Telling the untold stories

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Youngstown Area Jewish Film Festival.

Throughout the month, screenings of various documentaries will be shown at USA Cinema, Temple El Emeth and DeBartolo Hall at Youngstown State University.

Faculty and students at YSU, along with members of the Youngstown community, help make the film festival happen every year.

Former YSU events coordinator Pam Palumbo is one of the founders of the film festival — but she isn’t Jewish.

After her retirement in 2008, Palumbo continued to serve on the Judaic and Holocaust studies committee and said she is happy to see the film festival evolve over the decade.

“I’m interested in diversity, and I’m very interested in history,” Palumbo said. “I’ve learned so many things about history just from serving on the committee.”

Myra Benedikt also serves as co-chair of the film festival. “With anything that’s new, we didn’t know what to expect in the beginning,” Palumbo said.

Benedikt watches more than 30 films and passes her favorites to Palumbo. They then narrow the choices down to 10 and have a screening committee who choose the final six films.

The screening committee of 12 community members aims to choose films that will appeal to a wide audience, tell the untold stories and show a variety of Jews in different areas around the world.

Shanna Chasebi, a YSU alumna, served on the screening committee. She isn’t Jewish, but said she is interested in the storytelling and filmmaking aspects of the festival.

She encourages everyone to attend, even if they’re not of the Jewish faith or heritage.

“Basically, if you have an interest in film or history, it’s a great way to see all of that in one place,” Chasebi said.

One of the films that stands out to her is “Brothers,” which is a film with conflict, religion and drama.

“That film has drama, it has great writing and really has relevance to the Jewish audience as well,” Chasebi said.

“Brothers” is a film about two Jewish brothers whose values and religious differences drove them apart.

“Kaddish for a Friend” is another film that Chasebi enjoyed.

“Kaddish for a Friend” is about a World War II Russian Jewish veteran who befriends a Palestinian teenager raised to hate Jews.

“This is a movie for all ages, and that’s why it was chosen,” Chasebi said.

“Ash and Smoke: The Holocaust in Salonika” is another film being featured. It tells the untold stories of the holocaust in Greece. This film took longer to complete than World War II itself.

Saul Friedman directed this film. Friedman founded the YSU Center for Judaic and Holocaust Studies in 1969. He had to call on fellow YSU staff members to complete the film because of his battle with Parkinson’s disease.

“It’s a fitting tribute to feature him,” said Bob Ault, serials and microforms librarian at YSU. 

Ault co-directed and co-produced the film when Friedman approached him with the pieces, but needed the puzzle put together.

Ault said it’s important to show films like these to better educate the public on untold stories.

“[The Greek Jews’] story wasn’t as widely known, but it was a great tragedy,” Ault said.

He said commemorating Friedman is fitting since this was the last documentary he worked on, and is the founder of the program.

Palumbo said this is a special feature for the 10th anniversary. Helene Sinnreich, director of the Judaic and Holocaust studies program, said YSU has the second-oldest Judaic studies program in the country.

She has been involved with the film festival for seven years.

“Every year, we try to bring something unique. This is the biggest event that we put on,” Sinnreich said. “It’s important for the community at large to bring these films to the area.”

She said it would be one thing to bring in a speaker to talk about the issues that appear throughout the films, but it leaves a greater impact on the audience if they see it.

Palumbo said she couldn’t choose a favorite of the films being featured this year.

“I think they are all excellent. I like them all for different reasons,” Palumbo said.

She said in the future they would like to see more involvement from YSU students.

Veronica Wesley, a junior, is interning with the film festival and doing advertising.

“I thought it would be a great opportunity,” Wesley said.

Wesley is a communications major with a minor in public relations.

She said this internship has taught her a lot. She contacted radio stations and worked on their the film festival’s website, a new feature.

“We’re very excited to add the website,” Palumbo said. She said the public can also print tickets from the website,

Palumbo said she hopes the audience will walk away more knowledgeable.

“A lot can be learned from these films,” Palumbo said.