Staff Picks of the 2017 AJFF


It's no secret that we as a staff love talking the films of the festival to anyone, anytime, almost any place. But it just so happens now is the time we get talk about them non-stop with everyone else and we're taking full advantage. So, what are the Staff Picks of the 2017 AJFF? 

Kenny Blank, Executive Director

 Zacma: Blindness
This question never gets easier with each festival but if I had to pick one this year, it would be Zacma: Blindness. The drama is a challenging and intimate one, a visualization of a former interrogator, haunted by her former crimes, who faces a reckoning with a Cardinal, whose arrest she facilitated. We are also proud to host both the film’s writer, director, and producer, Ryszard Bugajski as well as the lead actress from the film, Maria Mamona at select screenings.

Brad Pilcher, Associate Director

The Freedom to Marry
On paper, this should be a snoozer: a documentary about a legal case we all know the outcome of. That this incredibly moving film actually plays like a nail-biting, emotional roller coaster is a testament to the skill of the filmmakers and underlying resonance of the subject matter. Equality under the law for the LGBTQ community remains the civil rights issue of our era, and it is always worth taking a second (and a third, and a fourth) look at the real human beings impacted by this struggle. The Freedom to Marry provides that look, and it does it with some of the best editing of any documentary I've seen for a long time.

Lesli Greenberg, Development Director

Fanny's Journey
I’ll admit Fanny’s Journey struck a chord with me on many levels; but perhaps the one that resonated the most was in thinking back to my years working in foster care. Watching the story unfold of those who were willing to try and help these children survive is both a moving account and sadly, forever a timely one. There is a courage and strength to this true story which is shown by those of all ages in this film, which is also why it’s best suited to our audiences of all ages.

Shellie Schmals, Film Programming Manager 

Bang! The Bert Berns Story
For me, watching Bang! The Bert Berns Story was both inspiring and entertaining. I found myself getting caught up in Bert’s passion for music and determination to succeed in an industry that still had yet to be defined. Although I wasn’t familiar with the name Bert Berns, as soon as I heard his music play – the tunes were instantly recognizable and I was transported back to my favorite era of time!

Chris Holland, Programming & Operations Manager 

Aida's Secrets
Aida’s Secrets may not be the movie you want it to be, and it's hard not to think that maybe Aida wants it that way. Aida's two sons have discovered each other late in life and they have lots of questions for her, just like you will as the film unfolds. Answers from Aida are rare but the brothers do their own research, uncovering their mother's history step by step. The question soon looms: how much do they really want to know? Isn't it enough to have found each other? As a viewer I want to know it all, but if I were Aida's son I might leave some of those stones unturned. A fascinating (if sometimes perplexing) family detective story.

Leah Sitkoff, Communications Manager 

Best Worst Thing That Ever Could Have Happened
As a BFA graduate, Best Worst Thing That Ever Happened is everything to someone who’s ever performed on a stage or dreamed of being on one. From the exhilaration of the process to the takeaways when things go wrong, this film tells that story. There is a kindness and sweetness to the narrative that holds onto you after the film’s conclusion just as participating in the musical long sustained those who were a part of it. And, the archival footage and the care taken with it really shows. 

Dina Fuchs-Beresin, Community Engagement Manager 

The 90 Minute War
I love the mockumentary style of this movie, especially in today’s world where “fake news” is often tough to decipher. There’s no mistaking that this is a farce, but it’s an equal opportunity comedy, masquerading as reality. Peace between Israelis and Palestinians is such a hot button topic and this movie does a great job of skewering both sides, in a way that is humorous, not offensive.  And the ending is perfect.

  • *Honorary Staff Pick: Eva, Dina's daughter (age 12)

Abulele is an amazing film about a boy who is having a rough time at school and at home, who develops a close relationship with a mystical creative – an Abulele. In this film, you go on a journey of friendship and courage. I highly recommend this movie. From the beginning you can feel the excitement of the story and the personality of the characters. I have seen this film twice recently and I already cannot wait to go back to the theater to see it again! This film is great for middle schoolers, adults or anyone who loves a good adventure. Abulele is an awesome movie and I recommend that you go see it. 

Sarah Murphy, Office Manager 

Dirty Wolves
If you're a fan of the fantastical whimsy of films by Guillermo del Toro, you'll be entertained by Dirty Wolves' dependence both Spanish folklore and chiaroscuro. Telling the story of two Spanish sisters who secretly aide in the Spanish resistance to Germany's control of natural resources, Dirty Wolves is a dark narrative of feminine strength and bittersweet romance. Definitely a must-see if you're interested in the way the war affected individuals who were far removed from the front lines. 

Stephany Fisher, Guest Programming Coordinator 

The Freedom to Marry
As a former reporter who has covered the issue of gay marriage, The Freedom to Marry stood out as one of my favorites. I believe gay marriage is the civil rights issue of our time and by watching the film I learned so much more about the people behind the drive to legalize it. Plus, the scene where you see the young news intern sprinting out of the Supreme Court building to deliver the Court’s decision gives me chills every time I see it. You’re watching history being made.