Why Jewish Film Festivals are so important

April 2023
Wendy Schneider

The 2023 Hamilton Jewish Film Festival, a co-presentation of the Hamilton Jewish Federation and The Effort Trust Company, recently concluded its fifth year with the screening of five superb films from four countries over three days that showcased the diversity of Jewish culture and experience. As coordinator of this year’s festival, I was delighted to see so many film lovers from both within and beyond the Jewish community flocking to the historic Westdale Theatre in late February and early March to enjoy an inspired collection of feature films and documentaries curated by the dedicated members of this year’s Jewish film festival committee. 

Jewish film festivals have become a central programming feature of most major North American Jewish communities by virtue of their ability to unify Jews of varying denominations and political ideologies to help Jewish audiences make meaningful connections to their heritage. Our community should feel proud that the Hamilton Jewish community can count itself among them.

From its inception, the Hamilton Jewish Film Festival has been about much more than just showing movies. Our mandate is to bring entertaining and thought-provoking films to engage the Jewish community, while also providing an opportunity for the greater Hamilton community to learn about Jewish history, culture and heritage in an open and welcoming environment. 

The theme of this year’s festival was Jewish Roots, Universal Themes. And indeed, while the five films showcased the diversity of Jewish culture and experience, they also spoke to issues to which people of all backgrounds and experience could relate, namely the immigrant experience, losing a spouse to sickness or old age, reawakened sexuality and the plight of the dispossessed.  Though never articulated as such, I believe our choices were rooted in a belief that the Jewish film festival can play a role in breaking down negative stereotypes, altering perspectives and building bridges of understanding with other ethnic and cultural groups—not to mention an important artistic contribution to the Greater Hamilton community.

Jewish communal life in Hamilton has still not fully recovered from the disrupting effects of the pandemic, and yet, the yearning to be part of a community that has so characterized Jewish life through the ages has been an essential part of the way forward. This is true of our sponsors, whose generosity, community-mindedness and commitment made it possible to bring this outstanding Jewish cultural event to the community; of the wonderful members of our film festival committee, who gave so much of their time to make the event such an outstanding success; and it’s true of our wonderful audience who come out year after year to immerse themselves in the wonderful world of Jewish film. We couldn’t have done it without you. 

Wendy Schneider is the coordinator of the Hamilton Jewish Film Festival.