Shabbat Surfing: The Greatest Jewish Films

The Washington Jewish Film Festival has me in a cinema state of mind, and apparently I’m not the only one.

-With Oscar season upon us, Tablet Magazine has put out a list of the 100 Greatest Jewish Films. It’s a great read, and there’s a lot there that may surprise you, including the #1 pick–E.T.!

-The folks at Tablet are not the only ones with an opinion on this one. Moment Magazine‘s 2009 list gave the gold medal to Annie Hall (#4 on Tablet’s list).

-Kosher Comedy Community made their own list of 25 Essential Jewish Movies.  I’m truly shocked that such a hip, snarky site went for Fiddler on the Roof as their #1 pick (though I still go teary for Sunrise, Sunset).

-In a related list, The Algemeiner offers us The Top Ten Great Jewish Male Film Actors (Living). Daniel Radcliffe, really?

-Jewish United Fund put together a list just for tweens. In it, they include Don’t Mess with the Zohan. Don’t let your ten-year-old watch this movie unless you want them to spend several years in therapy.

-Think you’re an expert on Jewish film? Go take’s Jewish Film Quiz (I got 7/10).

What would your top five Jewish films be? Post them in the comments!

Shabbat Shalom!

Film Trailer: The Rescuers

From the desk of Susan Barocas, Director of the Washington Jewish Film Festival

We’ve been working ‘round the clock on the great programming for this year’s Washington Jewish Film Festival. I’m so excited that Opening Night is only a few days away! One of the programs I’m thinking about a lot is THE RESCUERS on Saturday Dec. 3 at 6:15 screening here at the DCJCC. We are looking forward to having with us Stephanie Nyombayire, an extraordinary young anti-genocide activist from Rwanda. The film follows her and historian Sir Martin Gilbert as they explore some of the extraordinary acts of goodness that occurred in the face of the Nazi Death camps, and what can be done to deter future genocides. The film is so inspiring, and is an excellent introduction to this difficult subject for young people (11 and up). I highly recommend it!  Here’s the trailer:

Film Trailer: Maya

Don’t miss this exciting DC premiere tomorrow, followed by a party on the steps!

Women Rock Film Program

Women have been rockin’ the J’s film program lately!  First, Ruth Bader Ginsburg came to visit a couple of weeks ago.  It’s not every day that we have a Supreme Court justice here, on stage, for any reason.  Justice Ginsberg – most gracious, thoughtful and displaying a keen sense of humor – was part of a panel talking about Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg, another award-winning film by our very own star filmmaker, Aviva Kempner.  The Justice appears in the film and came to share with the sold-out audience her thoughts and memories of the Goldbergs on radio and tv.  She recalled her own family and childhood growing up in a working-class Brooklyn neighborhood.  The event was a special program and party to celebrate the DVD release of Aviva’s film, which is about yet another groundbreaking woman, Gertrude Berg.

One young woman in the audience, Robin Janofsky, was inspired after the Q&A to confess that she had “a life-changing moment” right in our theater!   Robin asked the Justice what advice she would give to young women today.  “Have confidence in yourself…work hard to make your dream come true,” Justice Ginsburg answered.  “There has not been a better time in history for young women than now.”

From the audience, CBS News reporter Dan Raviv asked if a program like the Goldbergs on radio and tv contributed to acceptance of Jews in the US.  Justice Ginsburg explained that she views the program as part of the universality of the immigrant experience.  “Italian and Irish families could also related as could all families coming to a new world…hoping their children could achieve and not lose their own identities.”

And we’re not done yet.  This week mother-and-business-woman-turned-filmmaker Vicki Abeles brought the DC premiere of her new film Race to Nowhere to our WJFF Year-Round screen.  The film is a powerful and provocative exploration of our pressure-cooker educational system and its too often destructive effect on children and families.

The discussion with Vicki after the film was serious, heartfelt and enlightening.  Parents asked how they can help their kids, even those as young as pre-school.  Speaking from the audience were principals of two alternative DC schools as well as teachers from DC, VA and MD – sharing their reactions to the film and their own experiences as educators.  Some had questions and some wanted to support Vicki’s call for grass-roots action to make changes in the US educational system.  One teacher, for example, expressed the desire to show the film to the as yet un-named new superintendent of the Montgomery County schools in the hope of helping the county schools move away from the emphasis on testing.  For those of you who missed it, Vicki and the film will be at the Landmark Bethesda Row Cinema again on Monday, October 4.

