Sampling ‘Strange Fruit' | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Sampling ‘Strange Fruit'

The Jewish Film Festival takes place Nov. 1 through Nov. 6. Call 956-6215 for tickets.

Some Jacksonians know that Billie Holliday dared to sing about the lynching of African-Americans in a protest song called "Strange Fruit." But very few likely know that the song—a testament to Jewish support for racial justice and equality in the United States—was written by a Jewish schoolteacher, Abel Meeropol, from the Bronx.

The confusing and brutal world Holliday sang about is revealed in an extraordinary documentary, "Strange Fruit," which examines the origins and influence of the controversial song. "Strange Fruit"is one of six world-revealing films that will be shown at the second annual Jackson Jewish Film Festival, which unspools Nov. 1-6 at New Stage Theatre and the ETV Auditorium.

Jackson's Jewish community, including the Goldring Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life, is coming together to present the Jewish Cinema South festival of independent films that explore a broad range of the Jewish and human experience. These are the kinds of films that ordinarily would not play in a city the size of Jackson. Yet they are not just obscure independent films, but include last year's winner of the Oscar for Best Foreign Film as well as celebrated documentaries. In addition to such common themes as the Holocaust, these films address the issues of life in contemporary Israel and Jewish involvement in the fight against racial oppression in America. After most showings, there will be guest speakers who will explore the films in more detail and answer audience questions.

Jewish Cinema South began three years ago as a way to bring Jewish film festivals to small and medium-sized Southern cities. It also runs this month in Roanoke, Va., and Mobile and Montgomery, Ala., and has in the past helped such cities as Austin, Nashville, and Shreveport start their own Jewish film festivals.

Local coordinators choose movies that appeal to both Jews and non-Jews as a way to build interfaith dialogue while striving to show films that are relevant to the issues of today—the current struggles in Israel, civil rights and the lessons of the Holocaust. Last year's film, "From Swastika to Jim Crow," told the story of German-Jewish academics who fled Nazi Germany and ended up teaching at African American colleges in the American South, including Tougaloo, often becoming outspoken voices for civil rights.

Saturday, Nov. 1, 7 p.m., ETV Auditorium
The festival begins with last year's Academy Award winner for best foreign language film, "Nowhere in Africa." Based on the autobiographical novel by Stephanie Zweig, the film tells the extraordinary story of a Jewish family that flees Nazi Germany in 1938 for a remote farm in Kenya. Transformed yet strained by their new environment, the family eventually learns to cherish their new life in Africa while endeavoring to find a way back to each other.

Monday, Nov. 3, 7 p.m., New Stage Theatre
The documentary "Secret Lives: Hidden Children and Their Rescuers During World War II" examines courageous non-Jews who hid Jewish children in Europe during the Holocaust. Anne Levy will speak after the film. Levy is a Holocaust survivor who led the fight against David Duke's political rise in Louisiana, hounding and exposing the former Klan leader while he was campaigning for statewide office in the early 1990s. Don't miss the chance to meet and hear this amazing woman. Also playing is the Academy Award-nominated short film "One Day Crossing," about a Hungarian woman struggling to survive the brutality of World War II while protecting her family and hiding their own dark secrets.

Wednesday, Nov. 5, 7 p.m., New Stage Theatre
Two documentaries examine the complexities of contemporary life in Israel. Yael Katzir's "Company Jasmine" follows five young Israeli women as they go through Military Field Officers School. "Out for Love…Be Back Shortly" recounts the story of its director Dan Katzir and his search for love amidst the wrenching period following the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. This moving film expresses the outcry of a generation struggling to find love amid fear, hatred and violence. Noa David, a female veteran of the Israeli army and currently a graduate student at Emory University, will speak afterward.

Thursday, Nov. 6, 7 p.m., New Stage Theatre
The documentary "Strange Fruit" brings the festival to a close. Jackson's own Lisa Palmer will sing this powerful song before the film. With a surprise ending that reflects the historical environment of the song's origins, "Strange Fruit" is a compelling look at the power of music to change society. Also showing is the 1945 Academy Award-winning short, "The House I Live In," in which the one and only Frank Sinatra offers a musical lesson in tolerance and diversity.

Tickets will be available at the door, space permitting, 30 minutes before each screening. General admission for adults is $10 per screening and $5 for students (with ID). A Festival Pass is $30 for adults and $20 for students, which includes all four screenings. Patron Passes are available for $125, which includes admission to all screenings and the Thursday evening Patron Party. To order advance tickets, please call 601-956-6215.

Stuart Rockoff is director of the History Department at the Goldring Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life.

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