Jewish Film Festival Documentary Explores The Philly Family Who Owned Monticello After Thomas Jefferson

Jewish Film Festival Documentary Explores The Philly Family Who Owned Monticello After Thomas Jefferson

A Jewish family from Philadelphia owned and restored Monticello, the Virginia estate and home of Thomas Jefferson, for nearly 100 years in the 19th and early 20th centuries. His historical property was screened at the 42nd Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival, 2015. It was the subject of a documentary from November 12-17.

Levi's of Monticello, directed by journalist-turned-documentarist Steven Pressman, will be shown on Sunday, November 13 and Monday, November 14. Pressman previously made 50 Children: Mr. Rescue Mission and Mrs. Krause , a documentary about a Philadelphia Jewish couple who saved children during the Holocaust.

After Jefferson's death in 1826, the Monticello estate in Charlottesville, Virginia was purchased in 1834 by Philadelphia native and naval commodore Uriah Levy. (A statue of Levi stands at the Philadelphia Congregation Mikveh Israel in Old City.) Levi faced anti-Semitism while in the Navy, beat a man after being harassed, and was a strong supporter of religious freedom.

Levy was inspired by his estate at Monticello, as he greatly admired Jefferson. Although he was a strong supporter of freedom in some areas, Levi, like Jefferson, enslaved people. Exploring these dynamics is an important part of the documentary, a bigger part, Pressman says, than he initially thought.

He said, 'My thinking as a director was born when I was making the film.

“As I got deeper into this project, I realized that you can't tell the story of Monticello without meaningfully discussing the history of slavery. Both were woven into the fabric of Monticello during Thomas Jefferson's time, but so were Uriah Levi's years at Monticello, I learned. When I found out that [Levi] was enslaving people (and would make more money over the years owning Monticello), I felt compelled to emphasize that part of the story.

Between 1769 and 1819 there are records of at least 20 former slaves who escaped from Monticello. Jefferson freed only seven: two alive, five dead.

Levy, a Union loyalist, died in 1862 and left Monticello to the American people. The property was confiscated by the Confederate government during the Civil War with your will.

"When I make a film, I'm always aware that it has modern relevance," Pressman said. "By telling the story of the Levy family, the ownership and preservation of Monticello and their experiences is a way to shed more light on anti-Semitism in their time and today." Extreme white supremacy In 2017 a "Unite the Right" rally was held four miles from Monticello.

After two lawsuits and a fierce campaign by Jewish families to wrest the property from them, Uriah Levy's grandson, Jefferson Monroe Levy, took possession of the property in 1879 and restored it. In 1923, he sold it to the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation, which operates it as a historic site and tourist attraction.

This year's Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival opens on November 12 with Moshe Rosenthal's Karaoke , about a couple whose lives are turned upside down by strangers, and on November 19 in the US, The Cakemaker, an Israeli film. , director Ofir Raoul's grazier melodrama, about an Israeli swimming coach who returns home after the death of his father. Other highlights include a lunch and a film adaptation of Barbra Streisand's 1968 comedy Girl and Sandrine Kiberlin's A Radiant Girl , a French film about Jewish actresses in Nazi-occupied France. There is also a full program of short films.

"A lot of people think that Jewish film festivals are movies about the Holocaust and Israeli films," says Matthew Bussey, director of the Philadelphia Jewish Film and Media Program. "Yes, we want to show them because they are both very important, but we want to show a film that shows different sides."

The Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival, which has changed its name and location in recent years, returns as a full festival this year, online in 2020 and as a hybrid only last year. The Whitman National Museum of Jewish History will host opening and closing nights; Other programs are planned for Kaiserman JCC, Gratz College, Ambler Theater and Arden Theater.


The 42nd annual Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival takes place November 12-17. For program, ticket and location details, visit: phillyjfm.org/ .

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