Jewish Community Center prepares to hold 34th annual Buffalo International Jewish Film Festival

Festival brings critically acclaimed international films to Buffalo

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The 34th annual Buffalo International Jewish Film Festival the longest-running film festival in Buffalo will take place March 22-28. The Jewish Community Center-run festival will feature critically acclaimed documentaries and dramas from around the world.

The festival includes a lineup of events with various producer and filmmaker panels. 

“We're small, but we have a lot of history,” festival chairman Michael Silverman said.

Silverman is responsible for researching and recruiting films from around the world. This year the BIJFF is featuring 11 films.

“The first thing I look for is quality,” Silverman said. “The second is films that deal with societal issues.”

Tickets for any of the screenings are $10 and can be purchased online or at the theater. 

Silverman said the festival still draws crowds despite movies being available for streaming. The average audience count last year was 57 for a screening and the Saturday night screening usually sells out, Silverman said. 

“Seeing movies on the big screen in a theater is always more exciting, engaging and enjoyable than watching at home,” Silverman said. “Then, too, are the ‘extras’ that often come with festivals; the expert presentations, directors, producers and other special events such as we try to provide.”

Matthew Shoychet, a Toronto-based director, will be leading the discussion for the screening of his documentary, “The Account of Auschwitz,” on Sunday March 23. 

“The Account of Auschwitz” follows the 94-year-old former Nazi, Oskar Gröning, as he faced trial in Germany for the murder of roughly 300,000 Jewish people in the Holocaust. Gröning made international headlines at the time of his trial. 

“He’s such an interesting character because he was so old, he was 94 at the time, so [the film] is talking about the passage of time, and how far does complicitness go,” Shoychet said. 

Shoychet said the responses from the audience have been overwhelmingly moving. The film considers how and why society holds war criminals accountable and the importance of preserving history, according to Shoychet.

“As we move forward in time we're losing all the holocaust survivors,” Shoychet said. “We’re losing all the veterans, we’re losing all Nazis and the people who were there to witness it. So it's important to film them and capture the stories. This happens to be in the context of justice.”

The film had its world premiere at the Hot Docs Film Festival in Toronto and won second place for the audience award. The film has been featured in different festivals around the world including Poland, Jerusalem, London and New Mexico. 

Silverman said he thinks films like “The Account of Auschwitz” are likely to draw more young people to the festival. 

“I think that college students might find some of the dramatic documentaries particularly engaging and relevant, such as ‘The Waldheim Waltz,’ ‘The Accountant Of Auschwitz’ and ‘93Queen,’” Silverman said. 

The BIJFF is also holding a speaker night featuring Hollywood producer Linda Reisman. The producer of “The Danish Girl” and “Leave No Trace” will be speaking at the JCC Benderson Family Building on March 9 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $36 with proceeds benefiting the BIJFF.

Alexander Shapiro, a junior mechanical engineering major and president of the Jewish Student Union, said he thinks the event is important for students to know about.

“I think that the Buffalo Jewish community, the JCC, could do a better job of trying to advertise to students, but we shouldn’t blame them,” Shapiro said. “We as the Jewish Student Union should be doing a better job of keeping tabs on what's happening in the Buffalo Jewish community.”

Shapiro said students aren’t aware of the festival and events like it in Buffalo. He is looking forward to attending the festival this year after recently learning about it.

“There’s at least one film I’m really excited to see,” Shapiro said. “[“The Accountant of Auschwitz”] highlights the recentness of the Holocaust in the grand scheme of history and the historical trauma that is deeply embedded in the Jewish community, as well as how we balance the values of justice and forgiveness.”

Isabella Nurt is the assistant features editor and can be reached at: isabella.nurt@ubspectrum.com & @Nurt_Spectrum.

Isabella Nurt


 Isabella Nurt is a junior film production major. She is keen to get off campus and cover underground topics in the greater Buffalo area.