The Greater Phoenix Jewish Film Festival, which starts on Sunday, has been around for more than two decades, and over the years it has developed a day where teens from seventh to 12 grades can attend a pre-selected film with their parents to learn more about their Jewish heritage.
At the Greater Phoenix Jewish Film Festival Youth Event, the 2011 film “Wunderkinder” will be screened for free. The film takes place in Ukraine in 1941, and depicts the deep friendship between three musically talented children. Two of the children are Jewish and one is German.
“We have a board of directors that attend meetings and that’s where we sit down and throw out ideas of what movies we should show that we haven’t in the past that might be interesting to young Jewish students,” said Barry Singer, co-executive director of the Greater Phoenix Jewish Film Festival.
Erin Wynn, director of Youth and Family Programs for Temple Chai, has been working on the event since it started nine years ago. After the festival board picks the film, Wynn makes sure it will be one that can hold the young audience’s attention, a tricky task considering the spectators are made up of boys and girls who range in age from 13 to 18.
“I think it gives the kids a chance to see what the entire festival is about and its shows them a movie that normally wouldn’t be on their radar,” she said.
All six Jewish schools in the Valley are encouraged to attend the special screening, which takes place from 10-11:45 a.m. at the Harkins Shea 14 in Scottsdale. Two other theaters will screen the film for school groups during the course of the festival, but the Scottsdale event on Sunday is the only one that is free to Jewish students and parents.
The average size of the young audience differs from year to year, “but typically we see anywhere from 100 to 300 students show up with their parents to enjoy the film and festival,” Singer said.
Festival organizers have brought in trained presenters to help the students understand the sensitive topic of the Holocaust, helping them to understand characters, legends and stories that may be hard for them to fully grasp.
The idea for the Greater Phoenix Jewish Film Festival Youth Event came about when the main festival screened the movie “Life in a Jar.” The documentary tells the story of a Polish Christian woman, Irena Sendler, who helped save 2,500 Jewish children from death in the Warsaw Ghetto.
“‘Life in a Jar’ was one of the first movies we played to the schools and we just wanted to see how the kids would respond to it after seeing it for the first time,” Singer said.
The ultimate goal behind having a film session for teens during the festival is to bring awareness about the Jewish state and to help the youngsters recognize and understand the dangers of prejudice and bigotry.
“We encourage religious schools to go and we hope there are discussions later in the classroom,” Wynn said. “The kids that do go really seem to enjoy the films.” JN