For the next four Thursday nights, locals can no longer complain that there are no good movies to watch.
The Greater Altoona Jewish Federation will present its 13th annual film festival, beginning Thursday. Four movies from a variety of genres will be shown each Thursday night until March 8.
Bill Wallen, executive director of the Federation, said the event began as a fun winter activity and continues to grow.
The 2010 musical documentary “100 Voices: A Journey Home,” chronicling the resurgence of Jewish culture in Poland following the Holocaust, will be the first film shown at the Altoona International Jewish Film Festival.
"We thought it'd be a good addition to the Jewish and the general community," he said. "They are films not usually shown in movie theaters or in town."
Each year, Wallen said the film festival committee screens films, current and classic, and attempts to offer a variety of genres. They also take recommendations from members of the community and consult brochures from Jewish film festivals in big cities, he added.
"There are more and more films of Jewish interest being made than ever before," Wallen said. "Most of them wouldn't have enough appeal to come to commercial theaters."
If you go
What: The 13th Annual Altoona International Jewish Film Festival
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, Feb. 16 through March 8
Where: Penn State Altoona's Devorris Downtown Center, 1431 12th Ave., Altoona
Details: Tickets for screenings are $3 for members of The Greater Altoona Jewish Federation, $5 for the public and no charge for students. Reservations guaranteeing your admission can be made by calling 515-1182 or emailing email@example.com. Pre-show dinners, held from 5:30 to 7:15 p.m. on Thursdays before screenings in the Heritage Discovery Center next to the theater, are $12 per person. Reservations are required.
Len Zimmerman, chair of the selection committee, said the most popular films are usually documentaries or those that focus on the Holocaust.
"We try to be good critics," he said. "We try to pick ones that people might like."
The first film of the series will be the 2010 musical documentary, "100 Voices: A Journey Home." It highlights the current resurgence of Jewish culture in Poland after the Holocaust through the eyes and songs of a group of cantors and acclaimed American composer Charles Fox, who wrote the Grammy-winning song "Killing Me Softly With His Song."
But Wallen said the film will resonate with a wide variety of viewers, as it also touches on the whole history of the country and how other religious groups were affected by the Holocaust and the devastation inflicted by Adolf Hitler.
"Hitler's intent was to destroy the entire culture of Poland. ... The film shows the renaissance [that followed]," Wallen said.
Rabbi Josh Wohl, the spiritual leader of the Agudath Achim Congregation, will present the film. A history major in college, Wohl also is close to the subject because both of his grandparents were Holocaust survivors.
The Feb. 23 screening will feature the 2007 Israeli-made drama "The Secrets," which follows two orthodox Jewish women as they struggle to find their own voices within the straight-laced culture. Wallen said they try to show a film made in Israel for the festival each year.
"It's an interesting film," he said. "You learn a lot about Jewish culture and about Israel by seeing a film made in Israel."
Rabbi Audrey Korotkin, a spiritual leader at Temple Beth Israel and an advocate for the role of women in Judaism, will present the film.
On March 1, the 1979 classic Jewish comedy "The Frisco Kid" will be screened. Gene Wilder stars as a Polish rabbi who encounters a variety of mishaps in the Old West as he travels to San Francisco to lead a synagogue.
Zimmerman called the film an "oldy but goody," adding that the selection committee sometimes has trouble finding a light film or comedy to screen.
Dr. Michael Cohen, president of The Greater Altoona Jewish Federation, will present.
The 2011 documentary "Jewish Soldiers in Blue & Gray" will round out the festival on March 8, as well as commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Civil War by detailing struggles American Jews faced on both sides of the battle. Zimmerman called this a "fascinating history" that he knew little about before seeing the film.
"There was a hole in my knowledge, and I suspect there's a hole in the knowledge of a lot of people," he said.
Dr. Joellyn Wallen Zollman, a Jewish historian with a special interest in American Jewish history, will present the movie.
Wallen encourages anyone interested in seeing one or all of the movies to attend the film festival, adding that the pre-show dinners offer a relaxed atmosphere that really "brings the community together."
"[The festival] brings in a whole variety of films people never would have seen otherwise," Wallen said. "For the general community, it gives them the opportunity to learn a great deal more about Jewish life. For the Jewish community, it broadens their knowledge."
Mirror Staff Writer Beth Ann Downey is at 946-7520.