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Washington Jewish Film Festival will open in December

16TH WASHINGTON JEWISH FILM FESTIVAL
December 1 - 11
40 films • 9 countries • 5 venues • 10 days

The 16th Washington Jewish Film Festival: An Exhibition of International Cinema presents 40 features, documentaries and shorts from 9 countries, in five venues, during the December 1 – 11, ten-day Festival. The Festival is presented by the Washington DCJCC's Morris Cafritz Center for the Arts and co-sponsored by the Embassy of Israel and Washington Jewish Week; and supported in part by a grant from the United Jewish Endowment Fund.

The Festival kicks off with the DC Premiere of the award-winning French/Israeli film Live and Become on Thursday, December 1 at 6:45 p.m. at the Washington DC Jewish Community Center’s Aaron and Cecile Goldman Theater (1529 16th Street NW). A reception with Ethiopian delicacies supplied by Dukem Restaurant will follow (in the Q Street Lobby). Special guest Actor Sirak Sabahat will be in attendance. The evening is co-sponsored by the Embassy of Israel and the Embassy of France.

Winner of the Audience Award at the 2005 Berlin International Film Festival, Live and Become is the emotional story of one boy’s chance survival amidst the Ethiopian famine of the mid-1980s. A mother conspires to place her seven-year-old non-Jewish son (Sirak Sabahat)with a group of Falashas (Ethiopian Jews) bound for Israel as part of “Operation Moses.” Her parting words to her child are that he should never tell anyone his true identity. And so, the child grows up pretending to be both Jewish and an orphan in modern Israel, where he embraces Judaism and Western values but also feels the sting of racism. Though he maintains his secret, the tension between his truth and the reality of his situation builds to an emotional climax.

The Festival closes with the DC Premiere of the stunningly crafted Fateless (Hungary/Germany) on Sunday, December 11 at 6:45 p.m. at the Washington DC Jewish Community Center’s Aaron and Cecile Goldman Theater (1529 16th Street NW), followed by a dessert reception (in the Q Street Lobby), with the FIlmmaker in attendance. The evening is sponsored by the United Jewish Endowment Fund and co-sponsored by the Embassy of Hungary and the Goethe-Institut Washington.

Based on 2002 Nobel Prize-winner Imre Kertesz’ moving novel about a Hungarian Jewish boy’s (Marcell Nagy) experiences in German concentration camps and his attempts to reconcile himself to those experiences after the war. Kertesz wrote the screenplay himself, and in the process of adapting his novel, expanded it to include more of his personal experiences. Director Lajos Koltai, best known as Istvan Szabo’s (Being Julia) long-time cinematographer, has created a film whose harrowing narrative is punctuated by moments of surprising beauty. Cinematically, Fateless distinguishes itself from other Holocaust films by its disinterest in the shock-value of life in the concentration camps. Instead, it focuses more on the internal struggle to fight for the soul’s survival in the midst of horrific circumstances where physical survival seems to depend on chance.

This is the 16th Washington Jewish Film Festival: An Exhibition of International Cinema. One of the largest Jewish film festivals in the world, the Festival opened 16 years ago with 8 films screened at the old Biograph Theatre in Georgetown, bringing in an audience of 1,500. Along with the increase in films presented throughout the years, the Festival grew its programs surrounding the films, increased its audience four-fold, moved to multiple venues, diversified its programming and increased its special guest roster. As of today, the Festival has presented more than 500 films on the Jewish experience from over 30 countries. An audience of 7,000-plus is expected to attend this year’s Festival.

According to Festival Director Joshua Ford, “It is has been great in recent years to see so many Jewish-themed films receive commercial releases and in many instances, like last year’s audience-award winner Walk On Water, achieve box office success. We’re proud that the Washington Jewish Film Festival has been the starting place for many of those films. But I am equally proud of the unique forum we provide for the foreign, independent and documentary films that will only find their audience through our Film Festival.”

