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Charlotte's Jewish Film Festival Offers Wide-Ranging Selection

Debby Block align=left

Charlotte's Jewish Film Festival kicked off Thursday. Among its offerings are movies about astronauts, Olympic high-jumpers, a troupe of circus performers, a crusading newspaper publisher, and a giant creature that protects the Jews of Prague. Seven years ago, Charlotte's Jewish Film Festival wasn't much of a festival at all. It was one movie, which Debby Block tracked down the best way she knew how. "At that time it was before Netflix and everybody could get films and so I kind of went to a far out Blockbuster and said probably nobody's seen this film," says Block. "I watched it in my living room and I thought it was good, but the amazing part was when we showed it and everybody's laughing all around you and sort-of like this group energy kind-of builds. It was just a really gratifying experience. So that was great." Block is now the festival's film curator and has a group of organizations and volunteers helping out. Seven years after her Blockbuster search she's on distributors' lists and is going to film festival summits. This year's movies features four documentaries, including one about a Forest-Gump like character, Hank Greenspun, who was involved with Bugsy Siegel and ran guns for Israel. "Hank Greenspun, boy, that's the most odd hero I have ever seen" laughs Block. The festival is also screening five dramas. They're set in Israel, Germany and America. There's even a 1920 silent film with a live piano-player and clarinetist. LISA: What qualifies a movie as a Jewish film? BLOCK: That's always a tough one. Either a Jewish film maker or some Jewish content. Doesn't have to be religious Jewish. It could be Israeli. In this case Hank Greenspun was Jewish, grew up Jewish. They might not all be screaming out "Here's a bunch of Jewish people." Take the movie Breaking Upwards. The director is Jewish, but it's mostly a movie about a young couple strategizing their break up. LISA: Why is it important to have a specifically Jewish film festival? BLOCK: There's many different ways to identify yourself as Jewish. You could be what somebody thinks of as very religiously Jewish, but there's also cultural. I think a lot of American Jews particularly in Charlotte have no idea what it's like to live in Israel. Israel is not a monolithic group of Jews all thinking the same way. They're as diverse or maybe more diverse as Americans are, coming form all over the globe and of all skin colors and languages. I know I've learnt a lot and I think other people want to really learn and find their way to connect to the religion Each year the festival screens what Block calls an outreach film, one that involves people of different religions working and sometimes not working together. This year's pick Circus Kids follows a young troupe from St. Louis going to Israel to put on shows with an Arab-Israeli troupe. The festival started last night and continues through the March 13. The films will be shown at venues throughout Charlotte.