JewliciousReels: Highlights at The 2017 New York Jewish Film Festival

The 26th annual New York Jewish Film Festival opened last week and is filled with stories of the diversity in the Israeli and diaspora Jewish commmunities. It runs in Manhattan’s Lincoln Center from January 11 to January 24, 2017. The festival includes over a half dozen tearjerkers, a half-dozen religious themed films, 17 films focusing on Jewish identity, 15 documentaries, 7 comedies, and eight archival films, three of which date to before 1934.

The festival opened with the New York City premiere of “Moon in the 12th House,” a 2016 Israeli film directed by Dorit Hakim, starring Yuval Scharf and Yaara Pelzig, as two sisters who might reconcile. In the film, which opened as a full moon approached NYC, the estranged sisters are reunited. Lenny stayed in the childhood house her father; Mira left for Tel Aviv. Is redemption at hand?

Two Israeli documentaries by Tomer and Barak Heymann are have NY and North American premieres, respectively, at the festival.

In “Mister Gaga,” directed by Tomer Heymann, we are invited to see the world of Batsheva Dance Company’s artistic director, Ohad Naharin. He is the kibbutz-born creator of an innovative and exciting movement language known as “Gaga.” The doc is filled with footage from rehearsals and performances.

In “Who’s Gonna Love Me Now?,” also directed by Tomer Heymann and his brother Barak, we meet Saar Maoz, a kibbutz born man who is nearing 40 and has lived in London for 17 years. Saar is HIV-positive, and slightly estranged from his religious Jewish family and the religious kibbutz on which he was raised. Since his diagnosis, Saar craves his family’s love; and they struggle with their fears and prejudices, at times completely uninformed and illogical. Saar has found a surrogate family in the UK among the members of the London Gay Men’s Chorus, which provide a soundtrack for the film. Can Hanukkah bring forgiveness and a return, and a love mixed with fear? Will Saar’s father, a retired IDF general (Katri Maoz), come to accept his son, a former red-beret paratrooper?

(You can watch the second fiml for free on Netflix) Tomer Heymann will also teach a master class at the festival on Tuesday, January 17. In honor of General Maoz, director general of Ammunition Hill, and the men’s choir he might invite to perform, here is an extra video:

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In “Doing Jewish: A Story from Ghana,” a Canadian documentary from Canada, director Gabrielle Zilkha meets some Jews in Ghana. As a volunteer in Africa, she found herself alone as Rosh Hashana approached one year. But in rural and remote Sefwi Wiawso, Zilkha met a group of devout Ghanaian Jews. According to the film, only recently did this Ghanaian community discover they were part of a worldwide religion with several million followers.

In “Hummus! The Movie,” director Oren Rosenfield takes three Israelis from very different backgrounds and brings them together due to their love of hummus. Jalil, a young Christian-Arab from Ramla who has taken over his family’s hummus restaurant, struggles with the urge to forge his own path. Eliyahu is a former dread-headed vagrant turned Hasidic Jew has opened a chain of successful kosher hummus restaurants. Suheila, the only woman to own her own business in the Arab market, has won the Golden Pita Award for Best Hummus, beating ten men for the title. Weaving together their stories, the doc demonstrates how food can positively affect our culture — and is even able to transcend religious and political divides.

Peshmerga will have its U.S. Premiere at the festival, and author, director, French philosopher and public intellectual BERNARD-HENRI LÉVY will be on hand at the festival. In Kurdish, Arabic, English, and French, the doc is set in 2015, when Bernard-Henri Lévy sought to understand the psychology and culture of those embroiled with ISIS in the Middle East. Accompanied by a team of cameramen, Lévy traveled through Iraqi Kurdistan. The Kurdish fighters he encounters share unforgettable stories and show unfailing determination in their fight against jihadi fundamentalism. His journey offers an unprecedented view of a war that rages in our own time, and whose stakes are of global importance.

