16 January 2008

Las Vegas: Jewish Film Festival

The 8th Las Vegas Jewish Film Festival runs through January 27.

Among the films is the genealogically relevent production of Pedro Banchik, a Buenos Aires chemical engineer, whose family-reunion video project, "De Bassarabia a Entre Rios" (From Bessarabia to Entre Rios) is an international success.

There's a local connection to the film. Banchik's cousin Carlos Banchik is vice president of Midbar Kodesh Temple in the Green Valley Ranch area of Henderson, adjacent to Las Vegas.

Carlos attended the family reunion in Argentina which marked the centennial anniversary of the family's flight from persecution in Eastern European (Bessarabia; today Moldova) to a new life in South America.

Pedro intended to make a five-minute video, but instead produced a full-length documentary.

"I didn't have any idea how to make the film," Banchik acknowledges in a telephone interview from his Buenos Aires home. "But when I started to do it, it was like an addiction."

The project - his gift to the family - drew such a strong response that he received emails and phone calls from around the world, including Tel Aviv's Beth Hatefutsoth (Museum of the Jewish Diaspora), which requested a copy for its visual archives.

It was nice to see Midbar Kodesh mentioned, as it was our synagogue when we lived there, and the very first permanent synagogue in Henderson. The Conservative congregation, which celebrates its 13th year in March, began with six families meeting in a public school, graduating to rented space and then constructing a beautiful facility in Green Valley Ranch.

I've suggested the film's inclusion in the third Jewish Genealogy Film Festival, to be held during the 28th IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy, August 17-22 in Chicago.

Other films at the Vegas festival:

Naked Among Wolves (1963, East Germany) - Based on a true story, Buchenwald concentration camp prisoners risk their lives to hide a small Jewish boy from their Nazi captors. German, English subtitles.

My Father My Lord (2007, Israel) - An ultra-Orthodox rabbi (Assi Dayan) confronts irreconcilable demands of faith and family in a contemporary version of the biblical story of Isaac inspired by director David Volach's upbringing. Winner, 2007 Tribeca Film Festival's top prize. Hebrew, English subtitles.

Nina's Home (2005, France) - As World War II ends, the director (Anges Jaoui) of a children's shelter in France helps young concentration camp survivors. French, English subtitles.

Yippee: A Journey to Jewish Joy (2006, USA) - Award-winning writer/director/actor Paul Mazursky ("Down and Out in Beverly Hills," "An Unmarried Woman") chronicles his whirlwind journey to a small Ukrainian town where thousands of Hasidic Jews gather annually to sing, dance and pray at a revered rabbi's grave site.

Aviva My Love (2006, Israel) - When a famous novelist takes a hard-working mother with a secret talent for writing under his wing, brutal ambition and family obligations complicate her pursuit of a dream. Winner, six Israeli Academy Awards, including best picture. Hebrew, English subtitles.

Sweet Mud (2006, Israel) - A 12-year-old boy, caught between an emotionally unstable mother and the rigid equality values of their 1970s kibbutz, inspires a coming-of-age tale. Awards, Sundance and Berlin film festivals; six Israeli Academy Awards, including best picture. Hebrew, English subtitles.

Yiddish Theater: A Love Story (2006, USA) - An 80-something actress and Holocaust survivor struggles to maintain a 1,000-year-old culture through Folksbiene, America's longest-running Yiddish theater. English and Yiddish, English subtitles.

De Bassarabia A Entre RĂ­os (2006, Argentina) - This documentary focuses on Jewish families from the eastern European region of Bessarabia (today Moldova) who settled in early 20th-century Argentina. Spanish, English subtitles.

Rape of Europa (2006, USA) - Short-listed for an Academy Award, this documentary explores how the Nazis plundered Europe's art treasures from galleries, museums and the residences of condemned Jews - and how art patrons and ordinary citizens tried to save prized artworks.

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