Synagogue launches new Jewish film fest in Brooklyn Heights

for The Brooklyn Paper
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Most people regard film as either a form of entertainment or a source of information. For Simcha Weinstein, curator of the new Brooklyn Heights Jewish International Film Festival, working in film was a life-transforming experience.

While working as a film location manager in his native England, Weinstein decided he wanted to become a rabbi and moved to Israel to pursue his studies. But after marrying an American woman, he came to live in the United States where, as a rabbinical student with Crown Heights Chabad Lubavitch and as head of outreach at Congregation B’nai Avraham in Brooklyn Heights, he married his two passions.

"I grew up with a love of film," Weinstein said. "I found that film was a transcendent medium. It was really film that got me thinking about esoteric questions in life."

Weinstein said he initiated the series because "congregants were asking for a movie night."

"I thought, ’Let’s make it big,’" Weinstein told GO Brooklyn. "Let’s bring in speakers. Let’s talk about the issues."

Although there already is a Brooklyn Jewish Film Festival, in Park Slope, Weinstein believes there is room in the borough for two film series.

"I don’t see [the series] as competitive," he said. "I see it as a niche thing, I hope this series will fuel [the Brooklyn Jewish Film Festival] program."

Weinstein also points out that the speaker after the Feb. 1 screening of "The Mad Adventures of Rabbi Jacob," will be Paul Rothman, founder of the Park Slope series.

Directed by Gerard Oury, "The Mad Adventures of Rabbi Jacob" is a French farce (shown with English subtitles) about a Chassidic rabbi who travels to France and gets mixed up in a comedy of errors and hidden identity.

"People are nervous about the Hasidic community because it lives and breathes by itself. This movie shows that they’re just like everyone else," said Weinstein. "And it’s so funny, people will cry."

The second film, "Time of Favor" (screening on Feb. 8) was directed by Joseph Cedar and has won six Israeli Oscars including one for Best Picture. (It will be shown with English subtitles.) "Time of Favor" is about an orthodox soldier torn between loyalty to his rabbi and to his commanding officer.

"The conflict between religion and the secular state is one that Jews, not just in Israel but all over the world, are facing," said Weinstein.

The post-screening discussion will be lead by a representative of the Israeli consulate.

The last film in the series, "Leon the Pig Farmer," (screening on Feb. 15) is directed by Gary Sinyor, a friend of Weinstein’s and now a successful Hollywood filmmaker whose "The Bachelor" featured Golden Globe winner Renee Zellweger.

In this zany British satire, Leon Geller is a "nice Jewish boy" who accidentally discovers that his biological father is a gentile pig farmer in Yorkshire. The post-screening discussion will be lead by Weinstein, former associate of the British Film Commission.

"I wanted to show that some of the questions that come up in Brooklyn also come up all over the world - identity, ritual versus tradition, racism, unity," said Weinstein. "It’s about Jews coming together and talking about their issues in a loving way."

The Brooklyn Heights International Jewish Film Festival screenings are Feb. 1, Feb. 8 and Feb. 15 from 8 to 10:30 pm at Congregation B’nai Avraham, 117 Remsen St. between Clinton and Henry streets. Films will be shown by VHS on a large screen. The screenings are free and open to the public. For more information, call (718) 802-1827.

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