AJFF What to Watch: Films About School


Heading back to school looks different every year, but maybe especially this one. The best and worst of academic life is reflected in these picks, several formerly featured at AJFF's annual festival. Film titles are linked with information on where to watch.

Two first-time New York school teachers form an unlikely friendship in this endearing comedy that also smartly tackles complex issues of prejudice and multicultural diversity. Rochel Meshenberg (Zoe Lister) is an Orthodox Jew. Nasira Khaldi (Francis Benhaou) is a devout Muslim from Syria. Struggling with traditional religious upbringings and impending arranged marriages, both women soon discover that they have more in common than they think. In true indie fashion, the film was shot in just 17 days on location in Brooklyn and New Jersey, and is based on the real life experiences of Executive Producer Yuta Silverman. Featured at the 2008 AJFF.

Bonjour Monsieur Shlomi
The captivating title character, Shlomi (Oshri Cohen, in a wonderfully understaded performance), is the caretaker and peacekeeper within his dysfunctional Tel Aviv family. Amid the chaos of home and trials of adolescence, he cooks and cleans, while juggling a wacky grandfather (Arie Elias), a wayward brother (Yonathan Rozen), a cheating father (Albert Iluz) and kvetching mother (Esti Zakhaim), and other assorted family members. In his desperate effort to keep everybody happy, Shlomi takes care of everyone but himself. Lost in a whirlpool of emotion and confusion, his neglected life is transformed thanks to a surprise discovery at school and a new romance with a beautiful neighbor girl. Featured at the 2005 AJFF.

Dancing Arabs
A young Palestinian outsider struggles to find his place in Israeli society, this the coming-of-age drama featured at the 2015 AJFF. A whip-smart but introverted teenager from an Arab village, Eyad Barhum (Tawfeek Barhum), earns a place in Jerusalem's most prestigious boarding school—the first and only Arab to be accepted. Initially isolated and lonely in his new surroundings, he slowly overcomes social, cultural and language barriers with the help of his peers. The compassion of a Jewish girl, Naomi (Danielle Kitzis), blossoms into a forbidden romance across religious divides. Meantime, Eyad also finds kinship with Yonatan (Michael Moshonov), a classmate with muscular dystrophy, their relationship lending strength to the wheelchair-bound boy's mother Edna (Yael Abecassis), a single parent. As heartbreak, personal tragedy and sociopolitical strife intrude on his adolescent idyll, Eyad soon realizes that he must make a life-changing compromise of identity in order to be accepted.

Hey, Hey It's Esther Blueburger
This quirky and intelligent comedy about the unending quest for self-acceptance follows the life trials of a nerdy Australian teen. Scorned by her classmates at her snooty private school, and an afterthought in her dysfunctional Jewish home, Esther is an outcast in her own world. But life turns a corner when she strikes up a friendship with a rebellious public school student, Sunni and her hip single mother (Oscar-nominated actresses Keisha-Castle Hughes and Toni Collette). Audacious humor gives way to a more melancholy tone, as the film grapples with adolescence and adversity in blunt and bittersweet terms. Featured at the 2009 AJFF.

In this inspiring story of Holocaust education, a rural Tennessee town undergoes a transformative experience as students seek to grasp the meaning of six million lives lost. In 1998, faculty and administrators at a middle school in Whitwell, Tennessee began a Holocaust studies class that would not only change their community, but spark a movement that gained international attention. As part of a class assignment intended to teach tolerance, students embarked on a project to collect paper clips to represent the victims of the Holocaust and the crimes against humanity. The simplicity of their plan and dedication to achieving their goals resulted in a profound lesson in historical and cross-cultural understanding. Featured at the 2004 AJFF.

School Ties
Set in the 1950s, a star quarterback is given the chance to attend an elite preparatory school. To fit in, he hides that he is Jewish but when the truth is revealed, so is the character of the classmates he considered his friends. Featuring an all-star cast which include Brendan Fraser, Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Chris O'Donnell, Cole Hauser, and Anthony Rapp.

The Wave
Based on the true story of a 1967 California high school experiment that produced disturbing results, The Wave is a cautionary tale about the seemingly benign roots of fascism. This film is given added vitality by director Dennis Gansel who has transported the story to present-day Berlin. Popular high school teacher Rainier Wegner (Jurgen Vogel) decides to turn a lesson in autocracy into a mock Nazi-style dictatorship. The apathetic students are initially skeptical that a dictatorship could take root given their acute awareness of German history. But an ideology of superiority soon takes hold, eventually leading to a dangerous social movement. Featured at the 2009 AJFF.