Fifth annual JCC Chicago Jewish Film Festival features theme of social justice

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The festival features "Muhi: Generally Temporary," the true story of a brave and spirited boy from Gaza who has been living in an Israeli hospital, the only home he has ever known. Photo credit: Rina Castelnuovo.

For its fifth anniversary, the JCC Chicago Jewish Film Festival is bringing its tickets online to make planning and attending easier for filmgoers.

"We're partnering with Cinemark and Arclight," said Elizabeth Abrams, JCC Chicago Communications Manager. "This  allows for easy online ticketing or buying tickets at the box office, which is the first time that we've been able to do both through these two strategic partnerships."

The film festival is also expanding geographically, with movies being shown in Deer Park, Woodridge, Glenview, Evanston, and the city.

"It's our first time offering the festival in the Western suburbs, which we're really excited about," Abrams said.

Building community is a key component of the film festival, according to Ilene Uhlmann, Director, Arts and Ideas for JCC Chicago.

"It reminds us of what keeps us together, what we have in common," Uhlmann said. "What we are interested in doing is deepening Jewish connection and engagement, sparking conversations and inspiring action."

The theme of social justice runs throughout many of the more than 30 films being shown at the festival. Shot in the Dark, an award-winning documentary about an inspiring basketball team from the West Side of Chicago, shows how a dynamic coach rescues kids from the violence and difficulties that plague their neighborhood. (See article on p. 54.)

"Some of the films that we chose this year specifically correlate to what's going on all around us," Uhlmann said. "How can you not think of the Me Too movement when you think about the film, The Hunting Ground, [which] talks about sexual violence on campus?"

Another featured film, The Homestretch , brings the faces of teenage homelessness to the big screen while the movie, Act of Defiance tells the story of Nelson Mandela and his inner circle of supporters during their fight against Apartheid.

"I know that time has come and gone, but we as Jews know all too well that history repeats itself and that's the importance of learning, understanding, talking about, keeping it in the forefront of our minds," Uhlmann explained.

The festival includes four films with special screenings at the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center: Vitch ; Zuzana: Music is Life ; Destination Unknown ; and the award- winning drama 1945 . Tickets for those viewings can be purchased online through the Museum at

"Each film shown at the Holocaust Museum is specifically around a Holocaust theme. And each one of those films will be accompanied with a talkback to provide context and to inspire a conversation," Uhlmann said.

The dialogues at the Holocaust Museum include discussions with some of the moviemakers as well as with film educators and members of the Consulate General
of Hungary.

Throughout the film festival, you also can find movies focused on stories from and about Israel. They include a psychological drama, Moon in the 12th House, and the documentary Muhi-Generally Temporary , which tells the story about a boy from the West Bank whose medical condition requires him to live at an Israeli hospital in order
to survive.

To select films for the festival, Uhlmann and her team view trailers and converse with their network of fellow Jewish film presenters across the country. A committee for the festival then reviews and rates the films submitted for consideration before making its recommendations to Uhlmann and her staff.

"They tell us what they think about them, how they think they might or might not fit into our film festival, and from that we make a selection of films," explained Uhlmann.

In addition, some independent filmmakers submit their works directly to the festival for consideration. This method is especially prevalent when it comes to the short films shown throughout the festival. There will be eight shorts featured this year.

"Some of these shorts, [I'm] just amazed at the message that people are able to bring across, a level of emotion that it triggers in you, to watch a six-minute film," Uhlmann said. 

The Fifth Annual JCC Chicago Jewish Film Festival runs from March 1 - March 18 with more than 31 films available for viewing throughout the Chicagoland area. For more information go to .

Mimi Sager Yoskowitz is a Chicago-area freelance writer, mother of four, and former CNN producer. Her work has been featured on various sites including Kveller, Brain, Child Magazine, and in the anthology, "So Glad They Told Me." Connect with her at  

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