(TEANECK, NJ) -- Thousands of people from diverse backgrounds came to Teaneck to attend and celebrate "the film festival with a social conscience" with its permanent theme of Activism: Making Change. In a township that media has most recently portrayed as fractured by tensions in the Middle East the Teaneck International Film Festival (TIFF) proved that this community rises above divisiveness and in the spirit of the Teaneck tradition comes together even in the most challenging of times.
"We are not yet Utopia," said Teaneck’s first African American mayor, Bernard Brooks many years ago, "but we are striving to be one." Several decades later, we are proud of the fact that we are still trying and - in many ways – succeeding.
Rawda Elbatrawish and Liora Pelavin, two Teaneck High School students who have gained national attention for the work they are doing to build bridges and create positive dialogue on Israel-Palestine relationships, were honored by the festival with an “Excellence in Youth Leadership Award” during the centerpiece screening of the British film The Old Oak. The event, attended by four hundred patrons of diverse religions and ethnicities was held at Temple Emeth, and included Teaneck’s mayor, Michael Pagan; civil rights icon Theodora Smiley Lacey; members of the Eid Committee of New Jersey; the Imam from Teaneck’s largest mosque, Shaykh Waleed Elbatrawish. A food and wine reception, including halal and kosher foods from local Teaneck restaurants, was held prior to the screening.
TIFF’s Executive Director, Jeremy Lentz, said “The Old Oak couldn’t have been a more perfect fit because it is resolutely hopeful telling the tale of a community coming together and rising above its differences and prejudices when Syrian refugees move into town.”
In addition to the centerpiece screening, the festival featured of broad array of international films from countries including England, Israel, Pakistan, and Palestine. Topics dealt with the precipitous rise in anti-Semitism, the Palestinian day of mourning, the Holocaust, LGBTQ issues, health equity, women’s reproductive rights, and much more. The prolific 93-year-old African American Artist Faith Ringgold attended a screening of her documentary film Faith Ringgold: Tell It Like It Is.
The festival closed on Sunday, November 19th with the screening of Bella!, the documentary on the life of US Congresswoman Bella Abzug, and included a talkback with NJ’s former Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg and filmmaker Jeff L. Lieberman.
Once again, and at a time when it is more important than ever before, the TIFF showed films and included talkbacks that inspire discussion, interest, awareness, activism, and action. There will be more in 2024. Stay tuned!
PHOTOS BY Ray Turkin Photography and Antoine Smith