The Greater Phoenix Jewish Film Festival (GPJFF) starts this weekend and the standout feature is expected to be the filmed production of the long-running, one-woman Broadway play “Golda’s Balcony.” 

Written by playwright William Gibson, “Golda’s Balcony” follows the story of Israel’s first female prime minister, Golda Meir. The play’s producer, David Fishelson, is bringing new life to the production by releasing a film version of the play with Tovah Feldshuh in the title role. “Golda’s Balcony, The Film”  is screening only at film festivals.

The two-week festival starts Sunday, Feb. 10 and runs through Feb. 24. 

Fishelson will attend the festival for the opening screening of “Golda’s Balcony, The Film” at Harkins Theatres Shea 14 on Feb. 10. He will present the film and answer audience questions after. 

“It’s a strange second life of something that almost wasn’t preserved,” Fishelson said. “But I think Meir’s story is very important, so I’m trying to preserve it and hopefully it’ll live forever somewhere on the internet, maybe.”

During one of the play’s performances, Fishelson filmed Feldshuh using four digital cameras placed at different angles. The footage was originally intended to be used by directors who would work on the play. But seeing an opportunity to share the performance with others, he also cut the footage into a 90-minute movie.  

“Given that you can cut a movie on your Macintosh, I decided to take all my footage and hire an editor, and I was just stunned by the results,” Fishelson said. “It’s a show that was really beloved, but it’s something you can’t see Tovah do anymore. So I decided to submit it to Jewish film festivals and once I did, they started snatching it right up.”

Currently, “Golda’s Balcony, The Film” is only screening at film festivals. Fishelson said that because of Broadway contract issues, it would be very difficult for regular movie theaters to feature the one-woman show. 

Feldshuh, who has also co-starred in “The Walking Dead” and “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” made her debut as Meir on Broadway in 2003. Both the play and Feldshuh have been nominated for Tony Awards several times. In 2006, actress Valerie Harper starred in a film adaptation of “Golda’s Balcony.”

GPJFF Co-Executive Director Jerry Mittelman said showing “Golda’s Balcony, The Film” at the festival is a great privilege, adding, “where else can you see a Tony-nominated Broadway play for the price of a film?”

But even more important to Mittelman is that the festival “exposes Jewish life to everybody and shows that we, as Jews, go through the same experiences everyone else does.” He’s also proud that the festival features great international and art films that can’t necessarily be seen in theaters.

Out of the more than 100 films submitted to the GPJFF, 20 were selected for this year. GPJFF’s board already has begun the film selection process for the 2020 festival.

The festival will be hosted at three Harkins theaters in the Valley: Harkins Theatres Shea 14 in Scottsdale, Harkins Theatres Tempe Market Place in Tempe and Harkins Theatres Park West in Peoria. 

Another film being featured at the GPJFF is the documentary “Who Will Write Our History?” The film was shown just twice in Phoenix in November as part of a special event hosted by the Bureau of Jewish Education. 

Mittelman, who helped organized the November screenings, said both showings were sold out. He hopes the festival screening will give more people the opportunity to see the film based on the book of the same name. 

The movie focuses on Emanuel Ringelblum, who led a covert group of scholars dubbed Oyneg Shabes. The group’s members defied the Nazis while they lived in the Warsaw Ghetto by burying aspects of their culture in tin cans underground.

The documentary’s director, Roberta Grossman, didn’t have the opportunity to interview anyone who lived during that period, so she filmed scenes with actors to recreate the history.

“It takes a lot of time and effort to make any documentary film, and the necessary time, efforts and money for a film on this scale is greatly multiplied,” Grossman said. She said she felt the need to make this movie because so little about the group was known. 

Mittelman said that while many of the films screened during the GPJFF are unfamiliar to most moviegoers, other films the festival has shown have been picked up by local Harkins theaters for longer runs. 

For example, the documentary “Bombshell: The Hedy Lamar Story” had a limited run in local theaters after it was screened at the GPJFF last year.

Mittelman suspects that some of this year’s films will stick around after the festival closes. 

“I think one of the reasons we’ve persisted for so long is because we get to show all these wonderful films that nobody else gets to see,” Mittelman said. “All the

film lovers line up for our festival because they know that we’re always going to

have different films they can’t find anywhere else.” JN

 

For more information on the Greater Jewish Film Festival, visit gpjff.org.

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