Dig Baton Rouge

Expanding Culture

By Tara Bennett

The upcoming annual Baton Rouge Jewish Film Festival will see its 10th iteration of bringing films to the Red Stick that inspire, inform and entertain, while reflecting the history of Jewish culture.

“I often wonder what is it about the festival that keeps us doing it year after year and I really think it’s the people, it’s the audience who comes to be entertained and see the films,” said Ara Rubyan, co-organizer of the festival. “It’s a great excuse to get together…It’s a fun time.”

For Rubyan and his wife, Julie Hoffman, the Baton Rouge Jewish Film Festival is a family affair. The festival began with Hoffman’s parents, Harvey and Paula, back in 2007. After Harvey died, Rubyan and Julie took the reigns as co-organizers of the festival, becoming highly involved in each area such as selecting the films and working with fundraising.

“It’s kind of a family business in a way,” said Rubyan. “It’s a great way to meet up with your friends and watch movies.”

According to Rubyan, the significant contribution the festival adds to Baton Rouge culture is that it brings everyone together and audiences “can see what they have in common with the Jewish tradition, culture and history.”

“It sounds kind of exotic…and yea culturally it’s a little bit different, but it’s that tradition that binds everyone together,” said Rubyan. “There’s a part of a story that shows audiences they have more things in common with each other than what separates us.”

Another benefit to the festival, according to Rubyan, is the education the films give. By watching the films presented, people receive an understanding of Jewish culture.

“People get a wider view of the world and how other people live and what history other people have,” said Rubyan.

The festival, a program of the Jewish Federation of Greater Baton Rouge, runs from Jan. 13-17 at the Manship Theatre located inside the Shaw Center for the Performing Arts. The festival opens with Deli Man, a 2014 documentary about David “Ziggy” Gruber, a third generation restaurateur from Houston. Gruber takes audiences on a documentary tour of the history of the delicatessen and interviews other deli operators from around the country along with loyal celebrity customers such as Jerry Stiller and Larry King.

“I think this is a terrific film, it’s funny, it’s got a lot of famous faces in it and why they like Jewish delicatessens and the food that’s served there,” said Rubyan. “And it also tells the story of the proprietor of this delicatessen. I like that because it’s funny, it’s light and breezy.”

The film will open on Wednesday, Jan. 13 at 7 p.m. and will feature a special deli-themed reception with food samples from the movie.

“Opening night is always neat because there is a lot of excitement,” said Rubyan. “In early to mid-January, people need something to fun to come out and do. The holidays are over, and you aren’t near Mardi Gras yet, so this is a high point for a lot of people.”

The following day will see the screening of Mr. Kaplan, a 2014 Spanish film about an aging Jewish man in an existential crisis, who plots to kidnap a Nazi war criminal and put him on trial for his crimes. The film will begin at 7 p.m.

On Saturday, Jan 16, at 7:30 p.m. the festival continues with Above and Beyond, a 2015 film, which focuses on a team of Jewish American pilots who smuggle planes out of the United States to give aid to Israel during its War of Independence. Following the screening, the film’s director, Roberta Grossman, will speak about her film’s message to audience members.

“We’ve had her once before for a film she made a few years ago,” said Rubyan. “She’s a terrific speaker; she’s entertaining, quick lively, funny. She works the audience and is really great.”

Also attending the festival will be Gayle Kirschenbaum, who will Skype in to talk with audience about the subject of her film, Look at Us Now, Mother! The film chronicles Kirschenbaum’s highly charged relationship with her aging mother who rejected her daughter for not being born a male. The film will close out the festival on Sunday, Jan. 17 at 3 p.m.

Ticket prices per film are $8.50. Visit brjff.com or call the Manship at 866-451-2787 for more information on the festival, including times, locations, and more about the films.

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