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Batter up: Charlotte Jewish Film Festival hits a home run with 'Israel Swings for Gold'

The film "Israel Swings for Gold" covers the country's baseball team at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
Menemsha Films
The film "Israel Swings for Gold" covers the country's baseball team at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

For 13 years, Jeff Turk has worked on the film selection committee of the Charlotte Jewish Film Festival. He spoke recently about this year’s festival, which includes 17 films. It opens on Saturday, Jan. 27, with “Seven Blessings,” a film that won best picture, best actress and best supporting actress in Israel’s version of the Academy Awards.

What’s new about this year’s Charlotte Jewish Film Festival?

Turk: “Why coming to the Jewish Film Festival in Charlotte is so important is that it's going to create understanding, it's going to create enlightenment, and really I think help form how Jewish people think and feel.

How did you come about including "Israel Swings for Gold," a documentary about the Israel Olympic baseball team at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games?

Turk: “We're always looking for sports-related films because there is an audience that really looks forward to that. "Israel Swings for Gold" is a perfect film because it’s a sequel of a film that we had several years ago called “Heading Home” that was very, very well received. It’s a really well-made film, and it tackles a lot. It tackles how far Israel has come as a nation, but also sports — and a nonpolitical story.”

Tal Erel, catcher on the Israel Olympic team, on what it's like to play baseball in Israel:

“So in the morning, I was kind of a firefighter in the headquarters in Tel Aviv. And then afterwards I would go play baseball. But even being in the military, they'll be like, ‘OK, what's baseball?'

“They don't even know what a baseball is. They usually ask if it's the oval ball and think it's football. But then you have to explain to them it's actually the one with the bases and the ball and then you get to hit and run around.

“And then they're like, ‘they've seen it maybe on TV.’”

Jeff Turk has helped select films for the Charlotte Jewish Film Festival for 13 years.
Catherine Thompson
Queens University News Service
Jeff Turk has helped select films for the Charlotte Jewish Film Festival for 13 years.

What other films do you recommend in the festival?

Turk: “Several films that are really outstanding and maybe below the radar are “The Boy in the Woods,” “Irena’s Vow” and “Kidnapped.” “Irena’s Vow” and “Kidnapped” both will be released in theaters later on this year, so the Charlotte Jewish Film Festival is able to show them to our audience before the national audience. “The Boy in the Woods” is a brand new film from Canada, and Charlotte is the second city for it to play in.”

What motivated you to pursue film selection work, sometimes watching 150 films in a six-month period?

Turk: “From the youngest age, I've always loved film. I've loved going to movies, I love watching movies. When I was in high school and college, I worked at a movie theater here in Charlotte, actually, at the SouthPark Cinema and also Eastland Mall Cinema.

“So it was a natural progression for me to get involved in both the Charlotte Jewish Film Festival as a film selection member and also to chair the film selection.”

Going to the festival

Most films in the festival will be shown at Shalom Park on Providence Road. Two films will be shown at the Independent Picture House on Raleigh Street.

On Sunday, Jan. 28, the festival is scheduled to screen “Israel Swings for Gold.” Tal Erel, catcher for Israel’s national Olympic baseball team, is featured in the film and will answer questions after the screening.

Karsyn Sadler of Las Vegas is a student in the James L. Knight School of Communication at Queens University of Charlotte, which provides the news service in support of local community news.