The eighth annual Jewish Eye Film Festival opened Sunday in Ashkelon, setting the stage for 85 films from 25 countries which will be screened for the first time in Israel.

The films cover a range of themes connected to Judaism, including the expeiences of modern communities, the influence of music, art, history and the Holocaust.

"All of the films at the festival must send a message to the Jewish world," the festival's executive director, Oded Guy, told Haaretz, adding that the films touch on “the basic subject of Jewish identity and culture” from various angles, using a diversity of artistic means.

Films from Germany, Mexico, Spain, Russia, Italy, France, Croatia, Israel, U.S., Czechoslovakia and Canada, among others, will be screened at this year's festival.

The opening gala screening on Sunday featured a film by the festival's guest of honor Branko Ivanda, a director and screenwriter from Croatia. The film, entitled "Lea and Daria", tells the story of a friendship that develops between two 13-year-old girls who, on the eve of the Holocaust, were busy performing sellout shows at a theater in Zagreb, Croatia.

Another of the festival's highlights is the film, "Romeo and Juliet in Yiddish", directed by Jewish-American director Eve Annenberg, which spent this year making its way through various international film festivals, finally to arrive in Israel.

Describing the film as "funny", Guy said Romeo and Juliet in Yiddish received excellent reviews worldwide thanks to its unique adaptation of the classic Shakespeare story. It includes a group of ultra-Orthodox Brooklyn boys fighting with knives, a Juliet with a little sister, Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism), and a daring nudity scene.

Of the 12,000 audience members expected to attend the festival this year, Guy hopes many of them will be Israeli youth. "They know the least about Jewish culture. For them a Jewish festival means the Holocaust, Yiddish or religion," he said. Guy said his personal goal is to have that younger generation see the many aspects of Judaism, and to take them beyond their commercial cinematic experiences, where they are used to consuming popular films full of special effects, action and high intensity, but lack stories with any moral or educational messages.

At the closing ceremony, set for November 21, prizes will be awarded to the best cinema feature, best full-length documentary and best TV film, presented by a panel of judges that consists of renowned cinema professionals Marie-Catherine Merchetti, Ruth Diskin and Beni Cohen.

The eighth Jewish Eye World Jewish Film Festival will run from Sunday November 13 to 21, at the International Convention Center, Ashkelon's Academic College.