It’s Oscar season, which means the spotlight is on movies. But while nominated films get plenty of attention and GoogleNews reports from Sundance, we wanted to spotlight some films and festivals that have escaped Oscar’s notice.

Tonight I went to see future Jewlicious speaker Shahar Sorek in the new film, “King of Beggars,” a movie which has been invoking critical comparison to “Braveheart,” but, as everyone says, “without Mel Gibson.” But the film is certainly more than that, portraying themes of national pride, Jewish identity, the right to fight back, the tension between secular and religious identity, the stratification of Jews into camps of universalists and particularists etc. But what really struck me was the language, which was, as two Israelis explained it later, the kind of Hebrew that Eliezer Ben Yehuda’s daughter would have spoken. In other words, the words were archaic and in parts, biblical, providing the Israeli actors with the equivalent of Shakespearean language and diction to portray the story. Truly one of the most unique Israeli films I’ve ever seen.

But now, I want more. And the bad news is that the NY Jewish Film Festival ended Thursday, January 25. Austin’s festival ended the 26th. And Washington, DC isn’t scheduled for a film festival until November and December of 2007. (Although the DC JCC does offer arts programming thoughout the year, including a special event for Black History Month on February 11th.) I’m a little limited in my travel budget. But if domestic travel’s not off your menu of options, perhaps you should let Jewish film festivals guide your vacation plans.

In Tucson, the festival started Jan 14 and runs to February 25. Other February choices, providing a range of film offerings and climates, include San Diego from February 8-18, the Triad Jewish Film Festival (begins in Greensboro, NC on February 15) or Greater Phoenix from February 17-22.

In March, crash University of Wisconsin Hillel’s Israeli Film Festival (March 5-14)–bring your own cheese. Or take your ketchup and head to Pittsburgh for the Jewish-Israeli film festival March 8-25. April (12-22) sees the National Center for Jewish Film at Brandeis hosting its festival, and the LA Jewish Film Festival rolls into the city of Angels April 21-26.

May’s not a bad time to be in Canada (5-13) for the Toronto Jewish Film Festival. And in June, you can hit North Carolina’s Triangle Jewish Film Festival (June 10) or meet me in St. Louis from June 24-28.

But if you can hold out, you can do a tri-city tour with the Israel Film Festival, now celebrating their 22nd year: March 17-22 in LA; April 26-May 3 in Miami; and June 6-21 in NYC. (For more information as it’s posted, check out the website.)

And if it’s festival headliners you’re looking for, you can check out 51 Birch Street:

“Both unexpectedly funny and heartbreaking, 51 Birch Street is the first-person account of Block’s unpredictable journey through a whirlwind of dramatic life-changing events: the death of his mother, the uncovering of decades of family secrets, and the ensuing reconciliation with his father. What begins as his own intimate, autobiographical story, soon evolves into a broader meditation on the universal themes of love, marriage, fidelity and the mystery of family.”

(Screenings are already scheduled in several cities; click the link for a list of locations.)

Or if you’d like to pursue the Holy Grail of Israeli movie screenings, head to Miami in March for the Miami International Film Festival (March 2-11), which features the US premiere of the elusive, and critically and popularly acclaimed “Someone to Run With,” the film adaptation of the David Grossman novel of the same name.

If we’ve missed your local festival, feel free to leave us a comment with the dates or a website. And for a long list of Jewish film festivals and contact info (not all have 2007 dates listed), see the National Foundation for Jewish Culture’s site.

We’ll see you at the movies!

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Esther Kustanowitz

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  • Uh… wow. Are there really that many Jewish films? Geez louise, I clearly need to get out more…

  • If anything, it should encourage you that Jewish and Israeli films are alive and well in North America. But because most film festivals are strapped for cash, they get the films they can. This may mean one new headlining film, like 51 Birch Street, with the rest being older films, like Fiddler on the Roof, Sallah Shabati, or Kayitz Shel Aviyah.

  • To my knowledge, Esther, most Jewish film festivals screen new films unless they have some category for bringing back older ones. I don’t think they pay all that much for screening films, however, which is where their general lack of funds come in. In many cities, the Jewish film festival is one of the few remaining activities where one see most of the main streams of Judaism represented in the audience and the combination of films can usually be quite illuminating about a variety of subjects, and about the Jewish world when seen as a whole.

    It should be noted that the granddaddy of most of the Jewish film festivals is the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival. It continues to be the trendsetter and it’s not unusual to see representatives from other festivals attending this one to scout films for theirs. Of course, that’s also one of the first festivals to include gay and lesbian subject matter, although I believe that Israel used to have a Jewish Gay and Lesbian Film Festival.

  • Hi,

    I am wondering if you have contact with Roman Polanski or Steven
    Spielberg or Vadim Perelman or some one else who is talented producer in the movie industry and persuade this person to stage a movie based on the “Spanish ballad” (aka “The Jewess of Toledo” ) by Lion Feuchtwanger.

    Such movie would (in addition to be entertaining and educational –
    revealing Spanish stage of the Jewish history) lift morale of Jewish
    people around the world – to make them proud of their Jewish origin !

    I believe this is extremely important nowadays.