In addition to the Washington DCJCC's Aaron and Cecile Goldman Theater, screenings will be presented at the Avalon Theatre (5612 Connecticut Ave NW); the AFI Silver Theatre (8633 Colesville Rd, Silver Spring, MD); The Library of Congress – Mary Pickford Theater (101 Independence Ave SE, 3rd Floor); and this year’s newest location – Landmark Bethesda Row Cinema (7235 Woodmont Ave, Bethesda, MD).

FEATURE FILM HIGHLIGHTS

• Go For Zucker! is a critically acclaimed, award-winning (Ernst Lubitsch Film Award), ground-breaking German comedy from Dani Levi. Can two brothers, one a pool-shark from East Berlin, the other an orthodox Jew from the West make it through a week of sitting shiva together in order to inherit their mother’s fortune? Special guest Co-screenwriter Holger Franke will be in attendance at both screenings (Sat, Dec 3 and Sun, Dec 4).

• Winner of six Israeli Academy Awards and Israel’s 2005 Oscar Nominee for Best Foreign Film, Joseph Cedar’s Campfire is a personal and political tale of a widow and her two young daughters. The film stars Michaela Eshet, Hani Furstenberg, Moshe Ivgy and Assi Dayan.

• Director Karin Albou’s impressive first feature, La Petite Jerusalem, studies the lives of a working-class Tunisian-Jewish family in the suburbs of Paris. The film stars Elsa Zylberstein (Modigliani), an orthodox woman struggling to save her marriage.

• US PREMIERE: “Roots” tours of Eastern Europe are all the rage and Edouard is looking to cash-in on Jews eager to visit their shtetl of origin, in Pavel Lounguine’s Russian/French comedy Roots.

• Based on the book by Georges-Marc Benamou, The Last Mitterand is the story of the President of France and Antoine, a young Jewish journalist charged with the writing of the President’s biography, during the last days of his life. Antoine interrogates the charismatic leader with unresolved questions about his actions during the Vichy Period of World War II.

• Local Call is Arthur Joffe’s (Let There Be Light) latest comedy about a man whose cell phone bills suddenly become astronomical when his deceased father begins calling him from heaven.

• Two of Israel’s best comedic actors, Moshe Ivgy (winner of Best Supporting Actor, 2005 Israeli Academy Awards) and Avi Koushnir, star in Metallic Blues, a buddy road-trip film that is one part get-rich-quick scheme and one part an encounter with modern Jewish-German relations.

• French Director Lorraine Levy introduces her charming film The First Time I Was Twenty, adapted from Susie Morgenstern’s autobiographical coming-of-age novel of the same name. A post-screening reception sponsored by EntryPoint DC/Gesher City will take place after the screening at Moriah Gallery in Bethesda. (Thurs., Dec 8, 6:45 pm, Landmark Bethesda Row Cinema).

• In a classic slice-of-life comedy, Checking Out, Peter Falk stars as a veteran of the Yiddish stage who summons his three adult children (Laura San Giacomo, David Paymer and Judge Reinhold) to announce his “final performance.”

• In When Do We Eat?, the Stuckman family’s Passover Seder turns into a comedic journey, spiraling from an Ecstasy trip, and leading to family forgiveness. The all-star cast includes Michael Lerner, Lesley Ann Warren, Jack Klugman, Ben Feldman, Mili Avital and Meredith Scott Lyn.

• The Two of Us -- The first feature by Claude Berri (1967), based on his own wartime childhood in 1944 occupied France, will screen at the AFI. (Sat, Dec 10 @ 7 pm)

• Veteran actor Seymour Cassel stars as the patriarch of the dysfunctional Schaffer family, in director Alexandra Brodsky’s first feature film Bittersweet Place.

DOC HIGHLIGHTS

• A Cantor’s Tale follows Cantor “Jackie” Mendelson as he revisits the golden days of Chazzanut (Jewish liturgical music) in Boro Park, New York. With colorful commentary by Alan Dershowitz and Jackie Mason. Special guest: Betsy Cowan, Co-producer of Klezmatics: On Holy Ground.

