18th annual Jewish Film Festival

‘Denial,’ acceptance, and other Jewish matters in the movies

Highlights of Hanukkah film fest, at the Jerusalem Cinematheque from Dec. 24-29, include Deborah Lipstadt discussing the Rachel Weisz movie based on her book

Jessica Steinberg covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center.

Tending the elephants and other acts of coexistence in 'Holy Zoo,' the documentary showing at the Jerusalem Jewish Film Festival, December 24-29, 2016 (Courtesy Ammar Shachar)
Tending the elephants and other acts of coexistence in 'Holy Zoo,' the documentary showing at the Jerusalem Jewish Film Festival, December 24-29, 2016 (Courtesy Ammar Shachar)

Some films capture the essence of Jewry. But they’re not necessarily showing at YES Planet or Cinema City, so viewers need to make something of an effort to see them.

Luckily, the Jerusalem Cinematheque opens the 18th Jewish Film Festival on December 24-29, with a long list of movies, documentaries and features offering different approaches to capturing Jewish life. There are movies about the Holocaust, about Israel and coexistence, intermarriage and its effect on the American Jewry, and homages to Jewish stars and heroes.

One of the biggest names in town for the festival is historian Deborah Lipstadt, to discuss the film “Denial,” based on her book and starring Rachel Weisz. There will also be a Q&A with Lipstadt on December 25.

Other Holocaust films include “Defying the Nazis,” a Ken Burns film about little-known Holocaust rescuers.

An unusual prism through which to view Israel, Jerusalem and the fight for coexistence is “Holy Zoo,” a documentary about the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo and the Arab-Jewish activities that take place there on a regular basis. Produced by Katharina Waisburd, it’s an homage to the zoo and what it represents for Jerusalem.

As part of Genesis Prize winner Michael Douglas’ efforts to rethink intermarriage and its effects on American Jewry, a project funded by the Jewish Funders Network and Douglas’ Genesis Prize is offering movies, workshops and lectures on the acceptance of intermarried families within the Jewish family.

“We don’t set out to make it part of the social agenda, but we’re presenting the fact,” said Daniella Tourgeman, who produces the festival.

One of the films being shown as part of the intermarriage program is a classical restoration of “Fiddler on the Roof,” a sing-a-long event on Thursday, December 29, with professional singers in the audience and songbooks for the attendees.

There’s also a restored version of “His People,” the Yiddish film from 1925, along with a lecture by Brandeis professor and historian Jonathan Sarna, and a restoration of “The Dybbuk,” as a result of the collaboration of the Israeli Film Archives with the French Film Archives.

One of the eternal questions in creating a Jewish film festival is what makes a movie a Jewish movie, said Tourgeman.

“I have to deal with that notion every year,” she said.

The festival is grappling with that question in an evening presentation including directors Avi Nesher and Rama Burshtein, actress Lucy Dubinchik, filmmaker Avishai Sivan, and Gesher Film Fund CEO Ziv Naveh and moderated by film critic Yair Naveh.

There’s also the annual international competition including feature films “The History of Love,” based on the Nicole Krauss novel and screened in the presence of Romanian director Radu Mihăileanu, as well as Dan Wolman’s “An Israeli Love Story” and “Stefan Zweig: Farewell To Europe,” about the Jewish Austrian writer.

For viewers looking for documentaries, there’s “BANG!” a film about Bert Berns, who wrote the lyrics to “Twist and Shout,” “Brown-Eyed Girl” and “Piece of My Heart,” made by his son Brett Berns, as well as films about Jerry Lewis and Norman Lear.

“German and Jews” is about the fastest-growing population in Berlin, while “Ultra Orthodox 3.0” is about the Haredi population in Beit Shemesh and “Shades of Hate” is about the world of violence in Israeli sports.

There are events for kids on December 29 at 11 a.m., including screenings and workshops.

Most films begin at 5 p.m. For tickets to the Jerusalem Jewish Film Festival, head to the Jerusalem Cinematheque website.

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