You are here

Sunday Cinema: Spertus Presents Four-Part February Film Series

Sunday Cinema: Spertus Presents Four-Part February Film Series


Over four weeks in February, four unique films about
Jewish journeys will be screened,
each with a special speaker

Series includes two Chicago premieres.
Vodka tasting with Sonat Birnecker Hart of KOVAL
follows final screening.

(CHICAGO) New this year, Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership presents a four-part film series titled Sunday Cinema. A different film will be screened each Sunday in February at 2 pm, followed a post-screening discussion with a special guest. Receptions will be held after the first and final films in the series. 

The films are: RAISE THE ROOF, a Chicago premiere, screening February 7; CARVALHO’S JOURNEY, also a Chicago premiere, screening February 14; CAMERA OBSCURA screening February 21; and HOW TO RE-ESTABLISH A VODKA EMPIRE, screening February 28.


RAISE THE ROOF is a feature documentary by Yari and Cary Wolinsky. It follows an improbable and inspiring journey in which students and artisans from sixteen countries reconstruct a magnificent mural-covered synagogue destroyed by the Nazis.

The 18th-century synagogue of Gwozdziec, Poland, rivaled the greatest wooden architecture in history. It featured a towering wooden cupola in the center of a curved painted ceiling entirely covered with intricate painted designs, reminiscent of an oriental carpet. The murals — covering 29 sections of the synagogue’s ceiling — included medallions, mythical animals, the signs of the zodiac, Hebrew inscriptions, and over a thousand flowers and flower buds. Like all of the wooden synagogues in Poland, this masterpiece was burned down by German occupation forces.

Beginning in 2004, artists Rick and Laura Brown of Handshouse Studio set out to reconstruct the Gwozdziec Synagogue’s elaborate roof and ceiling. With hundreds of volunteers from around the world, using only period hand tools and techniques, this remarkable project took ten years to complete. In 2014, the show-stopping reconstruction of the Gwozdziec synagogue roof was unveiled as the centerpiece of the new POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews.

RAISE THE ROOF takes you behind the scenes as those involved with the Gwozdziec Synagogue project revive a time in history when Jews and Poles worked together to create a stunning, mysterious, and profoundly meaningful building. Following the film will be a post-show discussion with Kayla Ginsburg, one of the students who worked on the project, then a series-opening reception.

CARVALHO’S JOURNEY is a feature documentary by written and directed by Emmy-nominated filmmaker Steve Rivo. A real-life, 19th-century American Western adventure, it follows the story of Solomon Nunes Carvalho, an observant Sephardic Jew who became one of the first photographers to document the sweeping vistas of Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, and California. Traveling across treacherous terrain alongside mountain men, pioneers, and Native Americans, Carvalho produced beautiful art, including daguerreotypes that became the lens through which the world first viewed the American West. 

Steve Rivo will introduce the film and lead a post-show discussion. Rivo has produced, directed, and written projects for PBS, CNN, MSNBC, and Discovery, as well as for filmmakers Alex Gibney, Robert Redford, Morgan Spurlock, and Ric Burns. He was a producer of New York: A Documentary Film, Eugene O'Neil, and Ansel Adams for PBS and a writer/director for the CNN series Death Row Stories.

CAMERA OBSCURA is lyrical, inventive feature film from award-winning Argentine director María Victoria Menis. It was nominated for eight Argentinean Film Critic Association Awards including Best Film, Best Director, and Best New Actress. The film focuses on Gertrudis, the shy ugly duckling in a community of Jews in Buenos Aires Province at the end of the 19th century. She fashions herself almost invisible, hiding her face in photographs. After she is married off to a wealthy Jewish rancher, she finds solace in the beauty of everyday life. One day her husband invites a gentle, nomadic French photographer to take a family portrait. His surrealist photographs and uncompromising vision allow Gertrudis to see herself for the first time.

Film critic Alejandro A. Riera, on behalf of the International Latino Cultural Center of Chicago, will introduce the film and lead a post-show discussion.

HOW TO RE-ESTABLISH A VODKA EMPIRE is a feature documentary by British filmmaker Daniel Edelstyn. Inspired by the journal left by his grandmother, Edelstyn travels to Ukraine in search of his roots. When he discovers that the vodka distillery opened by his great-grandfather in 1904 is still in operation, he decides — despite his utter lack of business experience — to import the vodka to the UK. In the film, playful animated sequences are created by Edelstyn’s wife, artist Hilary Powell.

Following the screening, Sonat Birnecker Hart, founder of gold medal-winning KOVAL Distilleries, will lead a discussion and vodka tasting. Birnecker, who received a Master's from Oxford and a PhD from the University of London, spent a decade teaching in the US and Germany. In 2008, she gave up tenure for a different life, and she and her husband, Master Distiller Robert Birnecker, founded Chicago's KOVAL, one of the first urban craft distilleries in the US. Today she spearheads KOVAL's product development, distribution, and marketing. She is also the co-founder of Kothe Distilling Technologies, a distillery startup consultancy. This film — and of course the vodka tasting — are for adults.

Tickets are $18 for each individual film ($8 for students). Tickets to all four films can be purchased for a package price of $65 ($20 for students). Post-film discussions and receptions are included. Tickets can be purchased online at or by phone at 312.322.1773.

Spertus Institute is located at 610 S. Michigan Avenue. Discounted parking is available at for $11 with Spertus validation at the Essex Inn, two blocks south of Spertus.

The films are provided by the National Center for Jewish Film,

The Wilkow Family and Krueck + Sexton Architects are the Series Sponsors of Sunday Cinema. 

Central Building & Preservation LP is the Film Sponsor for Raise the Roof and Carvalho's Journey.

#  #  #


Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership offers dynamic learning opportunities, rooted in Jewish wisdom and culture and open to all. Graduate programs and workshops train future leaders and engage individuals in exploration of Jewish life. Public programs — including films, speakers, seminars, and concerts — take place at the Institute's Michigan Avenue facility, in the Chicago suburbs, and online. For more information, please visit

Spertus Institute is a partner with the Jewish United Fund in serving our community.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Image at left

Film still from Camera Obscura
directed by María Victoria Menis.