Ilya Tovbis on the Washington Jewish Film Festival 2017
Posted on May 15, 2017 at 3:07 pm
It was great to catch up with Ilya Tovbis to hear about this year’s Washington Jewish Film Festival. I will be hosting “A Classy Broad” and interviewing its subject, trailblazing Hollywood executive Marcia Nasatir and filmmaker Anne Goursaud following the film. The schedule includes a screening of “Clueless” with writer/director Amy Heckerling, and a 45th anniversary screening of “Cabaret.”
Once again, Tovbis found a theme emerging from the films selected, despite the wide variety of genres and countries of origin. “I think the most timely theme that we have identified, very much reflecting the current political moment both nationally and also globally is our Mechanism of Extremism series which is looking at extremism and governments and societies from 1899 through to today. We have also continued a theme from last year which we actually intend to make an annual one, our Rated LGBTQ series. And then lastly on a much lighter side we found a whole lot of comedies of various sorts so we have bundled them together in a series called Laugh Track.
Special guests this year include two Visionary Award winners that Tovbis says he is “thrilled about, Barry Levinson, who based films like “Diner” and “Liberty Heights” on his own experiences. “The other winner is Agnieszka Holland who was Oscar-nominated twice, most recently with ‘In Darkness.’ We’ll be doing a repertory screening of her rarely shown 1985 film ‘Angry Harvest.'”
The films will be of interest to Jewish and non-Jewish audiences. “I think we view ourselves first and foremost as a cultural artistic festival that has a Jewish interest. These films will appeal to a large audience that’s interested in great independent cinema. We do outreach to a whole host of organizations including arts organizations, nonprofits, issue driven organizations, different constituencies. As you dive deeper into the films you have this range of 136 events, with something for everyone. We have as always a lot of films on minority and Arab citizens of Israel and then we have some fun partnerships. We’re working with the local version of Comic Con, Awesome Con for our sci-fi films.
Tovbis has scheduled question and answer sessions following many of the films, with the filmmakers or with local experts. “We have a great partnership this year with the US Holocaust Museum and so many of the Holocaust films feature incredible experts from their museum which range from music historians and cultural historians and others dealing with issues of euthanasia and Romany treatment during the Holocaust.”
Many of the films are being shown for the first time in the US or in the area, and some of the older films are rare or recently restored. “And we hope that being in the festival will get distribution for some of the films that are not scheduled for theatrical release,” Tovbis said.
Another highlight is an evening celebrating Yiddish culture across artistic media. “We are starting out with ‘A Letter To Mother,’ which is a fabulous and also a really timely Polish film. It was filmed shortly before the Blitzkrieg and was the highest in this film in the American theaters a couple of weeks after the Blitzkrieg and it was the highest grossing Yiddish film in American theaters when it was released a couple of weeks after the Blitzkrieg. It is a really interesting historical document. The film itself, while it was shot then, takes place shortly before World War I and talks a lot about Jewish displacement for economic reasons from Europe to America and there’s a lot of relevance to the current refugee crisis.” The film will be followed by a live performance of Yiddish songs from a Dutch band called Nikitov.
Tovbis says, “I think one film that could fly under the radar is ‘People That Are Not Me,’ which is filmed by an Israeli woman named Hadas Ben Aroya who is really the entire force behind the film.” He compares it to critically acclaimed independent films like “Frances Ha” and Lena Dunham’s “Girls.” “It is very current, part of a new Israeli cinema of a kind don’t think I’ve seen come out of that country before, very sexually forward feminist, sort of wears its beliefs on its sleeve. It is not apologetic, it’s not tidy, it has this kind of really interesting take on modern romance or lack thereof or trying to find meaning for someone in their 20s or 30s but is very innovative in the way it’s shot. So I’m really excited about her as a new voice.”