Film festival highlights ‘wonder women’

“Hannah Senesh: Blessed Is the Match” (Photos courtesy of Washington Jewish Film Festival)

The central theme of this year’s Washington Jewish Film Festival is Starring Wonder Women. The films don’t actually star Israeli actress Gal Gadot — aka Wonder Woman — but rather feature the stories and achievements of Jewish women across the diaspora.

These women range from pop culture icon to KGB spy to Israeli and Palestinian members of a rock band.

Of the 12,000 submissions to WJFF, 63 films from 27 countries were chosen for this year’s festival, which kicks off May 2 with the Sammy Davis Jr. documentary “I’ve Gotta Be Me” and ends May 13 with “The Invisibles,” a film that follows four of the 7,000 Jews left in Berlin after it was declared “free of Jews” in 1943.

“Tracking Edith”

The festival, sponsored by the Edlavitch DC Jewish Community Center, will be screened at several locations around the Washington area.

Ilya Tovbis, the festival’s director, said organizers look for films that “give as much dimension as possible to the Jewish experience on screen.”

This year, there was a strong selection of films that explored the lives of Jewish women.

One of the best-known subjects is Supreme Court Justice — and recent pop culture icon — Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

A documentary simply called “RBG,” shown on May 3, follows the small, soft-spoken 84-year-old from trailblazing lawyer who helped define gender discrimination in law to liberal justice whose fiery dissenting opinions and public persona have earned her the nickname “Notorious RBG.”

“The Promised Band” documentary, which will show on May 5 and 8, tells the story of a group of Israeli and Palestinian women who form a fake rock band as an artistic cover to be able to meet and try to learn to perform one song together.

Another pair of documentaries — most of the “Starring Wonder Women” films are documentaries — feature women whose artistic identity belies a more ideological calling. In “Hannah Senesh: Blessed Is the Match” on May 6, the Hungarian-Jewish poet Senesh is also a paratrooper and resistance fighter who was parachuted into then-Yugoslavia to rescue Hungarian Jews about to be deported to Auschwitz.

“Tracking Edith” on May 3 follows Edith Tudor-Hart, an Austrian-British photographer and communist sympathizer who acted as courier of intelligence for the Soviet Union and helped recruit a spy ring in England that damaged British intelligence into the 1960s.

“Budapest Noir”

And it’s not just women in front of the camera being honored at the festival. Roberta Grossman, a documentary director whose work focuses on Jewish history, is this year’s recipient of the WJFF Visionary Award.

Grossman has two documentaries in festival lineup: the aforementioned “Hannah Senesh” and “Seeing Allred” on women’s rights attorney Gloria Allred.

In addition to the women-centric films, Tovbis said there are more animated and thriller films than in previous years.

He pointed especially to “The Legend of King Solomon” on May 6 and 13 as a particularly family-friendly animated film.

And fans of the thriller and mystery genres can look out for “Budapest Noir,” which follows a reporter’s attempts to solve the murder of a prostitute, on May 5 and 12; “An Act of Defiance,” the story of Nelson Mandela and his inner circle of black and Jewish supporters, on May 3 and 8; and “The Hero,” the return to the Netherlands of a U.S. expat against a backdrop of anti-Semitic assaults and a family secret, on May 12 and 13.

Tovbis said the slate of films can look overwhelming. But he sees the festival as “a place of discovery.”

For showtimes, locations and tickets, go to

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