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Hybrid San Diego International Jewish Film Festival kicks off this Wednesday

Yiddish Book Center
"Who Will Remain? (Ver Vet Blaybn?)" is a documentary focusing on Yiddish poet Avrom Sutzkever (right). The film will screen in person and also be available online at this year's San Diego International Jewish Film Festival.

This Wednesday, San Diego International Jewish Film Festival returns to showcase more than two dozen films from around the world.

Preview of 32nd San Diego International Jewish Film Festival

Film festivals at their best are adventures that take you on journeys into uncharted regions. San Diego International Jewish Film Festival has been providing such discoveries for more than three decades. It specializes in unearthing nuggets of history.


In the documentary "Song Searcher," wax cylinders a century old that were thought lost or destroyed are found. They were created by musician and scholar Moyshe Beregovsky, who traveled across the Ukraine in the early part if the 20th century to record the traditional music of Ukrainian Jewry on fragile wax cylinders.

Festival chair Christina Fink was thrilled when this film was submitted to the selection committee.

"When it comes to the film about a new story, a new discovery, a new piece of history, in my opinion, and in film selection committee's opinion, this really brings it to another level and really brings it in an exciting way to the public so that they can learn and enjoy independent cinema," Fink said.

The discoveries, both historical and cinematic, can once again take place in person.

"We have stepped forward with a hybrid festival and every film will be shown in our Garfield Theatre, which has not only amazing technology but also they've really ramped up all the filtration for health and COVID standards. And then every film is online," Fink explained.


This year, a pair of films explore Yiddish culture. In addition to "Song Searcher" is another documentary, "Who Will Remain? (Ver Vet Blaybn?)," which looks to poet Avrom Sutzkever. Christa Whitney is one of the co-directors.

"Yiddish culture is something that there weren't a lot of documents online," Whitney stated. "Nowadays people think everything is on Google, everything is online, and things that are not Googleable are considered not to exist by some people. But of course, that's not true.

"So the Yiddish Book Center's work is in part becoming a digital address for Yiddish culture. You can find on the Yiddish Book Center's website all kinds of historical archives, not only the Yiddish Book Center's Wexler Oral History Project, but the Yiddish Book Center has digitized Yiddish books and their historical recordings. So I think the work of me and my colleagues and really filmmakers and cultural workers in this space is to create an awareness of the importance and to build interests in this culture that is really a whole world."

Emily Felder, co-director of "Who Will Remain?" described her involvement in the project: "I studied anthropology at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. So right up the road from the Yiddish Book Center, and I knew that I wanted to be a documentary filmmaker, but I really wanted a foundation in social sciences and humanities. So I was incredibly drawn to historical archaeology and visual ethnography, which basically means how we access the past and how we reconstruct historical narratives with objects and landscapes in the present. So this film was really a perfect intersection."

The film uses materials from Sutzkever's granddaughter, fascinating historical footage of Sutzkever testifying at the Nuremberg Trials, and recordings of his poetry.

"Who Will Remain?" and "Song Searcher" uncover fascinating pieces of history that deserve to be preserved. True stories are also the basis for dramas ranging from "Plan A" about Holocaust survivors plotting to poison Germans to "Persian Lessons" about a concentration camp inmate who pretends to be Persian to avoid execution. Then he must make up a fake language when the commandant demands to be taught Farsi.

A passport to cinematic adventures from around the globe awaits audiences online and in person for this year’s San Diego International Jewish Film Festival.

My top recommendations: "Song Searcher," "Who Will Remain?," "Persian Lessons," "Wet Dog," and "Plan A."