Manhattan is an island awash in film festivals. If there are new movies with a thematic niche, chances are there's a film festival with a clever lineup of screenings -- and film junkies lining up outside -- somewhere the city.
Over the next few weeks one of the better film festivals will be premiering at Lincoln Center with its rich blend of cinematic excellence and cultural relevance.
The 24th Annual New York Jewish Film Festival, co-produced by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and the Jewish Museum, runs from January 14-29, 2015 with 47 features and short films from 11 countries. Nearly half the screenings are either world, United States or New York premiers, culminating in the closing night's selection, Maxime Giroux's, Felix and Maira, a forbidden romance set in Montreal between a married Orthodox Jewish woman and a middle-aged atheist.
In addition to its showcase of films, this year's festival also includes a few offerings "off the screen," such as a presentation by the artist Keren Cytter, looping trailers from film noirs and an exhibit of posters from antiwar movies.
The Jewish Film Festival nimbly shows off its toprocks and head spins with a special midnight screening of the 1980s break-dancing hit, Breakin' -- inspired by a documentary about the Israeli cousins who became B-movie kings, Menachem Golan and Yoram Globus, The Go-Go Boys, who made movie stars out of Chuck Norris and Jean-Claude Van Damme.
The recent death of director Mike Nichols (and Robin Williams) may have inspired a screening of Nichols' 1996 comedy, Birdcage. And there will be a panel discussion following the world premier of the documentary The Zionist Idea (disclosure, I was a consultant on the film), co-directed by Joseph Dorman and Oren Rudavsky.
What the Jewish Film Festival demonstrates each year is the rich diversity and worldwide storytelling possibilities of the Jewish experience--whether it is grounded in the old world of the Diaspora or in modern day Europe and Israel; and whether it involves the destruction and displacement of the Holocaust or the way in which Jews perfected the American delicatessen or, for that matter, B-movies.
Israel's entry for this year's Foreign Language Oscar (and it was also a Golden Globe nominee) will be screened. The film, Ronit and Shlomi Elkabetz's, Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem, is adapted from a true story about an orthodox Jewish woman who spent five years engaged in legal warfare that rivaled The War of the Roses, trying to obtain a religiously-ordained divorce, which required the consent of her husband.
Films dealing with the Holocaust and it aftermath always seem to make it into the lineup, and this year's entry is an excellent one: Director Michael Verhoeven's, Let's Go! Verhoeven, best known for The Nasty Girl (1990), returns to a familiar theme: postwar Germany and the moral burden it uncomfortably bears. Here he adapts Laura Waco's autobiographical novel about a daughter of Holocaust survivors who, after her father dies, reflects on why her parents decided to settle in Germany, the very scene of the crime.
Another Holocaust-themed film is Amos Gital's Tsilli, adapted from Aharon Appelfeld's novel about a young Jewish woman hiding in the forests south of Czernowitz, her family lost forever, and how she seeks to find meaning after the war among the ruins and silent witnesses.
Finally, Erik Greenberg Anjou's Deli Man, a documentary about Ziggy Gruber, a Texan and third-generation delicatessen man who operates Kenny and Ziggy's in Houston, one of America's finest Jewish delis. The film is a commentary on immigration, upward mobility, and food--three things Jews know something about. Larry King and Jerry Stiller are featured, and yes, they are funny.
There's much more. Check out the full lineup here.