AJFF What to Watch: Films With Animation

07/13/2020

Whether used for the duration of the film or in isolated segments to further the storytelling, animation plays a key role in this mix of narratives and documentaries previously shown at AJFF's annual festival. Film titles are linked with information on where to watch.

An American Tail
Produced by Steven Spielberg and directed by renowned animator Don Bluth, the film is the immigrant adventure of Russian-Jewish mice that flee persecution in the pursuit of the American dream. Forced from their village by Czarist cats, the Mousekwitz family escapes by boat to the New World on the promise of feline-free streets paved with cheese. Hopes are shattered when youngest son Fievel (voiced by Phillip Glasser) is lost at sea and must search the heartless streets of New York City hoping to reunite with his family amidst a criminal clan of cats. Richly drawn animation distinguishes the Jewish parable about 19th century immigrants. An American Tail features the voice talents of Christopher Plummer, Don DeLuise and Madeline Kahn and the Grammy-winning pop single "Somewhere Out There." Featured at the 2011 AJFF for its 25th Anniversary.

Big Sonia
A diminutive Holocaust survivor with an oversized personality and indomitable spirit dispenses life lessons in this warm and affectionate documentary featured at the 2017 AJFF. Standing just four-feet eight-inches tall, Sonia Warshawski spent her teenage years shuttled between concentration camps, and is now among the last remaining Holocaust survivors living in Kansas City. With her vibrant style and fierce attitude, the 91-year-old diva continues to offer inspiration, sharing her story with students, church groups, prisoners and ex-cons. Even as she seeks to uplift others, the struggle to survive continues, as Sonia faces threat of eviction from a dying shopping mall where she has run her late husband's tailor shop for decades. Sonia's first-person narrative is artfully illustrated with animations inspiring by her own drawings, while intimate interviews with family and friends complete the picture of a remarkable woman who embodies the very best qualities of perseverance and determination.

Defiant Requiem
Concentration camp prisoners in Terezín use the power of music to rebel against their Nazi oppressors in this documentary, a celebration of resilience, artistic uprising and dignity in the face of inhumanity. Located in a garrison city outside Prague, Theresienstadt served as a transit point for Central European Jews – many of them artists and intellectuals – en route to Polish extermination camps. Despite hunger and disease, inmates sustained themselves through various forms of creative expression. The ultimate act of rebellion occurs when passionate young Czech conductor Rafael Schächter leads a makeshift choir of 150 fellow inmates in performing Verdi’s Requiem, a death knell reimagined as a powerful message of hope and justice, in front of the Nazi high brass and Red Cross inspectors. Narrated by Emmy-winning actress Bebe Neuwirth, the film brings this moving chronicle to life through survivor recollections, evocative reenactments and animation, and footage from a soaring 2010 memorial concert arranged by veteran conductor Murry Sidlin. Featured at the 2012 AJFF.

Khodorkovsky
A damning indictment of the Russian political and judicial system, this investigative exposé unravels the case of the Jewish tycoon who dared to oppose the Kremlin and now languishes in a Siberian prison. Once one of the world’s richest men, Mikhail Khodorkovsky rose from ardent Communist to post-Soviet billionaire head of Russia’s largest oil company. But his reform-minded business practices made him a powerful enemy of the Putin regime, eventually triggering his arrest and conviction on dubious fraud charges. Archival materials, stylized animation, and interviews with family, friends and former partners in Israel who fled prosecution illuminate key moments of his life, while the filmmaker scores a coup with exclusive courtroom access to Khodorkovsky himself. Five years in the making, Cyril Tuschi’s well-researched film raises troubling questions of rampant corruption, human rights abuses and xenophobia in contemporary Russia. Featured at the 2012 AJFF.

The Rabbi's Cat
France’s favorite kosher kitty leaps from the comic pages to the big screen in this gorgeously animated adaptation of the bestselling Joann Sfar adult graphic novel about a talking cat and his philosophical musings on religion. Set in the colorful seaside world of 1930s colonial Algiers, when Jews and Arabs coexisted in relative peace, the story centers on a warmhearted widower rabbi, his sensuous daughter and their feisty feline who miraculously gains the ability to speak after swallowing the family parakeet. Curious and contrarian, the cat wonders aloud about his Jewish identity and soon insists on having a Bar Mitzvah. Thus begins a chain of freewheeling adventures with a mélange of uniquely eccentric characters, and a provocative exploration of Judaism and related sociopolitical issues. Presented in both 2D and 3D formats, Featured at the 2013 AJFF. Note: Not recommended for young children due to adult themes, violence and subtitles.

The Real Inglorious Bastards
Every bit as electrifying as the Hollywood megahit by Quentin Tarantino, this documentary retells a daring mission by brave Jewish recruits to strike back at the Nazis. Hans Wijnberg and Fred Mayer were among the ex-pats who left the safety of America to risk their lives in convert missions run by the U.S. government's newly formed Office of Strategic Services (OSS). The most successful of these intelligence-gathering actions was Operation Greenup. On a perilous winter night high above the Austrian Alps, two Jewish soldiers embarked on what seemed like a suicide mission: fly under enemy radar, parachute onto a glacier, infiltrate a Nazi stronghold and then relay information back to the Allies. Their only guide was a German deserter and POW, former Wehrmacht officer Franz Weber who opposed the Nazis and knew his way around the alpine region. The actions of these unlikely brothers-in-arms helped advance the course of the war, disrupting a vital German-Italian supply route, and bringing about the surrender of Innsbruck, a strategic transportation hub targeted by the Allies. The intrepid trio vividly recalls the hair-raising adventure, their firsthand account further dramatized by highly effective reenactments and animation, archival footage and historian commentary. Featured at the 2014 AJFF.