Sephardic Jewish Film Festival Offers Glimpse Into Little-Known Culture
Sole Annual U.S. Festival Devoted to Sephardic Life Features Seven New York and Three National Premieres, Discussions with Directors and Gala Receptions
Think Jewish movies. Now replace the images of fiddlers and pickle makers with those of pomegranates and bourekas—the images of Judaism that has its roots in Spain , the Balkans and the Ottoman Empire.
From February 4–11, moviegoers will have the opportunity to celebrate the rich and vibrant history, stories, customs and culture of Sephardic Jewry at the 14th Annual New York Sephardic Jewish Film Festival. This year also marks the 20th anniversary of the Festival’s inception; what began as a biennial event has become the only annual film festival in the United States devoted solely to the Sephardic Jewish experience.
Encompassing 13 films, including three U.S. and seven New York premieres, talk backs with directors and gala receptions, the Festival is sponsored by the American Sephardi Federation/Sephardic House (ASF/SH) and the Yeshiva University Museum (YUM). (The full schedule of screenings appears at the end of this release.)
The event will begin with the New York premiere of Coco, a comic drama about a self-made man who faces a moment of truth at a really big show—the bar mitzvah of his son. The screening will be followed by a gala opening night reception. The evening will also include the presentation of ASF ’s ‘Pomegranate Award’ to the Festival’s three founders: Dr. Janice Ovadiah, Mr. Morrie Yohai and Isra eli filmmaker Haim Shiran . Closing night finds rapper Jeremy “Cool” Habash seeking to restore the cultural pride of the Ethiopian community in Israel in Children of the Bible, which will be followed by the closing reception.
The NY Sephardic Jewish Film Festival was originally established to “illuminate the scope of the Sephardic experience from the Spanish expulsion of 1492 to the present day; to raise the consciousness of the American Jewish and non-Jewish community to a better understanding of Sephardic Jewry; and to present through the medium of film, the history, literature, poetry, music, dance, customs and traditions of the Sephardic world.” Over the past 20 years, it has grown in scope and popularity as a new generation of Sephardic Jews proudly embraces its heritage. The festival is generously supported by the Consulate General of Israel in New York , individual and corporate donors, and foundations. ASF deeply appreciates its continuing collaboration with The JCC in Manhattan .
For information about tickets to the 14th NY Sephardic Jewish Film Festival, please visit www.sephardicfilmfest.org or call (212) 294-8350 x0. All screenings will take place at the Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th Street , NYC (except where noted). Group sales discounts are available (excluding the Opening and Closing night receptions). Information about the American Sephardi Federation is available by visiting www.americansephardifederation.org.
Members of the media are invited to attend the screenings. Requests for tickets and interviews with the directors and/or festival organizers are available by contacting Sherry Kirschenbaum at (973) 650-6018 or email@example.com. Some films are also available for prescreening.
14th New York Sephardic Jewish Film Festival Schedule
(All programs and guest speakers are subject to change.)
Thursday, February 4—OPENING NIGHT!
7:30 p.m. Coco
In this comic drama written, directed and starring Gad Elmaleh, Coco is a flamboyant self-made man who becomes a royal pain when planning the biggest show to date—the bar mitzvah of his son Samuel. This event will become, for him, a moment of truth about his role as a father and for realizing what is important in life. Sponsored solely by ASF .
Director: Gad Elmaleh. France, 2009. 95 mins. French with English subtitles. Brief partial nudity. Followed by Opening Night Reception
Saturday, February 6
7:30 p.m. A Matter of Size
Herzel, a 340-pound chef living with his mother, is frustrated by the relentless pursuit of weight loss, diet groups and fitness regimes. All that starts to change when he discovers the one place where fat guys can be rock stars—the world of sumo wrestling.
Directors: Sharon Maymon, Erez Tadmor. France, Germany, Israel, USA, UK, 2009. 92 mins. Hebrew, Japanese with English subtitles.
9:30 p.m. Honor
Starring Zeev Revah, Raymond Abecasis, Albert Iluz and leading stars of Isra eli cinema, Honor portrays two Moroccan organized crime families that suffer the tragedies of their respective lives. Sponsored solely by ASF .
Director: Haim Bouzaglo. Israel, 2009, 90 mins. French, Moroccan, Hebrew, with English subtitles. Brief partial nudity. Post-screening discussion with Haim Bouzaglo
Sunday, February 7
1:00 p.m. Léon: A New Encounter
The northern Spanish town of Léon, a village with a rich but little-known Jewish history, is revealed through testimonies, interviews and fascinating stories. Among these are the life of the Jewish kabbalist and philosopher, Moses de Léon; the excavations at Puente del Castro revealing a 10th century Jewish settlement; and Agaden—the mystical spot among the Aquilianos, where a group of banished Jews lost its way en route to Portugal.
Directors: Jack and Margalit Matitiahu. Spain, 2008. 90 mins. Spanish/Ladino with English subtitles. Post-screening discussion with Margalit Matitiahu
3:30 p.m. Mashalá
This stunning documentary follows Canadian singer Ellen Gould Ventura on a journey of spiritual and musical discovery through Sephardic song. Joining forces with a group of gifted musicians from Chile , Morocco, Italy and Venezuela, Ellen created the band Mashalá, which performs Sephardic music—a haunting blend of Jewish and Arabic sounds.
Director: Cyrus Sundar Singh. Canada, 2008. 46 mins.
