Yes, Richard Cowden does have some favorites among the 34 films that will be shown at the 26th annual Denver Jewish Film Festival, to be held from Feb. 14 to March 1.
“When I first started at the job, I appointed myself to the film selection committee. I’m so glad that I did. I ended up watching over 75 films,” said Cowden, 51, the new general manager of the Staenberg-Loup Jewish Community Center’s Mizel Arts and Culture Center, which runs arts, culture and community programming. “So I’ve seen every minute of every film. The thing that strikes me is the entire lineup is extraordinarily strong, especially on the narrative feature side.”
One such film, based on a true story and the opening-night choice, is titled “Persian Lessons.”
“It’s a really remarkable, funny, profoundly heartbreaking film about a young Belgian Jew who gets taken captive by the SS and avoids being executed by convincing them he is Persian because he has a book that was written in Persian One,” Cowden said.
There’s one catch: The protagonist didn’t speak Persian and couldn’t read the book, so he invented a nonsense language, taught it to the commandment, and thus saved his life and others.
Cowden, who was hired in August, also sought some family films and found them in “The Crossing,” which is about children trying to reach Denmark’s border to get away from the occupation; and “When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit,” which is about a family on the run because the father was a journalist and a critic of the Nazis and Hitler.
“Both movies are great for families because they’re historical, they move very fast and focus on the kids,” Cowden said.
“Mighty Ira” also caught Cowden’s attention. It’s about Ira Glassman, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union for many years.
“It looks at his life through the lens of baseball,” Cowden said. “He was a Dodger fan and it shows him kicking around in Brooklyn where Ebbets Field used to be.”
Another unique film is “A Father’s Kaddish,” which is about pottery-maker Steven Branfman paying homage to his son, who died from brain cancer at age 23. Branfman, 69, used his pottery to help him work through his grief. Each day, for one year, he said a Kaddish prayer for his son and also created a Japanese tea bowl called a chawn.
Making the bowls “was my personal tribute, my personal Kaddish,” Branfman said. “They were the only pots I made for a year (and) each piece is unique.”
Branfman’s pottery will be on display at the Plinth Gallery, 3520 Brighton Blvd. in Denver, starting Feb. 4. Plinth Gallery will host a special opening from 7-9 p.m. Feb. 19, leading up to the film being screened at the JCC’s Elaine Wolf Theatre at 1 p.m. Feb. 20. Branfman will attend the screening and conduct a question-and-answer session.
He will also have a selection of the remaining Kaddish tea bowls for sale. Proceeds will benefit organizations that fight cancer.
“Each piece reflected how I felt that day, what the weather was, how I was feeling physically,” Branfman said. “It gave me something I knew I was committed to do each day, no matter where I was.”