Jewish Journal

Jewish topics in spotlight at Palm Springs film fest

by Tom Tugend

Posted on Jan. 5, 2011 at 12:52 pm

Among its 193 movies from 68 countries, the Palm Springs International Film Festival has included a varied menu of special Jewish interest during its Jan. 6-17 run.

One entry is the world premiere of “The Rescuers,” which documents the remarkable deeds of 13 gentile diplomats from different nations, who defied the orders of their governments to help save an estimated 200,000 European Jews during World War II.

The documentary is the work of three unlikely collaborators — Michael King, a local African American filmmaker; British historian and prolific author Sir Martin Gilbert; and Stephanie Nyombayire, a Rwandan human rights activist who lost more than 100 family members in her country’s genocide.

The trio and their camera crew traveled to 18 countries to interview dozens of people who were related to or had known the diplomats or had been saved by their intervention.

One “cast member” is England’s Prince Charles, whose paternal grandmother, Princess Alice of Greece, hid Jews in the royal palace in Athens during the German occupation.

Among the diplomats, only the name of Sweden’s Raoul Wallenberg is widely known, but they include a member of the Nazi party; a Turkish Muslim; two Americans; two Britons; and former envoys from China, Japan, Poland, Portugal, Switzerland and Italy.

King, a film teacher, producer and Emmy winner best known for his documentaries on inner-city teenagers, was asked why he decided to make “The Rescuers.”

“I’ve always made socially conscious films, and I have always been fascinated by the mystery of goodness,” he said, sipping coffee in a French cafe in Westwood.

“The story of the rescuers, who risked their careers by choosing God over their governments, has universal significance.” Besides, he added, “If Steven Spielberg can make ‘The Color Purple’ (on the lives of black women in the Deep South), why can’t I make a film about the Holocaust?”

As King learned more about the rescuers, he and executive producer Joyce Mandell realized that here was a story for all ages and nationalities.

“I was overwhelmed by the courage of these diplomats,” King said. “They worked days and nights to issue visas, passports, and protection and transit letters, established safe houses, snatched Jews from death marches and deportation trains, smuggled Jews across borders and hid them in their own embassies.”

Other Jewish-themed festival films include Israel’s two top movies of 2010, “The Human Resources Manager” and “The Matchmaker,” as well as the Polish picture “Little Rose,” about the communist government’s anti-Jewish campaign following Israel’s victory in the 1967 Six-Day War.

Also scheduled are “Grace Paley: Collected Shorts” about the Jewish writer and activist; “My So-Called Enemy,” about Palestinian and Israeli teenagers on a trip to the United States; and “Next Year in Bombay,” about the Bene Israel community in India.

“The Rescuers” will screen Jan. 9 at 7 p.m. and Jan. 13 at 4 p.m. at the Palm Canyon Theatre. For more information, visit this story at jewishjournal.com

For details on other movies and ticket information, phone (800) 898-7256 or visit www.psfilmfest.org.

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