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Who Will Write Our History, a film about the archivists of the Warsaw Ghetto, screens on April 3 and April 5 as part of the Houston Jewish Film Festival.
Who Will Write Our History, a film about the archivists of the Warsaw Ghetto, screens on April 3 and April 5 as part of the Houston Jewish Film Festival.
Photo by Katahdin Productions

Houston Jewish Film Fest Includes 1924 Satire That Foreshadowed Holocaust

Social media and the interwebs provide an outlet for hatemongers. Those amplified thoughts also increase the dangers of classifying people as "others" and create an environment where it becomes easier to think of entire populations as unwanted or threatening. More than a few parallels have been drawn between the rise of hatred and the pre-Holocaust era.

The City Without Jews (Die Stadt Ohne Juden), a satirical 1924 film made during a period when economic hardships in Austria fed the antisemitic zeitgeist, was long thought lost to history. A full copy of the film was discovered in a Paris flea market in 2015 and has since been restored by the Austrian Film Archive. The drama is one of the offerings at this year's Houston Jewish FIlm Festival, presented by the Evelyn Rubenstein Jewish Community Center of Houston.

When watching the film, bear in mind that Hugo Bettauer, the author of the book upon which the film is based, was fatally shot by a former Nazi. Nada Chandler, chair of this year's festival, says the film is imperfect in its editing but that history buffs and the socially conscious will appreciate its foreshadowing; the silent film will be accompanied by pianist David Mach from the Moores School of Music.

The festival opens March 30 and features 19 films and an evening of shorts. The 24 screenings will be held at seven locations, including at the Houston Museum of Natural Science, a new partnering venue.

The first of two screenings for Who Will Write Our History is already sold out. The 2018 documentary by director Roberta Grossman tells the story of how archivists in the Warsaw Ghetto clandestinely documented everyday life and buried the evidence in an effort to defeat Nazi lies and propaganda.

Promise at Dawn was directed by Eric Barbier and tells the story of novelist Romain Gary beginning with his impoverished early years through to his experiences as a fighter pilot during WWII.
Promise at Dawn was directed by Eric Barbier and tells the story of novelist Romain Gary beginning with his impoverished early years through to his experiences as a fighter pilot during WWII.
Photo by Menemsha Films

Several French films are included in the line-up, including Promise at Dawn (La Promesse de l’aube’). "It's about French novelist Romain Gary; this is his autobiography but written as a novel. He won the Prix Goncourt [the French literature prize] twice. His place in literary history and Jewish literary history is significant," says Chandler, adding that it's a bit "long-ish" at 131 minutes but extremely well done.

Partnering venue MATCH hosts a screening of Simon and Theodore, another French import. "It's a poignant film about a relationship between a man who has some issues, his wife the rabbi who is pregnant, and a boy who is trying desperately fo find a family," says Chandler, adding that the offering is part of the J's "Get Cultured" events for those in their 20s and 30s, with a happy hour reception at Wooster's Garden beforehand.

Holocaust Museum Houston, still at its temporary location on Kirby during construction of its new building, is hosting two screenings of The Light of Hope (La llum d’Elna). Chandler tells us that it's a lovely movie with lots of subplots. "It's the story about a nurse who stands up to the Vichy regime and takes women and children out from one of the camps, particularly pregnant women, so that they can give birth in a better place."

Each year the chair of the Houston Jewish Film Festival makes a selection and this year's Chair's Choice is The Ballad of the Weeping Spring, a drama that Chandler describes as similar to The Magnificent Seven or Seven Samurai. "In those two movies they're going to battle, but in this movie they're getting together with all of their history or not history to go and sing [the ballad] to one of their original group who is now dying," says Chandler. "It has passionate moments, funny moments, and the music is incredible."

A Bag of Marbles, an adaptation of the autobiographical novel by Joseph Joffo, is about two Jewish brothers in war torn France. It screens on March 30 and April 8.
A Bag of Marbles, an adaptation of the autobiographical novel by Joseph Joffo, is about two Jewish brothers in war torn France. It screens on March 30 and April 8.
Photo by Gaumont

Chandler says it doesn't always work this way, but yet another French movie in the festival is A Bag of Marbles (Un Sac de Billes), about a family that needs to split up because of the Nazi invasion. "It's their story of people who helped them, people who didn't help them, and how they managed to escape," says Chandler. "The two brothers maintain their brotherly bond. It's a story of triumph. Sometimes people do the right thing and sometimes they don't."

