I very rarely reproduce a full press release on this blog, but there is one exception: the Australian “Jewish International Film Festival” (JIFF), which runs this year from late October into mid-November. It’s a total delight for those of us who are into Jewish film (and hey, who isn’t?). This year’s description is below, headed by Denial, a fabulous drama based the experiences of Professor Deborah Lipstadt when she defended herself against Holocaust denier David Irving. Details on the Festival below:
Directed by Mick Jackson (The Bodyguard, L.A. Story) with a screenplay by David Hare (The Reader, The Hours), Denial stars Academy Award® winner Rachel Weisz as Professor Deborah Lipstadt who was sued for defamation by author and self-proclaimed historian, David Irving (Timothy Spall) for being referenced as a ‘denier’ in Lipstadt’s book, Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory. Aided by a first-class legal team, helmed by a brilliant, yet maverick barrister, Richard Rampton (Tom Wilkinson), Lipstadt was tasked with proving that the Holocaust did happen in order to discredit Irving and clear her name. Denial, which had its world premiere at Toronto International Film Festival, will screen courtesy of Entertainment One.
Approaching the Holocaust from a different perspective is The Last Laugh, a provocative documentary that will screen on Closing Night. Director Fearne Pearlstein looks at taboos and comedy and in doing so asks ‘how far’ comedy should go when delving into tragedy. Acknowledging that comedy can play a cathartic and ultimately healing role, this insightful film examines the issue via comedic titans such as Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, Rob Reiner, Larry Charles, Sarah Silverman, Louis C.K., Chris Rock and the late Joan Rivers, along with survivors of the Holocaust including 91-year-old, Auschwitz survivor, Renee Firestone.
Complementing these two remarkable films will be 66 international premiere features and documentaries showcasing the cinema of 19 countries, including the globally fêted Israeli drama, Sand Storm, winner of Best Film and Best Director at the recent 2016 Ophir Awards (Israeli Academy Awards). This Ophir triumph automatically qualifies Sand Storm to be Israel’s submission for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2017 Academy Awards® and marks the first time that a film entirely in Arabic, rather than Hebrew, will represent Israel.
Here are just a few of the many other highlights to be found at JIFF 2016:
ABULELE Feature / Israel / 2015 / 96 mins / Director: Jonathan Geva
Adam, a young boy grieving from the loss of his brother, discovers a mythical ‘Abulele’ – a furry and occasionally dangerous monster – living in his building. But when Adam realizes that it is not the Abulele but the humans who are the real monsters, he risks everything to save his friendly giant. A resounding hit at the Israeli box office that was hailed as the Israeli answer to Steven Spielberg’s iconic E.T.
AIDA’S SECRETS Doco. / Israel, USA, Canada, Germany / 2016 / 90 mins / Directors: Alon & Shaul Schwarz
Questions of identity, resilience, compassion and the plight of displaced persons are brought to life as brothers Izak and Shep, who were separated at birth, travel to a nursing home in Quebec to meet their elderly mother, the mysterious Aida. A powerful sojourn into the past, steeped in layers of history and reverberating with untold secrets. Premiered at Hot Docs, and winner of the Audience Award at 2016 Docaviv International Film Festival.
ARTHUR MILLER: MAN OF THE CENTURY Doco. / Germany / 2015 / 60 mins / Director: Henrike Sandner
Born in New York in early 1900s to an immigrant family of Polish Jewish descent, Miller wrote his first play in college, and quickly rose to become a significant player on the Broadway scene, achieving further fame with his marriage to Marilyn Monroe. A portrait of this famed writer and creator, torn between glamour, success, social criticism and love, who left an indelible mark on the world today.
BARASH Feature / Israel / 2015 / 85 mins / Director: Michal Vinik
Set against the backdrop of the Arab-Israeli conflict. 17 year-old Na’ama is bored with her parents and sleepy suburban environment. But when a new girl appears at school, she sends shockwaves through Na’ama’s rigid domestic sphere, propelling her headlong into a dizzying world of sex and drugs. Described as the Israeli Blue Is the Warmest Color, Barash won Best Script, Best Actress and Best Actor at Haifa International Film Festival.
