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Mort Skirboll Jewish Film Festival gets a new venue

Films will be screened at the Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee's new event space, The Ora.

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Dinner and a movie? How about a boxed meal and a film festival screening instead?

The 2024 Mort Skirboll Jewish Film Festival takes place March 3-7 at The Ora, the new space on the campus of the Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee, the event’s sponsor.

Making this year’s festival even more appetizing is the opportunity to order a meal in advance from Michael’s On East, The Ora’s exclusive caterer. That’s definitely an upgrade from popcorn, soda and Raisinets.

A rendering of the exterior view of The Ora.
Courtesy image

Films will screen at 3 and 7 p.m. so a boxed meal is a good option for festival patrons who don’t want to leave campus between the two screenings, notes Carol Dierksen, event coordinator of the Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee.

But despite the new meal option, the films are still the star of the show. “From music to comedy to sports, we’ve got something for everybody,” says Dierksen.

The Mort Skirboll festival will screen 17 films and is expected to attract a total of 1,500 patrons. It kicks off with “The Rhapsody,” on Sunday, March 3.

"The Rhapsody" opens the 2024 Mort Skirboll Jewish Film Festival on Sunday, March 3.
Courtesy image

Directed by David Hoffert, the documentary tells the story of Polish composer Leo Spellman, a Holocaust survivor who returns at the age of 98 to the town where he nearly perished. The film features Spellman’s musical masterpiece, which went missing for nearly 50 years.

The closing night film is the sports-themed “Israel Swings for Gold,” which screens on Thursday, March 7, and is followed by dessert and coffee.

The documentary follows Israel’s baseball team, which competed in the Olympics for the first time in 2021. It features recordings by the participants, many of whom were new Israeli citizens, because no media were permitted in Tokyo’s Olympic Village.

Tickets for “Israel Swings” are $36. All other films cost $15. A festival pass can be purchased for $236. It doesn’t include meals. 

Those looking for light-hearted fare will find it with “Our Story,” a musical starring Lee Biran as a hard-driving agent and Eliana Tidha as a timid singer-songwriter, and “Matchmaking,” a 2022 hit film in Israel about navigating the shoals of dating in an ultra-conservative society. Both screen Monday, March 4.

Among the most anticipated screenings is the March 4 showing of “Irena’s Vow,” about a Polish nurse who was able to hide several Jews in the basement of the home where she worked despite it being the residence of a Nazi officer. “it’s an amazing film,” Dierksen says. 

The Jewish Film Festival was renamed in honor of Mort Skirboll, an avid fan of the festival who died in 2020 of COVID.

Skirboll, a mental health advocate and nonprofit patron died about a month after the 2020 Jewish Film Festival opened and closed on March 9. After opening night, the decision was made to stop in-person screenings because of the risks posed by Covid. 

The festival was held entirely online in 2021 and was hybrid last year, with in-person screenings at the Regal 11 movie theater on Main Street. This year, the festival will be entirely in person.

This year’s festival has featured films as teasers that screened before the event’s official programming begins. One teaser film, “The Catskills,” about the Borscht Belt of Jewish resorts in Upstate New York, will have a second screening due to popular demand, on Wednesday, March 6, at Temple Emanu-El. 

To select the lineup for the Mort Skirboll Jewish Film Festival, a committee of roughly 20 members screens between 50 and 60 films each year and gathers input from other Jewish federations.



Monica Roman Gagnier

Monica Roman Gagnier is the arts and entertainment editor of the Observer. Previously, she covered A&E in Santa Fe, New Mexico, for the Albuquerque Journal and film for industry trade publications Variety and The Hollywood Reporter.

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