Congregation Beth El to reprise cultural film initiative

BENNINGTON — After a successful inaugural run in 2017, a popular local celebration of culturally-oriented movies is making a comeback with a fresh slate, but the same conviction.

The 2nd Annual Jewish Film Series, previously known as the Jewish Film Festival, will premier this Sunday at Oldcastle Theatre Company with the classic Academy Award winning "Cabaret."

The series is sponsored by Congregation Beth El, and all showings will be hosted at Oldcastle. The four films chosen will all show at 5 p.m. on the final Sunday of each month as shown below.

All movies will be shown free of charge. Free will donations, however, are welcome from audience members, but not required.

Oldcastle artistic director Eric Peterson said hosting the series is both important from a cultural perspective and in line with Oldcastle's ongoing mission to expand offerings to the community, using its venue as a creative hotspot.

"Oldcastle Theatre is delighted to host the Jewish Film Series," Peterson said. "When we received the grant from the Citizens for a Greater Bennington to purchase film equipment, our goal was to bring movie showings back to Main Street. The Jewish Film Series began last year and quickly became popular. We want to work with as many local groups as possible and keep the theater busy, so it has certainly helped us do that."

Al Bashevkin, a member of the series' organizing committee, added that education and appreciation are both at the heart of the series' success, and what have made it worthy of a comeback this year. Bashevkin credited committee members Shelli DuBoff, Sharon Yorke and Betsey Belvin with final movie selection.

"We've been talking about broader ways to engage the Jewish community and the greater community," Bashevkin said. "Our wish is to educate ourselves and others, and to spur conversations about being Jewish today in America. Our choices for movies will, we hope, stimulate those conversations, as well as provide respite from the winter weather on the last Sunday of each month."

The slate of films will be presented starting this Sunday:

Jan. 28: "Cabaret" 5 p.m.

It is the city of Berlin in 1931, a time when political unrest racks the country, the economy has been destroyed, and millions of unemployed roam the streets. Enter into this chaos an American cabaret dancer, working at the downtown "Kit-Kat Club" where anything goes on the stage. In 2013, film critic Peter Bradshaw listed "Cabaret" at number 1 on his list of "Top 10 musicals." Starring: Liza Minnelli, Joel Grey, Michael York, and directed by Bob Fosse.

Feb. 25: "Snow in August" 5 p.m.

Following the beating of a Jewish merchant by racist thugs, a Catholic boy befriends a Rabbi. The boy and his mother become fearful for their lives and for protection the boy must create the vengeful Golem. This mystical movie used themes of baseball, kabbalah, and relationships to spin a wonderful tale. Starring: Stephen Rea, Lolita Davidovich, Adam MacDonald and directed by Richard Friedenberg. Based on the book of the same title by Pete Hamill.

March 25: "School Ties" 5 p.m.

David Green is brought into a prestigious 1950s school to help the football team beat their old rivals. David, however, is from a working class background so he isn't really "one of them," but he's very successful at making friends. David is a Jew, and has to keep this a secret from his friends for fear of being rejected. This movie highlights the religious inequality that took place during the 1950s in America. Starring: Brendan Frasier, Matt Damon, Chris O'Donnell, and directed by Robert Mandel. When it appeared in theaters, it was overshadowed by "The Dead Poet's Society" which appeared during the same year.

April 29: "Bag of Marbles" 5 p.m.

In Nazi-occupied France, two young Jewish brothers, Maurice and Joseph, who have been left to their own devices, Maurice and Joseph, display an incredible amount of malice, courage and ingenuity to escape the enemy invasion and try to reunite their family. Though not without its small blights, it's a poignant crowd-pleaser with cross-over appeal that challenges your emotions and engages the human spirit. French movie with subtitles.

In considering the movie selection for this years, series, Congregation Beth El Rabbi Micah Becker-Klein said that the medium of cinema is an attractive one to get people of different backgrounds engaged in cross-cultural exchange.

"Whether drama, history, or comedy, there are ways to gain an appreciation of Jewish life and culture," Becker-Klein said. "This is not about any one group, affiliation, or demographic. These films should have a wide appeal from younger to older, from religious to atheist, and to those of various faiths. We hope to bring a diverse group of people together [to] explore the ways in which Jewish values and ideas are or are not conveyed. Film is a great vehicle for a larger conversation."

For more information on the 2018 Bennington Jewish Film Series, call Congregation Beth El at 802-442-9645, or Oldcastle Theatre Company at 802-447-0564.

Contact award-winning freelance journalist Telly Halkias at or on Twitter: @TellyHalkias


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