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The 19th Annual Omaha Jewish Film Festival opened on November 20th with the documentary, They Ain’t Ready for Me, the story of Tamar Manasseh, a black rabbinical student who leads a fight against gun violence on the streets of southside Chicago. On November 22nd the Institute for Holocaust Education (IHE)’s selection for the festival, Syndrome K was shown. This is the true story of three Roman Catholic doctors who saved Jews from the Nazis during WWII by convincing them that the Jews in their care were infected with a highly contagious and deadly disease that the doctors called “Syndrome K.” There was no such disease.

The festival concludes with two outstanding films, Asia on November 29 and Standing Up, Falling Down on December 4. These films are being shown at 7 pm in the Alan J. Levine Performing Arts Theater on the Staenberg Kooper Fellman Campus. Tickets are available online at www.jewishomaha.org then clicking on the Omaha Jewish Film Festival slider at the top of the page.

ASIA

This film presents the story of the relationship of a mother, Asia, played by Alena Yiv, and her daughter, Vika, played by Shira Haas.  Asia became a mother at an early age and motherhood was always a struggle for her. Despite living together, Asia and Vika barely interact. Asia concentrates on her job as a nurse while Vika hangs out at the skatepark with her friends. Their routine is shaken when Vika's health deteriorates rapidly. Asia must step in and become the mother Vika so desperately needs.

Actress Alena Yiv was born in Russia as Alyona Ovsyanick. At age fourteen she made Aliyah to Israel. After graduating from high school with a specialization in mathematics and music, she developed an interest in cinema and began formal studies in that field. She took acting classes, leading to starring in the short film Junior, which was nominated for the best Israeli short film in the Haifa International Film Festival and a year later in the Jerusalem Film Festival.

Shira Haas is an Israeli actress who gained national prominence for her roles in local film and television, having won two Israeli Ophir Awards out of five nominations beginning in 2014. In 2020, she gained international acclaim for her role in the Netflix miniseries Unorthodox. With this performance, she became the first Israeli actor to be nominated for both a Golden Globe Award and a Primetime Emmy Award. In the same year, 2020, Haas won the Tribeca Film Festival Award for Best International Actress for her performance in the Israeli drama film Asia. Among numerous additional cinematic accomplishments, Shira received five prestigious award nominations for her starring role as Ester Shapiro (Esty) in the television series Shtisel.

In a June 8, 2021 interview, one day before the United States debut of Asia, Shira responded to a question about her initial reaction to the character, Vika, and the movie’s script, “It is a story which of course it’s about grief and loss and death, but to me, when I read it, it’s actually a story about life, not about death. It’s about being with one another and not taking for granted what’s really important... I remember saying to my agent – ‘I have to do that.’ I could not see the possibility of not doing that.”  This film is sure to reach one's emotions and at the same time giving pause for introspection.

STANDING UP, FALLING DOWN

This poignant film is both a comic and dramatic portrayal of a struggling stand-up comedian, Scott Rollins, played by Ben Schwartz, and an alcoholic dermatologist, Marty, played by Billy Crystal. They form an unlikely friendship and give each other the confidence to face their failures. The title of the film refers to the main character’s gig as a stand-up comic, but it also encapsulates the troubled lives of the two protagonists. Scott has failed as a comic in Los Angeles and returns to live with his parents in Long Island. Marty harbors regrets and failures far more profound than Scott’s career disappointments.

Benjamin Schwartz is an American actor, comedian, writer, director and producer, who portrayed Jean-Ralphio Saperstein on the NBC sitcom Parks and Recreation, Clyde Oberholt on the Showtime series House of Lies, voices Randy Cunningham in Randy Cunningham 9th Grade Ninja, Dewey Duck in DuckTales, Leonardo in Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and appears many times in the CollegeHumor web series Jake and Amir.

 William Edward (Billy) Crystal is well known nationally and internationally as an American actor, comedian, director, producer, and television host. He gained prominence in the 1970's for his television role as the gay Jodie Dallis in the sitcom, Soap. He appeared numerous times on Saturday Night Live, and in the 1984-85 season presented recurring sketches in the persona of Fernando Lamas, a smarmy talk-show host. Crystal's movie credits include, Running Scared, When Harry Met Sally, City Slickers, and numerous others. He has created comedy albums, hosted the Academy Awards, starred on Broadway, and has been a most-welcomed guest on late night television. This film reveals an aspect of Crystal's talent and versatility that move beyond his standard roles.

As a film-viewing bonus this year, the Jewish Federation of Omaha, along with numerous communities throughout the country, is participating in a "Hanukkah Film Festival" with Menemsha Films, one of our major film suppliers. New films will be released each of the eight consecutive nights beginning November 28. Eleven films in all will be available for viewing in   the comfort of your own home. All ticketing for the Hanukkah Film Festival will be managed directly by Menemsha Films via HanukkahFilmFestival.com, where you can also find the full line-up of films, many of which were screened and recommended by our own local film festival committee. Their standard price will be discounted to $36 for the entire festival if the exclusive code OMAHA is used at the time of checkout. Proceeds from ticket sales will be shared between Menemsha and the JFO.

This year's film festival is supported by the following Jewish Federation of Omaha Foundation Funds: the Frederick J. Simon Memorial Endowment Fund, the Avy L. & Roberta L. Miller Film Fund, the Samuel & Bess Rothenberg Endowment Fund, the Kenneth Ray Tretiak Memorial Fund, and the Ruth Frisch & Oscar S. Belzer Endowment Fund.