Asheville Jewish Film Festival

The second annual Asheville Jewish Film Festival gets off to a great start with its opening-night film: Aviva Kempner’s fantastic documentary Yoo Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg, the story of Gertrude Berg, the woman responsible for the once phenomenally successful The Goldbergs. Though almost unknown today, The Goldbergs was once a big deal on radio and then on television. It’s mostly written off today by old-time radio fans as a soap opera, which is unfortunate and just plain wrong. Though it wasn’t without its more serious side, the series was essentially a comedy. More than that, it was pretty much the prototype for the TV sitcom.

Gertrude Berg in Yoo Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg

The history of the show is both fascinating and entertaining—and something of an eye-opener. That shouldn’t be surprising when you consider that it existed through the Depression, World War II and the McCarthy witch hunts of the 1950s. Every aspect of those times impacted The Goldbergs. In fact, Gertrude Berg took a firm stance against McCarthy, which cost her the show for a time—and from which it never quite recovered. The Goldbergs also came to be viewed negatively by the Jewish community, many of whom felt it presented a stereotypical image of Jews. What seems so remarkable about the show, though, lies in the fact that all this was the work of a woman. Filmmaker Aviva Kempner will be at the screening for a Q&A after the showing.

In addition to this quite remarkable film, the festival showcases A Room and a Half, a Russian movie that’s listed as “Inspired by the life of Nobel Prize-winning Russian poet Joseph Brodsky.” A Room and a Half is the first feature film by animator Andrey Khrzhanovsky.

Also up is a cross-cultural romance between an Israeli man and a Palestinian woman, Zarim (Strangers), and In a Dream, a documentary about Isaiah Zagar, described as “Philadelphia’s Antonio Gaudi.”

Asheville resident Josh Dorfman, author and television host of the Sundance Channel’s The Lazy Environmentalist, will screen some of the program’s episodes and host a Q&A at both scheduled screenings.

The closing-night film is Gaylen Ross’ Killing Kasztner, which is described on the Asheville Jewish Film Festival’s Web site as “a documentary of the search for the truth regarding Rezso Kasztner … . Considered a hero for his heart-stopping rescue of almost 1,700 Jews on a train to Switzerland, in what became known as ‘Kasztner’s train,’ this extraordinary feat was later cast as an act of betrayal.” The filmmaker will attend both screenings for a Q&A.

This year’s Asheville Jewish Film Festival will be at the Fine Arts Theatre Saturday, March 13, through Friday, March 19. Unless otherwise noted, all films are $8. For more information, visit

Yoo Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg. Saturday, March 13. Opening-night film and reception starting a 6 p.m. at Blue Spiral 1. Film screens at 7:30 p.m. at the Fine Arts. $18.
A Room and a Half. Sunday, March 14, 1 p.m.
Zarim (Strangers). Sunday, March 14, 7 p.m.
In a Dream. Monday, March 15, 1 p.m.
A Room and a Half. Monday, March 15, 7 p.m.
Zarim (Strangers). Tuesday, March 16, 1 p.m.
The Lazy Environmentalist. Tuesday, March 16, 7 p.m.
The Lazy Environmentalist. Wednesday, March 17, 1 p.m.
In a Dream. Wednesday, March 17, 7 p.m.
Zarim (Strangers). Thursday, March 18, 1 p.m.
Killing Kasztner. Thursday, March 18. Closing-night film and reception starting at 6 p.m. at Blue Spiral 1. Film screens at 7:30 p.m. at the Fine Arts. $18.
Killing Kasztner. Friday, March 19, 1 p.m.


About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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