The 2017 Nashville Jewish Film Festival (NJFF) will run from October 17—November 11, 2017, with films showing at the Belcourt Theatre, Bellevue 8, and the Gordon Jewish Community Center. This will be the NJFF’s 17th year of bringing educational, entertaining and thought-provoking Jewish-themed films to Nashville.
This year’s lineup is diverse, including drama and intrigue with The Exception, a film about a young Jewish woman working in the household of Kaiser Wilhelm II after the rise of Nazi Germany, and Harmonia, a modern retelling of the story of Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar set in the midst of the Israeli Philharmonic. There are comedies, like *The Kind Words*, which tells the story of three siblings who decide to unravel the great mystery of their lives—who is their father?
And like all good festivals, the NJFF includes a few documentaries, including Compared to What? The Improbable Journey of Barney Frank. Frank, a Harvard College and Law School grad, worked in politics before getting elected, first to the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 1972, and then to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1980. Throughout his early career, Frank was well known as a hard dealing, abrasive, Jewish politician.
But in 1987, at the height of the AIDS crisis and public hysteria about those suffering from the emerging epidemic, Frank publicly came out as gay, after coming out to family, friends and close associates a few years prior. Frank battled public perception as an openly-gay lawmaker and rose to become the leading Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee, holding the chairmanship from 2007–11, sponsoring famous legislation like the Dodd-Frank Act.
In July 2012, he married his long-time partner, James Ready, becoming the first member of Congress to marry someone of the same sex while in office. Up to the end of his congressional career, Frank blazed trails, made friends and enemies, and for better or worse was subjected to scrutiny because of his identities. All of his actions were judged through the lenses of ‘gay’, but also ‘Jewish.’
For most of his life and entire Congressional career, Frank was known publicly as a Jew, and though he has become an agnostic, he continues to identify strongly with the Jewish community and has been careful throughout his career that his changing understandings of what that means not reflect negatively on other Jews. For example, when he stopped going to temple services on the High Holy Days he was careful to remain at home and out of the public eye in order that other Jews would not be criticized using his example.
The same could not always be said about his life as an openly gay man. While Frank learned much about identity politics by navigating the world as a Jew in a position of power in the United States, and the way his words and deeds would be construed to reflect on his community, he wasn’t always careful about how his life as an LGBT public figure would reflect on his community. That would come, but it was a lesson he could have learned earlier.
Frank is a fascinating figure for both the LGBT and the Jewish communities, and Compared to What? is an insightful introduction to the struggles of this bombastic, but caring, public servant.
The documentary, by filmmakers Sheila Carnavan and Mike Chandler, will be shown on Monday evening, October 30, 2017, 7:00 p.m. at the Belcourt Theatre, 2012 Belcourt Avenue, Nashville. For more information about the NJFF, see nashvillejff.net, or visit them on Facebook.