For a decade, the Baton Rouge Jewish Film Festival has brought together the south Louisiana Jewish community.
And through screening documentary and feature movies that appeal to a wide audience, it has attracted all kinds of film lovers, too.
“For people who are non-Jewish, it gives them a glimpse of some aspects of Jewish culture,” said Ara Rubyan, co-chairman of the event. “Many people will tell you we have more in common than things that keep us apart.”
Created in 2006, the festival began as part of the Jewish Cinema South project from The Institute of Southern Jewish Life in Jackson, Mississippi, which created film festivals across the South.
Harvey and Paula Hoffman agreed to organize the Baton Rouge festival, and the institute acted as a distributor, gathering films, printing brochures and designing advertisements for all the cities involved.
The Baton Rouge festival grew and evolved into its own self-sustaining event, Rubyan said.
“We’ve found that what works in Baton Rouge may be a little different than some of the other cities,” Rubyan said.
It has continued to grow since the death of Harvey Hoffman, who was Rubyan’s father-in-law, in 2011.
Since 2007, the Baton Rouge Jewish Film Festival has also sponsored an educational program for area junior high and high school students. They screen a feature film or documentary with a Holocaust theme to more than 1,000 junior high and high school students, and each year they bring a Holocaust survivor to speak to the students.
“Our kids are part of the last generation that will be able to say that they personally met a Holocaust survivor,” said Rubyan. “It’s important that they have this first-hand opportunity. Perhaps someday, they’ll pass that knowledge and understanding down to their kids and grandkids.”
Teaching that awful history is important, Rubyan said, to ensure that good people prevent another Holocaust from occurring.
“It’s a huge part of history,” Rubyan said. “Sometimes people take it for granted or think that was then and this is now — that it couldn’t happen here. That sort of thing can happen and does happen.”
This year, the festival will screen “No Place on Earth” at the Independence Park Theatre on Tuesday and Wednesday at 9 a.m.
At the four-day festival beginning Wednesday at Manship Theatre, film lovers can see documentaries that illuminate several facets of Jewish life and a feature film that critics praise as hilarious and beautiful.
“We don’t want to show four Holocaust films or four comedies,” Rubyan said. “We want to mix it up.”
What to see at the Jewish Film Festival
“Deli Man”: 7 p.m. Wednesday
A profile of Houston deli owner David “Ziggy” Gruber, a third-generation restaurant owner, this documentary tells the history of the Jewish delicatessen in America. The film follows Gruber and his staff as they prepare mountainous sandwiches, veal chops Czernowitz and other treats. It also features interviews with deli operators from around the country.
“Mr. Kaplan”: 7 p.m. Thursday
Decades after fleeing Europe for South America during World War II, Jacob Kaplan is 76 and living through an existential crisis. Kaplan suspects the owner of a local bar — an elderly German man — is a runaway Nazi and recruits a former cop to help investigate.
“Above and Beyond”: Saturday, Jan. 16, 7 p.m.
In 1948, a group of Jewish-American pilots smuggled planes out of the United States and trained in Czechoslovakia to fight for Israel in the Arab-Israeli War. This documentary tells the stories of the Machal — translated as “volunteers from abroad” — who risked their lives, freedom and American citizenship to join the war. After the screening, director Roberta Grossman will speak about the film.
“Look at Us Now, Mother!”: Sunday, Jan. 17, 3 p.m.
Director Gayle Kirschenbaum focuses on her relationship with her mother following the death of her father. The mother and daughter travel the world together as their once-difficult relationship grows. Following the screening, Kirschenbaum will speak about the film.