A panorama of Jewish life

The UK Jewish Film Festival has opened in London with the largest program yet.

Lemon Tree 3 88 248 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Lemon Tree 3 88 248
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The UK Jewish Film Festival 2008 kicked off in northwest London on Saturday night with its biggest and most diverse ever program of films, with 66 screenings and 32 UK premieres. Running from November 8-20 at cinemas across the British capital, this year's festival has a record number of Jewish interest films that explore Jewish culture, history, life and experiences from around the world. There is a wide variety of international feature films, from the chilling, Catalan-language The Clown and the Fuhrer to the enchanting Argentinean family drama Letters to Jenny. "In 2008 we are bringing you a record number of screenings that offer a panoramic view of Jewish life, history and culture," said Judy Ironside, UKJFF founder and director. "Now in our 12th year, the festival has gained considerable acclaim in the UK and worldwide." Israeli films Waltz with Bashir and Berlin Film Festival award winner The Lemon Tree are the highlights of the festival. The latter tells the story of a Palestinian widow who, for alleged reasons of national security, is told she must cut down her lemon grove. Lemon Tree director Eran Riklis attended Saturday night's opening night, which was sold out, and took part in a Q & A session. David Polonsky, art director and illustrator of Waltz with Bashir, also attended the screening of his film on Sunday night, a sell-out as well. Other movies include Canadian film Emotional Arithmetic, starring Susan Sarandon and Max von Sydow. It tells the story of a concentration camp survivor who finds out many years later that the man who saved her life is still alive. Let's Dance is madcap tragi-comic-romance from France in which Parisian bon vivant Salomon finds unexpected love. Cup Final fuses the First Lebanon War with football and looks at the relationship between Israelis and their neighbors. Other foreign films include Australian film Hey, Hey, It's Esther Blueberger and German comedy Max Mindsky and Me. The festival ends on November 20 with the film Shiva, starring Israeli actress Ronit Elkabetz, who also co-wrote and co-directed it. UKJFF has short films and also award-winning documentaries from around the world, films that take surprising and imaginative new angles on subjects from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to Jewish identity and history. In Sisai, for example, young Israeli director David Gavro embarks on a remarkable journey to Ethiopia, the land of his ancestors. Touching on powerful emotions of belonging, alienation and family ties, Gavro's film is a gripping examination of troubled identity. Etz O Palestine, narrated by Chaim Topol, is a documentary that looks at the early years of the State of Israel, with stunning archival material from the pioneers of the Israeli film industry. "We are always inspired and surprised at the ever-increasing number of new films submitted to the UKJFF each year - more than 300 in the last few months alone," Ironside said. "This is evidence indeed that there is an enormous interest in Jewish cultures worldwide. and from these films we work to create a new festival and to offer a balanced program." From January 2009, the UK Jewish Film Festival will tour across the UK, visiting 15 cities across the country. The festival has also expanded into Eastern Europe, last year to Zagreb and this year will expand to Sarajevo and Belgrade.