An intimate look at the extraordinary efforts of musician Judy Frankel, whose work with many Sephardic communities helped to preserve and extend their rich musical tradition. The film follows Frankel’s journey from folk singer in Boston in the sixties, to her work with medieval and renaissance consorts.
Director: Kathleen Regan. USA, 2008. 30 mins. English with songs in Ladino. Post-screening discussion with filmmaker, Kathleen Regan and Samuel Thomas , performer, ethnomusicologist and executive director of AsefaMusic
5:30 p.m. Revivre (Rebirth) Part 1:
An epic drama chronicling the grueling journey of Jewish families from Poland , France , Morocco and Algeria to pre-state Israel in 1946–1947.
Director: Haim Bouzaglo. Israel/France, 2008. 184 mins. French, Moroccan, Hebrew with English subtitles. Post-screening refreshments and discussion with Haim Bouzaglo
9:00 p.m. Revivre (Rebirth) Part 2:
The turbulent journey continues as some of the families arrive in pre-state Israel while others are held at a work camp in Cyprus. Tensions grow between Arabs and Jews, Ashkenazim and Sephardim and between secular and religious.
Director: Haim Bouzaglo. Israel/France, 2008. 160 mins. French, Moroccan, Hebrew with English subtitles. Post-screening discussion with Haim Bouzaglo
Monday, February 8
2:00 p.m. Coco
See Thursday, February 4, at 7:30 p.m. for details.
6:30 p.m. Across the River
Against the "silencing" policy of the Public Health Authority and the denial of the Ethiopian community in Israel, Moshe Rachamim sets out to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS. A journey back to his isolated village in Ethiopia reveals a story about a curious young man who marked the way to the exodus of the Ethiopian Jews, and now feels he must save his community.
Director: Duki Dror. Israel, 2009. 60 mins.
8:30 p.m. Salvador: The Ship of Shattered Hopes
On the night of December 3, 1940, at the Black Seaport of Varna, Bulgaria, the Salvador —a rickety, old, sail-powered coal freighter—is finally towed out to sea and 352 Bulgarian Jews begin their voyage to Palestine . Ten hellish days later, not far from Istanbul , the vessel is shattered to pieces and most of its passengers are lost at sea. While some of the survivors return to Bulgaria , the rest struggle on towards their original destination against all odds.
Director: Nissim Mossek. Israel, 2006. 70 mins. Bulgarian, English, Hebrew with English subtitles. Post-screening discussion: TBA
Tuesday, February 9
6:30 p.m. Revivre (Rebirth) Part 2:
See Sunday, February 7, at 9:00 p.m. for details.
7:30 p.m. Queen Khantarisha
Screening at The JCC in Manhattan, 334 Amsterdam Avenue. See Wednesday, February 10, at 8:30 p.m. for details.
9:30 p.m. Pillar of Salt
20th Anniversary Reprise
Based on the autobiographical novel by sociologist Albert Memmi, this drama captures the cultural richness and social complexity of a Jewish boy's life in Tunisia as 13-year-old Alexander grapples with the conflicting press ures from surrounding French and Arab societies. A story about childhood, family ties and community with insights into class, colonialism and r eli gious conflict.
Director: Haim Shiran. Israel, 1979. 58 mins. Hebrew with English subtitles. Post-screening discussion with Haim Shiran , recipient of the American Sephardi Federation’s Pomegranate Award
Wednesday, February 10
2:00 p.m. Salvador: The Ship of Shattered Hopes
See Monday, February 8, at 8:30 p.m. for details.
6:30 p.m. Azi Ayima (Come Mother)
The story of the lives of the first generation of Moroccan women to immigrate to Israel is told for the first time in this poignant account, in which the filmmaker embarks on a journey across Israel with his mother. Together they search for classmates from her elementary school, the Alliance , which she attended 60 years earlier in the little village of Gurama in the Tafilalt region of Morocco . Through these women’s stories of past and present, Morocco is reconstructed and comes to life in a chronicle depicting lives of transition, cultural crisis and social survival counterbalanced by deep faith, optimism, joy and dignity.
Director: Sami Shalom Chetrit. Israel, 2009. 77 mins. Hebrew, Moroccan and French with Hebrew and English subtitles. Post-screening discussion with Sami Shalom Chetrit
7:30 p.m. Honor
Screening at The JCC in Manhattan, 334 Amsterdam Avenue. See Monday, February 4, at 9:30 p.m. for details. Sponsored solely by ASF.
8:30 p.m. Queen Khantarisha
This award-winning documentary follows two Yemenite writers: a songwriter and lyricist of love and a Jerusalem-born r eli gious poet and writer who has been denounced by her community because of her works on demons, madness, rape and rebellion. The film explores the personal costs to these women as they struggle to find acceptance of their creative ex press ion within the confines of their conservative communities.
Director: Israela Shaer-Meoded. Israel, 2009. 53 mins. Hebrew with English subtitles. Post-screening discussion: TBA
Thursday, February 11—CLOSING NIGHT!
7:00 p.m. Children of the Bible
The rapper and informal educator, Jeremy “Cool” Habash, seeks to restore the cultural pride of the Ethiopian community in Israel, both in its own eyes and in the eyes of the Isra eli society, by bringing members of the community—especially Ethiopian youth—closer to their tradition through song, an examination of the meaning of their names, stories about their Ethiopian heritage, and the journey of their aliyah that has taken on mythical proportions.
Director: Nitza Gonen. Israel, 2009. 53 mins. Hebrew and Amharic with English subtitles. Followed by Closing Night Reception