Cinefile: Totally tribal

The 10th Jerusalem Jewish Film Festival hits the Cinematheque this week.

Empty Nest 248.88 (photo credit: Courtesy )
Empty Nest 248.88
(photo credit: Courtesy )
The 10th Jerusalem Jewish Film Festival, which runs from December 13-19 at the Jerusalem Cinematheque, is the largest Jewish festival of its kind - and the richest. It features more than 50 movies, all on topics of Jewish interest, including world premieres of feature films, documentaries and shorts. It opens with Empty Nest, the latest film by the young Argentinean director Daniel Burman, who will receive the festival's Achievement Award. Empty Nest, which stars Oscar Martinez and Cecilia Roth, concerns a middle-aged playwright suffering from writers' block who has trouble coping with life after his daughter marries and moves to Israel. He begins to hope that a visit to the Holy Land will help revive him. There will also be a retrospective of Burman's earlier films, most of which concern Jewish life in Buenos Aires. The retrospective will consist of Seven Days in El Once, a documentary short that was Burman's contribution to 18-J, a compilation film about the bombing of the Buenos Aires Jewish center in 1994, and Waiting for the Messiah, the first film in Burman's so-called Fatherhood Trilogy (the other films of which are The Lost Embrace and Family Law). Waiting for the Messiah stars Daniel Hendler as a young man who doesn't want to take over his father's restaurant. Burman will be present on opening night and also at the screening of Waiting for the Messiah. The festival also hosts several other guests from abroad. Actor Jason Isaacs, whom your kids know as Lucius Malfoy in the Harry Potter movies and you may know from other roles, including Friends with Money and Black Hawk Down, will attend to present his latest film, Good. He co-stars as a Jewish friend of a literature professor played by Viggo Mortensen in Nazi Germany. One of the film's producers, Miriam Segal, will also be present. One of the highlights of the festival is the screening of David Grubin's acclaimed PBS television series, The Jewish Americans. A wide-ranging history of Jewish American life, the six-hour series will be shown in three parts over the course of three days. Grubin will also conduct a free master class (although seating is limited, so call soon for reservations). No matter how much you think you know about the subject, I guarantee you will learn something from this fascinating series. The festival's Lifetime Achievement Award will go to veteran Israeli producer Micha Shagrir following a screening of his latest film, I Had a Dream, directed by Tezeta Germay. It tells the story of Yona Bogale, known as the Herzl of Ethiopian Jewry. One of the founders of Israeli television, Shagrir produced such films as Avanti Popolo and The Barbecue People (Hamangalistim), and is currently working on an adaptation of Erri De Luca's God's Mountain. Also scheduled are tributes to several other filmmakers, including the late Chicago-born writer and director Meyer Levin, who made the film version of The Diary of Anne Frank. His 1948 film, The Illegals, will be screened. It tells the story of Polish Holocaust survivors who return to their home after the war, only to find a Christian family living there. They then decide to join the illegal immigration to Palestine. The evening, to be moderated by Micha Shagrir, includes an interview with Levin's widow, Tereska. There will also be a showing of My Father's House, which Levin produced and which was directed by Herbert Kline, another 1948 film set in then-Palestine (it was filmed during the pre-state period but shown after the establishment of the state). It's about a young Holocaust survivor, sent to a kibbutz, who searches for his family. The closing event of the festival is an evening in memory of George (Rehor) Ostrovsky, one of the founders of the Jerusalem Cinematheque, at which the 1920 German silent film, The Golem, will be screened. Ido Govrin will provide live musical accompaniment. If you're a fan of the first Jewish super-hero, then you won't want to miss the opportunity to see this film, considered a masterpiece of German Expressionism, on the big screen. All told, there are 15 special events, panels and tributes in this weeklong festival. They include a panel on Jewish identity in South America; the legacy of Yemenite Jewry; and Cinema Midrash - Films for (Jewish) Thought, hevruta study based around festival films, with teachers from Beit Midrash Elul. A number of new Israeli films, most of them world premieres, are to be shown. These include Ari Levy's 18 Kilometers, a feature film about 11 people living in Sderot and Gaza, whose paths cross during one day in 2007; Zrubavel, about an Ethiopian boy who dreams of becoming a filmmaker, directed by Shmuel Bero, who will attend the screening; Just Like Your Daddy, directed by Marco Carmel, about a Tunisian family that moves to Israel and then to France and gets involved in the criminal underworld, starring Yael Abecassis and Gad Elmaleh; Eyal Boers' documentary, The Classmates of Anne Frank, about what became of the children the famous diarist grew up with; The Rabbi's Daughter and the Midwife, a documentary by Ron Ofer and Yohai Hakak about ultra-Orthodox women choosing to start careers; Yalon Gurewitz's A Nation in Reserve, a documentary about IDF reserve duty; In the Freiman's Kitchen, a documentary by Hadar Bashan about an elderly couple in Gush Katif the summer of the disengagement; and, Mira Hamermesh's The Fighters of the Ghetto, about the founding of the Ghetto Fighter's Museum, which celebrates its 60th anniversary this year. The competition for short Israeli films will be given in memory of Bnaya Zuckerman. There are also a number of feature films from around the world. Comedy fans will want to check out Goyband, Christopher Grim's look at a former boy-band icon who gets a gig at the opening of the world's first glatt-kosher casino; Cyril Gelblat's Cycles, a film about a French-Jewish family that uncovers some secrets, starring Miou-Miou and Charles Berling; and To Life, by Shai Agosin, about a Mexican daughter who goes to see her estranged father in Chile. In the documentary category, there is Cass Warner's The Brothers Warner, a look at the famous family that established the movie studio, by Harry Warner's granddaughter; Holy Land Hardball, a look at the first season of pro baseball in Israel, by Brett Raphkin and Erik Kesten; and, The Fire Within: Jews in the Amazonian Rain Forest, a look at the descendants of Moroccan Jews who came to the rainforest as rubber traders in the 19th century. Screenings at this festival often sell out, so if you want to buy tickets in advance, go to the Jerusalem Cinematheque Website,