Vancouver Jewish Film Festival offers a story for everyone

Less Than Kosher tells the story of a talented yet chaotic musical talent discovering an unexpected artistic path. | Photo courtesy of the Vancouver Jewish Film Centre.

Robert Albanese is excited to share the best that cinema has to offer without being constrained by some of the more restricting expectations of running a film festival. Above all else, the executive artistic director of the Vancouver Jewish Film Centre wants to showcase the best stories from Jewish culture and community that he and his team can find, both year-round and with each annual iteration of the Vancouver Jewish Film Festival (VJFF).

This April, the festival returns for the 35th time, showing films in person from April 4 to 14 and online from April 15 to 19. For Albanese, it’s an opportunity to share touching stories and narratives from around the world, celebrating the richness of Jewish culture and experience.

“I think that what I’ve always sought to do is to bring universal stories to Vancouver that just happen to be from a Jewish perspective,” says Albanese. “Discovering the richness of culture in the Jewish community that can actually support a film festival with more than enough films every year… It’s a labour of love for me now, that’s for sure.”

Beating premiere pressure with underrated talent

Albanese says film festivals can often put too high a premium on premieres, only showcasing films that haven’t been shown anywhere else before. For him and the VJFF, what matters more is sharing with audiences any story worth sharing, regardless of whether it’s had a local premiere or not.

A scene from Kidnapped, one of the many films showing at this year’s Vancouver Jewish Film Festival. | Photo courtesy of the Vancouver Jewish Film Centre.

“Last year, out of the 30 [films] that we showed, 27 of them were Canadian premieres. We were the first ones to show it. But to be honest, I don’t really care about that,” says Albanese. “We see a film that had one show in another festival and hasn’t really been seen by a lot of people – I’m happy to showcase something like that… It’s just such a joy to be able to find these gems and to put them up on screen.”

Such films include Kidnapped – a gripping historical drama about a Jewish boy being removed from his family to be raised as a Catholic – as well as more light-hearted films like Remembering Gene Wilder – a biopic about the beloved Jewish American actor, known for his charming and comedic roles in movies like Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.

UNSUNG: The Joan Beckow Story shines a new light on the work and life of an under-appreciated composer. | Photo courtesy of the Vancouver Jewish Film Centre.

The festival will also be sharing films with a Vancouver connection, including one documentary about an artist whose legacy is largely unknown to today’s public. Unsung: The Joan Beckow Story tells the tale of Jewish-Canadian composer Joan Beckow, whose romantic, dynamic compositions blend the realms of jazz and orchestral music, evoking the works of composers like Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim.

But while her music has likely been performed live hundreds of times, they were never actually recorded until the Joan Beckow Legacy Project did so in 2021 and 2022, in addition to producing this documentary about her legacy. For Albanese, under-appreciated artists like this are very much worth sharing at VJFF.

“We’re talking about a major talent who’s gone unrecognized her whole life. And yet she’s composed all of this music and it’s never released at all,” he says. “So that, to me, is a cause enough to bring the story to Vancouver.”

Remembering Gene Wilder highlights the legacy of a beloved Jewish American actor. | Photo courtesy of the Vancouver Jewish Film Centre

A more comedic tale about an underappreciated artist can be found with Less Than Kosher, where the talented, aspiring but endearingly chaotic protagonist Viv, played by Shaina Silver-Baird, finds employment as a cantor in her family’s synagogue.

“Shaina herself is a musician, but in this story she comes across as this character who’s kind of all over the place, a bit of a risqué adventure-seeker, and ends up having the voice of an angel,” says Albanese. “It’s very funny, but again we’re dealing with an underappreciated artist who finds a different niche and, in that sense, gets recognized.”

Albanese says audiences of all preferences can find something they’re likely to enjoy within the diverse array of stories on offer at the festival.

“You really can’t minimize the impact of shared experience going out to the movies, you know? It is the most accessible medium of the day. It’s the least expensive [place] where you can get culture, you can get stories and you can share it with your friends and neighbours, or just with the person sitting next to you,” says Albanese.

For more information on the festival, visit

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