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The Jewish Film Institute has selected six projects for its inaugural Completion Grants Program, including “The Wild One,” a documentary by French filmmaker Tessa Louise-Salomé about Holocaust survivor, Hollywood filmmaker and Method Acting pioneer Jack Garfein, who worked with George Peppard, Steve McQueen and James Dean.

The funding program supports both emerging and established filmmakers developing “original, contemporary stories that promote thoughtful consideration of Jewish history, life, culture, and identity,” according to a statement.

The programs seeks to fill the gap left when the National Foundation for Jewish Culture closed in 2015. This gap, along with “a growing need for work that builds empathy and understanding within and beyond Jewish culture,” has helped shape the fund and how it is administered. The program, which was formally announced at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival in January, aims to “expand opportunities for filmmakers making Jewish content and help inspire and secure the future of Jewish storytelling.”

“We know that film has unparalleled power to open hearts and bridge differences,” stated Jewish Film Institute executive director Lexi Leban. “Now more than ever, when artists are struggling and the world is in need of transformative storytelling, we are excited to be able to provide this much needed resource to the diverse and talented body of filmmakers working with Jewish themes.”

Projects eligible for the fund included narrative feature films, documentaries, shorts, episodic programs and web series that were in post-production at the time of applying.

The inaugural grant awards will be presented as part of “Cinegogue Summer Days,” a four-day cinematic event showcasing the best of Jewish film and culture. Running during what would have been the opening weekend of the 40th Anniversary San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, the showcase features several events including a selection of drive-in presentations, virtual film screenings and online shorts programs, as well as interactive conversations, premiere performances, and award presentations.

The grant awards will be formally presented online on July 19 at the virtual closing night award ceremony.

Jurors for this year’s Completion Grant Program include programmer and producer Claire Aguilar, filmmakers Alan Berliner, Shawn Snyder and Ferne Pearlstein, and editor-filmmaker Pola Rapaport.

JFI’S 2020 COMPLETION GRANTS PROGRAM RECIPIENTS
“A Crime on the Bayou” (U.S.) (Feature documentary)
Director: Nancy Buirski
The documentary tells the story of Gary Duncan, a Black teenager from Plaquemines Parish, a swampy strip of land south of New Orleans. In 1966, Duncan tries to break up an argument between white and Black teenagers outside a newly integrated school. He gently lays his hand on a white boy’s arm. The boy recoils like a snake. That night, police burst into Duncan’s trailer and arrest him for assault on a minor. A young Jewish attorney, Richard Sobol, leaves his prestigious D.C. firm to volunteer in New Orleans. With his help, Duncan stands up to the District Attorney, challenging his unfair arrest. Their fight goes all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, and their lifelong friendship is forged.

“Irmi” (U.S.) (Feature documentary)
Directors: Veronica Selver and Susan Fanshel
A documentary about Irmi Selver, who lost her husband and two children while trying to escape from Nazi Occupied Europe. Using her memoir – read by the actress Hanna Schygulla – and made by Irmi’s daughter, the film is a portrait of a woman whose strength, resilience and joie de vivre could not be vanquished, even in the face of unimaginable loss.

“The Binding of Itzik” (U.S.) (Narrative short)
Director: Anika Benkov
A middle-aged, Hasidic bookbinder in search of binding materials, stumbles across a Craigslist ad offering “binding lessons for submissive women,” which he responds to, becoming entangled in an emotionally intense relationship with a stranger on the internet.

“The Wild One” (U.S./France) (Feature documentary)
Director: Tessa Louise-Salomé
“The Wild One” illuminates an unsung artist, Jack Garfein—Holocaust survivor, Actors Studio West co-founder, and Hollywood filmmaker—examining how his experience in the camps propelled his vision of acting as a vehicle of resilience and his engagement with controversial themes in postwar American cinema.

“Those Who Heard and Those Who Saw” (U.S./Canada) (Feature documentary)
Director: Nate Lavey
In 1940, Jewish refugees who had fled to the U.K. were sent to work in prison camps in Canada. Through a large archive of never-released audio interviews, “Those Who Heard and Those Who Saw” considers how their experiences connect to those of contemporary Syrian refugees in Canada.

“‘Til Kingdom Come” (U.S./Israel) (Feature documentary)
Director: Maya Zinshtein
Millions of American Evangelicals are praying for the State of Israel. Among them are the Binghams, a dynasty of Kentucky pastors, and their Evangelical congregants in an impoverished coal mining town. They donate sacrificially to Israel’s foremost philanthropic organization, the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, because they fervently believe the Jews are crucial to Jesus’s return. This film traces this relationship, from rural Kentucky to the halls of government in Washington, through the moving of the American Embassy in Jerusalem and to the annexation plan of the West Bank. The film exposes a backstory of the Trump and Netanyahu administrations, where political and religious motivations intersect with a worldview that is reshaping American foreign policy toward Israel and the Middle East.