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Jews in the News: Washington Jewish Film Festival Announces 2016 Line-Up

15 January 2016 12:21 PM, PST | Sydney's Buzz | See recent Sydney's Buzz news »

Now in its 26th year, Washington Jewish Film Festival (February 24 – March 6) explores gender, migration, the supernatural, Arab citizens of Israel, artists’ lives, and Lgbtq themes. In addition to the groundbreaking lineup of films, the Festival will host talkbacks and panel discussions with over 50 domestic and international filmmaker guests. The Festival is one of the region’s preeminent showcases for international and independent cinema.

A project of the Washington D.C. Jewish Community Center (Dcjcc), the Washington Jewish Film Festival (Wjff) is the largest Jewish cultural event in the greater Washington, D.C. area. This year’s Festival includes 69 films and over 150 screenings at the AFI Silver Theatre, the Avalon Theatre, Bethesda Row Cinema, E Street Cinema, the Jcc of Greater Washington, the National Gallery of Art, West End Cinema, and the Aaron & Cecile Goldman Theater at the Dcjcc.

“We are excited to present our most ambitious Festival yet,” said Ilya Tovbis, Director of the Washington Jewish Film Festival. “The Washington Jewish Film Festival is a highlight on our city’s cultural calendar. This has been a banner year for original cinematic visions hitting the screen. It is a genuine pleasure to share this crop of bold, independent, film voices that have been garnering praise at Cannes, Berlin, Toronto, and elsewhere, with DC audiences. This year’s Festival simultaneously challenges and expands on our understanding of Jewish identity.”

The lineup includes new and classic films, encompassing a wide range of Jewish perspectives from the United States, Israel, Europe, Asia, and Africa. While the Festival touches a broad set of themes, this year’s lineup offers two programmatic focuses – one on the lives of artists (“Re-framing the Artists”) and the other on Lgbtq individuals (“Rated Lgbtq”). “Reframing the Artist” features an in-depth exploration of artists’ lives, accomplishments, and inspiration. The seven-film “Rated Lgbtq” series explores sexuality, gender, and identity on screen.

The Festival will also engage attendees with off-screen programming including “Story District Presents: God Loves You? True Stories about Faith and Sexuality,” an evening of true stories presented in partnership with Story District, and the 6th Annual Community Education Day on Arab Citizens of Israel. Kicked off by a screening of "Women in Sink," this day features in-depth conversations with Reem Younis, co-founder of Nazareth-based global high-tech company Alpha Omega, and Tziona Koenig-Yair, Israel’s first Equal Employment Opportunity Commissioner.

A full Festival schedule can be found at www.wjff.org . Select highlights are included below:

Opening Night: "Baba Joon"

Opening Night features Israel’s submission for the Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award®, "Baba Joon," a tender tale of a generational divide and the immigrant experience. Yitzhak (Navid Negahban of Showtime’s Emmy Award-winning original series “Homeland”) runs the turkey farm his father built after they emigrated from Iran to Israel.

When his son Moti turns 13, Yitzhak teaches him the trade in hopes that he will take over the family business — but Moti’s dreams lie elsewhere. The arrival of an uncle from America further ratchets up the tension and the family’s tight bonds are put to the test. Opening Night will be held at the AFI Silver Theatre on Wednesday, February 24 at 6:30 p.m. The Opening Night Party, with DirectorYuval Delshad, will be held at the Silver Spring Civic Building at Veterans Plaza immediately following the screening. 

Closing Night : "A Tale of Love and Darkness"

Closing Night centers on Academy Award®-winning actress Natalie Portman in her debut as a director (and screenwriter) in a hauntingly beautiful adaptation of Amos Oz’s best-selling memoir, "A Tale of Love and Darkness." In this dream-like tale, Portman inhabits Fania—Oz’s mother—who brings up her son in Jerusalem during the end of the British Mandate for Palestine and the early years of the State of Israel. Dissatisfied with her marriage, and disoriented by the foreign land surrounding her, Fania escapes into elaborate, fanciful stories of make-believe — bringing her adoring, wide-eyed son along. Closing Night will be held at the Dcjcc on Sunday, March 6 at 6:45 p.m. Followed by a Closing Night Reception and the Audience Award Ceremony.