CLOUDY SUNDAY Feature / Greece / 2015 / 116 mins / Director: Manoussos Manoussakis
Inspired by real events and adapted from George Skarbadonis’ novel of the same name, Cloudy Sunday relates the forbidden love between a Jewish girl and a Christian boy during the German occupation in Thessaloniki in 1942. The only place to escape the hatred and inhumanity is a small club, where Vasilis Tsitsanis fills the hearts and minds of people with the beautiful rebetika folk music. Despite the resistance, the persistent hunt for the Jews gradually spreads and suddenly simple choices become life-changing decisions. Winner of 3 Awards, including Best Supporting Actress, at the 2016 Hellenic Film Academy Awards.
DARK DIAMOND Feature / France, Belgium / 2016 / 115 mins / Director: Arthur Harari
In Paris, Pier Ulmann lives from hand-to-mouth, but his monotony is shattered when his estranged father is found dead. The black sheep of a rich Jewish Antwerp family who dealt in diamonds, he has left his son nothing but the story of his banishment from the Ulmann family; a tale told to inspire vengeance. Determined to seek retribution, Pier travels to Antwerp and insinuates himself back into the family business… with dramatic consequences.
THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK Feature / Germany / 2016 / 129 mins / Director: Hans Steinbichler
Based on the uncensored original diary, this film introduces Anne’s story to a new generation. With the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, the situation for Anne and her family is fraught. In order to avoid deportation, they hide in a ‘secret annexe’ in the rear of a house in Amsterdam. It’s a claustrophobic existence between everyday routine and looming menace. Young Anne recorded all of this in her diary, describing her wishes, desires and fears as she came of age behind locked doors. Her clever observations and insightful descriptions have helped generations of young people to picture the horrors of the Nazi persecution of the Jews. Premiered at Berlin Film Festival.
IN SEARCH OF ISRAELI CUISINE Doco. / USA / 2015 / 97 mins / Director: Roger Sherman
This mouth-watering journey presents a portrait of the Israeli people through the food they eat and create. Celebrity chef-restaurateur Michael Solomonov embarks on a gastronomical mission; zigzagging across Israel to savour a food revolution rooted in centuries-old tradition by profiling the chefs, home cooks and gourmands, revealing the diverse and multicultural society that composes the fabric of Israel… and the traditions and tastes that define and unite them.
JERRY LEWIS: THE MAN BEHIND THE CLOWN Doco. / USA, France, Australia / 2016 / 60 mins / Dir: Gregory Monro
Jerry Lewis had the masses laughing with his visual gags, pantomime sketches and signature slapstick humour. Yet Lewis was far more than just a clown. He was also a ground-breaking filmmaker whose unquenchable curiosity led him to write, produce, stage and direct many of the films he appeared in. Celebrating his 90th year, Lewis candidly reflects on his remarkable life and career, allowing audiences to rediscover this brilliant, yet deeply conflicted, man.
LESLIE’S JOUREY Doco. / Spain / 2015 / 75 mins / Director: Marcos Nine Bua
A tale of intrigue and glamour, this film recreates the days surrounding the 1943 death of British actor, Leslie Howard -a Jew, anti-Nazi propagandist and Hollywood heartthrob – who, alongside passengers including the head of the Secret Service in Lisbon and the director of the London Jewish Agency met his end on board a passenger aircraft that was attacked by German fighters. Was Leslie Howard a spy, or was his death simply tragic coincidence?
MIDNIGHT ORCHESTRA Feature / Morocco / 2015 / 100 mins / Director: Jérôme Cohen-Olivar
Having left Casablanca as a child, Michael plans to visit his musician father only to find that he has died before their long anticipated reunion. Charged with conducting the burial, he searches for the former members of his father’s band in order to fulfil the old man’s dying wish and in doing so, finds friendship and rediscovers his cultural roots. Against a joyous ethnic soundtrack Midnight Orchestra expounds on Moroccan-Jewish life and generational divides with humour and heart. Winner of the Ecumenical Jury Prize at the Montréal World Film Festival.
