Beyond Stereotypes

Marek Bochniarz

Last autumn Miasteczko Poznań Association organised Poznań Festival of Jewish Films for the third time. The main idea behind this cultural event was to showcase new films centred around the notions of Jewishness and Judaism to the local audience. The strong emphasis was also put on the history of the Jews in Poland, World War II experience and the Holocaust survivors' testimonies. It's a non-profit event which takes place not in cinemas, but rather in several cultural venues in Poznań. Our main goal was to present documentaries and artistic films which could open viewers to the notion of multicultural and multiethnic society. That is why we are also not afraid to discuss even the most sensitive issues, e.g. anti-Semitism or Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But we choose our films carefully to avoid the sensational approach to subjects or stereotypical representation of Jews in contemporary cinema. Over three years, we have developed a devoted audience.

Previous two editions were organised in cooperation with the Jewish Motifs International Film Festival in Warsaw. Audience in Poznań lacks familiarity with such cultural affairs delving into Jewish heritage, except for screenings at Tzadik Poznań Festival, especially comparing to Warsaw's or Cracow's audience. Taking that into account, I started by selecting films different than those presented at the Jewish Motifs. For the second edition, I decided to screen archival movies like 'An American Girl' (dir. Lee R. Bobker, USA 1958).

For the third edition, I curated the program myself, preparing both more independent and sizeable event comparing to previous years. It was held in four different venues in Poznań: Dom Tramwajarza, Brittany House, Dom Spotkań and Łazęga Poznańska. During that edition, we focused on three retrospectives of Oren Rosenfeld, Nina Paley and Tomer Heymann. The idea behind focusing on a selection of films made by one artist, even the older ones, was twofold. It was supposed to let the audience catch up, making up for the gap left by screenings that haven't happened yet. But the goal was also to present important productions dealing with difficult problems and rarely mentioned issues to the next generation of viewers.

We opened the 3rd Poznań Festival of Jewish Films with the special screening of 'One Day in Gaza', in which director Olly Lambert deals with tragic events of 14th May 2018 in Gaza. Although this documentary was produced for the BBC, and thus in many ways is a piece of journalism, we also wanted to show off its artistic value and visual nuances, so we presented it on the big screen. As Jack Seale noted in his review in 'The Guardian': 'With its crisp, horrific images of a day on the border, this astonishing documentary had a clarity that coverage of the Israel-Palestine conflict has lacked for years.'[1]

Another special screening – 'Shooting the Israeli Man' – was an opportunity to explore the history of Israeli cinema through the portrayals of male characters by filmmakers. The director and editor Noit Geva spent a massive amount of time watching old and forgotten movies while preparing 'HAGIGA: The Story of Israeli Cinema', a TV documentary series . At some point, she noticed repetitive elements of narration in those feature films and so she decided to make use of this discovery – to share it with the world. Although one could treat 'Shooting the Israeli Man' as a by-product of that series, it's nevertheless a marvellous work and an intense and engaging experience. The result is also an intriguing collage based on impressive and meticulous research. The viewer can try to recognise some of the films Geva used while editing her portrait of a typical Israeli Man – at least 'typical' in the eyes of Israeli filmmakers.

While preparing the retrospective of Oren Rosenfeld, we found it necessary to invite him to Poznań. We wanted to present his documentary 'Israel's Arab Warriors' about the controversial subject of Israeli Arabs serving in IDF – but also allow the audience to meet Rosenfeld in person and ask questions after the presentation. The Q&A session with the director was an opportunity to present excerpts from his ongoing projects – 'Antiquity Wars', 'Mumbai Jews', 'Holy Vegans' and 'Converts'. We hope to screen them in Poznań as well when they are completed.

Apart from 'Israel's Arab Warriors', the retrospective of Rosenfeld's works included also his hit (and very appetising!) food documentary 'Hummus!' which we didn't dare to omit. 'The Real Fauda' is not just a typical documentary behind the scenes of making Netflix hit series 'Fauda'. It also presents the many aspects of Israeli-Palestinian conflict which is the foreground for the fictional events presented in that series. What makes Rosenfeld such a good filmmaker is, as he puts it: 'In all my movies, I focus on characters. I tell the narratives through people's personal stories and journeys.' In the case of 'One Day in Gaza', we wanted to stress Rosenfeld's involvement in this documentary as a producer.

As for the Nina Paley – a free culture activist, cartoonist and animator – we wanted to screen not only her two animated musicals 'Sita Sings the Blues' and 'Seder-Masochism’, but also her previous short films, e.g. 'Cancer', 'Follow Your Bliss', 'I <3 My Cat', 'Luv Is...'. The reason was simple. The viewer needs to understand the long artistic path that led Paley to those two very ambitious and challenging projects that share a feminist approach in deconstructing national or religious mythology. And on the narrative level are presenting a combination of those deconstructed ancient histories and personal, autobiographical experiences of their creator.

In the two final days of the third retrospective we presented Tomer Heymann's unique documentaries on LGBT themes – 'Paper Dolls', 'Who's Gonna Love Me Now?', and 'I Shot My Love’. 

What differentiates Poznań Festival of Jewish Films from similar movie events in Poland are personal connections with filmmakers whose works we also discuss in details in 'Miasteczko Poznań' magazine. We find publishing a magazine and screening the films a unique combination in our field of interest. The interviews published in this section give a glimpse into many long conversations with directors whose films we had the honour to show in Poznań.


[1]     J. Seale, "One Day in Gaza review – an almost unwatchably vivid vision of carnage,"

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