Calgary’s first virtual Jewish Film Fest brings the ‘reel’ thing to your screen

The Calgary Jewish Film Festival is going "virtual" this year with a fabulous line-up of films - starting November 7 through to November 19, 2020. To purchase tickets and passes visit

by Maxine Fischbein

(AJNews) – The Israeli Academy of Film & Television recently announced the nominations for this year’s Ophir awards, Israel’s equivalent to the Academy Awards. The highly anticipated list confirms that Calgary’s upcoming Jewish Film Festival has significant star power in store. Film lovers from across Alberta should double-check their popcorn inventory and get ready to log on for the first-ever virtual Jewish Film Fest, beginning Saturday, November 7 and running through Sunday November 19.

The feature film Asia (pronounced ah-see-ah), starring acclaimed Israeli actress Shira Haas, garnered an astonishing 13 nominations including best picture, director, screenplay, actress and supporting actress which bodes well for a Schitt’s Creek-style sweep when the actual awards are announced.

It has been an incredible year for Haas who won a best actress award at the Tribeca Film Festival and scored an Emmy nomination for her breathtaking performance in the acclaimed Netflix series Unorthodox.

The closing night selection, Here we Are netted 10 Ophir nominations, including best picture, director, screenplay, actor and supporting actor. The film was selected as this year’s Dr. Martha Cohen screening thanks to a generous bequest from the estate of the late Martha Cohen z”l who was known as Calgary’s first lady of the arts.

Golda, a documentary providing fresh insights into the leadership of Israel’s first and only woman to lead as Prime Minister, netted an Ophir nomination for best documentary.

None of the foregoing should come as a surprise. Beth Tzedec Congregation Jewish Film Festival founder and director Harvey Cyngiser and his committee have a proven track record for bringing top notch films from Israel and around the globe, including many that do not come to movie theatres or streaming platforms like Netflix.

This year’s virtual Film Festival will feature 12 movies, split evenly between feature films and documentaries. The all-inclusive season pass, deeply discounted in light of COVID-19, is $36 per adult, providing access to all 12 films as well as Zoom talks with special guests.

“We want to make the Film Festival accessible to as many people as possible, especially during a time when many people are feeling isolated and in need of entertaining diversions and have experienced job loss or other economic burdens,” said Cyngiser.

Households where more than one adult is logging in are asked to consider an additional pass purchase or donation if they are able. Sponsorships – the life blood of the festival – are always welcome and will help to defray costs associated with mounting the virtual film festival.

Individual movie tickets will be available at $12 per film.

A new film will be screened each day on a platform that allows a viewing period of at least 24 hours per film, providing more flexibility than would otherwise be possible.

Full details of the film lineup can be found in this issue of Alberta Jewish News and on the Film Festival website at  The website is also the user-friendly one-stop shop where film lovers can access links to purchase passes and find out more information about the movies and Zoom chats.

This year’s opening night feature film, Incitement – directed by Yaron Zilberman – will take viewers back to the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin on November 4, 1995 at a peace rally. The psychological thriller – which had its world premiere during the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival – focuses on beliefs, events and influences, including the increasingly incendiary political climate, that led right wing extremist Yigal Amir to pull the trigger.

“This film is additionally relevant right now when one considers the dangerous polarization that is a fact of life in Israel and in North America,” says Cyngiser of the cautionary tale which won the 2019 Ophir Award for best feature film. Incitement was Israel’s submission in the category of Best International Feature Film at the 2020 Oscars.

On November 9, Calgary Jewish Federation will be sponsoring the Film Festival virtual screening in commemoration of Kristallnacht – the night of broken glass – a series of pogroms throughout Germany and Austria that presaged the Holocaust. The Essential Link: The Story of Wilfrid Israel, directed by Yonatan Nir, details the little-known story of the wealthy Jewish businessman, Berlin department store magnate and art collector whose remarkable deeds included a key role in organizing the Kindertransports that saved 10,000 Jewish children during the Holocaust.

Ironically, Wilfrid Israel’s success at negotiating with the Nazis contributed to the shocking silence concerning his heroism… in Israel, of all places! As Nir peels the onion of this surprising mystery, the story hits closer and closer to home.

An award-winning filmmaker, Nir is no stranger to the Calgary Jewish Film Festival. His previous documentaries Dolphin Boy (2011) My Hero Brother (2016) and A Picture of his Life (2019) were Calgary Jewish Film Festival Committee favourites that delighted audiences.

Calgary Jewish Federation is also co-sponsoring the screening of Shared Legacies: The African-American Jewish Civil Rights Alliance together with the Gurevitch family. The timely film, which explores the alliances forged between Jewish and African American human rights activists during the 1960s is this year’s Ralph Gurevitch Tikkun Olam Screening.

Rare is the case that a Calgary’s Jewish Film Festival does not reveal connections between some of the films and individuals living here in Stampede City. Season 20 is no different.

My Name is Sara, an award-winning debut feature film directed and produced by Steven Oritt, tells the true story of Sara Goralnik, a 13-year-old Polish Jew whose family was murdered by the Nazis. Goralnik, who crosses the border, taking refuge with a Ukrainian family, must closely guard her own secret while ironically discovering theirs.

Long-time Calgarian Fanny Wedro – herself a Holocaust Survivor — met Goralnik after the Shoah when they lived in the same town; the two survivors became lifelong friends. Wedro brought the award winning film about her late friend to the attention of Cyngiser and his Film Festival Committee.

The documentary Ma’abarot, by Dina Zvi Riklis, delves into the history of the controversial transit camps – a fancy name for the tent cities and shanties where immigrants from many countries were housed during Israel’s early years. Interviews with former denizens of the ma’abarot reveal shocking inequities particularly where Jewish immigrants from North Africa and Arab lands were concerned. The resulting dynamic continues to corrode social equality in Israel to this day.

Fortuitously, a specialist in the Mizrachi experience, Angy Cohen, has recently moved to Calgary and will be leading a Zoom chat following the streaming of Ma’abarot. Cohen recently took up her new position as Post Doctoral Associate, a position funded by the Dr. Jenny and Hy Belzberg Israeli Scholar Program at the University of Calgary. Over the years, Calgary has also become home to a number of people who were housed in ma’abarot when their families first immigrated to Israel.

COVID-19 precludes the usual gathering of film lovers at Beth Tzedec for the 20th anniversary of Film Festival. While they won’t be able to hobnob in the Shul lobby or swap reviews while having a nosh between shows, there are advantages to virtual viewing. No babysitting costs. No shushing those with candy wrappers or commentary. No winter weather or wardrobe worries. Just a warm pair of PJs, a self-catered bowl of popcorn and the “reel” important thing…the best of Jewish cinema in the safety of your own home.

For detailed information about the lineup for the 20th Annual Beth Tzedec Jewish Film Festival, click here to view the two-page spread in this issue of Alberta Jewish News.  To purchase passes and tickets, go to The festival is open to viewers across the province – from Calgary to Edmonton and everywhere in between and surrounding.

 Maxine Fischbein is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter for Alberta Jewish News.










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