ONE WEEK AND A DAY Feature / Israel / 2016 / 98 mins / Director: Asaph Polonksy
Following the death of their son, Vicky and Eyal act outlandishly as they try to regain a sense of control over their lives, but learn that despite even the most painful of losses, the world stops for no one. Premiering at Cannes Critics’ Week, and triumphing at the Jerusalem Film Festival with Best Israeli Feature, Best First Film and Best Script wins, this affecting and profound film continues to resonate with festival audiences across the globe and received 6 nominations at the 2016 Ophir Awards.
OUR FATHER Feature / Israel / 2016 / 107 mins / Director: Meni Yaesh
A small time gangster sees great potential in Ovadia, known as the strongest and most violent doorman on the Tel Aviv nightclub circuit. Subsequently offered lucrative work in debt collection and intimidation, Ovadia is pulled into a world of crime where he finds his moralities and beliefs tested as the stakes increase. Winner of Best Actor Award at Jerusalem Film Festival, Our Father was nominated in 12 categories at the 2016 Ophir Awards.
THE PEOPLE VS. FRITZ BAUER Feature / Germany / 2015 / 105 mins / Director: Lars Kraume
In this taut, historical thriller, Attorney General Fritz Bauer, himself a Jew, receives vital evidence on the whereabouts of the so-called ‘Architect of the Holocaust’, Adolf Eichmann. Blocked by an unforgiving German government in taking the case to court, Bauer covertly elicits the help of the Israeli secret service, the Mossad, to bring Eichmann to justice, and, in doing so, commits treason against Germany. Winner of the Audience Award at Locarno International Film Festival, and of 6 Awards at the 2016 Lola Awards (German Academy Awards) including Best Film, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor and Best Screenplay.
THE PICKLE RECIPE Feature / USA / 2016 / 97 mins / Director: Michael Manasseri
In this riotous comedy, we meet Joey Miller, the undisputed king of Detroit party emcees…who is also a single father drowning in debt. To make matters worse, during his latest wedding performance, all of his prized sound equipment is destroyed in a freak accident. And as luck would have it, his daughter Julie’s bat mitzvah is only four weeks away. In desperation, he turns to his shady Uncle Morty, who agrees to re-finance him, but under one condition: Joey must go and steal his grandmother Rose’s famous top secret pickle recipe which she has vowed to take to her grave.
PRESENTING PRINCESS SHAW Doco. / Israel / 2015 / 80 mins / Director: Ido Haar
Winner of Best Documentary at the 2016 Ophir Awards, this homage to the power of the Internet in connecting disparate individuals chronicles the unlikely friendship between Israeli Youtube mash-up artist, Kutiman, and Princess Shaw, a troubled New Orleans singer. By day, Princess Shaw is Samantha, a hard-working carer for the elderly in a tough neighbourhood, but by night she lets loose with vulnerable confessionals and capella performances that reveal a difficult past and fragile present. When Kutiman chances upon a Princess Shaw video online, her raw talent impresses him, leading him to use her in his next mix. When he publishes the song online, her life changes forever.
RABIN IN HIS OWN WORDS Doco. / Israel / 2015 / 100 mins / Director: Erez Laufer
Twenty years after the assassination that plunged Israel and the peace process into turmoil, Rabin In His Own Words is a moving firsthand account of the late prime minister and statesmen’s dramatic life story. Through a combination of rare recordings and documents, Yitzhak Rabin narrates his own biography; from his childhood in Tel Aviv as the son of a labor leader before the founding of the State of Israel, to farm worker, through to his service in the Israel Defense Force and his later diplomatic and political career. Winner of the Best Israeli Documentary Award at the Haifa International Film Festival.