On last thing…if you want to see a lovely film, head to Nora’s Will which is going into an extended run at the Avalon.  The WJFF sponsored its screening at Filmfest DC last April.  The film won 7 Mexican Academy Awards including Best Picture, and now Michael O’Sullivan in the Washington Post called it “sweet, surprising and satisfying.”

Now it’s time for me to get back to planning the 21st Washington Jewish Film Festival.  Just wait until you hear what’s coming this December 2012!!  More news soon.  In the meantime, tickets are on sale for our next film program on October 18 – Sayed Kashua: Forever Scared plus one episode of this incredible author’s groundbreaking Israeli tv series, Arab Labor.

Susan Barocas, WJFF Director

Understanding the Misunderstandings of Ajami at the Washington Jewish Film Festival

Last night was one of those nights that remind me of how much I love the Washington Jewish Film Festival. The sold-out screening of the Israeli submission for the foreign language Academy Award, Ajami was the kind of event that kept our lobby full long after the lights came-up.

I am not going to lie: some people hated the film. To them the overlapping story-lines were unclear, the themes overly-grim, the 120 minute runtime unjustified and the ending un-redemptive.

Others were just as equally energized and blown-away by the film and lauded its unbelievably skillful use of non-professional actors, cleverly constructed plot that rewards the careful viewer and the emotional power of the tragedies of misunderstanding that form the core of the film’s themes.

I fall into the latter rather than the former group, but I have sympathy for both takes on the film. What Ajami succeeds best at doing is in portraying the very separate and yet inextricably connected lives that Israeli Arabs, Palestinians and Israeli Jews lead in this one neighborhood in Jaffa.

As for the Rashomon-style storytelling, it ingeniously forces you to reconsider your perception of events based on the biases you bring with you to the theater. I can’t go into too much detail without depriving future viewers of the visceral satisfaction that comes from seeing characters we think we know act in surprising ways — or in ways that we expect but are then forced to reconsider. Additionally, this film accomplished what few films can, which is to say it’s ending genuinely shocked me and left me breathless.

But after a deep inhalation I had the great pleasure of talking with many people outside the theater as we re-pieced the film together, shared details some noticed but others had missed, listened to the negative reviews and countered with our own apologias for a film that had genuinely moved us. It is what great film-going is about (if it can’t always be about universally acknowledged great films).

If you were at the screening on Saturday night at the Washington DCJCC or have seen Ajami elsewhere in our Festival or other Festival screenings around the country or in Israel, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Am I giving the filmmakers too much credit? Was their subtlety too subtle to the point of obfuscation? Or was it, as I believe, an eloquent if challenging picture of  a community where small conflicts and misunderstandings too often have tragic consequences?

I’d Like to Thank the Academy

Actually, we do get to thank the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for a grant they made to support the Washington Jewish Film Festival. They are just one of the many organizations, embassies, foundations and individuals that provide the necessary funds and services that make the Festival possible. One of the ways we thank them is with a short trailer that plays before every Festival film. Below is this year’s edition, expertly created by the good folks at Seltzer Film and Video.

Size Matters on the Opening Night of the WJFF

From today’s Express:

THE ACTORS INA Matter of Size,” which kicks off the Washington Jewish Film Festival ( this Thursday night, wrestled with their body issues in a way they never had before: in a sumo ring. It’s the unlikely tale of four guys who realize they can finally stop fighting with their bodies and instead embrace what makes them different.

And it’s an even unlikelier movie to come out of body-conscious Israel, where the pickings are particularly slim when it comes to overweight actors. Producers were originally unconvinced that they could find men who had the, um, guts to take on the parts. “But then we came into the room in our underwear and they changed their minds,” says Dvir Benedek, who’s flying in for the WJFF screening and estimates his weight at 145 kilos (or 319 pounds). He snagged the part of Aharon, a guy worried about losing his thin wife.

You can read the rest of the article here, and come and meet Dvir in-person at the screening of A Matter of Size this Thursday night — but tickets are going quickly!

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