Staff Picks of the 2018 AJFF


We as a staff love talking about the films of the festival to anyone, anytime, almost any place. Now is the time we get talk about them non-stop with everyone else and we're taking full advantage. So, what are the Staff Picks of the 2018 AJFF? 

Kenny Blank, Executive Director

Winter Hunt
Winter Hunt, for me, is a wonderful representation of an AJFF film. It’s as thought-provoking, complex and nuanced as the painting portrayed in the film and for which it is named. Each year we receive film submissions that touch on similar themes and when that happens, we demand of that film that it approach the subject matter in a new way. In her debut film, director Astrid Schult does just that. We’re excited to hear more about her process as she attends several screenings of the film as well.

Brad Pilcher, Associate Director 

Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story
The story of Hedy Lamarr has always fascinated me. This was an obviously intelligent woman who made incredible contributions to mechanical engineering, all while being one of Hollywood's most iconic starlets. That she is known for the latter, instead of the former, is just part of the tragedy of her life. She was plagued by sexism, and later, by mental illness and this film explores all of it. I wouldn't call it uplifting, but it's a brilliantly made documentary: a reminder that she deserved better, and we can do better.

Lori Zelony, Development Director 

A Bag of Marbles
A Bag of Marbles brought up so many emotions for me. The love that the brothers express as they take care of one another resonates as well as hope for this family that they can be together again. There is sadness and angst as the boys struggle in their travels alone and in their daring escape to make it back to their family. This (true) story never lands on one feeling, rather; because it’s almost unbelievable, it lands on multiple senses at once throughout. If you have a sibling or anyone you view as such, this one will hit home. It’s a must see!

Danit Drory, Development Associate

The Cousin
By the title alone, you’d think the movie is about family. However, it’s deeper than that. Not only is it a mystery of ‘who’s done what?’ but it reveals that we cloud our judgement in times where we need to see things clearly. A film that displays that there’s more to a person than meets the eye. The Cousin is a visionary example of the prejudice that we all see today. Regardless of race, religion and culture it is time that we all start to see things clearly.

Shellie Schmals, Film Programming Manager

 Shalom Bollywood: The Untold Story of Indian Cinema
The dancing! The music! The drama! … and that was all behind the scenes! I really enjoyed Shalom Bollywood: The Untold Story of Indian Cinema and learning about how Jewish actors (specifically women) helped in launching the Indian filmmaking community. These true life events are as entertaining and colorful as any Bollywood tale on the screen today.

Chris Holland, Programming & Operations Manager

Just the thought of Gilbert Gottfried makes me chuckle. Maybe it’s the alliterative hard-g sounds in his name. Maybe it’s the trademark rasping annoyance in his performing voice. Maybe it’s the way his face scrunches up in a way that lets you know he’s more bewildered than angry (and hey,  it’s okay to experience that bewilderment with him). Whatever it is, I didn’t need this documentary about Gottfried and his true bewilderment — at how he ended up where he is — to love him. But it does make me love him more. 

Leah Sitkoff, Communications Manager

Funny Girl
I’m not sure I should have picked this one as I fear I won’t be able to stop talking about it. I’m theatre obsessed and admit it proudly. To see a legendary theatre performance captured by the performer who originated it is one the greatest gifts that film has to offer. I grew up on this film and still find my way to it whenever it’s on. I have never had the chance to see it on the big screen. If I have to summarize, I’ll just say this; it’s Barbra at her best. (Sorry, The Way We Were.)

Katherine Price, Community Programming Manager

Keep the Change
Keep the Change was such a standout for me, partially because of the amazing story behind the film. I love a good romantic comedy, which this film certainly is. However, the fact that the cast is made up of nonprofessional actors on the autism spectrum is what makes this film new and unique, yet simultaneously familiar. It’s a film with heart, comedy, joy, and purpose. We’re lucky to have lead actor Brandon Polansky here for three of the screenings – I know he will come ready for incredible dialogue…and he’ll also be prepared with lots of jokes!

Viet VoPham, Office and Business Manager

Greg McLean’s Jungle tells the true story of an Israel-born backpacker who convinces his two close friends to join him on an expedition through the Bolivian rainforest. The psychologically-driven narrative reminded me of two classics in the natural horror/thriller genre, Sean Penn’s Into the Wild (both illustrate treacherous journeys of self-discovery) and Werner Herzog's Aguirre, the Wrath of God (both depicting the physical and also the more understated emotional and psychological effects of voyaging into the unknown). However, Jungle is not only a tension-rising tale of surviving against all odds but one advocating unwavering friendship and the power of faith. Also, being a die-hard Daniel Radcliffe fan, I can say with great certainty that this was one of his best performances to date – a must-see at this year’s AJFF!

Jenna Gould, Guest Coordinator

Keep the Change
My favorite of this year's films has got to be Keep the Change. It's a sweet, funny, and compelling romantic comedy (and I'm not usually a fan of the rom-com). I think what's special about this film is that the lead actors who play Sarah and David are autistic and bring their unique perspectives to their roles. Hollywood is finally being called out for casting cis-gender actors in the roles of transgender characters when there are so many incredible transgender actors who could play these roles instead. It's time we do the same with characters that are disabled, whether physically or mentally. Social issues aside, Keep the Change is simply a great film, reminding us of the special feeling we get from finding another person who seems to fully understand and accept us for who we are. Call me a softie, but I love how much heart this film has.