Cutting to memory and survival
Films about World War Two, persecuted intellectuals and self-deprecating humor will be screened at the eighth annual Jewish Film Festival, which opens in Jerusalem on Saturday.
The eighth Jewish Film Festival in Jerusalem will open this Saturday, screening films on Jewish themes and famous Jewish figures, holding competitions for short films and hosting directors Michael Verhoeven and Paul Verhoeven (who are unrelated), among others.
Owing to renovations at the Jerusalem Cinematheque, all screenings will be held at the Jerusalem Convention Center, its temporary home. "Keeping Up with the Steins," directed by Scott Marshall, will open the festival. It tells the story of a Hollywood agent, who in the course of planning a grandiose bar mitzvah for his son, renews his own connection to his estranged father. German director Michael Verhoeven ("The Nasty Girl"), whose films deal with Germany of World War Two and its influence on contemporary Germany, will receive a tribute to his work at the festival. His latest film "The Unknown Soldier" will be screened, as well. The movie discusses the Wehrmacht Exhibition, mounted in Germany in 1999, which showcased pictures of the Wehrmacht murdering unarmed civilians - putting an end to the notion that these troops were only following orders.
The director will address the audience after the screening. Some of his other films will also be screened, among them "The Nasty Girl" and "The White Rose," on Sophie and Hans Scholl, who organized the Munich students' revolt against the Nazi regime.
Paul Verhoeven of the Netherlands ("Basic Instinct") will also participate in the festival, presenting his new film "Black Book." The plot begins and ends at a kibbutz in Israel with a meeting between a man and a woman, who recall memories from World War Two. The woman, a young Jewish singer, hid in the home of Christian farmers and eventually joined the underground in fighting the Nazis.
The festival will commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Israeli film with a new print of "Three Days and a Child," directed by Uri Zohar, which was once screened at the Cannes Film Festival. A number of the actors will take part in a discussion of the movie, including Oded Kotler, who once won a festival Best Actor award for his role, as well as members of the production staff. The film is an adaptation of an A. B. Yehoshua story. The protagonist is a student in Jerusalem who is contacted by a kibbutz acquaintance, whose reappearance calls to mind an old flame.
"Nuit et Brouillard (Night and Fog)" (1955), by the French director Alain Resnais, is another film which will be presented in a new print. It is thought to be one of the first cinematic works that confronted the horrors of the Holocaust. Ten years after their liberation, Resnais returned to the Nazi concentration camps, and integrated footage he shot there with material from World War Two archives.
The joint screening of two American films will strike a lighter note in the festival. Liam Lynch's "Sarah Silverman: Jesus is Magic" features the successful American comedian Sarah Silverman, who was chosen to be mistress of ceremonies in the Independent Spirit Awards for the second year running. (The award ceremony is the independent film version of the Oscars.) Silverman has no qualms about joking about Jesus, Judaism, the Holocaust and 9/11.
The second film "Chutzpa This Is?" is a mocumentary directed by Rick Kent, which tells the story of a Jewish hip-hop group trying to make it in Los Angeles.
A number of interesting films on famous Jews will also be screened at the festival. "Wrestling with Angels: Playwright Tony Kushner," directed by Freida Lee Mock, will be the first of to be screened. The documentary follows the life of the Jewish playwright, whose works include "Angels in America." In the film, he discusses his Jewishness, homosexuality and AIDS.
"Sketches of Frank Gehry," the first documentary by director Sidney Pollack ("Tootsie"), is a portrait of the architect whose monumental works include the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, and the Museum of Tolerance slated to be built in Jerusalem.
Two other films likely to spark interest at the festival deal with Jewish authors. "Primo Levi's Journey," directed by David Ferrario, reconstructs the writer's journey from the gates of Auschwitz in 1945 to the Italian city of Turin.
In the film, "Who was Kafka?" director Richard Dindo attempts to solve the puzzle that was the Czech Jewish author. The film will be accompanied by a lecture by Gershom Shaked of the Hebrew Literature department of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.Intellectuals' lives
The festival will also feature films on two fascinating Jewish intellectuals. "A Passionate Thinker: Hannah Arendt" is a documentary by director Jochen Koelsch on the life of the German-American thinker.
It addresses her love affair with philosopher Martin Heidegger, her escape from Nazi Germany and her trip to Israel to report for The New Yorker on the trial of Nazi extermination mastermind Adolf Eichmann, during which she coined the phrase "the banality of evil."
"Who Killed Walter Benjamin?" directed by David Mauas, addresses questions tied to the death of the Berlin-born philosopher, who escaped the Nazis and later committed suicide.
The festival will also hold a short film competition. The competition is dedicated to Benaya Zuckerman.
Also on the festival bill will be films directed by Israelis born in Russia and Ethiopia, as well as a trilogy of films by Rami Kimchi, who devotes each of his movies to a different member of his family.
There will also be an evening on the history of the the Jewish community of Harbin in northern China.
The festival, under the artistic direction of Avinoam Harpak, will conclude on December 22.
For more information go to www.jjff.org.il.