Staff Picks of the 2021 AJFF

02/17/2021

The landscape may be different this year but the fact remains that we, as a staff, love talking about the films of the festival to anyone, anytime. Now is the time we get to talk about them non-stop with everyone else and we're taking full advantage. So, what are the Staff Picks of the 2021 AJFF? 

Kenny Blank, Executive Director

Shiva Baby
This feature, evolved from a short (previously screened at AJFF), is rapidly gaining buzz from all corners. Lauded by critics and gaining awards momentum on the festival circuit, it's easy to see why. From a leading cast to the feature debut of writer-director Emma Seligman, we know our audiences will delight in this socially awkward comedy being featured in both our virtual and drive-in experiences at this year’s festival.

Brad Pilcher, Associate Director

Asia
This is the year of Shira Haas, who just snagged a Golden Globe nomination for her performance in Unorthodox. I actually think I'm more bowled over by her work in this film, as the rebellious daughter with a progressive illness. Truthfully, all of the performances in this film are amazing. Alena Yiv as the eponymous mother is unforgettable. Best of all, this is the product of first-time writer-director Ruthy Pribar. That we got all three of these incredible women for a recorded Q&A is like the cherry on top of my favorite film to hit the festival in years.

Lori Zelony, Development Director

Breaking Bread
Of course, I chose Breaking Bread as my movie not to miss in the 2021 festival! Food brings people together. People don’t have to talk about politics, or anything else, but instead they can enjoy and talk about delicious food. Food makes people happy and I know we all look forward to post-pandemic when we can get a large group together to gather around food! Watch with your favorite food nearby…enjoy!

Danit Drory, Development Associate

Asia
Asia is a beautiful film that tugs at the heartstrings because you realize that it is a love story between a mother and daughter. Asia is a young, single mother working as a nurse and uses her spare time to live a life beyond motherhood. Her daughter, Vika, is more focused on her rebellious-teenaged youth and growing independence until it all comes to a halt as Vika’s health becomes a major concern. They both eventually come to reality as Vika’s illness worsens and Asia has to become the mother she needs to be. Winning top prizes at the Israeli Academy Awards and Tribeca, the film highlights the psychological and emotional impact of growth, love, and loss. The final message you come away leaving with is that there’s nothing more important in the world than your family.

Shellie Schmals, Film Programming Manager

I Am Here
It's easy to fall in love with Ella Blumenthal. She's young, bright, and full of hope. Ella carries these traits with her as she survives the insurmountable odds of the holocaust in this documentary about her life. Her spirit is ever-present, despite losing so many loved ones and the darkness that surrounded her every day. Director Jordy Sank’s interpretation of Ella's journey is mesmerizing to watch, uniquely woven together through personal anecdotes and beautiful animation. Ella's life is inspiration, and like everyone else she meets, I fell in love learning about her bravery too.

Sara Glassberg, Ancillary Programming Manager

The End of Love
Whether a light rom-com or a tragic love story, I am notoriously picky about romance movies. For me, any film about a romantic relationship has to have a truly unique story or a striking visual style. The End of Love boasts both. With many of us physically separated and relying on digital technologies to connect and communicate like never before, it is tempting to reduce the film to that context. Many films even pre-COVID have unsuccessfully attempted to exploit this, reducing it to a mere gimmick. In this film, we see from the perspective of the characters’ cameras, and it only serves to enhance a sense of realism, in a way that would be impressive even outside of our current reality. Immersed in their worlds, at random times of day and in various settings, we learn who these young lovers are: flawed, complicated humans. Yet, we’re also held at a distance, separated by screens, unmoored from any sense of time, and with an increasing sensation of loneliness and longing. It’s that very tension and contradiction that makes the film such a fascinating experience, one which I think will stay with audiences long after viewing. 

Leah Sitkoff, Communications Manager

Love It Was Not
Typically, there is at least one film in our lineup that once seen, I cannot shake. This year, it was this powerful documentary that stayed with me. The questions of how or if there can be love without any balance, how much extreme circumstance can alter the course of someone’s life are just a few (likely forever unanswered) questions that surfaced when watching this film.