Amsterdam’s Jewish Film Festival opened on December 9 with the silent, black and white movie ‘The Secret of Delft’ (Maurits Binger, 1917). The small festival will run until December 13, screening a selection of films with the theme ‘Made in Holland’, which honors Jewish film and documentary makers active in or inspired by the Netherlands from the beginning of the 20th century to today.
Now in its eighth edition, this is the first year that the festival has been organized in cooperation with the Jewish Historical Museum. All the movies will be shown at the student-run Kriterion cinema, but the museum café will provide the location for an ‘Eat and Greet’ program of talks and Q&As with filmmakers after the screenings.
Made in Holland
The Jewish Film Festival is not the place to go for new films. This year’s program includes only one Dutch premiere, Saviors of the Night/Unter Bauern, (Ludi Boeken, 2008), a film about Marga Spiegel, a Jew who, with her husband and daughter, was hidden by German farmers between 1943 and 1945, thus surviving the Second World War. Based on Spiegel’s memoirs, the film tells a now well-known story of extraordinary bravery and selflessness in the face of Nazi extremism, but manages to sustain tension throughout by playing on the constant fear of discovery. The film had its international premiere at the Locarno Film Festival in August 2009.
But new films are not what the Jewish Film Festival is about. In fact, a large part of the program is made up of films from 1933-1944. This was a period in which many German Jews active in the German film industry fled to the Netherlands and continued their cinematic activities on the Dutch side of the border. After 1940, they, like many Dutch Jews, were deported to extermination camps.
Unsurprisingly, the Second World War and the Holocaust were prominent themes in Jewish films shot after 1945 – and continue to be so up to today. This is evident in the Canadian documentary Prisoner of Paradise (Malcolm Clark and Stuart Sender, 2003) about the flamboyant actor and filmmaker Kurt Gerron who, in 1944, was forced by the Nazis to make a propaganda film about Theresienstadt, a garrison town in what is now the Czech Republic that was presented by the Nazis as a model Jewish settlement but was in reality a concentration camp. After filming was completed, Gerron was transported to and killed in Auschwitz; or The Ice Cream Parlor (Dimitri Frenkel Frank, 1985), a feature film based on the life of Otto Schneeweiss, a German Jew who fled to Amsterdam in 1939 and opened an ice cream parlor. It was here, among his frozen treats, that the resistance against the German occupation began.
Jerusalem Jewish Film Festival
The Jewish Film Festival in Amsterdam this year coincides with the Jerusalem Jewish Film Festival in Israel. To mark this, the two events have joined forces to screen Tulip Time (Marco de Stefanis and Tonino Boniotti, 2007) in Amsterdam on December 10. Based on archive materials and interviews, the documentary tells the story of the rise and fall of the Trio Lescano, three Dutch Jewish sisters who moved to Italy and became huge stars in the ’30s and ’40s before rising Fascism and the Second World War brought an abrupt end to their career.