A Jewish view on the London screen

The UK Jewish Film Festival celebrates with appearances by Academy Award and Cannes nominees.

free zone film 88 298 (photo credit: United King Films)
free zone film 88 298
(photo credit: United King Films)
Marking its 10th anniversary, the UK Jewish Film Festival kicked off in London Saturday night with a reception and sold-out screening of Israeli director Dina Zvi-Riklis's Three Mothers, a family drama that won a best actress award and the prize for best cinematography at July's Jerusalem International Film Festival. For the next week, the festival, which is sponsored by Film London and the UK National Lottery-funded Film Council, will host an array of exclusive programs, events and UK premieres of Israeli and Jewish-interest films. "To mark our anniversary year, we have programmed our biggest and most exciting festival yet," said Judy Ironside, the festival's director. "We have sourced the very best Jewish-themed films from around the world ... With an unprecedented number of UK premieres and some of the world's leading film directors in attendance, we have a feast of film not only for film fans, but for all those with an interest in Jewish culture and issues." The festival will run for the next week in northwest London, then at cinemas across the city, including the exclusive Institute for Contemporary Arts, until November 16. The best films from the festival, as voted by filmgoers, will go on tour to cinemas around the country from January to March 2007. In addition to film screenings, the festival will also feature a number of panel discussions and question-and-answer sessions with filmmakers. Highlights include a special screening of the film Heights, a character study set in New York that stars Glenn Close and Isabella Rossellini, and Close to Home, a drama about two female Israeli border police that was well received at this year's London Film Festival. Directed by Dalia Hagar and Vardit Bilu, the film won a prize earlier this year at the Berlin International Film Festival. Other premieres include Family Law by award-winning Argentinean director Daniel Burman. Set against the backdrop of bustling Buenos Aires, the film tells the story of a Jewish lawyer-turned-teacher and his father, a lawyer for an array of colorful petty criminals. The festival will also feature the UK theatrical premiere of Free Zone by Israeli director Amos Gitai, with a Q & A session with the acclaimed director. The film stars Natalie Portman as a young American woman who suddenly breaks off her engagement with her Israeli fiancee, then accompanies a female taxi driver on an unexpected trip into Jordan. Veteran Israeli performer Hanna Laslo won the best actress prize at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival for her work as the taxi driver, and the film earned Gitai his fourth Palme d'Or nomination at the famed French festival. Other Jewish Film Festival highlights include Paul Verhoeven's eagerly-awaited Black Book, which marks the Dutch filmmaker's return to filmmaking in his homeland after two decades in Hollywood, where he helmed blockbusters including Basic Instinct and Total Recall. Black Book, which was partially shot in Israel earlier this year, tackles Dutch resistance and collaboration during World War II. Also on the schedule is the award-winning Israeli film The Syrian Bride, with a Q & A session with director Eran Riklis set to follow the screening. Israeli director Yoav Shamir's Five Days, about the 2005 disengagement from Gaza, will also be screened, as will Knowledge is the Beginning, an award-winning documentary about conductor Daniel Barenboim's West Eastern Divan Orchestra, which Barenboim co-founded with the late Columbia professor Edward Said in 1998. Knowledge is the Beginning director Paul Smaczny will also appear for a Q & A session. Short films on the festival schedule include The Battle of Cable Street, director Yoav Segal's retelling of one of the seminal events in Anglo-Jewish history - the attempt by Oswald Mosley's black-shirt fascists to march through London's Jewish East End in 1936. The film won an award from the UK Jewish Film Festival's Short Film Fund earlier this year. The festival officially opened last Wednesday with a reception and special screening of Sixty Six, director Paul Weiland's story about a Jewish boy celebrating his bar mitzva on the day England's soccer team won its first - and so far only - victory at the World Cup. The screening was sponsored by Lord David Puttnam, a producer who's seen four of his films, which include Chariots of Fire, The Killing Fields and Midnight Express, nominated for best picture honors at the Academy Awards. Also in attendance were actors Eddie Marsan and Gregg Sulkin, as well as another of the film's stars, 1998 Academy Award nominee Helena Bonham Carter, and her partner, Edward Scissorhands and Sleepy Hollow director Tim Burton. The festival will end with a screening of Joy, the winner of three Israeli Academy Awards. The screening is sponsored by the festival's media partner, The Jewish Chronicle, the weekly national newspaper.