend the Berney Theatre to watch the film or instead get the links to the movies online? (This could potentially double the number of attendees of the festival, as you could have a sold out Berney Theatre as well as people attending the festival online) Berkowits answered that “Based on the feedback received, the Rady JCC will strongly consider offering both an in-person film festival experience and an online option in the future.”


Berkowits emphasized that "The Rady JCC would like to acknowledge the generous support of The Asper Foundation and the Babs Asper Centre for Cultural Arts. The Rady JCC is also extremely grateful for the significant effort and contributions made by Karen Burshtein to ensure that this year’s film festival was a success."


Jeff Morry, Senior Program Manager of The Asper Foundation commented, “The Asper Foundation and the Babs Asper Centre for Cultural Arts are thrilled to support the 2021 Winnipeg International Jewish Film Festival and other cultural events for the enjoyment of the Jewish and greater communities.  The Rady Jewish Community Centre did an incredible job delivering the festival.  We appreciate their passion and commitment to helping bring back culture and shining a bright light through the darkness of the pandemic."


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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.