There is an enormous variety in the world of Jewish cinema, and it's on display in this year's Jewish Film Festival, which will be held at the Jerusalem Cinematheque from December 16-22.
The festival features more than 50 films, including features on both dramatic and comic Jewish themes and a wide array of documentaries and short films. This year's ambitious production will include live music and a series of art exhibitions.
Dutch-born Hollywood filmmaker Paul Verhoeven will be present at the screening of his latest film, Black Book, on Sunday at 9 p.m. Verhoeven, best known for megahits such as the Sharon Stone vehicle Basic Instinct, has won praise around the world for Black Book, the story a Jewish resistance fighter.
Another important guest of the festival is German-born Michael Verhoeven, son of a movie director named Paul Verhoeven, but not the same one who will be appearing at the festival (as Cine File erroneously reported last week), who will receive the Achievement Award for his "contribution to the art of filmmaking and his constant activity against the efforts to forget National Socialism."
Michael Verhoeven will be present at a screening of his latest film, a documentary about World War II, The Unknown Soldier - a look at the Wehrmacht, which challenges the assumptions many Germans have held about their army. The screening will be held at 6:30 p.m. on Sunday, and a discussion will be held with the director afterwards, moderated by Dr. Raya Morag.
Several of Michael Verhoeven's other films will be screened at the festival, including The Nasty Girl, a fact-based drama about a young German who digs up the World War II truth about her town, on Sunday at 4:30 p.m., and The White Rose, about German resistance fighters Sophie and Hans Scholl, on Monday at 5 p.m.
Jewish filmmakers have always been central to Hollywood, and films such as the festival opener, Scott Marshall's Keeping Up with the Steins, are an important part of the US movie scene. Steins, which is playing on Saturday night at 7:30, tells the story of a Hollywood agent (Jeremy Piven, familiar to fans of the television series Entourage, in which he also plays an agent) who wants to give his son a bar-mitzva that will rival the Titanic-themed celebration a fellow agent gave his kid. But the agent's son (Daryl Sabara of Spy Kids) is embarrassed by the conspicuous consumption and just wants a rapprochement between his estranged father and grandfather. Steins is a combination of feel-good movie and Hollywood satire.
Several documentaries look at Jews in various branches of the entertainment industry, including Fabienne Rousseau-Lenoir's From Shtetl to Swing, on Saturday at 8 p.m., about Jews such as Irving Berlin and Benny Goodman in the US music business; and Sarah Silverman: Jesus Is Magic, a portrait of the petite, foul-mouthed comedian on Saturday at 10 p.m.
Over the past few years, there has been an upsurge of European Jewish filmmakers, who have always comprised a large part of that continent's film industry, making movies that spotlight Jewish themes. A case in point is Lisa Azuelos's comedy Comme t'y es belle, a huge hit in France, which has been marketed as a Gallic version of Sex and the City. The twist here is that its four female protagonists are all of Mizrahi-Jewish descent. Among its stars are Aure Atika, a French Jewish actress whom Israeli audiences will remember as the sexy widow Simone in Turn Left at the End of the World. Comme t'y es belle is showing on Sunday at 5 p.m. and at 9:30 p.m. on Wednesday.
Latin America is another area where Jewish cinema has been on the upswing, and it is represented by Gabriel Lichtman's Jews in Space or Why Is This Night Different from All Other Nights, about a Buenos Aires family with problems, who come together at Pessah. It's showing on Sunday at 9:45 p.m.
In most recent Israeli film festivals, no matter what the theme, the documentary category has been particularly strong, and this festival is no exception. In addition to Michael Verhoeven's The Unknown Soldier, other documentary programs include a special presentation of Alan Resnais's classic, groundbreaking Holocaust documentary, Night and Fog, more than 50 years after its release. On Monday at 7:15 p.m. , a panel of experts, including Dr. Jeannine Frenk, Prof. Gabriel Motzkin, and Dr. Manuela Consonni will discuss the film's significance in a forum moderated by Dr. Aner Preminger. The film will then be screened, in a new print.
Other documentaries about the Holocaust include two films from Polish Television, Jews in the Warsaw Uprising, and Teaspoon for Life, a look at the life of a girl who was hidden with a Christian woman while her parents remained in the Warsaw Ghetto. These films will be shown on Tuesday at 4 p.m.
Legendary intellectual Walter Benjamin is the focus of Who Killed Walter Benjamin?, showing on Thursday at 9 p.m., a look at the tragic circumstances of Benjamin's suicide as he tried to flee the Nazis. Benjamin's friend, Hannah Arendt, is the subject of A Passionate Thinker: Hannah Arendt, which will be shown on Tuesday at 6 p.m. La Strada di Levi, which reconstructs Primo Levi's journey home from Auschwitz, will be shown on Tuesday at 5 p.m.
Israel has been enjoying a cinematic renaissance in recent years, and the festival this year looks back at an older classic, the 1967 adaptation of A. B. Yehoshua's story Three Days and a Child. One of the only serious movies directed by Uri Zohar, once Israel's Lenny Bruce and now one of its ultra-Orthodox rabbis, it won Israel its first major prize at the Cannes Film Festival, the Best Actor Award for Oded Kotler. It's being shown in the presence of its cast and crew on Monday at 9 p.m. There will be programs of Russian-Israeli shorts on Monday at 9:30 p.m; an evening with Russian Israeli filmmakers on Thursday at 7 p.m; videos on identity by Ethiopian artists on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m; a competition of short Israeli films on Sunday at 7 p.m; a selection of winning films from the Religion Today Festival in Trento, Italy, on Sunday at 7 p.m; I Am You Are - Films and Identity, a special project of the Jerusalem Cinematheque, in which Jewish and Arab youth study filmmaking together, on Sunday at 5 p.m; and Cinema Jerusalem, an audio-visual portrait of the city, moderated by Micha Shagrir on Wednesday at 5 p.m.
As the line between feature filmmaking and quality television blurs, there are several programs featuring television episodes. A Touch Away, at 10:30 a.m. on December 22, presents four chapters from the series by Ron Ninio about a Russian family that moves to an apartment in Bnei Brak. Did Herzl Really Say That? on December 22 at 11 a.m. looks at two issues of Israeli identity - Israeli Arabs and the religious-secular divide - with Oren Herman and Yanai Ofran.
Whether you choose to focus on features, contemporary documentaries or historical documentaries, chances are good you will find a program to interest you this year. A great many of these programs will sell out, so buy tickets sooner rather than later.
Remember: The Cinematheque is located at Binyanei Ha'uma while its permanent residence is undergoing renovations.
Call (02) 565-4333 or visit www.jjff.org.il