In “Past Life,” an Israeli production by Avi Nesher, the narrative tracks the daring 1977 trans-European odyssey of two sisters — one an introverted ambitious classical music composer, the other a combative liberal magazine editor. It is based on a true story. As the sisters try to unravel a disturbing wartime mystery that has cast a foreboding shadow on their entire lives, they realize that freedom from the shackles of the past requires painful sacrifices, as does the struggle to discover one’s unique voice. Nelly Tagar, Joy Rieger, Doron Tavory, and Evgenia Dodina lead the cast

Famed director, Amos Gitai, will be at the festival for the world premiere of his 2017 film, “SHALOM RABIN.” In diary form, it follows Gitai as he journeys to Washington, Cairo, Gaza, and Jerusalem at the time of the Oslo Accords. With footage taken from Gitai’s exclusive archive, it includes excerpts from a profoundly moving, extended interview with Yitzhak Rabin and some of the leaders of the time shortly before Rabin’s assassination in November 1995. The events and conversations shown here reveal a watershed moment in the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

There is no trailer out yet, but here is a quick interview that AMos Gitai gave while developing the film.

In “THE WOMEN’S BALCONY,” director Emil Ben-Shimon tells a narrative about a Sephardic synagogue congreagtion in Jerusalem and the dra-medy that develops after the women’s balcony collapses. The community tries to balance traditional protocol with practical and progressive values; women – with great food and music – speak truth to patriarchal power.

In Danae Elon’s Israel/Canada documentary, “The Patriarch’s Room,” we are introduced to the elderly Patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church in Jerusalem. A decade ago, he was accused of selling properties to Jewish “settlers” and deposed. he has been confined to his room in the Old City for eleven years. Elon unravels the complicated story with humor and sensitivity, and along the way we learn about a rarely discussed Greek Orthodox community in Jerusalem.

The festival will host the New York premiere of “Stefan Zweig, Farewell to Europe” by director Maria Schrader. It will be the Closing Night selection of the festival. Zweig is having quite a retrospective in the past year, with books and films based on his stories. Known for her performances in “Aimée and Jaguar” and “In Darkness,” Maria Schrader goes into the director’s chair, behind the camera, to chronicle the years of exile of Stefan Zweig, one of the most widely read German writers of his time, and his wife. Told in five chapters, from the mid 1930s to 1942, and taking place in Buenos Aires, New York and Brazil, Zweig struggles to find the right stance toward the events in Nazi Germany, while searching for a home abroad. Schrader’s emotional film is as much about a tormented literary icon as it is about a continent going up in flames and life in an exile.

In “SAVING NUR,” Director Nili Tal (Etched in my Body) follows the life of nine year old Nur. She has a rare genetic disease, and her chance at survival is to cross the border from Gaza into Israel, where doctors at Schneider Hospital can perform a liver transplant. Her parents Ibrahim and Maha are fighting for their daughters life, but their is not too keen on Israel back in Gaza. And their Israeli driver has his own baggage of loss. Can hope be a transformative power?

Another highlight is a 35mm, full screen, mise-en-scène Romanian film by Radu Jude, titled “SCARRED HEARTS.” Filmed in 2016 and set in 1937, and inspired by a novel by Romanian author Max Blecher. It is a story of Emanuel, a young intellectual with a penchant for poetry who spends his days at a sanatorium on the Black Sea coast. He suffers from bone tuberculosis. He falls in love, and lives life to the extreme. But outside the sanatorium walls, fascism is on the rise.

In the 2016 documentary “Aida’s Secrets,” by Alon and Shaul Schwarz, Izak, an Israeli born in a DP camp in 1945, learns, after research by his daughter, that he has an unknown brother living in Canada… AND.. his mother is still alive, too. He decides to fly to Canada to meet them and to potentially learn his history, adoption,… and who his father was (people had sex at Bergen Belsen??… watch and learn). This emotional, thought-provoking film about the plight of displaced people and war refugees is a work of resilience and compassion…. (files can be filled with facts.. and lies)

Also on Monday night, January 16, 2017, at 9 PM, there will be a free screening and U.S. Premiere for “Bette Midler: The Divine Miss M,” directed by Samantha Peters. For five decades, the woman they call “The Divine Miss M” forged a path that has taken her from a pineapple canning factory in Honolulu to the highest echelons of Hollywood. The BBC’s Imagine series joins Bette Midler on her journey through the chorus lines of Broadway, the bathhouses and nightclubs of New York City in the 1970s, and to the top of the film industry. Her combination of soulful voice and raucous wit made her irreplaceable as an outrageous, captivating entertainer. As she releases her first album in eight years, host Alan Yentob joins Ms. Midler to revisit the places and early influences of her spectacular career.

Ooops.. this is the full film… (below)

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