Film series starts at Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center


The film series of the Summer Institute at the Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center opens its 10th anniversary season this Sunday, June 20, with the screening of “Wondrous Oblivion,” a favorite film from the archives of the Boston Jewish Film Festival (BJFF). Seven more films in the series will follow, on Sundays through August 15.

This summer tradition at the Hebrew Center began when the first films from the Boston festival were brought to the Island by Laura Roskind, Ruth Sebell, and the late Norman Sebell. All three were members of the Island congregation; Ms. Roskind was also a member of the BJFF board.

Last year, the Hebrew Center’s movie venue received its biggest boost ever, with a major gift that made possible the Harriet B. Freedberg Learning Center. Audiences this summer will enjoy the fruits of the winter’s work, which includes a commercial-grade digital projector, new sound amplifiers, and a new 12-foot screen.

The Summer Institute film series is entitled, “The Best of the Boston Jewish Film Festival.” Each year, the Boston organization considers some 400 films and presents about a tenth of them in its November festival. Each year, a committee from the Summer Institute culls those selected films down to a list of eight for the summer series.

The selection committee is headed by Shelly Eckman and includes Joann Green Breuer, Helene Lapman, and Dale Mnookin. Ms. Eckman is a social psychologist who conducts research on consumer behavior. “The Summer Institute,” she says, “has a very intelligent, well-traveled audience. This makes the job more challenging as the audience is so knowledgeable.”

In her two years of selecting films, Ms. Eckman has learned that there’s a difference between watching movies for enjoyment and watching them with an eye toward building a series. “I’m not thinking about movies that are just going to please me,” she says. “I’m thinking about movies that will appeal to a broad audience.

“We’re always looking for films that are entertaining, intelligent and insightful. We try to balance the program between dramas, comedies, and documentaries.”

Sara L. Rubin, artistic director of the BJFF, has attended a number of screenings at the Hebrew Center over the past 10 years, and says she has enjoyed watching the Vineyard program grow.

“It’s always such a joy to see people enjoying a film,” Ms. Rubin says. “One of the things films do so well is give people a sense of community. It’s a shared experience. Martha’s Vineyard is its own wonderful community, and the film community within that is great.

“An audience is such an organic thing. I can watch a screening by myself and I might not laugh out loud, but somehow there’s something that happens when the whole audience laughs. And of course these films generate discussion. You don’t have to rush off right afterwards.”

“Wondrous Oblivion,” the season opener, is set in England in the 1960s and follows a cricket-obsessed boy who unwittingly gets caught up in racial tensions when he befriends his new Jamaican neighbors. Variety Magazine has praised the film for its “wonderfully observed comic moments.” The San Francisco Chronicle describes it as “a gentle fable, full of wit and charm.”

Documentaries, comedies, and dramas are on the calendar as this season’s series unfolds. The entire lineup of Summer Institute films, as well as the list of Speaker Series programs at the Hebrew Center, is posted on the Center’s website, All films are presented Sunday evenings at 7:30, and admission is $10.

Nis Kildegaard is a regular columnist for the Times, and is publicist for the Summer Institute programs this season.