Neil Friedman likes to think of his company, Menemsha Films, an exclusive distributor of Jewish and Israeli films, like a Jewish book club.
“Every film we release is something that interests me and grows my knowledge of my cultural history,” Friedman said. He looks at the films the company produces as “cultural education,” which he hopes to share with others.
“My business is a big version of a Jewish book club,” he said.
Several of Menemsha’s films will be screened at this year’s Sedona International Film Festival June 12-20.
Friedman’s company has set a record of discovering and representing five Academy Award nominees five years in a row. Among the company’s most recent releases is “Asia,” which won nine Israeli Oscars including best picture.
Starring Shira Haas, the Golden Globe and Emmy Award-nominated star of “Unorthodox,” Asia, played by Alena Yiv, is the single mother of 17-year-old Vika, played by Haas, whose deteriorating health leads Asia to finally find her voice as a mother and to embrace and cherish their time together. “Asia” will screen Friday, June 18 at 10 a.m. at the Sedona Performing Arts Center at Sedona Red Rock High School.
“This is a remarkable film,” Friedman said. “I look at 250 films a year to find 15 or 20 that we want to release. If I’ve done my job the right way, those 15 films will play in 150 film festivals in North America.”
Another Menemsha-distributed film in this year’s Sedona lineup is “Winter Journey,” a German film based on National Public Radio host Martin Goldsmith’s book about his Jewish parents who fled Nazi Germany. Both were talented musicians but under the 1935 Nuremberg Laws, they were only able to perform as members of the Jewish Cultural Federation, a bizarre propaganda organization fully controlled by the Reich Chamber of Culture.
The film brings to life the reality of their beautiful and painful love story using edited archive material, including re-enactments of conversations Goldsmith, who plays himself in the film, had with his father as preparation for the book. His father is played by Bruno Ganz, his last part before he died in 2019. It will screen Sunday, June 13 at 10 a.m. in an Enchantment Resort ballroom converted into a theater and at 10 a.m. on Sunday, June 10 in the Harkins 1 Theater.
“Asia” and “Winter Journey” are among ten Jewish-themed or Israeli-produced films in this year’s festival from a number of distributors.
“We have seen a growing number of phenomenal Jewish films submitted to our festival,” said Pat Schweiss, the festival’s executive director. “These are truly moving, powerful and timely films that provide insight on a range of topics. Given the current state of affairs in the world and in Israel, in particular, these films are incredibly important and relevant as a means of healing and creating peace. We are deeply honored to include a vast selection in our festival as we truly believe the world needs to see, hear and experience these stories.”
Others scheduled for screening are “Back to Maracanã,” “Broken Mirrors,” “A Starry Sky Above the Roman Ghetto,” “Sublet,” “The Unorthodox,” “Here We Are,” “Enchantment,” “The Sign Painter” and “Thou Shalt Not Hate.”
“In a Different Key,” a film focusing on autism and the winner of best documentary at the Sonoma International Film Festival and Oxford Film Festival will also be screened at this year’s festival. The film follows the story of the first person diagnosed with autism and includes footage from Phoenix coordinated through Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center and First Place.
More than half of the nearly 180 films in this year’s lineup are documentary, narrative and animated shorts. That group is complemented by full-length narratives, documentaries and special events.
As a result of the ongoing pandemic, the number of evening events will be limited and theater capacity will be around 60% to allow social distancing. Masks will be required in lobbies but can be removed once patrons are seated in the theaters at the Mary D. Fisher Theatre, Sedona Performing Arts Center, Harkins 6 Theaters and in the Enchantment Resort ballroom converted into a theater.
As part of the festival’s effort to ensure the health and safety of patrons, staff and volunteers, pass holders and individual ticket buyers will be able to choose their seats. Staggered start times will allow filmgoers to move directly to their seats when the doors open.
All Access Passes and ticket packages also are available at sedonafilmfestival.com. Passes and ticket packages range in price from $165 for a 12-film ticket package to Gold Passes starting at $625 and Platinum Passes from $1,325. Film Festival members receive discounts on all packages.
Individual tickets will be $15 and go on sale on June 7. JN
For the complete schedule of films and descriptions, visit sedonafilmfestival.com.
Steve Carr owns the Kur Carr Group.