2017 Washington Jewish Film Festival Schedule Announced

Posted on April 3, 2017 at 1:33 pm

The 2017 Washington Jewish Film Festival (May 17-28) includes 63 feature-length and 18 short films from 25 countries, and showcases the diversity of Jewish life through time and across the world. In addition to the film program, the Festival will host talkbacks and panel discussions with dozens of filmmakers from the U.S. and abroad. Opening Night will feature “The Women’s Balcony,” a dramatic comedy set against a gender rift in an Orthodox community in Jerusalem. “Fanny’s Journey,” the extraordinary true story of a young girl who leads a group of children through Europe to escape the Nazis, closes out the twelve-day event.

“Every year we strive to present new cinematic voices from all corners of the globe that reflect and inform the Jewish identity,” said Ilya Tovbis, Director of the Washington Jewish Film Festival. “The 2017 program includes some of the most striking international films of the past year, from both emerging and master filmmakers. In many cases, the Festival will be the only chance for Washingtonians to catch these cinematic gems on screen.”
The feature, documentary and short films in the slate touch on an array of Jewish perspectives from around the world. This year’s festival includes three thematic strands: Rated LGBTQ which explores sexuality and gender identity; Mechanisms of Extremism, films that examine extremist governments, societies and movements; and Laugh Track, a selection of comedies of all stripes.

A highlight of this year’s line-up is a special showing of “Clueless,” with director Amy Heckerling on hand to lead a discussion and a 90’s party to bring out your inner Cher.

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Interview: Ilya Tovbis on the DC Jewish Film Festival

Posted on January 31, 2016 at 3:18 pm

Ilya Tovbis is director of the Washington DC Jewish Film Festival, which will take place from February 24-March 6, 2016. In an interview, he talked about what it means to be a “Jewish movie.” “It’s on one hand easy and on the other hand a much more complex question. The easy answer for us is that some aspect of the content has to be about the Jewish experience and that could be cultural or historical, it could be character driven but it has be something that has even if not the central characters of or the central theme of the film the film will not be the same without that element. So sometimes obviously it’s on the nose and very clear and it’s entirely about let’s say “Shtisel,” which is about an Orthodox family in Jerusalem, very clearly black hat Jewish through and through. And then there are other stories. This year we have a whole sidebar of films around artists and many of them are Jewish in a more cultural or secular way and perhaps not even the main driver of the art form they are making but without their Jewishness and Jewish identities that they bring to the artwork.

Tovbis said they reviewed around 1300 films, and, as happens every year, some themes emerge. This year happened to have several outstanding films about artists, so that became one of the categories selected for special attention. “The artist category is pretty broad, so we have dancers, we do visual artists, we have poets, we have some musical artists, graphic, novels, so it’s really a bit all over the map.” Another focus this year is LGBTQ films. “So something else is important to us and I think you would find this at most major Jewish festivals is a diversity of mission and so for us the notion of expanding and challenging what the Jewish identity is is paramount in everything we do. It’s really the core of what we do whether we’re looking at Diaspora Jews or visions of a Jewish identity that don’t conform to perhaps the norm that everyone would put out there.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M59zWXV0zT0

Some of the films are perhaps more of what you would expect in LGBT lineup and other ones are more unusual. ‘Marzipan Flowers‘ is a sort of fun transgender relationship doesn’t really conform, even the way it’s made, very low-budget. I’m very excited to share that. We are presenting most of the films with some form of discussion though sometimes it’s more focused on other content in the film, sometimes it’s more focused on LGBTQ content. So we’re going to have with us for example for ‘The Good Son’ the director and producer Shirley Berkowitz. We will be having a professor speaking about “Sunday Bloody Sunday” because are looking at that in light of John Schlesinger’s entire career. Barney Frank is going to be here with his husband as well to discuss the documentary, ‘Compared to What: The Improbable Journey of Barney Frank.’ The discussion will be more about pushing legislative agenda and politics. This is Washington!”

One film of particular interest on the schedule is “A Tale of Love and Darkness,” based on the book by Amos Oz. It is the writing and directing debut of Oscar-winner Natalie Portman, who also stars.

“It’s a lovely film based a major pillar of modern Israeli literature, a very personal tale that deals with his mother which Natalie Portman plays in the film. There’s some elements where she takes liberties with the original material but it does stay pretty close to it and I think it’s a lovely film. I think there is some incredible assuredness. Natalie Portman has been around show business for a long time so even though it’s her first time directorial effort I think she takes a lot of risks. The story focuses on a mother making up these sort of fanciful tales in order to escape a bleaker reality which she finds herself in both in terms of a personal depression and what’s happening more broadly nationally as the state of Israel comes into a more modern being and then also she has some issues with her husband and so a lot of the tales are sort of interwoven with these really almost magical realism shots and stories and I think the way thats done is just exquisite and very gentle in the film.”

The festival’s visionary award will be presented to the actor Armin Mueller-Stahl, with a screening of his film, “Avalon,” written and directed by Barry Levinson, based on his memories of his family in 1940’s Baltimore. “Most of the event is really centered around a lengthy Q and A on stage really about the full body of work.” Another highlight is a musical program, a live musical performance that is a musical tribute to the jazzy soundtracks of animator Max Fleischer’s surreal, wacky and Yiddish-inflected Betty Boop and Popeye cartoons of the 1930’s. Tobvis says, “It’s a really fun zany kind of insane project I am curious myself to see.”

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Washington Jewish Film Festival

Posted on November 29, 2011 at 4:49 pm

One of the highlights of the movie-going year is the Washington Jewish Film Festival and this year’s line-up is spectacular.  As usual, the range of subjects and genres and countries is astonishingly varied and this year that also includes gender, with 19 of the film directed by women and a special award for DC-based filmmaker Aviva Kempner (Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg and The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg).

Some of this year’s highlights include:

“The Kissinger Sage: Walter and Henry, Two Brothers from Fuerth” For the first time the former Secretary of State and his “younger, richer brother” agreed to talk about their lives as Jewish children in Germany, their flight from the Nazis, and their experiences in America.  They return to the town that was their home and share personal mementos and photographs.

“Dolphin Boy” A teenager from an Arab village is traumatized by a brutal attack by his classmates and can no longer speak.  This documentary covers his therapy with dolphins and his struggle for healing.

“Reuniting the Rubins” British actor Timothy Spall (“Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban”) is an uptight lawyer whose mother (onetime Bond girl Honor Blackman) blackmails him into a reunion with his estranged children, including a hard-charging capitalist, an environmental activist, and a rabbi.

“Standing Silent” This timely story of a courageous Orthodox man who insisted on going public with evidence of sexual abuse in the Orthodox community demonstrates that victims can become survivors if they are given a voice.

“Mahler on the Couch” Tom Lehrer famously and hilariously sang of Alma Mahler and her romances with three of the most important men of the early 20th century.  This is a drama about Alma’s affair with architect Walter Gropius while she was married to composer Gustav Mahler and her treatment by Sigmund Freud.

Check out the WJFF schedule!

 

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