BRATTLEBORO—Four years ago, Shir HeHarim — which means “Song of the Mountains” and is the name of the synagogue of the Brattleboro Area Jewish Community — was looking for a fundraiser.
First they hit on the idea of showing Jewish films. Then they expanded the concept to Israeli films — films that are not necessarily written or directed by people who are Jewish.
Then they added food, and a festival was born.
“Being a Jewish organization, food is very important,” said Shir HeHarim president Marty Cohn. “So we not only list the menu in the program but include recipes as well for some of the Mid-Eastern fare."
This will be the community’s fourth annual Israeli Film and Food Festival, and it features four award-winning films — two on Saturday evening, Aug. 21 at the Hooker-Dunham Theater in Brattleboro, and two different films on Sunday afternoon, Aug. 22, at the Mountain Park Cinema in West Dover.
The festival joins other established Jewish film festivals in Burlington and in Massachusetts’ Pioneer Valley, as well as the Brattleboro area’s own LGBTQ film festival and its Women’s Film Festival.
“The idea was to showcase Israeli cinema as a way to introduce people to the vibrant industry that is flourishing in Israel,” Cohn said. “Also, coincidentally, it’s a fundraiser.”
The first year, “we got a couple of films and showed them just in West Dover. We sold out every seat at the Mountain Park Cinema — and that’s about 200 seats. So in year two, we introduced a second day of the festival and brought it to Brattleboro,” Cohn said.
“I’m proud to say that not only do we sell out every ticket, but we have people walking out saying, ‘I’ll see you next year.’ It’s become an event that people really look forward to,” he added.
Ruth and A Matter of Size will be shown at the Hooker-Dunham Theater starting at 7 p.m.
Having its Vermont premiere, A Matter of Size is an international award-winner that has Cohn especially excited.
“It’s been shown all over the world and has won numerous awards,” said Cohn. “It’s about these four Israelis who happen to be overweight. They’ve had problems all their life with being ridiculed, but they decide to learn to accept themselves by becoming Sumo wrestlers. So it is a comedy about a coming out, but of a different kind.”
Ruth is the story of an adolescent girl who lives in the most dangerous place in Israel, where she must fight to interpret her faith in her own way.
Mrs. Moskovitz and the Cats and Bruriah will be shown at the Mountain Park Cinema starting at 1 p.m.
Mrs. Moskovitz tells the story of a retired French teacher who wakes up in a hospital geriatric ward and is convinced that it must be a mistake. Bruriah portrays a woman’s desire to assert her independence and womanhood within the borders of the religious world.
At both venues, the doors will open a half-hour before the films begin. Raffle tickets for prizes from local merchants will be offered, and traditional Israeli and Middle-Eastern desserts and snacks will be served during the intermission.
Since the festival began, Cohn has been getting to know the people involved in the Israeli film industry. He started just by Googling the topic.
“I let my fingers do the walking on my keyboard,” he said. “I came up with directions to something called the Israeli Film Fund. Believe it or not, it was funded in 1979 by the Israeli government to promote the film industry. We’re talking about a young country. The fund was established only 30 years after the country was founded. Now it’s responsible for marketing Israeli films around the world.”
Cohn said in 2004, 80,000 viewers watched Israeli feature films in cinemas around the world.
“The numbers rise each year. Since then, over one million viewers around the world each year watch the films, which are coming into the mainstream of other countries,” he said.
Now that the festival is established, producers send Cohn their films all year, hoping to be included.
“It’s been exciting for me, personally,” he said. “Over the course of the year, they send me screeners to select what we’re going to be showing. So I get to see a lot of Israeli movies. This year, I got so many that I enlisted a committee. After our first pass, we narrowed it down to 12 movies. From that, we brought it down to the four that are going to be screened at this year’s festival.”
Festival-goers will also receive a program book with information about the Israeli film industry, reviews of the films — and the recipes.