• US PREMIERE: Join special guest Aharon Barnea, Anchorman and Senior Correspondent, Channel 2 TV News, Israel, as he discusses 10 Days in Gaza, the coverage of an event that divided a nation.

• Frozen Angels faces the moral and ethical decisions with which we are now faced thanks to the advancement of technology and genetic engineering. Post-screening panel discussion: “Jewish Bio-Ethics and New Technology” – with: Rabbi Barry Freundel, consultant to the United States Presidential Commission on Cloning, Michael Levy, reproductive endocrinologist and Joan Rabinor, clinical social worker specializing in mental health challenges of infertility and reproductive technology.

• US PREMIERE: In Marti: The Passionate Eye, Marti Friedlander recounts her life and career in award-winning Director Shirley Horrocks’ stunning film about the renowned New Zealand photographer.

• Directors Marianne Bernstein and Judy Gelles will introduce their moving doc From Philadelphia To The Front, a film that explores the stories of six Jewish American WWII vets from Philadelphia, now in their 80’s. A post-screening discussion with local vets sharing their memories of WWII, will follow.

• Hineini: Coming Out In A Jewish High School tells the story of Shulamit Izen, a ninth grader who sets out to organize a gay-straight alliance at her Jewish school. What begins as one student’s mission, engages an entire community in an open discussion concerning a culture of tolerance and inclusion. Director Irena Fayngold will attend the screening and the post-film discussion: “Coming Out In The Jewish Community.” (Sun, Dec 11 @ 12:15)

• The Israeli punk scene is small but passionate and the fascinating doc Jericho’s Echo: Punk Rock In The Holy Land efficiently provides a comprehensive look inside the issues and music that drive it. With bands that range the political spectrum, from left to right to no politics at all, Jericho’s Echo presents a sub-culture of punks that are outwardly identical to their cohorts worldwide, while at the same time being uniquely Israeli. Director Liz Nord in attendance.

• Winner of the 2004 Israeli Oscar for Best Documentary and the Best First Feature Documentary in DocAviv, Tel-Aviv Int’l Doc Film Fest, Keep Not Silent: Ortho-Dykes documents the clandestine struggle of three women fighting for the right to love women within the confines of their Orthodox communities in Jerusalem.

• Sentenced To Marriage is a shocking exposé of the Israeli Orthodox women forced to fight for a divorce (referred to as “Agunot”). These women are struggling for a chance for freedom from their husbands and the system that protects the men who are contesting the divorces and refusing to pay child support, as they have already begun new lives with new families.

Post-screening discussion: “Agunot and Activism: How To Respond?” Panelists: Dr. Susan Aranoff, Economics and Political Science Professor at Kingsborough Community College and Yeshiva University’s Stern College; founding member of Agunah International, Inc. and JOFA; Josh Ross, one of the founders of ORA (Org for Resolution of Agunot); Moderator: Audrey Trachtman holds a BA from Queens College, an MBA from the Wharton School of Finance and is a CPA. She is a member of the executive board of JOFA, where she currently serves as treasurer, and is the past chair of its agunah task force.

• WORLD PREMIERE: Local Filmmaker Ed Askinazi introduces A Synagogue on Broome Street (Tues, Dec 6 @ 5:45), a film that explores Askinazi’s heritage, while uncovering a little known community of Greek Jews, also known as Romaniotes, with 2,000 years of history, their own language, and the Kehila Kedosha Janina -- the only remaining Romaniote synagogue in the Western Hemisphere.

• Directors Laurie Stern and Lu Lippold introduce Wellstone!, a heartfelt and surprisingly funny biography of former Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone – documenting his life from his childhood in Alexandria, Virginia as the son of Russian-American immigrants, through his political career, up until his tragic death in an airplane crash days before the 2002 election. (Thurs, Dec 8 @ 7pm)).

