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‘People of the Book’ Presents Film Series

A serious man 4CBy Stacey Dresner

AMHERST – The People of the Book Discussion group, a periodic gathering to discuss themes in Jewish literature in Amherst, is now adding a new facet to its book group – a separate film and book group hosted by local scholars.

The People of the Book Film and Book Group will screen four monthly films on Monday evenings at 7 p.m. at Amherst Cinemas, starting this month.

The People of the Book book group began eight years ago when James R. Kelly, Humanities Research Services Librarian at the W.E.B. Du Bois Library at the University of Massachusetts, noticed a posting for a grant collaboration between the American Library Association and the Next Book Foundation for a book group featuring Jewish literature to be led by a scholar. The grant gave a modest amount of money to help with training and some incidentals, and the idea was to have one scholar at one institution lead the group.

“I couldn’t think of a better area in which to do that than here given the richness of scholarship there is and the Yiddish Book Center,” Kelly said. “While they were thinking ‘public library-academic library/one scholar-one place,’ my idea was [using] scholars from all of the institutions and maybe moving the group around.”

From the beginning, the group did recruit scholars from all the Five Colleges and the Yiddish Book Center became the original home for the group. While the grant was only for the first year, the program continued on, partially because of the support of Yiddish Book Center founder Aaron Lansky and due to the scholars who have graciously led discussions pro bono.

The group met at the Yiddish Book Center for six years before moving to Amherst College. Two years ago, the book group was moved to the Jones Library, the public library in Amherst.

“We thought that we might be able to get some new people interested in coming if we connected it with the public library where it didn’t seem to be kind of ‘ivory-towerish’ – not that it was ever meant to be that way at all,” Kelly said. “We have been pleased and excited doing it all these years. We’ve got a pretty significantly large list-serve that we communicate with. The people who come are largely in the retirement community, but they always will have read the book, and they always will have things to say.”

As the book committee – Kelly, Nora Gerard and Mark Blumberg (both formerly of the Yiddish Book Center) and Ilan Stavans of Amherst College – was planning for this year’s book discussion group, they talked about branching out to offer films as well. After connecting with the Amherst Cinema and coming up with four films, the Book and Film Discussion program was created.

(The People of the Book Discussion Group, featuring four different books, is also still running. For more information on that program go to

The first film, “Army of Shadows,” will be screened
Monday, Sept. 23 at 7 p.m. The discussion will feature author and historian Lisa Lieberman, who will discuss Jean Pierre Melville’s film about the French Liberation during WWII in relation to her translation of Jean Paul Sartre’s essay, “Paris Under the Occupation.”

On Monday, Oct. 21, the film featured will be “Aimee & Jaguar,” and Anne Ciecko of UMass Amherst will discuss Erica Fischer’s book and Max Färberböck’s film adaptation that tell the story of two Berlin women (one a Jewish journalist, the other an SS Officer’s wife) who fall in love during World War II.

The Coen Brothers’ “A Serious Man” will be screened on Nov. 11. Ilan Stavans of Amherst College will discuss the film about the tribulations of a suburbanite Jewish professor in the 1960s in relation to “The Book of Job” (King James Version).

On Dec. 2, Barton Byg of UMass Amherst will discuss “The Flat,” Arnon Goldfinger’s documentary of the secrets he uncovered while sorting out his late grandparents’ Lebanon apartment. A book has not been selected for that program as yet.

“Our audiences are intellectually curious people who love film and books. It’s a perfect combination!” said Carol M. Johnson, executive director of Amherst Cinema. “We’re thrilled the scholars who lead the People of the Book discussions were interested in extending the discussion to thoughtfully paired texts and films. Good books and superb films are a perfect combination.”


Seating for the films is limited and advance ticket purchase is highly recommended. Tickets are regular admission, available at the Amherst Cinema box office or website (


For more information about each of the films, visit

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