Virginia Festival of Jewish Film: Shorts, documentaries, and dramas

The lineup for the 31st Virginia Festival of Jewish Film, presented by Alma & Howard Laderberg, includes shorts, documentaries, and dramas and takes place next month at various locations throughout Tidewater.

The Festival begins on Sunday, Feb. 18, with a special event showcasing four Israeli short films honoring the victims of the tragic events of October 7, 2023 in Israel. One of the short films, The Boy (2023), was written and directed by filmmaker Yahav Winner, whom Hamas terrorists murdered after he attempted to stall them to allow his wife and newborn daughter to escape. The additional three films are Sirens, Asa Turns 13, and Dear God.

Not shying away from other timely topics, the Festival is featuring the 2023 film SHTTL, a one-shot drama filmed in Ukraine just six months before the Russian invasion in 2022. It was one of the most-praised films the Virginia Festival of Jewish Film’s Screening Committee viewed. “It is so unique to have a film entirely in Yiddish, set on location in a real-life shtetl – filmed in Ukraine just before the start of the war,” says Beth Scharlop, festival chair.

The film, which is on the shortlist to represent Ukraine at the 96th Academy Awards, portrays a Jewish shtetl on the eve of the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union. The village the film is set in was built specifically for the film, less than 40 miles outside Kyiv. The crew built 25 buildings, including one of the largest hand-painted synagogues in the world, and collected historical artifacts from all over Ukraine to fill the sets. SHTTL will screen at Naro Expanded Cinema on Monday, Feb. 26.

The Big Saturday Night Celebration of Jewish Film, sponsored by Bank of America, will take place on Saturday, Feb. 24, showcasing the documentary Remembering Gene Wilder, a celebration of the life of actor, writer, director, and mensch, Gene Wilder.

“So many of us grew up watching Gene Wilder,” says festival screening committee co-chair Mark Robbins. “This documentary gives us a great opportunity to look back and to introduce him to a younger audience. His films are just as funny today as 40 or 50 years ago.” The Big Saturday Night celebration features a dessert and champagne reception, and a conversation with the film’s director, Ron Frank.

On Sunday, Feb. 25, the festival features The Catskills, a humorous and nostalgic tribute to what became affectionately known as the Borscht Belt. Stand-up comedians, former waiters, entertainers, and dance instructors recount tales of the resorts and bungalows that inspired films and television shows like Dirty Dancing and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Following the film, Steve Gold, who was featured in the film, will discuss what he remembers from growing up in his family’s bungalow colony in the Catskills.

The Festival added weekday matinees for two films: Home, an Israeli drama about a young Orthodox man opening up a computer store in his religious Jerusalem neighborhood, and The Story of Annette Zelman, a Romeo and Juliet-style love story set in Nazi-occupied Paris and based on actual events.

Home will be presented at Cinema Café Kemps River on Thursday, Feb. 22, and Annette Zelman will be shown at Beach Cinema Alehouse on Wednesday, Feb. 28. Both films include a daytime and evening screening to accommodate patron’s busy schedules.

Individual tickets to most films are $12. Tickets to Remembering Gene Wilder and the Big Saturday Night Celebration of Jewish Film are $25. Full festival passes, which include tickets to all events, are $60 and available through January 31. Admission to the Celebration of Israeli Short Film is free, with a suggested donation to the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater’s Israel Emergency Fund.

For tickets and a complete list of showtimes, venues, and more, visit or contact Hunter Thomas, UJFT Director of Arts + Ideas, at

The Virginia Festival of Jewish Film is presented by the Alma & Howard Laderberg Restricted Fund of the Tidewater Jewish Foundation and funded in part by the citizens of Virginia Beach through a grant from the City of Virginia Beach Arts and Humanities Commission.