The Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center launches its Summer Institute Film Series on Sunday, July 7, with “Keep the Change,” about the romance of an autistic couple. It’s the first of six films with Jewish themes or connections that will play on Sundays throughout the summer. Three are dramas, and three documentaries. Films are presented Sundays at 7:30 pm at the Hebrew Center in Vineyard Haven. Tickets can be purchased online at ticketsmv.com or at the door on the night of films, if they are still available. Refreshments are served at the screenings.
“We try to keep a balance,” said Shelly Eckman, chair of the film series committee, in a telephone interview. “Some films are heavier than others, some funny, some lighter, some more thoughtful.” All the films are first-rate, and all have garnered a lot of attention, according to Eckman.
In what may be a first, “Keep the Change” uses autistic actors to play many of the characters, including the two leads. David Cohen (Brandon Polansky) is at the most functional end of the autism spectrum, but he’s not adept at counting out the money to pay for rides, dinners, etc., hence the title of the film. At a social skills group he meets Sarah (Samantha Elisofon), who is also autistic, and romance blossoms, but not without complications.
Playing July 15 is “Sammy Davis Jr.: I’ve Gotta Be Me.” This “American Masters” documentary tracks the 60-year career of the singer, dancer, actor, comic, and civil rights activist. Davis was the first African American to sleep in the White House. His complicated history comes through when he is shown onstage quipping, “I’m Puerto Rican, Jewish, colored, and married to a white woman — when I move into a neighborhood, I wipe it out.” Interviews with many of the actors who knew or worked with Davis, including Jerry Lewis, Whoopi Goldberg, and Billy Crystal, flesh out the film’s portrait.
“The Oslo Diaries,” another documentary, plays July 22, and revisits the 1990s period when peace talks between Israel and Palestine were underway. Rather than using only interviews and archival footage, the film employs actors to reconstruct the Oslo meetings. Interviews with the actual negotiators enrich the recollection of what was a very different, more hopeful era.
A drama, “Foxtrot,” is scheduled for August 5. Israel’s Oscar entry for Best Foreign Film last year, it opens when Dafna (Sara Adler) and Michael Feldman (Lior Ashkenazi), parents of an Israeli Defense Force soldier, learn of their son Jonathan’s death. The impact of their loss carries the film.
“RBG,” a profile of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, comes next on August 12. Using interviews, archival footage, and public appearances, this documentary traces the life and impact of one of the nation’s most remarkable women.
The series concludes on August 19 with “The Cakemaker,” a drama about unusual love relationships. Thomas (Tim Kalkhof), a Berlin baker, falls in love with Oren (Roy Miller), an Israeli businessman, and they pursue an affair, even though Oren is married. Once Oren dies unexpectedly, Thomas forms a relationship with his lover’s widow Anat (Sarah Adler).
“The goal of the film series is to try to create a sense of community,” Eckman said.