From one film festival to the next!

The Washington Jewish Film Festival was really special this year! Our wonderful audiences, filmmakers, sponsors…everyone came together to enjoy 11 days of some of the best independent film from all over the world. Check our website for photos and information about our audience award winners.

But we’re not satisfied resting on our past success (or getting too much sleep).  Nope, not when we can be part of presenting another film festival just six weeks after the WJFF ended.  So that’s what is happening on February 1 when we open the first ever DC-MD-VA ReelAbilities Disabilities Film Festival. Our regional festival is one of the first that is part of the roll out of the national ReelAbilities festival, happening for the fourth year in New York later in February.

Our opening night film, Warrior Champions, profiles four Iraq War veterans who returned home with life-changing injuries that they strive to turn into Olympic dreams.  These people are inspiring and will make you want to get up off the couch or leave your computer and go make the most of the body you have!  The evening at the beautiful Avalon Theater starts at 6:30 with hors d’oeuvres followed at 7:30 by the film and a keynote speech by the very accomplished advocate for the disabled, Richard Bernstein, himself blind since birth and a marathon runner!  Here is a trailer from the film.

The festival runs until February 9, and I’m delighted to say it’s a joint effort on the part of our DCJCC along with the JCCs of Greater Washington and Northern Virginia.  Together, we are bringing ReelAbilities excellent films, programs and discussions to your neighborhood, so check our schedule, film trailers and get tickets

Some people have asked me what’s “Jewish” about the ReelAbilities festival.  It’s true that only one film, Praying with Lior, has what we would call “Jewish content,” but for me, this festival really brings home both Jewish values and some of the best reasons why JCCs are valuable institutions.  ReelAbilities is  about inclusion for everyone in our regional community and promoting awareness and appreciation of the lives, stories and artistic expressions of people with different disabilities.  It’s about providing opportunities for various communities to come together as one to explore, discuss and celebrate the diversity of our shared human experience.

And, in the end, the truth is that these are really good films, too.  So come to be entertained and to learn, communicate, share and feel good…just come and check out our first ReelAbilities Disabilities Film Festival.  See you at the movies!

Shabbat Surfing: Big Weekend For Jewish Films

The most exciting thing going on this weekend? The Cherry Blossom Festival? Nah, only inflames my allergies. The National Marathon? I’m more of a treadmill guy. Opening of the Nats new Stadium? Couldn’t score tickets (and we tried). NCAA tournament? My bracket’s already gone to gehena (thanks for nothing Georgetown).  

No, the most exciting thing about this weekend is the explosion of Jewish film on the local cinema screens, and most exciting is the double bill taking place at the Avalon.  We are honored that they are doing a special engagement featuring both of the audience award winners from the 2007 Washington Jewish Film Festival.

Praying With Lior is Ilana Trachtman’s transformative documentary about Lior Liebling, a young man with Down Syndrome preparing for his Bar Mitzvah. But to describe it like that is to do it a severe injustice. It is a film about transcendant spirituality, about family and loss and faith that will leave you amazed. Don’t mistake this for an “illness of the week” weepy–any time the film begins to veer too towards unearned sentimentality, Trachtman wisely steers it back to a practical plane (usually with humor), and allows the truly powerful moments to speak for themselves. You cannot miss this film.

Arranged is a triumph on so many levels: quality independent filmmaking, an orthodox Jewish narrative told without condescension, an authentic display of womens’ voices connecting across a faith divide. Structurally, the film plays like a romantic comedy, but its content is refreshingly unique, about the friendship between and an Orthodox Jewish and a Muslim woman who are both facing arranged marriages. It is based on a true story and that authenticity shines through.

Also opening this weekend at three area theaters is the Opening Night film from the 2007 WJFF, The Year My Parents Went on Vacation. If you missed our sold-out Opening Night or last week’s sold out sneak preview, be sure to check out the film that made the short list for Foreign Language Oscar. You can read more about the film at its website.

Mark Jenkins (formerly of The City Paper) has reviews of all the films at his new site

More Shabbat Surfing after the jump

Lior in NY

Praying With LiorIf you’re going to be up in NYC this weekend be sure to head over to the Cinema Village on E. 12th Street and buy a ticket to see the WJFF Audience Award-winning documentary Praying With Lior.  We’d love to see the film get a commercial run in DC, but that won’t happen without a decent first weekend in the Big Apple. It truly is a one-of-a-kind film about an amazing young man, not just living with Downs Syndrome, but inspiring others through the way he lives his life and the manner in which he connects with G-d. As director Ilana Trachtman pointed out at her screening in December, the film industry can get reductive, so the film risks being summarized as, “Downs Syndrome Bar  Mitzvah.” But in truth the film is so much more than that, and they’re counting on a considerable grass-roots movement to help spread the word. Trust me. See the film and you’ll want to be part of that movement.

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