AJFF Recommends: What to Watch, Films Based on True Stories


True stories are at the root of these films formerly featured at AJFF's annual festival. Film titles are linked with information on where to watch.

Alone in Berlin
Emma Thompson and Brendan Gleeson portray an ordinary working-class German couple who quietly wage a personal campaign of anti-Nazi resistance, in this affecting wartime drama. When their son is killed on the battlefield, grief jolts them into action. They launch a silent protest, dropping handwritten postcards denouncing Hitler, across the city. Portraying a singular act of courage through dignified central performances under the stylish direction of Vincent Pérez, Alone in Berlin is inspired by a true story and adapted from Hans Falada's international bestseller. Featured at the 2017 AJFF.

A Bag of Marbles
Left to fend for themselves in Nazi-occupied France, two Jewish brothers must rely on their courage and cunning to escape Nazi barbarism and avoid capture, in this lavish, family-friendly adventure from the 2018 AJFF. In 1941 Paris, with the merciless persecution of Jews underway, young Joseph and Maurice are forced to flee their home and make their way south to the demilitarized zone, their best hope of survival. Aided only by their own ingenuity and the occasional kindness of others, the boys set off on a dangerous mission, overcoming extraordinary odds in hopes of one day reuniting with their family. This suspenseful and heartwarming adaptation of the classic novel is based on a true story, and features stunning scenery, immaculate period detail, and an ensemble of outstanding performances.

The Ninth Day
A powerful and sensitive contemplation of morality and faith, this drama, featured at the 2005 AJFF, tackles the dilemma of the Catholic Church, and its ambivalent stance during the Nazi era. Based on a real-life 1945 memoir, the larger historical themes are explored intimately through the story of Henri Kremer (Ulrich Matthes), a priest from Luxembourg who, along with other clergymen, is imprisoned in the Dachau concentration camp for their opposition to Hitler's racial laws. The film is the true story of Monsignor Jean Bernard, who spent nearly two years in the Dachau concentration camp and later became bishop of Luxembourg. His Dachau diary became a best seller in 1945. Some 3,000 clergymen from throughout Nazi-occupied Europe were interned at Dachau as punishment for speaking out against Nazi policies. More than half of them died there.

A Soviet-Jewish prisoner-of-war spearheads a revolt and escape from the inhuman conditions in a concentration camp in Nazi-occupied Poland, in this true story of the most successful Nazi death camp uprising, and Russia’s submission for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar and featured in the 2019 AJFF.

Taking Sides
This controversial drama, featured at the 2004 AJFF, is based on the true story of the postwar investigation into Wilhelm Furtwangler, the world-renowned conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra under the Nazi Regime. American Major Steve Arnold is given the Furtwangler case, and is told to find everything he can to prosecute the man ruthlessly. Tough and hard-nosed, Arnold sets out to investigate a world of which he knows nothing. To the Germans, deeply respectful of their musical heritage, Furtwangler was a demigod; to Major Arnold, he is just a lying, weak-willed Nazi.

The Three Hikers
A trio of idealistic American backpackers shares the ordeal of political captivity in Iran after their globetrotting adventure ended in an international hostage crisis. On vacation from their social advocacy work, Sarah Shourd, Shane Bauer and Joshua Fattal were held by Iranian authorities in July 2009 after mistakenly straying off course during a mountaineering trek along a disputed Kurdistan border. A 26-month standoff ensued, with the hikers unjustly imprisoned on espionage charges, as a relentless campaign to win their release unfolded back home. A widely unreported true story given a gripping treatment that benefits from the passion of its well-spoken subjects, this documentary, from the 2016 AJFF, is an ultimately inspiring saga of human perseverance over geopolitical hostilities.

Yossi & Jagger
Based on a true story, this drama, featured at the 2004 AJFF, portrays the love affair of two Israeli officers in a remote army base on the Israeli-Lebanese border. When they receive orders to prepare for a night ambush, their leadership and their secret relationship become complicated. Without flag-waving or ideological posturing, this film tells the story of young people trying to survive and find happiness in an impossible world.