Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Film feature: Jewish film fest offers 11-day nosh of 35 movies

Ran Danker and Zohar Strauss in Eyes Wide Open.

By Hap Erstein

To paraphrase a line from Fiddler on the Roof,: “So if the economy had a bad year, why should the Jewish Film Festival suffer?”

Beginning tonight and continuing through Sunday, Dec. 13, here comes the 20th anniversary Palm Beach Jewish Film Festival, slightly smaller due to belt-tightening by the sponsoring Jewish Community Centers of the Palm Beaches, but still artistically strong with some 35 feature films, documentaries and shorts from around the world, illuminating the Jewish experience.

“At least we’re fortunate in that although our budget has been cut, as have all festivals, we are still able to have the same quality, as well as quantity, of films,” says festival director Karen Davis. “It’s not quite 36 (films), but it’s still up there.”

She estimates the festival took a 12% budget cut this year. “Where we have had to cut back a little bit is in the marketing and also somewhat in the travel. We don’t have quite as many filmmakers coming this year. Air fares have just really gone up substantially.”

Still, lined up to appear and field questions in post-screening audience discussions will be:

* Leon Geller, co-director of The Heart of Jenin, an Israeli-German co-production about “a Palestinian father whose young son was accidentally killed by Israeli forces. He then decides to donate his son’s body organs to save as many lives of Israeli children as he can.” (Regal Delray, Tuesday, Dec. 8, 7:20 p.m.)

* Karin Albou, director of The Wedding Song, “a nostalgic look at life in Tunisia. Sort of a coming-of-age movie about two best girlfriends -- one Muslim, one Jewish -- who are looking forward to boys and marriage, but then the friendship dissipates because of politics during World War II.” (Cobb Downtown, Monday, Dec. 7, 7:20 p.m.; Regal Delray, Wednesday, Dec. 9, 7:20 p.m.)

* Igaal Hiddam, director of Brothers: “It’s a documentary about two separated brothers, one went to America and became an Orthodox lawyer, the other went to Israel and is secular, working on a kibbutz. They are reunited when the lawyer arrives in Israel to defend the rights of some Torah students. It is about a religious state versus a secular state, religious versus secular life. Very thought-provoking.” (Cobb Downtown, Wednesday, Dec. 9, 3:30 p.m.; Wellington Reel World, Saturday, Dec. 12, 7:20 p.m.)

It is coincidental, but Davis point out that several of this year’s films concern brothers and their relationships, while most of the films are about family dynamics.

Per usual, Davis traveled this year to film festivals In Berlin and Jerusalem to scout movies for the Palm Beach festival. Like any good Jewish mother, she values all her children -- that is, all 35 films in the festival -- but when asked to single out three films as must-sees, she chose:

* Eyes Wide Open: “Because it is just a beautifully done film about a subject that’s rarely looked at and very worthwhile. It’s a gay film, about an Orthodox butcher who falls in love with a Yeshiva boy. We will have the first screening of it in this country, ahead of all the other Jewish Film festivals." (Cobb Downtown, Sunday Dec. 6, 7:20 p.m.)

* A History of Israeli Cinema: It’s a two-part film that from the early Zionist propaganda days of the ’20s and ’30s to the current day. It hits all the bases.” (Regal Delray, Friday. Dec. 12, 12;45 p.m.)

* The Heart of Jenin: “It’s political with good endings and that’s what I like. It doesn’t happen too often.”

Having survived the anguish of choosing three films, Davis quickly adds, “But I think all of them are wonderful, all of them are worthwhile.”

20TH ANNUAL PALM BEACH JEWISH FILM FESTIVAL, Cobb Downtown 16, Palm Beach Gardens; Regal Delray, Delray Beach; Wellington Reel World Cinema 8. Tonight through Sun., Dec.. 13. Tickets: $8- $12, except opening night ($18). Call: (561) 712-5201.

Ismail Khatib in Heart of Jenin.

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