We'll use any excuse to highlight stories of wonderful, strong Jewish women. These films, including docuementaries and feature films, showcase the courage, talent, and bravery of Jewish ladies who were not only exceptional in their field, but also shaped the Jewish story in some way.
- Hannah Arendt
Hannah Ardent was one of the most renowned intellectuals in the United States in her era, with much of her writing during the 20th century, ranging from the French Revolution to the very essence of human nature entering the canon. Yet in addition to her original thinking, Arendt is perhaps most renowned for her coverage of the infamous, momentous 1961 trial of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem. Her interpretation of that infamous trial — as an original thinker and Holocaust survivor — would largely define her legacy, for better or worse.
In the film, we follow Arendt (portrayed by award-winning German actress Barbara Sukowa) at the trial in Jerusalem, watching as for the first time in history the victims judge their murderers. But while her friends and colleagues in Israel are thoroughly convinced of Eichmann's innate guilt for these horrendous crimes, Arendt comes up with a much more controversial conclusion: Eichmann was an ordinary man, and he was indeed “only following orders,” immediately alienating her from others she was once so close with. Sukowa gives a compelling performance as an independent thinker who is not shy of expressing unpopular ideas, while always remaining compassionate towards others.
The acclaimed German director Margarthe Von Trotha (Rosa Luxemborg) takes us into the mind of Ardent and helps us understand her complex view of the world. With sensitivity and insight, the film gives us a deeper appreciation of why a Holocaust survivor would write in defense of one of Hitler’s greatest executioners.
Stream Hannah Arendt starring Barbara Sukowa on ChaiFlicks.
- Ronit Elkabetz
During her lifetime, there was no one bigger in the world of Israeli film than Ronit Elkabetz. A star of stage and screen in Israel and Europe, she has worked with some of the greatest filmmakers of her time, garnering praise for her ability to evoke powerful emotions in both subtle and operatic performances.
One of her most famous performances came in Late Marriage, starring opposite the magnetic Lior Ashkenazi as a divorced mother in a complicated relationship with Ashkenazi’s Zaza. She continued to explore complex female characters in Or, as a marginalized mother raising a young daughter, and in the film Jaffa, feuding with her volatile son over a multiethnic love story.
Finally, she and her brother Shlomi directed To Take a Wife — her triumphant semi-autobiographical film about life in a marginalized Mizrahi family, which earned the prestigious Venice Film Festival’s Audience Favorite award. Elkabetz died in 2016 after a tragic struggle with cancer. But even though she left far before her time, she gave extraordinary, courageous performances that leave a lasting legacy. She showed her talents both in front and behind the camera, and has pushed cinema in Israel forward to new and unthinkable heights.
Stream a collection of films starring Israeli actress Ronit Elkabetz on ChaiFlicks.
- Golda Meir
Golda Meir is remembered in many ways: some remember her as a heroine who helped build and lead the State of Israel, while others see her as an arrogant politician whose leadership led Israel into the disastrous 1973 Yom Kippur War. . But what did Meir think about her life and career? That is the subject of Golda, a documentary about Israel’s only female prime minister.
Showcasing unaired footage of Meir speaking off-the-record, the film presents her own perspective on her time in office, contrasting her ruminations with interviews from her closest advisors and opponents in the present day. As we learn more about her decisions during wartime, her response to the burgeoning movement for Mizrahi civil rights, and other dilemmas, the film considers who Meir was and how her experiences influenced her beliefs.
Several fictionalized accounts of Meir’s term in office have been created since then, including the soon-to-be-released feature film starring Helen Mirren in the role of Meir, yet no film has been able to capture her as revealingly as this documentary. The more we learn about Golda, from her own words and from those who lived through her tenure, the more that we learn how she embodied — and led — the State of Israel through the most challenging of times.
Stream Golda on ChaiFlicks.
- Watermarks: A Group of Champions
Nominated for Best Documentary at the Israeli Academy Awards, Yaron Zilberman’s Watermarks tells the extraordinary true story of the women’s swim team at Hakoah, a Jewish sports club in Vienna, before the Second World War. Facing discrimination both on the basis of their religion and gender, these women athletes defied all odds and triumphed on multiple occasions.
In addition to their athletic victories,the film also deftly explores what drove the group to defy society’s stereotypes, the bold decisions they made for themselves, and the bonds they forged with one another. When the Nazis annexed Austria, Hakoah was shut down and the women were soon forced to disperse, only to reunite decades later for one last swim.
Zilbermann (Valley of Tears) tells this story with a great sense of positivity, choosing to focus on the wonder of what these women achieved together rather than mourning what was lost. The Hakoah sports organization reopened in 1945 and is still operating to this day, but it was only with this film that this women’s team finally got their due.
Stream Watermarks on ChaiFlicks.
- Hedy Lamarr
Hedy Lamarr's life story is one well worth her reputation as one of Hollywood's greatest stars during Tinsletown's golden age. Austrian-born Lamarr was at one point one of Hollywood's most recognizable names, starring in everything from crime thrillers to romantic dramas to blockbuster epics. But behind the silver screen, she was also an inventor, who created the technology that serves as the basis for the Wi-Fi technology that we all use today. It is these contradictions that it explored in the documentary Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story.
The film takes us back to her early years in Austria, where her interest in science was not permitted due to the misogynism prevalent in those days. Instead, she became an actress, quickly rising to fame during the 1930’s, only to flee her homeland in a daring escape due to the growing threat of anti-Semitism. Even before making it to the U.S., Lamarr signed a contract with Louis B. Mayer of MGM fame, relaunching her career in Hollywood, which saw her become one of the biggest movie stars of the late 1930s and early 1940s. Behind the facade of the beautiful Hollywood diva, Lamarr continued working on her inventions. While discounted at the time, her work in that field remains recognized today alongside her Hollywood blockbusters.
Director Alexandra Dean brings Hedy Lamar to life not only with her films, but also with striking animation to depict her most triumphant moments, and even Lamar’s own voice from long-lost interview tapes. Lamar starred in dozens of movies and plays, married and divorced several times, invented groundbreaking technology, and ended her life as a recluse with a criminal record. Quite a woman, indeed.
Stream Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story on ChaiFlicks.