When Neal Schindler relocated from Seattle to Spokane for graduate school, the existence of the Spokane Jewish Cultural Film Festival came as something of a relief to him.
"It was kind of comforting to know that this existed here," Schindler says. "I don't know another Jewish event this big that's entirely open to the public. I think it's very important."
Now in his fourth year as the festival's director, Schindler wants to ensure that this year's iteration is enriching and welcoming to all attendees, Jewish or not. "I really want to open the doors as much as possible to the entire Spokane community," Schindler says.
The world has witnessed a recent, alarming explosion of anti-Semitism concurrent with the rising tide of populist right-wing regimes and extremist groups. In an era of intolerance and ideological division, Schindler sees events like the Spokane Jewish Cultural Film Festival as integral to bridging society's worrisome divides.
"[Non-Jews] may, on some kind of abstract level, be upset about anti-Semitism, but it doesn't hit home as much unless you have some kind of connection," Schindler says. "You tend to come away [from events like this] with more compassion for, caring for, that community."
This year's three featured films highlight the diverse experiences of Jews all over the world, past and present. All screenings occur at the Jepson Center on the Gonzaga University campus; tickets for each screening are $10, with a $3 discount for students.
Thu, Jan. 30 at 7 pm
Fiddler: A Miracle of Miracles
This documentary by filmmaker Max Lewkowicz untangles the sensational origin story behind the beloved Broadway musical Fiddler on the Roof. The SJCFF screening should prove a particularly revealing viewing experience, as it will be introduced via video call by the film's co-writer and co-producer, Valerie Thomas. Featuring numerous interviews with Fiddler luminaries and contemporary theatrical figures, A Miracle of Miracles has been lauded by critics as a thoughtful, entertaining meditation on the play's immense cultural impact. Schindler notes the film as his personal favorite in this year's lineup. "I'm not a big Fiddler fan going back many years," he says, "and yet I really found this documentary captivating because of how it explored not only how and why the musical was written, but why it resonates still today." Appetizers will be served in the lobby before the film, and the Meshugga Daddies will provide live klezmer music.
Sat, Feb. 1 at 7 pm
The Light of Hope
Originally released in Spain in 2017, attendees of SJFCC will get a rare chance to see this historical drama on a local big screen. The Light of Hope tells the story of Elisabeth Eidenbenz, a real-life Red Cross nurse who opened a birth clinic for Spanish refugees in Nazi-occupied France. The anti-immigrant sentiment sweeping the modern world makes this a frighteningly fitting centerpiece film for the festival. Natalia Ruiz-Rubio, Eastern Washington University's Spanish program director, will introduce the film.
Sun, Feb. 2 at 2 pm
SJFCC will close with a Sunday matinee screening of another historical drama, Eliran Malka's The Unorthodox. Continuing the festival's trend of films starkly relevant in today's political climate, The Unorthodox is a film about activism. Set in Jerusalem in 1983, it centers on a spunky printer named Yaakov who, after witnessing discrimination against his Sephardic Jewish ethnicity, starts the city's first ethnic political party, which soon becomes a beacon of strength and hope for those it represents. For the festival cap-off, the Washington State Jewish Historical Society loaned out its Shalom! Sefarad exhibit on the history of Seattle's Sephardic Jewish community, which attendees can see before and after Sunday's screening. ♦
Spokane Jewish Cultural Film Festival • Thu, Jan. 30 and Sat-Sun, Feb. 1-2 • $10 general, $7 students • All ages • Jepson Center at Gonzaga University • 502 E. Boone • sajfs.org