The 12th Jerusalem Jewish Film Festival, which takes place at the Jerusalem Cinematheque from December 4-10, features a great selection of films that reflect the multiplicity of contemporary Jewish life. The 50 films in the festival run the gamut from dramatic family sagas and crime films to silly comedies and serious documentaries.

The festival will open with the animated film Mary and Max. Directed by Adam Elliot, the movie tells the story of Mary (voiced by Toni Collette), a girl in Melbourne who, through a coincidence, becomes pen pals with Max (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a lonely Jewish New Yorker with Asperger syndrome. The gently comic film is done in the labor-intensive claymation animation process that was used in the Wallace and Gromit series.

Mary and Max will be preceded by a performance by the eclectic Jerusalem band Marshdondurma.

Franz Weisz, a Dutch director, will attend the festival and receive a Lifetime Achievement Award. His trilogy of films about a contemporary Dutch Jewish family will be screened at the festival. The first film, Polonaise (1989), was co-written with Dutch-Jewish poet Judith Herzberg and was based on her 1982 play. Polonaise deals with the wedding of two young Jews that is clouded by the Holocaust memories of both the bride’s and groom’s families. Weisz followed this up with Qui vive (2001) and Happy End (2009).

Shmuel Atzmon, the founder and director of the Israeli Yiddishshpiel Theater, is also being honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award. To mark 150 years since the birth of Sholom Aleichem, a filmed version of the Aleichem play The Little People, starring Atzmon, will be shown. The cast featured The Three Shmueliks – Atzmon, along with Shmuel Rodenski and Shmulik Segal. At the end of the film, Atzmon, Ya’acov Bodo and Yisrael Treistman will take to the stage and perform the end of the play.

Although a huge number of comedians are Jewish, lately comedies with Jewish themes are few and far between for some reason. But the film Oy Vey! My Son Is Gay!” will add a few laughs to the line-up. Veteran crooner and actress Lainie Kazan, who is now on Desperate Housewives and was recently seen in You Don’t Mess with the Zohan, stars in the film, along with Saul Rubinek, Carmen Electra and Vince Pastore (of The Sopranos).

Jewish crime will be covered in Holy Rollers, which stars Jesse Eisenberg as a cash-strapped New York Hassid who gets involved in smuggling Ecstasy tablets from Amsterdam to New York. In L’Armee du crime, an acclaimed drama, Simon Abkarian stars as a poet who joins the French Resistance movement in World War II Paris.

The documentaries in the festival are also varied. Lilly Rivlin will lead a discussion after a showing of her film Grace Paley: Collected Shorts, with Prof. Sidra DeKoven Ezrahi, about the legacy of the brilliant, eccentric writer.

Film historian and veteran Jerusalem Cinematheque staff member Costel Safirman co-directed the documentary And They Went Away Like the Wind with Radu Gabrea. The film tells the fascinating story of the Barasheum Theater, which was founded in Romania in 1941 by a group of Jewish performers, writers and composers who had been expelled from Romanian theaters by racist laws. The Barasheum Theater was a bastion of cultural resistance to Nazism and operated until 1944 in the most difficult of circumstances. Before the film there will be a tribute to the theater, which will feature Lia Konig and pianist Miriam Reznic-Wolf, as well as Safirman and Gabrea.

Other special events include a panel discussion with director Linda G. Mills on her film Auf Wiedersehen ‘Til We Meet Again, about her family’s flight from Austria; a meeting with Esther Hoffman, the director of Les deux vies d’Eva, a look at her mother’s life; and a talk with Leonardo Cohen and Pascal Roy, the directors of Days of Youth, a movie about the first group of Mexican Jews to come to Israel. Sidney Bloch, a distinguished psychiatrist, who is featured in the film The Wrong Side of the Bus, about his decision to leave South Africa rather than staying on to fight Apartheid, will also be present at the festival.

The festival will feature short films, animated movies and Cinema Midrash, a discussion about selected films, led by faculty members of Beit Midrash Elul.

For more information and to order tickets, go to http://tickets.jercin.org.il/JJFF%202010/About.aspx

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