Food and film mix soulfully at Jerusalem festival

The capital’s Cinematheque lures movie-lovers with pickled fish and jelly doughnuts, along with Sarah Silverman

Jessica Steinberg, The Times of Israel's culture and lifestyles editor, covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center

It’s a land of many Jews, but it can still be tough to find relevant films to fill out a Jewish film festival.

“Anyone who runs a topical film festival, whether it’s about women, children’s animation, or Jewish films, has this problem,” said Daniella Tourgeman, director of the Jerusalem Cinematheque’s annual Jewish Film Festival. “There’s only so many films being made about your topic.”

2014, however, has been a good year in terms of Jewish films, said Tourgeman. And given the festival’s focus on interdisciplinary arts, there’s a wider range of options available.

“We’ve been exploring how to expand and redefine our festival,” she said. “You have to offer something extra, given that people would rather stay home and not go to the cinema. So it has to be an absolutely Cinematheque experience, seeing films that there’s no way they can see anywhere else and meeting filmmakers.”

And eating jelly doughnuts, which are served at the Cinematheque during the eight-day film festival.

Some films end up being shown at the Jewish Film Festival rather than at the Cinematheque’s well-known Film Festival in July because they’re not yet available in the summer, said Tourgeman.

Among them is the festival’s opener, “Phoenix” a German film noir tale of mistaken identity set after World War II that was awarded best film at the Toronto Film Festival and will be screened on Tuesday, December 16. Tourgeman also recommends “Flory’s Flame,” about a well-known Ladino singer, a pick she’s pleased about because it’s difficult to find films about the Ladino or Sephardic Jewish experience.

She also liked “Belle and Sebastian,” a children’s film set in the Swiss Alps during World War II about a lonely boy and a dog, with a singalong of songs by Scottish indie pop band Belle and Sebastian on December 16 at 6 p.m. Her last pick? “Félix and Meira,” an elegant story about an ultra-Orthodox Jewish woman and French Canadian man in Montreal who fall in love.

There are several special guests at the festival, including comedian Sarah Silverman, who will discuss the HBO film “Sarah Silverman: We Are Miracles” featuring her solo standup work, on December 18 at 9 p.m.

Note that Silverman’s appearance has nothing to do with the Comedy for Change conference taking place at the Cinematheque from December 21-22.

On the interdisciplinary front, the festival will explore culinary cinema, bringing guests connected to Jewish food and introducing them to the audience through master classes, meetings and meals.

Called Delicatessen, the culinary part of the interdisciplinary celebration will be held December 16-23 at the Cinematheque and other sites, including the nearby HaSadna (Culinary Workshop) restaurant, Casino de Paris in Mahane Yehuda market, the First Station and the Abraham Hostel.

Special guests include Mediterranean chef Claudia Roden and Michael Twitty, an African-American Jewish culinary historian who will bring his kosher soul food to the festival.

Besides foodie films like “Jadoo,” a comical family-feud-and-food flick, parts of “Mediterranean Odyssey,” the BBC series about Rodan or “The Sturgeon Queens,” a documentary about the famed New York appetizing store Russ and Daughters, there’s a long list of events to consider attending.

Rodan will be participating in a tribute dinner on December 20 at Hasadna, but note that space is very limited. There’s also Twitty’s kosher soul food masterclass on December 21 at the Abraham Hostel, and a tour on December 18 of authentic Jewish kitchens and delicatessens in Jerusalem. If you want to just sidle up to a counter for a taste of herring, try the sandwich and pickled fish stand at the Cinematheque on December 17 at 5 p.m., or a shot of vodka with pickled fish at Cinema de Paris at 9 p.m. on the same day. There will also be stands selling various culinary treats, such as stuffed vegetables, a Claudia Roden favorite, at the First Station throughout the festival.

Head to the Jerusalem Cinematheque website for a full listing of the films and events.

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