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2014 Central Mass Jewish Film Festival begins January 18

Layout 1WORCESTER – The 2014 Central Mass Jewish Film Festival will run from Jan. 18 through Jan. 28 and features five films chosen to “Celebrate the Jewish Experience Through Film.” The eighth annual film festival is presented by the Worcester JCC and made possible by a generous grant from the Jewish Federation of Central Mass.
Purchase tickets at the JCC, 633 Salisbury St., buy tickets online at worcesterjcc.org, or at the door (subject to availability).
For more information, call Nancy Greenberg at (508) 756-7109 or go to worcesterjcc.org.

Film Schedule:

The Attack
Saturday, Jan. 18, 7:30 p.m., $12
At St. John’s School, Ryken Center, Shrewsbury
An Israeli Palestinian surgeon’s life is turned upside down when it appears that his wife was responsible for a suicide bombing. Convinced of her innocence, he abandons the relative security of his adopted homeland and enters the Palestinian territories in pursuit of the truth.
Fill the Void (Lemale et ha’halal)
Tuesday, Jan. 21, 7 p.m., $8
At The Willows at Worcester,
Great Room
Shira, the youngest daughter of a Hasidic family in Tel Aviv, is about to be married to a promising young man when her older sister dies in childbirth. Fearing her son-in-law Yochay will leave the country with her only grandchild, Shira’s mother proposes a match between Shira and Yochay.
-With an introduction by Chana Fogelman, principal of Bais Chana High School and co-director of Chabad on Campus Worcester.
Nicky’s Family
Saturday, Jan. 25, 7:30 p.m., $12
At St. John’s High School,
Ryken Center, Shrewsbury
The true story of “Britain’s Schindler” Nicholas Winton, who helped rescue 669 Czech children – mostly Jewish — before the outbreak of World War II with his own personal kindertransports.
-Followed by a Q&A with “Winton Child” Eva (Fleishmann) Paddock of Cambridge, who left Prague on the last kindertransport train.
Besa: The Promise
Sunday, Jan. 26, 2 p.m., $12
At Notre Dame Academy, Worcester Cuvilly Auditorium
In 2002, photojournalist Norman Gershman journeyed to Albania to find and photograph Albanians who had rescued Jews during
World War II. He met Rexhep Hoxha, a Muslim-Albanian toy shop owner who had been searching for the Bulgarian Jewish
family, the Abadjens, sheltered by his father sixty years earlier.
-Followed by a talk with Rezarta Reso, who immigrated from Albania to Worcester in 1963 and whose family was involved in the rescue effort.
*See sidebar
The Zigzag Kid
Tuesday, Jan. 28, 7 p.m., $8
At The Willows at Worcester,
Great Room
Coming of age story about a boy who dreams of being like his father, a famous police detective, but his free spirit and imagination keep getting him into trouble. With his bar mitzvah just days away, he is sent to his Uncle Schmuel to shape up, but he embarks on an action-packed adventure to the French Riviera instead where he gathers clues about the mother he never knew. Recommended for ages 11 and up.

Precocious bar mitzvah boy propels zigzagging family flick

“The Zigzag Kid” screens in Worcester Jan. 28
By Michael Fox

An unabashed crowd-pleaser in a Day-Glo package, “The Zigzag Kid” transports young-at-heart viewers on a magic carpet of charming hijinks and manic energy.
Belgian director Vincent Bal has transposed vaunted Israeli novelist David Grossman’s beloved 1994 coming-of-age adventure fantasy from the Promised Land to a candy-cane Europe. The result is a confection of a film that dispenses laughs and life lessons en route to a poignant moral about the blood ties that bind.
A family film whose most ardent admirers will be children, “The Zigzag Kid” is fueled by primal adolescent urges. Not the ones you’re thinking of, but the pressing need to comprehend the past, navigate the present and manipulate the future.
The opening credits immediately set the tone in smile-inducing style, employing split-screens, a full-spectrum palette and a pop score to evoke the spy movies (and parodies) of the 1960s and ‘70s.
As his 13th birthday approaches, cute-as-a-bug Nono is starting to figure out he can’t abide the rules and conventions that most people passively accept. He’s not a rebel—he admires his detective father to the extent that he mimics Dad’s deductive skills and wants to follow in his gumshoes—so much as a creative thinker and fearless experimenter.
The title comes from Nono’s iconoclasm, as well as the gold pin in the shape of a Z that the world’s greatest thief, Felix Glick, leaves behind as his signature.
But I’m getting ahead of the story. After one of Nono’s bright ideas accidentally sends a cousin’s bar mitzvah reception up in smoke, our erstwhile hero is dispatched to boring Uncle Shmuel as punishment. But Dad’s plan is derailed within moments of Nono boarding the train, launching the lad on a mission that takes him to the south of France and back.
“The Zigzag Kid” is tons of fun as it sets its inspired plot in motion, while Nono is a splendid protagonist who never devolves from endearing to tiresome. It helps that he’s aware he’s not completely self-sufficient, for that dollop of humility tempers his precociousness.
In fact, Nono relishes the maternal attention and affection of his father’s (ahem) live-in secretary, Gaby. The boy never knew his mother, who died when he was an infant, and he’d be very happy if the current domestic arrangement continued ad infinitum. (Or, better yet, was sealed with marriage vows if his father could muster the moxie to propose.)
But I’m getting behind the story. No matter. Suffice to say that Nono crosses paths with the 60-something Felix Glick, who quickly presents himself as an alternate role model with his blend of resourcefulness and suaveness.
At a certain point, especially for those adults who have sussed out the relationships between the characters before Nono does, the pieces start to click into place, dissipating the film’s aura of cleverness. Everyone likes a happy ending, sure—although be advised a tragedy is revealed en route—but “The Zigzag Kid” trumpets an allegiance to the primacy of the two-parent family that is downright Spielbergian.
Oddly, I discerned no particular insights into the lives, past or present, of European Jews. In the process of relocating the story from Israel to the Continent, Vincent Bal appears to have focused on preserving the novel’s themes and skipped the opportunity to allude to 20th century history or current events.
One consequence is that “The Zigzag Kid” could be anybody, and not necessarily a fully assimilated Jewish boy whose preparatory, pre-bar mitzvah entry to manhood consists of a unique and remarkable treasure hunt. He finds his mother’s identity, and his, and we get to go along for the ride. Not a bad deal for all concerned, actually.

