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Funny....You Don't Look Jewish

With the explosion of film festivals over the past two decades, no specialized genre has been more potent, and had more loyal audiences, than the Jewish film festival, which has become a cultural staple in communities across North America, Europe and South America. In all, there may be almost 300 of these events in a given year.....each a mix of film appreciation and something more fundamental, an opportunity for the Jewish community (and those involved with them) to sample an international mix of fiction, documentaries, short subject and even animation that speak to and of the Jewish soul.

One of the oldest, and certainly the most prestigious, of these film events has launched this past week in New York City, home to the largest population of Jews outside of Israel. The New York Jewish Film Festival (NYJFF) is a bellweather showcase for world cinema that investigates, records, and celebrates the Jewish experience. Founded in 1992, the annual Festival is a collaboration between The Jewish Museum and the Film Society of Lincoln Center. This year, a total of 32 shorts, dramas, and documentaries from Germany, Hungary, France, Argentina, Russia, the US, Mexico, Canada, Israel, the United Kingdom, and Austria add up to an exhilarating worldwide journey. To mark the 60th anniversary of the founding of the State of Israel, this year’s festival showcases ten new Israeli films. And finally, there is the festival-within-the-festival, a four ftitle mini-retrospective of the films by the late Austrian stage, television, and film director Axel Corti.

Among this year's highlights:

--The US Premiere of A SECRET, the semi-autobiographical film by French auteur Claude Miller, which shared the Grand Prix des Ameriques at the Montreal World Film Festival this year. In postwar Paris, a young boy discovers the tragic consequences of his parents’ mutual attraction during the Nazi occupation. Claude Miller portrays a family consumed with guilt, jealousy, fear and loss in seemingly idyllic rural and urban landscapes. The cast features some of today’s most celebrated French actors including Cécile de France, Mathieu Amalric, Patrick Bruel, Julie Depardieu and Ludivine Sagnier.

--The NY Premiere of TEHILIM by Israeli director Raphael Nadjari. In this riveting and enigmatic drama selected for competition at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival, a father inexplicably vanishes in Jerusalem. Unable to mourn, his secular wife retreats into silence while the Orthodox family members gather to recite Psalms (tehilim). With the best of intentions, the sons try to bring their father back through an improvised ritual.

--The NY Premiere of ORTHODOX STANCE from American director Jason Hutt. In this inspirational story, a 20-something Russian immigrant is improbably equally devoted to the seemingly disparate worlds of professional boxing and Orthodox Judaism. The film follows the boxer from a dilapidated Orthodox synagogue to an amateur gym and to boxing rings in Las Vegas and Atlantic City.

--The NY Premiere of BEAUFORT by Israeli director Joseph Cedar. In this absorbing military story, a brash, young commander must defend Beaufort Castle, the last outpost in southern Lebanon that Israel held before the army’s withdrawal in 2000. Hiding in underground tunnels and bunkers, the lieutenant tries in vain to protect his troops from Hezbollah missiles and low morale. This powerful and heartbreaking drama is Israel’s official submission to the Academy Awards in the Best Foreign Film category.

--A retrospective screening of LOVE ONE ANOTHER, a silent classic from 1922 by the Danish auteur Carl Dreyer. In a rare film screening, the world of the shtetl (the Jewish village) in Czarist Russia is reproduced with astonishing emotional depth in this rarely seen and unsung classic. A young Jewish girl moves to St. Petersburg, falls in love with a revolutionary, flees the police, and returns to her village just as a pogrom breaks out. Featuring a cast from the Moscow Art Theater—the film is not only Dr. Zhivago-like epic entertainment but also a grand protest against the anti-Semitism that was to sweep over Europe one decade later. The screening, with piano accompaniment by Ben Model, will be introduced by J. Hoberman, senior film critic of the Village Voice.

For a complete description of all the films in the series, schedule information, and how to purchase advanced tickets (most of these films do sell out), log on to the websites of the Film Society of Lincoln Center: www.filmlinc.com or The Jewish Museum: http://www.thejewishmuseum.org/NYJFF2008

Sandy Mandelberger, Film New York Editor on fest21.com

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