Festival of acclaimed films

A scene from the Yiddish film Menashe starring Menashe Lustig.

THERE’S a wide range of Jewish themes among the 68 movies and documentaries from 26 countries that will screen at this year’s Jewish International Film Festival (JIFF), which opens in Melbourne on October 25 and in Sydney on October 26
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Festival director Eddie Tamir said he is excited about the selection, with many direct from film festivals in Cannes, Tel Aviv, Toronto, Venice and Berlin.

“We made our selection after seeing more than 300 films during the past year,” said Tamir. “And this year we present the strongest Australian line-up in our history.”

The festival in Melbourne and Sydney runs unti November 22, with shorter festivals in Brisbane, Canberra and Perth.

JIFF’s opening night film is Menashe, one of the first full-length Yiddish language films to hit the big screen in more than 70 years which has enjoyed critical acclaim at festivals and its current cinema release in the US.

Menashe is set around a thirty-something widower who is trying to raise his nine-year-old son as a single father in New York’s Chassidic community. It stars internet comedian Menashe Lustig.

“Yiddish films have always been important to us and Menashe is of the highest quality,” said Tamir.

“The festival will also be screening one of the classic Yiddish films, The Dybbuk. Made in 1937 in black and white, it was directed by Michal Waszynski.”

Among the festival highlights is the Israeli film The Wedding Plan, which won best screenplay and best actress at the 2016 Ophir Awards – the Israeli Oscars. It is set around a spirited Orthodox woman whose fiancé deserts her on the eve of their wedding, but is determined to go ahead with the wedding and embarks on a series of blind dates to find a new groom.

One of the hits at the Cannes Film Festival was the Israeli film Scaffolding, which won awards at this year’s Jerusalem Film Festival for best feature film and best actor for Asher Lax.

Directed by Matan Yair, the film explores the decisions of a young man, Asher, who is pulled between his charismatic teacher and his brash father who wants him to take over his scaffolding business. It was produced by Gal Greenspan, who is now living in Melbourne.

The powerful drama, 1945, by Hungarian director Ferenc Torok – who will be in Australia to introduce the film at the festival – is set around the arrival of two Orthodox Jews in a small Hungarian town in 1945 and the ramifications in the small community.

Humour Me stars Emmy nominee Jemaine Clement and veteran actor Elliott Gould alongside American singer-songwriter Ingrid Michaelson and marks the directing debut of Sam Hoffman, best known for Old Jews Telling Jokes.

The Argentinian film The Last Suit tells the story of an 88-year-old Jewish tailor who leaves his family in Buenos Aires to go to Poland to search for the man who saved his life in Auschwitz seven decades earlier. The JIFF screening will be the world premiere of The Last Suit.

The Last Poker Game, the final film by Oscar-winning actor Martin Landau who died earlier this year, also stars Paul Sorvino and centres around two elderly men who try to convince a mysterious young nurse that they are her long-lost father.

Derek Jacobi, Elliott Gould, Gemma Arterton and Sophie Nelisse star in The History of Love, a saga of star-crossed lovers that ranges from a Polish shtetl to New York’s Jewish community.

Another premiere film is The Gliksmans starring Edward Asner and Richard Portnow in a light-hearted comedy about an elderly couple’s adventures after the husband’s wallet is stolen.

The Israeli box office hit The Last Band in Lebanon is a comedy about three members of an Israeli military rock band who wake up one day to discover that the Israeli army has withdrawn from Lebanon and left them behind. It features music by popular Israeli vocalist Avi Belleli.

The festival’s closing night film, The Rebel in the Rye, focuses on the life of J D Salinger, the reclusive author of the iconic novel Catcher in the Rye. It stars Kevin Spacey, Nicholas Hoult and Victor Garber.

Tamir said that among the many quality documentaries in the festival is Ben-Gurion, Epilogue, based on a recently discovered interview with David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, that was recorded a year after the Six-Day War. The footage was discovered at the Steven Spielberg Jewish Film Archive in Jerusalem.

The documentary Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story explores Lamarr’s life from her childhood in Vienna before escaping to America where she became a Hollywood star. It features an interview with Oscar winning actor-writer-director Mel Brooks.

Another Hollywood legend, writer-director Billy Wilder, is the subject of the documentary Never be Boring, while acclaimed Israeli author Etgar Keret is featured in the documentary Etgar Keret: Based on a True Story.

Australian filmmaker Danny Ben-Moshe has two documentaries premiering in the festival – My Mother’s Lost Children, which is based around the amazing events surrounding Ben-Moshe’s own family when two stolen children reappear after 40 years; and Shalom Bollywood, the untold story of the Indian Jewish community’s formative impact on Bollywood films.

Sydney filmmaker Su Goldfish’s feature-length documentary, The Last Goldfish, also covers her 40-year search for missing relatives.

Born to German-Jewish refugees in Trinidad after World War II, Goldfish moved to Australia when she was young. Her father didn’t want to talk about their family, telling her she is “the last Goldfish”, but she believed that there were missing relatives.

The documentary Vitch portrays the life of Jewish caricature and mime artist Eddie Levkovitch, who was sent to perform for the Nazi elite and Gestapo in German theatres during World War II.

The winners of grants of $10,000 under JIFF’s Short Film Fund will have their short films screened during the festival. Anita Lester, a Melbourne animator, illustrator and singer who has been living in London, made her six-minute short, I’m Still Alive, while Melbourne writer-director Paul Andersen has made a 10-minute comedy, Dream House, about a young Jewish couple who share a suburban house that needs renovating.

This year JIFF has introduced special offers for moviegoers aged under 30 for the festival.

Free festival brochure in the September 29 edition of the AJN

The Jewish International Film Festival will be held in Melbourne from October 25 to November 22 at the Classic Cinemas, Elsternwick and Lido Cinemas, Hawthorn, and in Sydney from October 26 to November 22 at Event Cinemas, Bondi Junction with some screenings at Hayden Orpheum, Cremorne. For more information and bookings: www.jiff.com.au.