Michael Fox is a film critic specializing in Jewish films.

Code of Honor
“BesA: The Promise” depicts
Albanians’ rescue of Jews
during World War II
By Alex Putterman

WORCESTER – 
At the beginning of World War II, Albania was home to approximately 200 Jews. After the war — and after the Holocaust had shrunken the Jewish population of every other country in Europe — Albania housed more than 2,000 Jews.
The story of how that came to be is told in part by director Rachel Goslins in her documentary, “Besa: The Promise,” to be shown Jan. 26 at Notre Dame Academy in Worcester. The film is co-sponsored by the Women’s Guild of St. Mary’s Assumption Albanian Orthodox Church.
“Besa: The Promise” depicts the courage of the — mostly Muslim — Albanian people during the Holocaust, when they welcomed numerous Jewish people into their country and homes at personal risk.
“It’s not a story I was aware of,” said Nancy Greenberg, the JCC’s Cultural Arts Director. “It was really such a heartwarming, touching story that I don’t think too many people know about. I felt that it was necessary to expose people to it.”
The film came to the JCC largely by chance.
Last year, St. Mary’s was showing another film on the Albanian rescue effort when a viewer approached Valerie Kerxhalli, vice president of the St. Mary’s Women’s Guild, and told her about “Besa”. Kerxhalli — whose husband is Jewish and whose children, she says, are conscious of both their Albanian and Jewish backgrounds — was taken by the documentary. She and her husband facilitated the partnership between St. Mary’s and the JCC.
Worcester is home to a healthy Albanian population that exists alongside the Jewish community — literally. The Worcester JCC sits less than half a mile down the road from St. Mary’s. Greenberg and Kerxhalli both say the neighboring communities could benefit from increased interaction.
“When you meet people I think it just opens up a dialogue and understanding that might not have been there before,” Kerxhalli says.
Telling the story of the Albanian rescue effort through the eyes of several principal characters, the film addresses the reasons for Albania’s enthusiastic aid to the Jewish people, despite religious and cultural differences.
“The most obvious message of the film,” Goslins, the director, explains, “is ‘Hey, Muslims can be good guys, and Muslims save Jews even though they’re of different religions.’ That’s obviously the first thing people take away from the film, and that’s what some people think the film is about…
“Really, it’s about why people help each other. What is it in someone that drives one person to rescue or protect another person?”
Rezarta Reso has some theories. Her grandparents sheltered Jews during the war. Reso will speak at the film’s screening, sharing the experiences of her family. Albanians, she says, related to the Jews’ status as a persecuted people and sympathized with their plight. Plus, the country was welcoming of religious diversity, with the Muslims and Christians living together peacefully.
Also a factor was the code of honor on which Albanians pride themselves. The Kanun, a set of traditional Albanian laws, preaches four pillars: honor, hospitality, right conduct and kin loyalty.
“The word ‘besa’ is the word of honor,” Reso explains. “If an Albanian was saying ‘yes I will do this, yes I will take it, yes I will try for it,’ and he gave his besa, his word of honor, it would be the biggest shame if he broke that word.”
Goslins is proud of just how unifying her documentary has been.
“It’s been shown in mosques, synagogues, at hipster film festivals and at old-age homes,” the director said. “It seems to unite audiences across the board.”

The Pioneer Valley Jewish
Film Festival Begins in March!
The Pioneer Valley Jewish Film Festival (PVJFF) will run from March 20 – April 6, featuring 20 films screened across the Pioneer Valley. For more information, visit pvjff.org. See more in the February issue of the Massachusetts Jewish Ledger.

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