The annual Jewish Film Festival opens in Louisville this week.Programmed by Jewish Community of Louisville and screened at various locations, including Village 8 Cinema, the annual Jewish Film Festival is has become a predominantly foreign-language film festival, too.
This year’s films hail from Israel, Poland, the Netherlands and France, with one documentary hailing from the United States.
Film selection committee chair Keiley Caster says international films can be less expensive to acquire and they tend to offer something different from the mainstream Hollywood fare. And for a Jewish film festival, Israel’s growing film industry now has a lot to offer.
“The Israeli films, ten years ago, maybe one or two of all the movies we reviewed were worth considering. But it’s changed considerably,” Caster says. “The film industry, the professionalism, there are really good films that come out of Israel now.”
The festival opens Saturday with “Bethlehem,” a feature film about an Israeli secret service officer and his Palestinian informant. “Bethlehem” was Israel’s nomination for the Academy Award for best foreign film, and it also won nine Ophir awards (also known as the Israeli Oscars) and took home top honors from the Venice Film Festival this year.
The lone film from American filmmakers is “When Comedy Went to School,” a documentary that addresses the question, “why are there so many Jewish comedians?” A screening at Adath Jeshurun on Sunday evening will also include a discussion and talk led by Louisville comedian Mark Klein.
The festival closes on February 23 with a free screening at the Muhammad Ali Center. Filmed in The Netherlands, “Sonny Boy” is based on the true story of a young African man who falls in love with a Dutch woman in Nazi-occupied Holland. Caster says “Sonny Boy” depicts an under-represented side of World War II history.
“Interracial marriage in the late ‘30s was really far advanced,” he says. “It really shows how it wasn’t just Jews that had problems with the Nazis.”
The committee begins reviewed about 40 films for this year’s festival, meeting once a month between June and October to debate and decide on this year’s selections.
A look at this year’s films:
Saturday, February 8, 7:30 p.m. Village 8 Theatres
Awards: 6 Ophir awards, including Best Feature Film, at Jerusalem Film Festival; nominee for best foreign film at the Academy Awards; first place at Venice Film Festival
This film depicts the relationship between Razi, an Israeli Secret Service officer and Sanfur, his 17 year old Palestinian informant. Razi cares about Sanfur, but manipulates him to get information about his militant brother’s deputy, Badawi. This same relationship with Sanfur is mirrored by Badawi. A series of events forces the teenager to eventually choose sides. Israel, 99 minutes
Sunday, February 9, 3:00 p.m. Congregation Adath Jeshurun
Special Event: $15 in advance, $18 at door
“When Comedy Went to School”
Why are there so many Jewish comedians? The festival presents an afternoon of comedy starting with a documentary on the origins of stand-up comedy in the Catskill Mountains. Popping- up telling jokes and stories are: Mel Brooks, Jerry Lewis, Sid Caesar, Jackie Mason, Mort Sahl, Jerry Stiller, Larry King, Woody Allen, Jerry Seinfeld and others. USA, 77 minutes
Mark Klein, a well-known national comedian and member of our community will regale us with stories and jokes following the film. Dessert, coffee and conversation top off a fun afternoon.
Tuesday, February 11, 7:00 p.m. Village 8 Theatres
Awards: Jerusalem Film Festival, Copenhagen International Film Festival, and many Audience Awards from Jewish Film Festivals.
Three musically gifted children develop deep friendships while living in Poltava, Ukraine, in 1941. Although different religions, nationalities and social classes, the children find they have much in common. When the war reaches their town, they are forced to use their talent and friendship to survive. Germany, 100 minutes
Saturday, February 15, 7:30 p.m., Village 8 Theatres
Awards: Spanish and Moroccan Film Festivals.
Based on a popular novel, this thriller is about an Arab doctor living in Israel whose wife is killed in an explosion. He desperately pursues an investigation to determine if she was involved in the planning of the bombing. His emotional and physical journey takes him from Jerusalem to the Palestinian territories in search of answers. This film, a unique cooperation between Israelis, Palestinians and Lebanese, was written and directed by a Lebanese filmmaker who shot the film in Israel with Israeli actors. Arabic and Hebrew, 102 minutes
Sunday, February 16, 2:00 p.m., Village 8 Theatres
“Fill the Void”
Awards: Best Feature Film and 6 other Ophir awards at Jerusalem Film Festival
Eighteen–year-old Shira is thrilled that the marriage arranged for her within her Orthodox Jewish community is with a boy she likes. But when her sister dies in childbirth, Shira’s hopes for her future are thrown into turmoil by her grieving mother. Israel, 90 minutes
Monday, February 17, 7:00 p.m., The Temple – FREE
“Rabbi’s Daughter” and “Ma Nishtana”
The Ma’aleh School of Television, Film and Arts in Jerusalem, presents 2 films focusing on the dilemmas facing those who live in a strictly religious community. Films sponsored by the Temple and moderated by Rabbi David Ariel-Joel. Reception sponsored by Louisville Jewish Film Festival. Israel, approximately 60 minutes
Wednesday, February 19, 7:00 p.m., Village 8 Theatres
“The Other Son”
A moving and provocative tale of two young men, one Israeli and one Palestinian, who discover they were switched at birth during the Gulf War, and the complex repercussions facing them and their respective families. France, 105 minutes
Saturday, February 22, 7:30 p.m., Village 8 Theatres
Aftermath is the story of 2 brothers who dare to investigate the secret murder of Jews in a small Polish village in 1941. When Franek returns from USA to his village he finds his brother is hated by the neighbors, and together they discover a terrifying secret. Based on true events, Aftermath is considered one of the most controversial and important films made in Poland, and one of the best foreign films of the year. Contains violent scenes. Poland, 107 minutes
Sunday, February 23, 1:30 p.m., Muhammad Ali Center
“Sonny Boy “
FREE (to ensure ticket, reserve by calling JCC; 502- 459-0660)
This epic Dutch film, based on a true story and best- selling novel, follows a young man from Dutch Guiana who boards a ship to the Netherlands in search of an education. He finds love and has a son with Rika, a white woman twice his age. Through difficult years the mixed race couple fights to survive and life becomes more dangerous when sheltering Jews during the 1940’s in Nazi-occupied Netherlands. The Netherlands, 132 minutes