Jewish Federation International Film fest: “Fanny’s Journey” on Sept. 17

By: Reporter staff

Children take measures to escape the Nazis in “Fanny’s Journey.” (Photo courtesy of Menemsha Films)
The Jewish Federation of Greater Binghamton’s 2017 Jewish International Film Fest will feature the film “Fanny’s Journey” on Sunday, September 17, at 7 pm, at the Jewish Community Center, 500 Clubhouse Rd., Vestal. Tickets will cost $10 per film or $45 for a subscription to the festival. To purchase tickets in advance or for more information, call 724-2332.
Following the screening in the JCC auditorium, a discussion of the film will be led by Rabbi Geoffrey Brown, spiritual leader of Temple Israel.
Inspired by a true story, the film tells the story of Fanny Ben-Ami, a French girl who was forced to flee the Nazis in 1943 at the age of 13. Along with her younger sisters, they sought refuge in Italy at a Jewish foster home; however, the Nazis’ arrival forces the 11 children to depart on a dangerous journey to Switzerland.
Susan Hubal, a Film Selection Committee member, noted that this film is the only one chosen for the festival that features children. She noted it is “a Holocaust film with a different slant.... While horrific, it is tense but also charming.”
Directed by Lola Doillon and written by Anne Peyrègne, the film has been called “an incredible tale of bravery, strength and survival.” Doillon, whose two previous feature films are “Just About Love” and “In Your Hands,” said that for her third film she wished to work with children and history. Producer Saga Blanchard, a longtime collaborator with Doillon, discovered Ben-Ami’s memoir, leading to the inspiration for this film.
For Doillon, “Fanny’s Journey” presented an opportunity to educate today’s youth about the war and the Holocaust, which is coming closer to passing from the world’s living memory, a fact that led to Ben-Ami offering the rights to her book. “Many [children], depending on their age, still don’t know or only know a little about this period of history, even though the last witnesses are getting old and gradually disappearing.”
According to the filmmakers, the depiction of the war itself is limited in order to capture the perspective of the children. Doillon explained, “”What interested me was to live through the events through the eyes of a group of children, to show how these children, who were not underneath the bombs but still suffered the violence of abandonment and the fear of being orphaned, lived during the war and make us experience it from their point of view.”
In this regard, the film aims to put viewers in the place of the characters, “to empathize, suffer or laugh with them,” as noted by Ben-Ami. Though she initially felt concerned that the film emphasizes or downplays certain aspects of her story, she later recognized that the film’s purpose is different from that of her book. Ben-Ami noted that Doillon “did well” and that “the essentials are there and the main points are said.”
The decision to tell this story was not an easy one for Doillon, who is not Jewish. “I asked myself the question of my legitimacy to tell such a story and talk about Jewish children while not being Jewish myself, but I justified it to myself by saying it was the history of France, and the history of Europe, and as such, I had a right – even a duty – to tell it,” she explained.
However, having Ben-Ami’s support and presence on-set helped the production. It also allowed Ben-Ami to become more comfortable with returning to this time in her life; spending time with the cast and crew reportedly had a calming, reassuring effect. Doillon noted, “She understood that we were not digging up her past, but that we had the same desire to pass on and pay tribute to her story.”
The film is in French, with English subtitles, and has a running time of 94 minutes.
Following “Fanny’s Journey” on September 17, upcoming films in the festival will be “On the Map” on Sunday, September 24; “Walk on Water” on Sunday, October 1; and “The Women’s Balcony” on Sunday, October 8.
Community members have been welcomed to bring their own chair if they wish, and the Federation has offered to store these chairs from film to film.