Chasing light

Twenty-four new Jewish films screen in the Twin Cities.

Tom Horgen

The 13th annual Susan Himmelman-Shapiro Twin Cities Festival of Jewish Film will give filmgoers plenty to talk about. Many of its films are unexpectedly timely, and to the surprise of its organizers, the assembled movies have created an unexpected theme.

“One of the interesting things about the festival this year is that we’ve somehow ended up with a lot of films about strong women,” said Walter Elias, head of the festival committee.

The popular festival starts today and will showcase more than 20 films from the United States, Israel, Hungary, Poland, Germany and the Czech Republic.

Tonight’s kick-off film “A Journey of Spirit,” sets the tone for the festival’s empowering theme. The documentary examines how revered musician Debbie Friedman, a St. Paul native, bridges Jewish tradition with contemporary songwriting.

Following suit, there’s “The Last Hiding Place,” which follows two bold sisters surviving Nazi persecution in 1942 Germany. “Thunder in Guyana” is a documentary about the first U.S.-born woman to lead a country as president. And “My Terrorist” is a fascinating documentary about a Jewish woman who seeks out the Palestinian man who wounded her in a machine-gun attack more than 20 years ago.

Three other films, “Ruthie and Connie: Every Room in the House,” “Rosenstrasse” and “The Power of Good: Nicholas Winton” support this overall theme, and each is also extremely timely.

“Ruthie and Connie” is a documentary about two women who, in 1988, sued the New York City Board of Education for domestic partner benefits. Both women will be on hand to answer questions after the March 23 screening.

“They are very important heroes in the domestic partner rights movement,” Elias said.

And with “The Passion of the Christ” in the national spotlight, “Rosenstrasse” and “Nicholas Winton: The Power of Good” will be worth checking out. Both are essentially about Jewish and Christian relations, Elias said. Though the two films are more unifying than divisive. “Rosenstrasse” is a feature film about a group of German women whose public protest won the freedom of their Jewish husbands during World War II. “The Power of Good” documents another little known story of World War II about an English stockbroker who saved approximately 700 Jewish children.

Breaking away from the unplanned theme is “My Architect: A Son’s Journey,” which could be called the festival’s centerpiece. The Oscar-nominated documentary is about a son’s quest to discover his estranged father, the deceased Louis Kahn – a man considered a supreme innovator of 20th century architecture. The March 27 screening at the Oak Street Cinema will be the area premiere of the acclaimed film and the director and son, Nathanial Kahn, will answer questions afterward. Advanced tickets are going fast, Elias said.

This year, the festival will pay tribute to Susan Himmelman-Shapiro, who died in an automobile accident in 2003, by renaming the festival in her memory. She had been a vital contributor to the festival since its inception, Elias said.