When the Temple Emanu-El Kirk Cashmere Jewish Film Festival opens in the Doris Duke Theatre on March 7, it enters what is being dubbed its “Bar Mitzvah year,” since it turns 13—the year in which one passes into adulthood in Judaism. Like most museum events, the festival has depended on passionate people to nurture it through various rites of passage: planning, collaborating, scheduling, budgeting, curating, promoting, sharing and execution. For the Jewish Film Festival, one indispensable steward is docent and festival liaison Andrea Snyder, who began working with the festival through Temple Emanu-El five years ago. Since then, she has completed the docent-training course and served as a festival selection committee member and event promoter. She recently carved out some time from her various duties to discuss the festival’s history and this year’s highlights.
Sitting in the museum’s Palm Courtyard, amid children on school tours streaming by, Snyder pulled out pages of notes and informational brochures laying out details about the festival, the temple, and the life of the event’s memorial namesake Kirk Cashmere. Snyder was particularly eager to share information about Cashmere, who, as she explained, “was a prominent civil rights attorney, a historian, and a film lover. So when this festival came into being it was unanimously decided that it would be named in his memory to honor his legal work and his desire to share Jewish values in our multicultural island state.”
The causes championed by Cashmere, like social justice (notably, for same-sex marriages), are representative of the festival’s larger goals. “We’re looking for a variety of films, many dealing with social justice,” Snyder said, “because that’s one of the values of Judaism, and this year the films 24 Days, Disobedience and even Under the Same Sun deal with that.” In her view, 24 Days is particularly important right now. “It was inspired by the 2006 kidnapping of a young Parisian Jewish man and prompted a national outcry against anti-Semitism in Paris, so it’s certainly timely after what has just happened. The issue of race relations is very much with us,” Snyder said.
When Snyder served on the festival’s selection committee, they narrowed down selections from upwards of 50 films to create the nuanced lineup—which consists of nine films this year, including what promises to be a revelatory presentation of Casablanca thanks to an opening lecture by visiting docent Sharon Krischer from the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles. Krischer is also a Hadassah national board member and liaison with the MorningStar Commission, which supports diverse depictions of Jewish women in the entertainment industry. Fittingly, the festival’s opening-night reception leads into the Bar Mitzvah–themed comedy Keeping Up with the Steins.
“We look for a combination of things,” Snyder said. “We want to find films that are excellent, of course, and films that show Jewish values, the culture, issues—we always look for at least one film dealing with the Holocaust since that was so definitive for the Jewish experience—and films from Israel, but films that are also universal that anyone can relate to.” For 2015, the year that marks the 70th anniversary of Jewish liberation from Auschwitz-Birkenau, the committee has selected the film Disobedience: The Sousa Mendes Story, about the Portuguese consul to France who provided visas to more than 30,000 Jews, granting safe passage into Portugal. Ten of the beneficiaries of Mendes’s heroic work were relatives of guest speaker Dr. Della Peretti.
“For most of the films we’re having someone introduce and do a Q and A after, and we think that’s a really valuable part of this festival, as opposed to just going to a movie at a multiplex,” says Snyder. “It’s a chance to gain more insights, ask more questions, and maybe get answers, too.”
In all, Snyder promises an informing and entertaining festival from start to finish. But in her deference to the great subjects of these films, the guest speakers, and Kirk Cashmere, Andrea Snyder gives a glimpse into what might be a pattern in her life: putting others before herself. In addition to her work for the festival, she has planned a Tour + Talk Story tour, with docent Margery Ziffrin, on works by artists with Jewish backgrounds, from the impressionist paintings of Camille Pissarro to the newly acquired photographs by Man Ray. It’s worth mentioning that, like her work with the festival and temple, guiding tours is volunteer work. Amazingly, after donating so much time, she also manages to swim, go on walks, and take part in five book groups—a feat she chalks up to avoiding housework. With dedicated festival committee members like Snyder, the festival has a bright future and will continue to offer enriching experiences for the rest of us.
Which film is she most excited about? Having just seen Hawaii Pacific University’s rendition of Fiddler on the Roof, she loves the documentary about Theodore Bikel—perhaps a model for her own sense of self-dedication, Bikel played the character Tevye more than 2,000 times.