I wasn’t able to make it to Boston for the annual Boston Jewish Film Festival – November 4-16. Out of over 400 submissions, they fest screen 62 films at 17 venues in Boston. It was the festival’s 27th year, and the first year for its new artistic director, Ariana Cohen-Halberstam. An Oberlin grad and experienced film editor, she moved to Boston from Manhattan seven months ago. You may know her from NYC’s Manhattan JCC and its Israel film festivals and ReelAbilities fests. If you, like me, didn’t attend, we missed:
NATASHA. Adapted from a short story by David Benmogis about a 16 year old Jewish teenage boy in Ontario, who spends a Summer “experimenting” with his 14 year old Russian-speaking step-cousin, Natasha (she did not have a fun home life in Russia and there are nude pics of her on the internet). A New Life, Give You a Second Chance… To Make The Same Mistakes.
JeruZalem: An Israeli horror film directed by Yoav and Doron Paz, about two American women on vacation in Israel who enter one of the “Gates of Hell” in Jerusalem. Sarah and Rachel plan to head straight from the airport to the beaches of Tel Aviv, but a cute archaeologist they meet on the plane convinces them to head to Jerusalem for Yom Kippur. Soon the American girls’ vacation changes as a nightmare descends upon the city. Legend has it that there are three gates to hell — in the ocean, in the desert… and in Jerusalem. When the third gate opens, the horror begins. Ophir (Israeli Academy) Award nomination for Best Picture 2015.
BULGARIAN RHAPSODY. Bulgaria’s recent submission to the Academy Awards is a visually stunning tale of first love and friendship set in the summer of 1943. When 17-year-old Moni meets his pretty, fun-loving cousin, Shelli, he is smitten. Unfortunately, so is his more worldly best friend Giorgio. Their teenage love triangle plays out against the Nazis’ invasion into Greece and Bulgaria, with dire consequences for all. An Israel/Bulgaria co-production, directed by Ivan Nichev
APPLES FROM THE DESERT. Directed by Matti Harari and Arik Lubetzky. Rebecca (Moran Rosenblatt) begins to explore life beyond her strict Orthodox home and runs away with an attractive kibbutznik (musician Elisha Banai). In the beautiful and open surroundings of his Kibbutz, she discovers a new identity and must re-establish a relationship with her family. Based on the short story by Savyon Leibrecht. Nominated for three Ophir (Israeli Academy) awards.
THE MAN IN THE WALL. Directed by Evgeny RUman. Shir wakes up from her nap to an angry neighbor who has discovered Shir’s dog wandering alone. But her husband, Rami, had gone out with the dog, leaving his phone and wallet behind. Shir quickly realizes that her husband has disappeared. As friends and family come in and out of the apartment, and as Shir’s panic rises, more details about Shir, Rami, and their marriage are revealed. This psychological thriller draws the audience into Shir’s crisis and into her marriage until the very twisted end. Ophir (Israeli Academy) Award nominations for Best Screenplay and Best Actress, 2015.
SON OF SAUL. Hungarian director Laszlo Nemes’s debut film, the Cannes prize-winner “Son of Saul” is about Saul Auslander (Geza Rohrig), a Hungarian prisoner at Auschwitz-Birkinau in 1944 and a member of the Sonderkommando, a select group forced to assist the Nazis in the machinery of large-scale extermination. While Saul discovers the body of a boy he takes for his son. As the Sonderkommando plans a rebellion, Saul decides to carry out an impossible task: save the child’s body from the flames, find a rabbi to recite the mourner’s Kaddish and offer the boy a proper burial.
REMEMBER. Directed by Atom Egoyan. It stars Christopher Plummer and Martin Landau as friends on a cross-country mission to hunt down the sadistic guard who killed their families in Auschwitz and fled Germany after the war. Zev Guttman (Christopher Plummer), a 90-year-old struggling with memory loss, runs away from his retirement home so he can carry out a plan set by his friend Max (Martin Landau). Max and Zev’s family’s were both killed in Auschwitz by the same sadistic guard who, immediately after the war, escaped Germany and took on an assumed identity. Zev is on a cross-country mission to find the guard and bring justice to the man who destroyed their lives.
THOSE PEOPLE. Directed by Joey Kuhn, who wrote the film as well. A coming-of-age genre tale about a young painter (Jonathan Gordon) on Manhattan’s Upper East Side who is secretly in love with his childhood best friend (Jason Ralph), the son of a Wall Street criminal (Daniel Gerroll) who’s less-than-accepting of his son’s sexuality. Cue Gilbert & Sullivan.
RED LEAVES. Directed by Bazi Gete. The film is mostly in Amharic, and it offers a a rare look at a contemporary Israeli-Ethiopian community. Meseganio, 74, follows Ethiopian tradition and sells his home to live out the rest of their days with their adult children. Confronted with his children’s modern lives, Meseganio comes to realize that his lifestyle is rapidly disappearing as the next generations have assimilated into Israeli culture.
Not all the films were new. DRIVING MISS DAISY was screened at the request of Boston area’s best-selling author, Tova Mirvis, who grew up in Memphis, Tennessee, and felt attached to the film’s Georgia-Jewish setting.
THE BOSTON JEWISH FILM FESTIVAL TRAILER: