Jewish/Israeli Film Fest Has Poignant Stories

Films in February's fest vary from a celebration of hummus to a historically important documentary with Israel's founding leader, with dramas and comedies also in the mix

click to enlarge Asher Lax is in the film "Scaffolding." - PHOTO: Green Productions
PHOTO: Green Productions
Asher Lax is in the film "Scaffolding."

The 12 new features being presented at this year’s Mayerson JCC Jewish & Israeli Film Festival, which gets underway Thursday and continues through Feb. 22, offer a variety of unforgettable stories and characters. Like the festival’s theme —“Faces of Israel”— the movies are rooted in an array of experience and culture.

The quirky documentary Hummus! The Movie will lead off the fest with a sold-out screening at 20th Century Theater in Oakley. It is an homage to its namesake spread, layering it in a history that binds Jews, Muslims and Christians together in the Middle East and, if a stop at Trader Joe’s is any evidence, worldwide. There’s also Scaffolding (Feb. 8, Kenwood Theatre), a coming-of-age film full of restlessness, inevitable quarter-life angst and the conflicts of a 17-year-old negotiating his way through family life and Israeli culture, and Amor (Feb. 19, Mariemont Theatre), the story of an artist returning to his childhood home in Israel and being confronted with memories — some lyrical and awash in nostalgia, others painful — as he explores love and love lost.

These are just some of the stories that will populate the festival, which will present its features (often paired with shorts) in five locations (Esquire Theatre and Mayerson JCC, the event’s host, are the other venues). This year, its 24th, the festival is including more Israeli films than usual to celebrate the 70th anniversary of that country’s establishment.

Israeli film expert and screenwriter Galit Roichman will lead discussions after films. She’ll be at the Esquire on Monday for Ben-Gurion, Epilogue. It’s a documentary drawn from six hours of archival footage of an elderly David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s founding figure and first prime minister. According to the festival’s website, at the time the footage was shot, Ben-Gurion was 82 and living in a secluded desert home. He speaks with hindsight on Zionism and his “introspective soul searching provides a surprising vision for the crucial decisions Israel faces today.”

Roichman will also be at Scaffolding and Tuesday’s Mariemont screening of The 90-Minute War, a fiery mockumentary that proposes an odd question: “What if the feud between Israel and the Palestinians could be solved by a soccer match?”

Among other features, Home Port follows a seaman who returns home to mend a relationship with his daughter. Bye Bye Germany, which is set in 1946 Frankfurt, follows characters who survived the Nazi regime. After the screening, Jodi Elowitz from the Center for Holocaust and Humanity Education will lead a discussion. The documentary My Hero Brother follows a group of young people with Down syndrome and their siblings as they journey through the Himalayas on a meaningful trek (psychologist Ryan Niemiec will lead the post-screening discussion). Other films to be shown include Across the Waters, And Then She Arrived and The Law.

The closing-night (Feb. 22) title Big Sonia follows a 91-year-old Holocaust survivor after she receives an eviction notice. It’s a humble portrait of a woman — both painful and triumphant — that blends humor and honesty to tell the story of a life well-lived. Caroline Kennedy, founder and CEO of Empower: Educate and Inspire, will speak after the 7 p.m. screening at the 20th Century.

Though the films navigate Jewish and Israeli culture, Mayerson JCC’s Frances Kahan says she and a committee of 15 sought balance when choosing the selections. She wants the festival to have films that everyone can appreciate.

“There are things that are throughout each of these films that people can identify with,” she says. “Be it food bringing people together, which is something I think that many cultures do, or relating to your history and learning from it.” 

Whether it’s a family drama or a rom-com where you want to watch people fall in love on the screen, Kahan says there’s something for everyone.

As diverse as the films are in genre and in character, the festival seeks to captivate and explore rich, vibrant cinema while celebrating the people and experiences that make up Jewish and Israeli culture. 

The lessons learned from watching can be applied universally.

For tickets or more information about the Jewish & Israeli Film Festival, visit mayersonjcc.org.

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