DOC N ROCK SUNDAY at Jewish Film Fest Continues 10th Anniversary Celebration

Special guests and special events abound with the 10th Annual Columbus Jewish Film Festival, beginning this Sunday, November 2 with the 6:30 pm premiere of The Wonders and a visit from its director, Avi Nesher. The 10th anniversary celebration will continue with almost-daily films into mid-November, including on Sunday, November 9, with DOC ‘n’ ROCK SUNDAY. The day begins at 11:30 am at the Drexel Theater with the film, The Outrageous Sophie Tucker, which follows the life of vaudeville singing sensation Sophie Tucker, “Last of the Red Hot Mamas,” who defied expectations with her bold, bawdy and brassy style and a 60-year career that redefined show business.

DOC SUNDAY continues with Rescue in the Philippines at 1:30 p.m. at the Drexel, presented in partnership with The Leventhal Fund of the Columbus Jewish Foundation. There, Aurora Avancena, granddaughter of former Philippine President Manuel Quezon, will join audiences for a fascinating discussion of her country’s—and her grandfather’s—pivotal role in saving more than 1,300 Jews and providing refuge in the Philippines during World War II. The one-hour documentary tells the previously untold story of how the five Frieder brothers, cigar makers from Cincinnati, organized the rescue with the help of President Quezon, Paul McNutt, US High Commissioner, and then-Army Colonel Dwight Eisenhower. During poker games which doubled as planning sessions, the stakes couldn’t have been higher.

With nothing to gain and everything to lose, these men put everything on the line because they knew it was right. “It was a very unpopular move,” Quezon’s granddaughter explained. “It was political suicide. Because it was such a brave and unprecedented move, it’s difficult for people to understand why they never spoke about it. That’s the first question on everyone’s mind. But this was a country at war, and our family was in exile in Washington, D.C., when my grandfather died there. This amazing story, unfortunately, just got lost along the way,” said Avancena, who will address this question and more during the post-film Q&A.

But it was her grandfather’s good nature, and belief in social justice, that led him to work with the five Jewish brothers to provide housing, jobs, and sanctuary, even donating his own personal land, for Jews who were out of options in Holocaust Europe. “It was a humanitarian act. These people were in need, they were being persecuted, nobody was helping them, and he thought, ‘We can help. We should.’”

Quezon, as the first president of the Philippines during the 10-year Commonwealth period between U.S. colonization and Philippine independence, was a charismatic leader, determined to elevate his nation’s stature and morale. While he would have been proud to see his country cast the deciding U.N. vote in favor of Israeli statehood in 1947, he never lived to see it.

“The tragedy of it all was that although he spent his life fighting for Philippine independence, he never saw it. I’m very proud to be a Filipino. It reinforces the fact that you don’t have to be big to make a difference. This movie shows that you just need to have conviction. We’re very proud about this movie and very proud of our grandfather,” Avancena said of her family.

At 3:45 pm, also at the Drexel, DOC SUNDAY continues with the film, Road to Eden. The seed for the documentary film following Jewish musician, Dan Nichols, and his band, Eighteen—made up of Mark Neimeic and Nathan Meckel—as they travel the southern states celebrating the festival of Sukkot, was planted almost 30 years ago at Goldman Union Camp in Zionsville, IN. There, Nichols first met Doug Passon, who would become his lifelong friend and future film director on the Road to Eden.

Columbus audiences will be delighted by the film and perhaps even more delighted by the band’s post-film performance. At 7 pm at the JCC, join Dan Nichols and Eighteen as they play favorite hits and more, celebrating Jewish passion, commonality, and friendship.

As co-counselors at GUCI, Passon remembered, “We would stay up until the wee hours of the night on the back porch of our cabin playing music and dreaming about the future. It was there we formed our strong Jewish identities.” Passon, now an attorney and documentary filmmaker, was invited to follow Nichols and Eighteen on the road during Sukkot 2011.

The film crew encountered major surprises almost everywhere they went. “It really did feel like a divine presence was intervening and choosing our stories for us. Each story was so closely tied to the themes of Sukkot,” explained Passon. “We arrived in Alabama in the midst of the turmoil surrounding the passage of harsh new anti-immigration laws, and bore witness to immigrants fleeing the state in fear. The day we went to Little Rock was the day Israeli Soldier Gilad Shalit was freed after five years of captivity. Who knew when we got to Memphis we would have the privilege of having Dr. Reverend Billy Kyles take us to the very spot where Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed and tell us the story of King’s last hour on Earth—because he was there with him when it happened.”

Sukkot, one of the most important and perhaps least understood of the Jewish holidays is generally known simply as a harvest festival. “Yet it is so much more,” said Passon. “Sukkot is a ‘full-body’ experience requiring its observers to leave the comforts of home and dwell outside for eight days in a fragile hut called a ‘sukkah’. The holiday commemorates the ultimate ‘Jewish Road Trip:’ the 40-year period of wandering in the desert.”

The open-air construction of the Sukkah serves as a reminder of the impermanence of life. Perhaps no one could be more aware of life’s fragility and how everything can be swept away in an instant than the people of New Orleans, after surviving Hurricane Katrina. One of the film’s most moving moments conveys the story of Orthodox and Reform congregations coming together in the wake of the destruction.

The Jews celebrating Sukkot there truly embodied the idea that buildings are not permanent, but relationships can be, Passon reflected. The film’s message—and, truly, the message of Sukkot—is that, “We are all traveling this road together, we are all equal, and we are all here to turn this world into a paradise.” For Passon, to see that message come to life in his film, after so much effort and three years of hard work, “has been gratifying beyond words.”

“Being in Columbus for the Film Fest is especially meaningful because this is the home of the Wexner Foundation and the Wexner Heritage Program,” Passon added. He explained that, as a two-year fellow in the Wexner Heritage Program on Jewish scholarship and leadership, he had the good fortune to work closely with the program’s director, Rabbi Jay Moses. Rabbi Moses appears in the film, serving as the Rabbinic Consultant on the meaning of Sukkot, along with Rabbi Yitz Greenberg and Rabbi Eddie Feinstein, who appear as commentators.  “Without the Wexner progam and all of its wonderful leaders and teachers, I would never have had the confidence and ability to dive so deeply into this material,” said Passon.

Sukkot is a call to action to open up to new experiences, new people, and new ideas, Passon noted. “In so doing, we make the most of every moment and celebrate with reckless abandon. That is why the Festival is called ‘the time of our joy.’” The film itself is a call to action to audiences, asking that they continue spreading and living the message of Sukkot in their daily lives. Passon continued, “We have always viewed Road to Eden as not just a movie, but a movement. Each year since the Tour, Dan has placed a new focus on grass-roots Sukkot programming. Our dream is that in the coming years, these Sukkot adventures blossom into full-fledged caravans of people all traveling the Road to Eden—engaging in mitzvah projects along the way, bringing new people of all walks of life into their ever-expanding sukkah, sharing meals and music and celebrating like there’s no tomorrow.”

Like Sukkot and the rock concert finish to DOC ‘n’ ROCK SUNDAY with the band Eighteen, the 2014 Columbus Jewish Film Festival promises to be a “time of our joy,” as well, with 13 films from all over the world, covering a gamut of topics and showing that nothing unites us more than our differences. To view the full schedule, purchase tickets, and learn more, visit www.cjfilmfest.org or call 614-559-6212.