From November 9th through November 30th, the UK Jewish Film Festival is screening a wide range of Jewish stories from around the world in cinemas across the UK and on their streaming platform.
For the past two months Britain’s Jewish community has been seen through the lens of the war in Israel and Gaza, and has experienced a record number of antisemitic incidents.
The UK Jewish Film Festival was organised long before the conflict broke out, and now hopes that its films can help to foreground Jewish stories beyond the war, as well as the unique contributions to culture that the British Jewish community has created and provided for centuries.
Michael Etherton, Chief Executive of UK Jewish Film, sees the festival as an opportunity for British Jews, and all other festival attendees, to experience collective understanding through films featuring Jewish life and Jewish experiences that may not be seen in other mediums or other film festivals.
Etherton said: “It’s been tough running [the festival] this year.
“But, we’ve been determined to make sure this film festival happened, because we need to ensure that British Jewish culture has a place to thrive.
“We really need this festival more than ever to come together and to celebrate our own stories.”
Etherton first got involved with the festival as a part-time coordinator 15 years ago, and said that over the years the quality and quantity of Jewish stories on film have gotten better and better.
Although global Jewish cultures are often conflated or seen as predominantly American or Israeli, Etherton emphasised that British Jews have their own customs and contributions to society that set them apart as their own group, and according to the festival organisers film can be a wonderful medium to share that with the world.
Etherton said: “There are so many things that British Jews over 350 years have created for themselves and have contributed to British society.”
“We are Britain’s oldest immigrant community so things that you might not even think about, like fish and chips, this is a Jewish cuisine first brought over by Portuguese Sephardi Jews to London.
“We have so many culinary and musical and comedic and other contributions to culture which are unique, and are unique to British Jewish people, that we want to share and are important for us to acknowledge ourselves.”
Etherton emphasised that so far the festival has been a joyous experience, with sold out audiences and a real sense of solidarity between attendees.
This sentiment was seconded by attendees of a screening of ילדים של אף אחד (Children of Nobody) at the Everyman Cinema in Muswell Hill on November 19th.
Jeremy, who attended two UK Jewish Film Festival events this year, was grateful to the film festival for giving him the chance to engage with Jewish culture during such a challenging time.
He said that he had booked his tickets before the conflict broke out, but since then felt even more of a need to attend the festival.
He said of Jewish culture: “It means a sense of belonging, a sense of identity, and a sense of common purpose with other people.”
Submissions for the festival’s 2024 short film and documentary film grants are also open, and you can learn more about those here.