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The 16th Pioneer Valley Jewish Film Festival Goes Virtual

SPRINGFIELD –The Pioneer Valley Jewish Film Festival, presented by the Springfield Jewish Community Center, marks its 16th year with a virtual mini-festival that runs through March 22.

The 2020 festival was postponed due to COVID-19, just days before launching last year. PVJFF will now present seven online film screenings, as the festival continues its tradition of showcasing some of the best independent Jewish cinema from around the world. 

Thought-provoking Zoom discussions are planned for nearly all of the films, featuring directors, screenwriters, and experts on an array of topics of cultural and historical significance. 

This year’s festival includes an eclectic mix of dramas and documentaries, plus a short film. “As always, PVJFF films promise to stir emotions and inspire conversations,” said Deb Krivoy, Springfield JCC Chief Operating Officer and Festival Director. “This year, we’re thrilled to offer an engaging, virtual festival that can bring people together in the safest possible way.” 

Two powerful dramas anchor the film festival: 

 Dror Zahavi’s Crescendo is about a world-famous conductor (played by Toni Erdmann’s Peter Simonischek) who accepts the job to create an Israeli-Palestinian youth orchestra and steps into a firestorm of conflict as he tries to bring the two factions of young musicians together in harmony. Crescendo screenwriter Stephen Glantz will lead a Q&A about the film.

 • The inspiring biopic The Keeper tells the incredible true story of Bert Trautmann, a German POW who, amid much protest and prejudice, secures the position of goalkeeper at Manchester City and becomes a soccer icon. His signing causes outrage among thousands of fans, many of them Jewish, until Manchester’s communal rabbi intervenes on his behalf. 

This year’s festival showcases an array of enlightening documentaries, including: 

• It Must Schwing! The Blue Note Story follows two young émigrés from Berlin who founded the legendary jazz label Blue Note Records, which produced jazz stars Miles Davis, Thelonius Monk, and more. 

Picture of His Life is a riveting documentary about acclaimed Israeli underwater wildlife photographer Amos Nachoum, who has always dreamed of swimming underwater with a polar bear and capturing it face-to-face on film. 

• The short documentary Commandment 613 profiles Northampton’s Rabbi Kevin Hale, who has dedicated his life to the 613th biblical commandment – to write a Torah scroll. As a sofer (Jewish scribe), Rabbi Hale brings new life to Torah scrolls saved from Czechoslovakia during the Holocaust. Producer/director Miriam Lewin, cinematographer/editor Randi Cecchine, and Rabbi Hale, and will lead a virtual discussion. 

The Pioneer Valley Jewish Film Festival is a nonprofit arts festival, presented by the Springfield Jewish Community Center with support from the following major sponsors: Jewish Federation of Western Massachusetts, Totsy Foundation, Basketball Hall of Fame, Massachusetts Cultural Council, Yiddish Book Center, Harold Grinspoon Foundation, Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst, Lathrop Communities, and Tower Square Hotel. For more information, visit the Pioneer Valley Jewish Film Festival online at pvjff.org.

The 2021 Pioneer Valley Jewish Film Festival is free of charge, but organizers are encouraging donations to support the ongoing work of the PVJFF. Registration is required for all of the online screenings and virtual discussions. For a complete list of films and instructions on how to watch them, and to register for the festival programs, visit pvjff.org.


16th Annual Pioneer Valley Jewish Film Festival



Watch it at home: Feb.13-15

Virtual discussion:
Monday, Feb. 15, 7 p.m.

To photograph some of the most fearsome creatures on Earth, Amos Nachoum has gone face-to-face with anacondas, giant leopard seals, great white sharks, orcas, and crocodiles. But at age 65, Nachoum, one of the greatest underwater photographers of all time, is about to face his ultimate challenge: photographing a polar bear – up close – without any protection. As he prepares for his biggest mission in the Canadian Arctic, Nachoum contemplates the series of unspoken events that have shaped his life in this intimate story of dedication, sacrifice, and personal redemption.

Speaker: Andy Danylchuk, director of the Five College Coastal and Marine Sciences Program and professor of Fish Conservation at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.




Watch it at home: Feb. 20-22 

Virtual discussion: Monday, Feb. 22, 7 p.m.