SAND STORM Feature / Israel, France / 2016 / 87 mins / Director Elite Zexer
In a Bedouin village in Southern Israel. Jalila is hosting an awkward celebration – the marriage of her husband to a second, much younger wife – while her daughter Layla frets about her recently unveiled and strictly forbidden love affair. A story of tradition, modernity, and divided family, this superb feature portrays the layered relationship between mother and daughter, both bound by custom while struggling to adapt to a changing world. Winner of the Grand Jury Prize in the World Cinematic Dramatic section at Sundance and 6 Awards at the 2016 Ophir Awards, including Best Feature Film, Best Director and Best Supporting Actress.
THE SETTLERS Doco. / Israel / 2016 / 110 mins / Director: Shimon Dotan
The first film of its kind to afford a comprehensive view of the Jewish settlements in the West Bank, The Settlers offers a historical overview, geopolitical study and intimate look at the history of settlements in the West Bank, one of the world’s most contested territories. Via a nuanced blend of interviews, historical context and archival footage this documentary gives voice to opinions from both sides of this contentious issue. Nominated for Best Documentary at the 2016 Ophir Awards.
STEFAN ZWEIG: FAREWELL TO EUROPE Feature / Germany / 2016/ 109 mins / Director: Maria Schrader
Austrian author Stefan Zweig was a cosmopolitan, a pacifist and a bonafide literary star who was, for a time, the most-translated writer in Europe. Foreseeing Europe’s decline Zweig, accompanied by his young wife, left his native country in 1934; never to return. Moving between Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, New York, and Petrópolis, this timely drama powerfully recounts Zweig’s final years in exile.
SYLVIA: TRACING BLOOD Doco. / South Africa / 2016 / 60 mins / Director: Saxon Logan
Sylvia Raphael was born in Cape Town, South Africa, to an Afrikaner mother and a Jewish father; an unlikely beginning for a Mossad agent who came to infiltrate the inner sanctums of Israel’s foremost enemies. In tracing the trajectory of Raphael’s cloaked life, utilising testimony from friends, family and lovers, director Saxon Logon paints a detailed picture of a mysterious, captivating and alluring woman who formed an integral part of Israel’s secret service.
THE TENTH MAN Feature / Argentia / 2015 / 80 mins / Director: Daniel Burman
Following an absence of several years, Ariel (Alan Sabbagh) is summoned by his distant father to his childhood home in the bustling Jewish quarter of Buenos Aires. Unfolding over seven days of colourful Purim festivities, the narrative follows Ariel’s attempts to reconnect with his father, a big macher in the Jewish community who had little time for Ariel growing up. This heartfelt comedy/drama premiered at Berlin Film Festival, and saw leading man, Alan Sabbagh, win Best Actor in an International Narrative Feature Film at Tribeca Film Festival.
TREASURES: THE LOST JEWS OF KASTORIA
Doco/ USA, Greece, Israel / 2014 / 93 mins / Directors: Lawrence Russo & Larry Confino
Renowned for its idyllic, coastal beauty, Kastoria was home to a harmonious and vibrant population of Jews and Christians. But when Axis forces invaded Greece, the Nazis took command of this city. Illuminating the individual stories of the Sephardi Jews forced from their homes, this insightful documentary serves as a tribute to the many displaced communities afflicted by the Holocaust. Using never-before-seen archival footage and interviews with now scattered survivors, we’re presented with an affecting portrait of what was once a dynamic, Jewish community.
Venues and dates for the 2016 Jewish International Film Festival are:
||26 October – 23 November
||Bondi Junction Event Cinemas
||27 October – 16 November
||Hayden Orpheum Picture Palace
||27 October – 23 November
||Classic Cinemas, Elsternwick
||28 October – 23 November
||Lido Cinemas, Hawthorn
||26 October – 6 November
||Greater Union Cinemas, Morley
||10, 12/13, 19/20 November
||New Farm Cinemas
||10, 12/13, 19/20 November
||10, 12/13, 19/20 November
Full program for JIFF 2016 at: www.jiff.com.au Tickets on sale via the JIFF website and participating cinema venues from Friday, 30 September 2016.