I’m Okay at the Jewish Film Fest in Albany

As the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival moves to the East Bay, it becomes much more convenient for me. The Albany Twin theater is less than a mile from my home.

Friday afternoon, my wife and I attended our first Jewish Film Festival event in walking distance, a screening of the German documentary, I’m Okay.

The film looks at the refugee crisis from fresh eyes…literally. It follows two children as they adjust – or fail to adjust – to life in the west. Whether they’ll be able to stay in the west is a major question.

Seven-year-old Djaner appears to be getting the worst of it…and giving the worst. A Roma child with a single mother, he acts out violently. He has no friends and continually gets into fights. Neither his mother, his teacher, or anyone else connected with the school can handle him. His mother appears to have her own mental problems.

Things don’t seem nearly so bad for Ghofran, an 11-year-old girl from Syria. She has a loving family to offer her support. At first, she feels remote in this new world, having trouble with the language and fearful that she won’t be allowed to wear her hijab. Slowly, she discovers that she can be part of Germany while remaining herself – if the family can get a permanent visa.

Her father makes a strong impression on the audience. He came to Germany by himself, then waited for months, terrified that he’d never see his wife and children again. But after the happy reunion, he begins to realize that he can’t simply get back to the apparently prosperous life he had before the war. He’ll have to start his career all over again.

The film, shot in cinéma vérité style, is rough around the edges, giving it a strong feeling of immediacy. I give the film B.

I’d recommend the film, except that you’ll probably never get a chance to see it. This was the only screening at the festival, and it doesn’t have an American distributor.

The director, Pia Lenz, was not able to attend the screening. But she provided a video introduction beforehand.

How is this a Jewish film? It isn’t. It’s part of the Festival’s Exodus spotlight on refugees. Considering our history, this is something Jews should care about.