In 1939, Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff, two young émigrés from Berlin, founded the legendary jazz label Blue Note Records in New York City. The label dedicated itself exclusively to the recording of American jazz music and developed its own unmistakable recording style and sound. Blue Note Records discovered and produced an impressive roster of international jazz stars, including Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Wayne Shorter, Thelonius Monk, and Quincy Jones. At a time when African-American musicians in the U.S. were discriminated against and ostracized, Blue Note Records respected them as artists and equals. Not only did the label value their talents, it also gave them a much-needed platform. It Must Schwing! tells the moving story of two friends, united by a passionate love for jazz, and of their profound belief in equality and freedom for every single human being.

Speaker: Larry Hott, Emmy Award-winning documentary filmmaker and owner of Florentine Films/Hott Productions




Watch it at home: Feb. 27-March 1 

Virtual discussion: Monday, March 1, 7 p.m.

A renowned conductor assembles an orchestra of Israeli and Palestinian youth, only to be drawn into a tempest of distrust and discord. For personal reasons, maestro Eduard Sporck (veteran actor Peter Simonischek) agrees to arrange a symbolic concert for a Middle East peace summit in Italy. But corralling the young artists—sworn enemies from the Arab-Israeli divide—is easier said than done. As auditions begin in Tel Aviv, conflict between the factions flares up almost instantly. It takes all the conductor’s skills to get his musicians in harmony, building to a tense, emotional finale. An impressive cast of Israeli and Palestinian non-actors, lends authenticity to this powerful drama, loosely inspired by Daniel Barenboim’s West–Eastern Divan Orchestra. 

Speaker: Crescendo screenwriter Stephen Glantz




Watch it at home: March 5-8

Join the virtual discussion: Monday, March 8, 7 p.m. 

Northampton’s Rabbi Kevin Hale joyfully practices the sacred craft of Torah restoration, bringing new life to scrolls saved in Czechoslovakia during the Shoah. As his scribal work takes him to communities now entrusted with the scrolls, he reflects on his own path to faith and practice. Torah scrolls are written by hand, following rules that go back thousands of years. Made to last for centuries, they are central to Jewish ritual; what is contained in them – the first five books of the Hebrew Bible – is the foundation of Jewish life. The final commandment in the Torah, number 613, is to write the scroll for yourself. As Rabbi Hale goes about his work as a sofer (Torah scribe), this son of refugees from Nazi Germany reflects on his own path to a life of faith and practice. 

Speakers: Producer/director Miriam Lewin; film subject Rabbi Kevin Hale, and cinematographer/editor Randi Cecchine. Moderated by documentary filmmaker Larry Hott.




Watch it at home: March 13-15

A decorated ex-Nazi paratrooper plays for redemption on the soccer field in this rousing and romantic true story. Released from a British prisoner-of-war camp, Bert Trautmann’s goalkeeping skills secure him a position on the Manchester City team, where he catches the eye of the club manager’s daughter Margaret. But his arrival also arouses the post-war ire of fans, many of them Jewish. With unexpected support from a local rabbi, Trautmann wins over his critics, famously playing the 1956 FA Cup Final with a broken neck. Unbeknownst to him was that his greatest challenge was yet to come. Featuring a sympathetic lead performance by David Kross (Steven Spielberg’s War Horse), this magnificent epic speaks to the power of sports to unite. (Film note from Atlanta Jewish Film Festival.)




Watch it at home: March 20-22 

Join the virtual discussion: Monday, March 22, 7 p.m.

Ran Tal’s magnificent film The Museum with its unprecedented look behind the scenes at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem isn’t a conventional documentary about the history of the museum, or its worldclass collection of 500,000 objects (including the Dead Sea Scrolls). It’s a lyrical work in and of itself, a poetic celebration of storytelling and humanity. Tal is one of Israel’s most accomplished and creative documentarians and his genius lies in revealing the essence of a place or an idea. Gorgeously photographed, poignant, and wry, The Museum artfully curates moments and details, introducing us to a diverse range of curators, artists, guards, and visitors from around the world, each with a story to tell.

Speaker: Simon Sibelman, professor Emeritus of Judaic, Holocaust and Peace Studies at Appalachian State University, and former executive director of the Virginia Holocaust Museum


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