"This is our 15th year," adds Chandler. "We pride ourselves on showing films not likely to be shown anywhere else."

The Houston Jewish Film Festival is scheduled for March 30 through April 10 with a pre-festival evening of shorts. For information, call 713-551-7215 or visit erjcchouston.org/arts/houston-jewish-film-festival.

Festival Schedule:

March 29
7:30-9:30 p.m., Friday Night Lights, An Evening of Short Films, The Tasting Room, 1101 Uptown Park, 21 and up, $35

March 30
8:30-10:30 p.m., Opening Night: A Bag of Marbles (drama), Evelyn Rubenstein Jewish Community Center of Houston, 5601 South Braeswood, 713-551-7215, $12 to $18

March 31
1-3 p.m., Redemption (drama), Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 1001 Bissonnet, 713-639-7515, $8 to $10
2:30-4:30 p.m., Heading Home: The Tale of Team Israel (documentary), Houston Community College - Spring Branch, 1010 West Sam Houston Parkway North, $10 to $15
3-5 p.m., The Last Suit (drama), Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 1001 Bissonnet, 713-639-7515, $8 to $10
6-8 p.m., Anthrax (thriller), Houston Museum of Natural Science, 5555 Hermann Park, $14 to $20

April 1
5-7 p.m., Inside the Mossad (documentary), Evelyn Rubenstein Jewish Community Center of Houston, 5601 South Braeswood, 713-551-7215, $10 to $15
7-9 p.m., The Cakemaker (drama), Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 1001 Bissonnet, 713-639-7515, $8 to $10

April 2
7:30-9:30 p.m., Simon and Theodore (drama), MATCH, 3400 Main, 713-521-4533, $10 to $15

April 3
5-7 p.m., The City Without Jews (drama), Evelyn Rubenstein Jewish Community Center of Houston, 5601 South Braeswood, 713-551-7215, $10 to $15
7:30-9:30 p.m., Who Will Write Our History (documentary), Evelyn Rubenstein Jewish Community Center of Houston, 5601 South Braeswood, 713-551-7215, $12 to $18 (advance tickets no longer available)

April 4
7:30-9:30 p.m., Women's Night: Working Woman (drama), Evelyn Rubenstein Jewish Community Center of Houston, 5601 South Braeswood, 713-551-7215

April 5
1-3 p.m., Who Will Write Our History (documentary), Evelyn Rubenstein Jewish Community Center of Houston, 5601 South Braeswood, 713-551-7215, $10 to $15

April 6
6-8 p.m., Working Woman (drama), Evelyn Rubenstein Jewish Community Center of Houston, 5601 South Braeswood, 713-551-7215, $10 to $15
8:30-10:30 p.m., The Unorthodox (comedy), Evelyn Rubenstein Jewish Community Center of Houston, 5601 South Braeswood, 713-551-7215, $10 to $15

April 7
10-11:30 a.m., A Rugrats Passover (family), Evelyn Rubenstein Jewish Community Center of Houston, 5601 South Braeswood, 713-551-7215, free
1-3 p.m., Heading Home: The Tale of Team Israel (documentary), Evelyn Rubenstein Jewish Community Center of Houston, 5601 South Braeswood, 713-551-7215, $10 to $15
3-5 p.m., Promise at Dawn (drama), Evelyn Rubenstein Jewish Community Center of Houston, 5601 South Braeswood, 713-551-7215, $10 to $15
7-9 p.m., Chair's Choice: The Ballad of the Weeping Spring (drama), Evelyn Rubenstein Jewish Community Center of Houston, 5601 South Braeswood, 713-551-7215, $10 to $15

April 8
6-8 p.m., A Bag of Marbles (drama), Evelyn Rubenstein Jewish Community Center of Houston, 5601 South Braeswood, 713-551-7215, $10 to $15
8:30-10:30 p.m., Rescue Bus 300 (thriller), Evelyn Rubenstein Jewish Community Center of Houston, 5601 South Braeswood, 713-551-7215, $10 to $15

April 9
6-8 p.m., The Light of Hope (drama), Holocaust Museum Houston, Morgan Family Center, 9220 Kirby, 713-942-8000, $8 to $10
8-10 p.m., The Light of Hope (drama), Holocaust Museum Houston, Morgan Family Center, 9220 Kirby, 713-942-8000, $8 to $10

April 10
7-9 p.m., Closing Night: Mr. and Mrs. Adelman (comedy), Evelyn Rubenstein Jewish Community Center of Houston, 5601 South Braeswood, 713-551-7215, $10 to $15

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