The Daily Gamecock

24th annual Columbia Jewish Film Festival showcases culture, history with independent film screenings

<p>A poster for the Arline &amp; Gerald Polinsky Columbia Jewish Film Festival is displayed in the window of the Nickelodeon Theater in Columbia on Feb. 18, 2024. The festival showcases unique films highlighting Jewish culture and history.</p>
A poster for the Arline & Gerald Polinsky Columbia Jewish Film Festival is displayed in the window of the Nickelodeon Theater in Columbia on Feb. 18, 2024. The festival showcases unique films highlighting Jewish culture and history.

The 24th annual Columbia Jewish Film Festival, organized by the Katie & Irwin Kahn Jewish Community Center, is taking over the Nickelodeon Theatre from Feb. 4 to Feb. 25 with six independent film showings. 

The festival, named after the late Arline and Gerald Polinsky, features a wide variety of Jewish films covering topics from the Holocaust to the life of famed comedian Gene Wilder. The two were well known in Columbia's Jewish community before they passed in 2020. 

"It’s a nice mix of serious and lighter (films)," Doug Swager, a festival sponsor from the Tree of Life Congregation said. "We've sponsored the last two years. ... The committee has done a great job choosing (the films)."

Heidi Lovit, festival chairwoman and movie screener, said the films shown at the festival cannot be found on streaming services or television. Instead, these films are sent to festivals by independent distributors. The Columbia Jewish Film Festival has received films from distributors ranging in location from Los Angeles to Israel.

The first showing of the festival on Feb. 4 was sold out, Lovit said. The crowd awaited "Remembering Gene Wilder," a documentary memorializing the late actor and comedian's life. The film previously won audience awards at the Los Angeles and Boston Jewish Film Festivals. 


Guests gather near the concession stand at the Nickelodeon Theater waiting for the film to start on Feb. 18, 2024. The Columbia Jewish Film Festival aims to showcase films covering topics such as the Holocaust to the rise of Jewish-owned cinemas in New York City.

"Gene Wilder brings his own draw," Lovit said. "They did show some religious things from his upbringing. He wasn’t a very religious man, but he was an observant Jew from an observant Jewish family, and that was enough."

The second showing on Feb. 6 "Farewell, Mr. Haffman," garnered high praise from critics at the 2022 San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, where the film won Best Narrative Feature. The French film follows a man separated from his family during the Holocaust and his journey to both survive and reunite with them. 

"Queen of the Deuce" was the next showing which played on Feb. 13. The film memorializes the life of an eccentric Jewish grandmother named Chelly Wilson, highlighting her legacy as a feminist and gay rights activist. 

"Barren" played on Feb. 15 and was the first film of this years festival set in Israel. The film follows an orthodox Jewish couple through their struggles with infertility and Jewish culture.

"('Barren') shows more of a religious side of Judaism and some of the issues that (orthodox Jews) go through," Lovit said. "I think that's an educational and interesting movie. And it's beautifully done."

The festival's most recent showing was "Simone: Woman of the Century," which played on Feb. 18. The film, depicting a true story, follows Simone Veil's journey from being a Holocaust victim to a leading politician, feminist and human rights campaigner through a non-chronological series of her memories. 

"It's about this woman who came from (Auschwitz) to become the president of the French Parliament. Not only was she the first female president of France ... she was the first Jewish person ever to rise (to that position)," Lovit said. "(The film) shows Holocaust scenes that are hard to watch, but I think it's important to see the tenacity of this woman."

The next and final festival showing will take place on Feb. 25 presenting "Hope Without Boundaries." The documentary chronicles an Israeli field hospital during the war in Ukraine, as medical teams treat Ukrainian patients. This documentary is tied for the most recently released film in the festival, making its official debut in December 2023 at the Miami Jewish Film Festival.

"(The film) is just heartwarming. Taking (employees) out of the hospitals in Israel and putting them in this field hospital for two or three weeks is pretty spectacular," Lovit said. "That's a really feel-good movie."

Lovit said she has been working with professors to promote the festival to USC students through the Jewish Studies Program, but she hopes to reach a larger audience of young people.Having younger people in the Jewish Community Center program prompted her to promote the event through synagogues and the Tree of Life temple, where there are many younger members. 

The festival will play "Hope Without Boundaries" on Feb. 25 at 3 p.m. Tickets can be purchased on The Nickelodeon's website. More information on the festival and other upcoming Jewish Community Center events can be found on its website