Jewish Film Festival to feature Hedy Lamarr documentary

March 8, 2018 | G. Michael Dobbs

The classic film star Hedy Lamarr is the subject of a documentary that will be featured at this year’s Pioneer Valley Jewish Film Festival.
Reminder Publications submitted photo

SPRINGFIELD – The 13th annual Pioneer Valley Jewish Film Festival (PVJFF), sponsored by the Springfield Jewish Community Center (JCC), will feature a wide variety of films including an outstanding documentary about the hidden life of a Hollywood star.

The festival starts March 15 and carries through with screenings until March 27 at 18 different venues in the region.

“This year’s line-up will stir emotions and inspire conversation,” said Deb Krivoy, festival director. “We are proud to be the hub of Jewish cinema in the Valley, and we look forward to sharing this culturally-significant selection of films with audiences across Western Massachusetts.”

The schedule of films includes those made in Israel, as well as two films made by Massachusetts filmmakers.

“GI Jews: Jewish Americans discusses the 550,000 Jewish men and women who served in the U.S. military during WWII and was produced and directed by Lisa Ades of Amherst. “Etched in Glass: The Legacy of Steve Ross,” directed by Natick-based Roger Lyons, tells the true story of Boston’s Steve Ross, who survived 10 concentration camps

The festival opens on March 15 with “Bye Bye Germany” at the Yiddish Book Center in Amherst. Starring Moritz Bleibtreu, the film is described as  “a defiant Holocaust survivor looking to strike it rich in postwar Frankfurt.” In celebration of Israel’s 70th birthday, the 2018 festival also includes a specially curated film series called “Framing Israel; “Epilogue,” winner of Israel’s Academy Award for Best Documentary of the year; the music documentary “East Jerusalem West Jerusalem;”
the thriller “Shelter;” the provocative documentary “The Settlers;” and the realistic drama “Scaffolding,” winner of Best Israeli Film at the Jerusalem Film Festival.

There will be two films designed for family viewing – the 1986 animated production, “An American Tail,” the G-rated film that tells the story of a young mouse and his family coming to America from Russia and “Fanny’s Journey,” winner of 22 Best Film Audience Awards, for children ages 11 and up.

The festival will close on March 27, with “Keep the Change” at Rave Cinemas in West Springfield. The film is a romantic comedy is about two adults with autism who strike up an unlikely and transformative relationship. The film won the Best Narrative Feature award at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival.

Among the documentaries is one that was of particular interest to this writer is “Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story.” Reviewing a screener supplied by the film festival, I was struck by the many layers of the late film star’s life depicted by director Alexandra Dean.

Lamarr, born in Austria as Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler to a Jewish family, made several films in Europe, including the scandalous “Ecstasy,” came to the United States  in 1937 and managed to land a contract with MGM while not knowing any English. Her beauty was what won her the contract and her appearance became a double-edged sword.

Lamarr became bored with the movies MGM chose for her and ironically one of her biggest hits with audiences, “White Cargo,” was a film she hated for the stereotypical love interest she played. .   

The way she looked not only colored her film career, but also prevented her from being taken seriously as an inventor. She and composer George Antheil developed “frequency hopping,” a technology that is now considered the foundation for WIFI and Bluetooth and has been used by the American military.

Lamarr and her collaborator never made a dime from the technological breakthrough, a sad point in her story.

Dean fills her story with interviews with Lamarr biographers, a reporter from Forbes with an essentially late in life interview as well as material from her three children. Her son Anthony has kept many of his mother’s letter and papers providing a first person look at her.

A woman who wanted to change the course of her career, she produced three of her own films, but saw her star decline in the 1950s. Although she lived long enough to see her invention recognized for the groundbreaker it was, Lamarr became a recluse living alone in Florida at the time of her death in 2000 at the age of 85.

Her story is in in the “what if?” genre.  If Lamarr hadn’t been typecast because of her beauty she may have ad a much better career and if military officials had recognized the potential of frequency hopping in the 1940s, Lamarr might be a household name today.

It’s a fascinating, although sad, story of how gender bias prevented someone from reaching her full potential as both an artist and as an inventor.

Ticket prices are $10 for general admission, $8 for students and seniors (65+). Reserved seating is available at select screenings for $15. Festival Passes cost $99 and provide admission to 16 PVJFF films. Tickets can be purchased online at, by phone at 739-4715, or in person at the Springfield JCC. Seating for all screenings is limited and early arrival is recommended. Tickets will be sold at the door subject to availability; advance purchase is recommended as films do sell out. For ticket information, schedules, trailers and venue directions, visit or contact the Springfield JCC at 739-4715.

Share this: