Things were supposed to be “normal” by now. After the Gershman Jewish Philadelphia Film Festival’s annual Lindy CineMondays series last year was first postponed from its spring dates and then incorporated into the Gershman Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival Fall Fest, which was held virtually, the 2021 Lindy CineMondays series might have marked a return to theaters for Philadelphia arts and culture patrons. Instead, just like most everything else, the six-week film series will be held entirely online.
The greatest mitzvah
In Judaism, you see, it’s taught that the greatest mitzvah—good deed—is to save a life, and by encouraging patrons to stay home, GJPFF organizers are doing exactly that. “The most important thing we can do for the communities we serve is to keep everyone safe,” Olivia Antsis, GPJFF’s executive artistic director, wrote in an email to BSR. “Fortunately, this does not impact our ability to carry out our mission and bring the best Jewish international films to Philadelphia film lovers.”
Indeed, the decision to keep things virtual this year might make it easier for GPJFF to fulfill its mission: each of the six films in the Lindy CineMondays series will be available to watch for seven days, wherever and whenever is convenient for ticket holders. “Folks who previously could not attend the festival due to transportation or mobility issues now do not have to worry about leaving their couches or beds,” Antsis said.
Expanding literal accessibility to the series also means that access to the films’ Jewish content is also more within reach. Sponsor of Lindy CineMondays and member of GPJFF’s board of directors Elaine Lindy said that “Our role is to showcase films that touch on Jewish themes.” For her, a quality film that centers on the Jewish experience is what’s important for Lindy CineMondays, and for the GPJFF all year round.
It’s not a monolith
That isn’t to say that all of the films being showcased are strictly made for Jews, by Jews. “Though most of the films presented at the Festival are by Jewish filmmakers, today, there are a growing number of non-Jewish filmmakers interested in exploring Jewish subjects, culture, and history. It's especially true in European cities where the Holocaust had nearly succeeded in wiping out an entire civilization,” Antsis explained. The films are not meant to depict a monolithic Jewish culture or identity, nor are they aimed at an explicitly Jewish audience. “The diaspora has given birth to Jewish stories all over the world. A Jewish film festival's role is to find the most meaningful, extraordinary, and universal stories and share them with engaged audiences.”
For the organizers, that means it’s important not to focus on the East Coast American Jewish identity that serves as the primary way Jewish people are represented in pop culture. “The festival has brought up close the experience of Moroccan Jews, Sephardic Jews, and Jews in all parts of the religious and cultural spectrum,” Lindy explained. “We are widely diverse!”
Still, there is the seemingly obligatory Holocaust story kicking off the festival: Love It Was Not, a documentary directed by Maya Sarfaty about an Auschwitz survivor who carried out an affair with a prominent SS officer. With so many new stories to tell about the Jewish experience and plenty of recent examples of antisemitism in the world, BSR asked Lindy and Antsis why it was important to return again and again to the Shoah. “It's of grave concern the Holocaust may be fading in public memory, especially while Holocaust deniers continue to push a flagrant narrative,” Lindy explained. As fewer and fewer Holocaust survivors are left to tell their own stories, Lindy believes that these new films keep the events fresh in our minds.
Antsis acknowledges that while we continue to tell the stories of the Holocaust, the plague of modern-day antisemitism still needs to be addressed. “While films can educate about the dangers of antisemitism and potent storytelling can increase empathy for the other … it is only a first step. What is most important is … building bridges,” she concluded. The collective experience of watching a film, even if it is from inside your own home, creates the space to exchange ideas and create dialogue.
What, Where, When, and Accessibility
The Gershman Jewish Philadelphia Film Festival’s Lindy CineMondays series runs April 5–May 10, with a new film available to stream on any internet-connected device for seven days starting each Monday. Individual films may be streamed for $15, or an all-access pass is available for $60. For more information or for tickets and passes, visit online or call (215) 545-4400.
Image Description 1: A still from the film Here We Are. Two men, father and son, ride bikes on a dirt road during the day, the sky clear. They're wearing helmets, short-sleeve shirts, and shorts, smiling.
Image Description 2: A still from the film Love It Was Not. A black and white pocket-sized portrait photo of a young woman, wearing a striped dress, smiling, her hands behind her back, and what looks to be a house and a yard is blurred behind her. In the framing of the movie still, the photo is held by someone with red-painted nails, the photo centered, with a completely blurred background.