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New York Sephardic Jewish Film Festival highlights

A rare glimpse into the hidden secrets of Toledo, Spain. A heartbreaking drama about a Tunisian Jewish family in Paris. A poignant portrait of Iraq’s Jewish society. An introduction to a small Jewish community in Mumbai that believe s itself descended from one of the lost tribes of Israel. The story of an Ethiopian Jewish boy who dreams of being the Spike Lee of Israel.

These are but a few of the fifteen films from fourteen countries being screened at this year’s gala 13th Annual New York Sephardic Jewish Film Festival, sponsored by the American Sephardi Federation/Sephardic House and the Yeshiva University Museum, to be held February 5-12, 2009 at the Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th Street in New York City.

The festival begins on February 5th with the New York Premiere of Zrubavel, the first Israeli film to be made by an Ethiopian Israeli filmmaker and crew. A Q&A with the filmmaker and a performance by an Ethiopian/Israeli singer will be followed by a reception. The closing night of the festival on February 12th will feature a film about the exodus of Moroccan Jewry in the early 1960’s -- Where Are You Going, Moshe, also followed by a reception.

Several scholars of Sephardic life as well as directors of the festival’s films will speak at the screenings. A complete, annotated schedule of the 13th Annual New York Sephardic Jewish Film Festival appears at the end of this release.

Growing in scope and popularity over the past decade and a half, the New York Sephardic Jewish Film Festival is the only annual festival solely devoted to Sephardic Jewish life and history, and the most comprehensive of its kind, inviting the public to learn about Jewish narratives that have historically been overshadowed by the predominant Ashkenazi culture.

Offering a rich cornucopia of films in various languages, including Amharic, Arabic, French, Spanish, Swahili, Russian, Tunisian, Hindi and Portuguese, the 13th Annual New York Sephardic Jewish Film Festival constitutes a crash course in Sephardic history, customs, stories and culture.

As Sephardic literature, music, history and traditions have been explored and embraced by an emerging generation of Jews, the New York Sephardic Jewish Film Festival stands at the epicenter of an exploding awareness…and celebration of the Sephardic Jewish heritage.

For information about tickets to the 13th Annual New York Sephardic Jewish Film Festival, please visit Unless otherwise noted, all films will be screened at the Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th Street, New York City.

Members of the press are invited to attend the screenings but must make arrangements ahead of time. Requests for press tickets, interviews with directors or the organizers of the 13th Annual New York Sephardic Jewish Film Festival can be made by contacting Shira Dicker at 212.6634643 or 917.403.3989 or

Requests to pre-screen films prior to their showing at the festival can also be made and will be honored on a case by case basis.

The 13th Annual New York Sephardic Jewish Film Festival
February 5 - 12, 2009

Thursday, Feb. 5

7:00 pm Zrubavel (New York Premiere)

The first Israeli film created by a team of Ethiopian Israelis. Itzhak dreams of becoming the future Spike Lee of Israel. He comes from an immigrant family from Ethiopia, led by his grandfather, Gita. A chain of events ignites a clash of generations - the Ethiopian customs cherished by Gita and his wife, and the younger generation's desire to assimilate with Israeli culture.

Director: Shmuel Beru. Israel, 2008. 70 mins. Amharic and Hebrew w/English subtitles. Presented in cooperation with Be’chol Lashon and BINA Cultural Foundation, Inc.

Followed by Q&A with the Director, a performance with Ethiopian artist, and Opening Night Reception.

Saturday, Feb. 7

7:30 pm Comme Ton Pere

A tender drama about a Tunisian Jewish family (Yaël Abécassis as Mireille) fleeing the tension of the 1967 war in Israel. They arrive in Marseilles and then flee to Paris. Tired of the petty jobs Felix finds in Belleville, he turns to a life of crime to support his family—a decision that has a surprising effect on his sons.

Director: Marco Carmel. France, 2007. 95mins. French w/English subtitles.

9:30 pm The Seven Days (Shiva) (New York Premiere)

Israel, 1991. The Ohaions are mourning the loss of a loved one. According to tradition, the bereaved are supposed to gather at the house of the deceased for seven days. While everyone seems to abide by the tradition, bitterness and family feuds soon take precedence over mourning. The atmosphere gradually becomes stifling as family members unearth long-buried truths.

Directed & Written by: Ronit Elkabetz & Shlomi Elkabetz. Israel/France, 2008. 115 mins. Hebrew and French w/English subtitles.

Shiva is presented in collaboration with The JCC in Manhattan's Israel Film Center. The film will be screened as part of the Israel Non-Stop festival. Visit:

Sunday, Feb. 8

1:00 pm Toledo: The Hidden Secret (World Premiere)

Toledo, a city in which three major cultures met, intertwined and enriched each other, is famous for its rich cultural and historical heritage. The film is a meeting of the past and the present and tells the story of the city from the 4th century - covering the Muslim and Christian periods - up to the time following the Inquisition. The beauty of Toledo is revealed from the Parador observation point from which the city spreads out like an exquisite work of art.

Director: Jack Matitiahu. Spain & Israel, 2007. 70 mins. Spanish and Hebrew w/English subtitles.

Post-screening discussion with Professors Jerrilynn D. Dodds, City College/CUNY and María Rosa Menocal, Yale University.

3:00 pm The Fire Within: Jews in the Amazonian Rainforest

In the late 19th century, many young Jewish men, descendants of Spanish Jews, left Morocco for Iquitos, Peru, seeking their fortunes in the rubber boom. Living in this isolated city in the Amazon jungle, the Judios Mestizos, descendants of Jewish fathers and native mothers, grew up with few Jewish traditions. This is the story of those children and their descendants in the journey for identity and spirituality.

