Artistic excellence and cultural diversity

Interfaith films at the Jerusalem Jewish Film Festival travel varied paths

A SCENE from ‘Breaking Bread.’  (photo credit: Courtesy)
A SCENE from ‘Breaking Bread.’
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The Interfaith Section of the Jerusalem Jewish Film Festival, which runs from December 19-26 at the Jerusalem Cinematheque, is one of the programs that gives the festival its uniquely Jerusalemite character.
Daniella Tourgeman, the director of the Jerusalem Jewish Film Festival, said the program was important to the festival for several reasons.
“The Jerusalem Jewish Film Festival continues to deepen its ties with interfaith cinema and features a poignant selection of films dedicated to interfaith relations and ecumenical subjects. It’s very important for a Jewish film festival in Jerusalem to have an interfaith film program with jury members representing the different faiths in the city,” she said.
The Interfaith Jury is as varied as the films themselves. The jury members are Kamal Hacknar, a French-Moroccan writer and director who learned Hebrew and made a documentary about the Jewish community that left the Berber village of Tinghir in Morocco during the 1950s and 60s; Benjamin Freidenberg, a film director and cinema studies scholar whose research focuses on the language of film in cinematography, and who is on the faculty at the Jerusalem Sam Spiegel Film School, the Ma’aleh School of Television, Film & the Arts, and the Bezalel Screen-Based Arts Department, as well as being the CEO and co-founder of the Jerusalem Filmmakers Guild; and Rose Pacatte, a Catholic sister and the founding director of the Pauline Center for Media Studies in Los Angeles, as well as an award-winning film critic and author.
The films in this section spotlight connections between different faiths. Beth Elise Hawk’s documentary, Breaking Bread, tells the story of Dr. Nof Atamna-Ismaeel, the first Muslim Arab to win the wildly popular Israeli television competition show, MasterChef.
Atamna-Ismaeel is on a quest to make social change through food. To further this goal, she founded the A-sham Arabic Food Festival, where Arab and Jewish chefs collaborate on dishes like kishek (Syrian yogurt soup), and qatayef (a dessert typically served during Ramadan).
When asked how she felt about having her film in this section, Hawk said, “It is an honor to compete in the Festival’s ‘Interfaith’ Section. Breaking Bread demonstrates that food can nurture a connection among people from disparate groups, chipping away at discord, and that when political and religious labels are removed, we are all just human beings with striking similarities. These are messages that transcend politics, beliefs and religions – whether Muslim, Christian or Jewish. Being given the opportunity to share the film with a diverse Jerusalem audience and panel manifests these messages, and I am grateful.”
LEONA IS a drama by Isaac Cherem that tells the unusual story of a young Mexican woman who is an artist and lives in the Syrian Jewish community there. When she falls in love with a non-Jewish man, it brings her into conflict with her family. The film won the Best Actress Award for its star, Naian González Norvind, at the Morelia International Film Festival in Mexico.
Cherem, who spoke from Mexico City, said, “It’s strongly symbolic to have my film about interfaith and intermarriage issues shown in Jerusalem, which is the interfaith city par excellence... It’s such a good metaphor for what the film is... It’s kind of an autobiographical film, not in the forbidden love story but as a coming-of-age story, in the questions that the character is asking herself, trying to balance, ‘What do I want from myself?’ versus ‘What do my family and community want from me?’” Cherem said that the Mexican Jewish community is one of the least assimilated in the world.
Bukra Fil Mishmish (Tomorrow, When the Apricots Bloom) by Tal Michael is a fascinating look at the legacy that Didier Frenkel discovered after the deaths of his uncles: A basement archive of animated films from Egypt starring Mish-Mish Effendi, the Arab equivalent of Mickey Mouse. His uncles kept their work on these Egyptian animated films a secret. Didier begins restoring the films and unveils the story of the rise and fall of these pioneers of Arab animation, in spite of his mother’s surprising opposition to the project.
Beyond the Music-Barenboim-Said Academy by David Berney tells the story of the Berlin-based Barenboim-Said Academy, home of the West–Eastern Divan Orchestra. It is an innovative academy the mission of which is to unite humanism, music and philosophy.
Anton is set in a small village in Ukraine settled by German farming families just after World War I and the Russian Revolution, and tells the story of Anton, a German Catholic boy, and Jakob, a Russian Jew, who become inseparable friends. The film was directed by Academy Award-nominated director Zaza Urushadze (Tangerines), who passed away earlier this month.
The Rabbi Goes West is a documentary by Gerald Peary and Amy Geller about one Chabad rabbi, 34-year-old Chaim Bruk, who moved from Brooklyn to the unlikely location of Bozeman, Montana, to bring his brand of Judaism to the American West.
Tourgeman added, speaking about the diverse films in this section, “This is the Jerusalem Cinematheque’s vision of what a Jewish film festival should be and where it should be going. We’re constantly redefining our Jewish Film Festival and our program and what we see as a Jewish film, representing artistic excellence alongside cultural diversity. Those are the two elements are the two main pillars of the cinematheque and the Jewish Film Festival and define everything we do here.”

To find out more and order tickets, go to the festival website at jer-cin.org.il/en.