Press Release

Oscar-nominated film shows at Houston Jewish Film Festival
Houston Jewish Film Festival
Tuesday, February 21, 2017
by M Groogan

Oscar-nominated film shows at Houston Jewish Film Festival

Houston, TX – Evelyn Rubenstein JCC of Houston presents Life, Animated, the academy-award nominated film about autism at the 13th Houston Jewish Film Festival March 5-19, 2017. The festival showcases 27 of the best Jewish and Israeli films from around the world. Life, Animated will be screened on the last day at The Emery/Weiner School on Sunday, March 19 at 4:00 p.m. The documentary film is the inspirational story of Owen Suskind, a young man who was unable to speak as a child until he and his family discovered a unique way to communicate through the world of classic Disney films.

JCC member Mark Katzenellenbogen can relate, like most parents of children with special needs, he did whatever he could to reach his son, Zak, who is challenged by autism. “What we found was that Zak was extremely receptive to being physically active,” said Mark.

Life, Animated is an emotional coming-of-age story that starts with Owen as a thriving three year old who suddenly and inexplicably went silent and for years after remained unable to connect with other people. Over time, through repeated viewings of Disney movies, Owen found useful tools to help him to understand complex social cues and to re-connect with the world around him. Directed by Roger Ross Williams, we see home movies, film clips and scenes with Owen’s family and therapists and we watch as Owen progresses from his silent world, graduating to adulthood and taking his first steps toward independence and becoming a spokesperson for autistic individuals.

“Like parents of children with autism everywhere, we worked tirelessly to ‘fix’ Owen,” commented Ron and Cornelia Suskind who wrote a New York Times bestseller. “Yet it was a joy-based philosophy that guided us, summed up by Cornelia’s single line: Love what he loves is the way we’ll love him. And through this particular sort of love, capacity grew.”

Mark and Fran Katzenellenbogen have been passionate about helping families with children affected by autism in Houston. Zak who is now 20 years old is also managing to live his life as independent as possible, after growing up in a time where there were very few resources available.

“We spent many years utilizing therapies and implementing them into Zak's daily living,” said Mark. “We accept him for who he has become and connect to him through his joy of many activities. Zak is and has always been a very happy and friendly person.”

Zak is an active member of the J having participated in Top soccer, Stars basketball, gymnastics and swimming.

Another highlight of HJFF’s last week of film screenings is director, Shimon Dotan who will speak about his film, The Settlers, on March 16 at 7:30 p.m. The film provides a comprehensive view of the Jewish settlers in the West Bank and an intimate look at the people at the core of one of the most daunting challenges facing Israel and the international community today.

HJFF 2017 screenings are held at the Evelyn Rubenstein JCC, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH), Holocaust Museum Houston (HMH), Landmark’s River Oaks Theatre, Midtown Arts & Theater Center Houston (MATCH), The Emery/Weiner School, and Premiere Cinema in Galveston. The latter three are new venues to the festival this year.

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