Director: Lorry Salcedo Mitrani. Peru, 2008. 60 mins. Spanish w/English subtitles.

Post-screening discussion with the filmmaker.

6:00 pm Two Legacies (World Premiere)

A year before his death, Yosef Kapakh, gave his granddaughter, Einat, papers containing a secret he had guarded for decades – a theological dispute between the two schools of Yemenite Jewry, and his persecution by the Sana’a Jewish community. Einat goes on a journey to unravel his struggles and the path that led him to become a world renowned Jewish philosopher.

Director: Einat Kapakh. 57mins. Presented in cooperation with the Yemenite Jewish Federation of America.

Post-screening discussion with the filmmaker.

8:00 pm Vasermil (New York City Premiere)

Winner of the Wolgin Award at the 2007 Jerusalem Film Festival. A no-holds- barred film about three teenagers, from a tough neighborhood, who pin their hopes on soccer as a way out. Recruited by the coach of the local soccer team, they will have to play as a team, overcome their differences, and get over their sense of inferiority and prejudice.

Director: Mushon Salmona. Israel, 2007, 90 mins. Hebrew, Amharic, Swahili, Russian w/English subtitles. Some profanity.

Presented solely by American Sephardi Federation.

Monday, Feb. 9

2:00 pm Comme Ton Pere (see Saturday, Feb. 7th).

6:30 pm From Tripoli to Bergen-Belsen (U.S. Premiere)

Tunisian Jews never revealed their own war-time experiences: Italian-imposed racial laws, property confiscation, and deportation to Bergen-Belsen. For the first time, this little-known part of Holocaust history is told through personal stories and rare archival footage.

Director: Marco Carmel. Israel, 2005. 52mins. Tunisian, Hebrew w/English subtitles.

Post-screening discussion with Dr. Jane Gerber, Professor of Jewish History and Director of the Institute for Sephardic Studies, CUNY Graduate Center.

8:30 pm Zrubavel (see Opening Night). Followed by Q&A with the Director.

Tuesday, Feb. 10

6:30 pm Baghdad Twist

A visual memoir of one family's life in Iraq before escaping to a new home in Canada in the fall of 1970. Featuring a rare collection of archival images, home movies, and family photographs which provide a poignant portrait of Iraq's Jewish society, which had existed since Babylonian times as one of the world's oldest and most historically significant Jewish communities.

Director: Joe Balass. USA, 2008, 34 mins.

In Search of Bene Israel

A journey to reconnect with a tiny community of Jews in Bombay who believe they are descended from one of the lost tribes of Israel, shipwrecked in India 2,000 years ago. Returning to her Jewish grandmother’s birthplace in India, director Sadia Shepard discovers the story of the Bene Israel.

Director: Sadia Shepard. USA/India, 2008. 36 mins. English, Hindu w/English subtitles.

Post-screening with the filmmaker.

8:30 pm Villa Jasmin

History veiled in romance. Serge and his pregnant wife leave Paris to explore his childhood home and Tunisian-Jewish roots in La Goulette, a town covered in the intoxicating scent of jasmine. Serge learns about his parents’ passionate courtship and marriage in the 1920s and the impact the Vichy Government under German Occupation had on them and their family.

Director: Férid Boughedir. Tunisia, 2008, 87 mins. Tunisian, Arabic and French w/English subtitles.

Wednesday, Feb. 11

2:00 pm Villa Jasmin (See Feb. 10 at 8:30 pm).

6:30 pm Between Revolution and Tradition (U.S. Premiere)

After the revolution of 1959, 90% of the 15,000 Jews left Cuba. The new Cuban constitution prohibiting all forms of religion, brought the remaining Jewish community close to extinction. This film illustrates the community’s successful struggle to preserve and maintain its identity, which reached its climax with the famous visit of Fidel Castro to the Patronato synagogue in Havana.

Director: Shaul Kesslassi. Netherlands, 2008. 32 mins. Spanish and Hebrew w/English subtitles.

About Sugarcane and Homecoming (U.S. Premiere)

The story of a community in the Northeastern part of Brazil, on a quest for identity and faith. They follow traditional Jewish religion and rites, practice Jewish family and communal life, but are not recognized by the Jewish establishment worldwide. They hold the conviction that they are descendants of Jews forced to convert to Catholicism after the 1492 expulsion from Spain and the forced conversion in Portugal in 1497.

Written & Directed by: Shaul Kesslassi. Netherlands, 2008. 54 mins. Portuguese w/English subtitles.

Post-screening discussion with Rabbi Marc D. Angel, Rabbi Emeritus, Congregation Shearith Israel.

7:30 pm Vasermil. Screening at The JCC in Manhattan

8:30 pm Tree Of Life

Director Hava Volterra takes a fresh look at history while coming to terms with her father's death. Traveling to Italy, the land of his birth, she traces the roots of his family tree. With her 82 year-old aunt, they travel from city to city, dig through ancient manuscripts, interview a wide range of quirky scholars, and piece together the fascinating and humorous stories of her own Italian Jewish ancestors. Animation and music by Golden Globe nominated composer, Carlo Siliotto.

Director: Hava Volterra. USA, 2008. 76 mins.

Thursday, Feb. 12

7:00 pm Where Are You Going Moshe?

A charming film about the exodus of Moroccan Jews in the early 1960s after Morocco obtained independence from France. In the small town of Bejjad, the entire Jewish population prepares for a secret departure. When the manager of the only bar in the town finds out that the Jews are leaving, he panics. With all the non-Muslims gone, he will be forced to close. How can he save his business? An historical-political film that’s alternately sad and funny!

Director and Scriptwriter: Hassan Benjelloun. Canada & Morocco. 2007, 90 mins. French and Arabic w/English subtitles.

Followed by Closing Night Reception.


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