• Winner of the 2005 Israeli Award for Best Documentary, the Israeli equivalent of an Academy Award -- Ami Ankilewitz is 39 Pounds of Love. Despite his diagnosis with Muscular Dystrophy at the age of 6, Ami, a 3D animator, is now 34 and determined to leave Israel and travel across America. His incredible journey is an inspiration for those who accompany him, proving anything is possible with enough courage, humor and love. Producer and Ami’s best friend Asaf Shaul will attend the screening. (Sun, Dec 4 @ 7:30 at the Avalon Theater)

• The beautiful Odessa, Odessa discovers the remnants of the once thriving Odessan Jewish community from the Ukraine, and follows it into “exile” amidst the environs of Brighton Beach, Brooklyn and Ashdod, Israel.

• The Ritchie Boys is a fascinating doc about a group of German-Jewish émigrés that returned to Germany during WW II, as members of a unique Army unit in charge of interrogation, located in Camp Ritchie, Maryland. A post-screening discussion: “Camp Ritchie Veterans Share Their Experiences.” A free pre-screening tour of the National Museum of American Jewish Military History (1811 R St NW) will be offered to anyone with a ticket for the film. (Sun, Dec 4 @ 5 pm)

• US PREMIERE: For 300 years, rural, Catholic communities in Northeastern regions of Brazil have been practicing unique customs in their homes, unaware of the startling similarities to Jewish customs and traditions. Director Elaine Eiger (Director Luize Valente may also be in attendance) will introduce their doc A Star Hidden in the Backlands and discuss this amazing community.

• Free screening of What Makes Sammy Run?, Bud Schulberg’s lost TV-drama that has been fully restored by the Museum of Television and Radio. The screening will take place at the Library of Congress – Mary Pickford Theater. (Tues, Dec 6 @ 7 pm) For reservations call (202) 707-5677; limited seating.

• Shorts Program: “Short Films, Big Concepts.” Among the five films in the shorts program is Christ in the City, by local filmmaker Yitz Brilliant. Jesus comes down to earth to check out a screening of Mel Gibson’s The Passion, but gets stranded with no way back to heaven before Shabbos begins. Can this nice Jewish carpenter find a shul in a town without pity?

* * *
Works-in-Progress: Veteran Doc Makers Albert Maysles and Josh Waletzky
Sun, Dec 4 at 11 am -- Aaron and Cecile Goldman Theater, FREE
Moderator: Aviva Kempner, co-founder of the Washington Jewish Film Festival, local filmmaker -- Director of The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg, Today I Vote For My Joey and Gertrude Berg: America’s Molly Goldberg, and Producer of The Partisans of Vilna.

Scapegoat On Trial co-directed by Albert Maysles and Josh Waletzky investigates how irrationality can seize control of society when political leaders spin a powerful story.

Albert Maysles has been called “dean of documentary filmmakers.” Along with his late-brother David, the Maysles are recognized as pioneers of “direct cinema,” which revolutionized American filmmaking by creating non-fiction feature films in which the drama of life unfolded without scripts, sets or narration. Highlights of his career: Primary (1960), Salesman (1968) and Gimme Shelter (1970), the Academy Award-nominated Christo’s Valley Curtains (1974), a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Career Achievement Award from the International Documentary Association and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the HotDocs Film Festival in Toronto.

Josh Waletzky is a distinguished documentary filmmaker and musician, whose work has often involved Jewish subjects. The masterful soundtracks he designed for his landmark documentary features Image Before My Eyes (1980) and Partisans of Vilna (1986) helped bring Yiddish/klezmer music to a new, world-wide audience, as did the prize-winning PBS special for which he directed the editing, Itzhak Perlman: In the Fiddler¹s House. His other credits include: Dashiell Hammett: Detective. Writer (1999) and Shaker Heights: The Struggle For Integration (1998).

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