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The Seventh Jerusalem Jewish Film Festival, which will run from December 24-30 at the Jerusalem Cinematheque, is far more sophisticated than its predecessors, with programs that feature Jewish communities around the world, Jewish history, recent anti-Semitism and Israeli dilemmas. It's also more festive, and features a number of theatrical and musical events.
It opens with a screening to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Israeli classic, Hill 24 Doesn't Answer - the story of three combat soldiers and a female medic who are trapped on the hill in question. As they wait for the battle to begin, the stories of their lives are told in flashbacks. Directed by the late British filmmaker Thorold Dickinson, the movie stars Haya Hararit, Arie Lavie, Zalman Laviush and Shoshana Damary. Some of the cast and crew will be present at the screening on December 24 at 8 p.m.
"We Are Here," is the title of the program on December 25 to explore the Ethiopian community in Israel. There will be a screening of David Gavro's Sisai, a look an adopted son in an Israeli Ethiopian family. The film won the Wolgin Award for Best Documentary at this summer's Jerusalem Film Festival. The screening will be accompanied by a discussion with Micha Shagrir and Shula Mulla. An exhibit of multimedia artwork by Ethiopian artists will be held, and the evening will be dedicated to the memory of Yona Bogale, the first Zionist leader of the Ethiopian Jewish community.
On December 28, there will be a performance of Winter Tale, the story of an Ethiopian woman which will be staged by the Netela Theater, an Israeli-Ethiopian repertory company that has been performing in Jerusalem for over 10 years.
The filmmakers will be present for the screenings of several movies about the Argentinean Jewish community. Next Year in . . . Argentina is a film by Jorge Gurvich and Shlomo Slutzky that looks at the dilemma of Argentinean Jews and how they cope with anti-Semitism and the unstable financial situation there. 18-J is a collection of 10 short films by Argentinean filmmakers commemorating the 1994 attack on the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires. Participating directors include Daniel Burman (The Lost Embrace) and Carlos Sorin (Minimal Stories). Like a Fish Out of Water, directed by Leon Prudovsky, tells the story of an Argentinean immigrant to Israel who is trying desperately to get rid of his accent so he can win a role on an Israeli soap opera.
"Bablylonia and Jerusalem" is the title of an evening devoted to Iraqi Jewry. On December 28, the documentary, The Last Jews of Baghdad: End of Exile, Beginning of a Journey will be screened. An exploration of the history of Iraq's Jews, it examines how a community that numbered 160,000 has shrunk to an mere 22 today. The evening is sponsored by the Babylonian Jewish Heritage Center, and will feature a performance by the Naharayim Choir, which was founded to preserve the Iraqi Jewish cultural heritage.
The festival also includes several mainstream Hollywood films with Jewish themes. Everything Is Illuminated is the film adaptation of the much-loved Jonathan Safran Foer novel about a young man (played by Elijah Wood), who goes to Poland to track down the woman who hid his grandfather from the Nazis. Bee Season, another literary adaptation (it's based on Myla Goldberg's book of the same title), tells the story of a girl who is coached by her Kabbala-scholar father (Richard Gere, who looks just as good wearing a red-string bracelet as he does anything else) to unexpected success in spelling-bee competitions. It also stars Juliette Binoche as the girl's mentally unstable mother.
Young filmmakers' work will be on display. The International Shorts program features Ari Sandel's silly and witty musical, West Bank Story and Jes Benstock's The Holocaust Tourist, an animated documentary on the Holocaust tourism industry, among other films. The Israeli Short Films Competition is dedicated to the memory of Bnaya Zuckerman, an aspiring young filmmaker who was killed in a suicide bombing in Jerusalem in 2004.
The Goethe Institut invited student filmmakers from countries that suffered under Nazi occupation to make films on "Gestures of Reconciliation," and a selection of these films will be shown.
Another program highlights documentaries about the Holocaust, including Lutz Hachmeister's The Goebbels Experiment - a look at the Nazi propaganda minister that makes use of rare archival footage.
David Aaronovitch's documentary Blaming the Jews examines the rise of the new anti-Semitism, including rumors accusing Jews of masterminding the 9/11 attacks and creating the AIDS virus. It will be followed by a panel discussion with academics on the theme, "Anti-Zionism as the New Anti-Semitism."
Musical events include the opening night Journey Into Jewish Liturgical Music by Berry Sacharoff and the Yona Ensemble, which features Eastern Jewish liturgical music interwoven with Turkish, Pakistani and Syrian elements.
The premiere performance of Shulem by Theater Company Jerusalem, combining storytelling and music, will be given as part of the festival on Monday at 8:30 p.m.
A multimedia installation called "Saka-Manca Group/Elephants Night in Metuala," will also be at the festival.
The richness of the film, musical and theatrical programs will surely please everyone, especially history buffs.
For more information, call (02) 565-4333 or visit www.jer-cin.org.il.