Wjff Visionary Award Presented to Armin Mueller-Stahl

The Wjff’s Annual Visionary Award recognizes creativity and insight in presenting the full diversity of the Jewish experience through moving image. The 2016 honoree is Armin Mueller-Stahl, who will join us for a special extended Q&A and the presentation of the Wjff Visionary Award. The award will be presented alongside a screening of Barry Levinson’s 1990 film "Avalon," an evocative, nostalgic film that celebrates the virtues of family life. “Avalon” begins with Jewish immigrant Sam Krichinsky (portrayed by Armin Mueller-Stahl) arriving in America on July 4th. He settles in Baltimore with his brothers and raises a family. Director Barry Levinson traces various transitions within the Krichinsky family and conveys his appreciation for the anxieties that afflict the suburban middle-class – and multiple generations of immigrants in particular.

Armin Mueller-Stahl is a German actor, painter, writer and musician. He began acting in East Berlin in 1950, winning the Gdr State Prize for his film work. By 1977, however, he was blacklisted by the communist regime due to his persistent activism in protesting government suppression of the arts. After relocating to the West in 1980, he starred in groundbreaking independent European films, such as Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s “Lola” and “Veronika Voss” and Agnieszka Holland’s “Angry Harvest.” He gained major recognition stateside with two radically different characterizations: an aging Nazi war criminal in Costa-Gavras’ “The Music Box” and Jewish grandpa Sam Krischinsky in Barry Levinson’s “Avalon.” He went on to earn an Oscar® nomination for his role in Scott HicksShine and appeared in such varied work as “Eastern Promises,” “The Game,” “The West Wing,” “The X Files” and “Knight of Cups.”

The Wjff Visionary Award program will take place at the AFI Silver Theatre on Thursday, March 3 at 6:45 p.m.

Spotlight Evening:

Compared to What? The Improbable Journey of Barney Frank 

A polarizing, revolutionary, effective and a most-singular figure in American politics, Barney Frank shaped the debate around progressive values and gay rights in the U.S. Congress for over 40 years. A fresh and contemporary political drama with unparalleled access to one of Congress’ first openly gay Representatives and easily one of the most captivating public figures in recent memory.

Born Jewish, and a longtime friend to the Jewish community and supporter of Israel, Frank is refreshingly honest, likeable and passionate – a beacon of statesmanship that politicians and citizens alike, can look to for inspiration.

Screenings will take place on Tuesday, March 1st at the Avalon Theatre at 6:15 p.m. and Wednesday, March 2 at the Dcjcc at 6:15 p.m. Both screenings followed by a discussion with Barney Frank, husband Jim Ready and filmmakers Sheila Canavan and Michael Chandler.

Spotlight Evening: 

Gary Lucas’ Fleischerei: Music From Max Fleischer Cartoons 

Celebrating the release of the titular album—on Silver Spring-based label Cuneiform—legendary guitarist Gary Lucas joins forces with Tony®-nominated singer and actress Sarah Stiles (Q Street,Hand to God) for a loving musical tribute to the swinging, jazzy soundtracks that adorned master animator Max Fleischer’s surreal, wacky and Yiddish-inflected "Betty Boop" and "Popeye" cartoons of the 1930’s.

Backed by the cartoons themselves, and the cream of NYC’s jazz performers (Jeff Lederer on reeds, Michael Bates on bass, Rob Garcia on drums and Mingus Big Band’s Joe Fiedler on trombone), Lucas and Stiles have a rare evening in store. Get ready for a swirling melting-pot of jungle-band jazz, Tin Pan Alley torch songs, raucous vaudeville turns, and Dixieland mixed with a pinch of Klezmer.

This event will take place at AFI Silver Theatre on Saturday, March 5 at 8:30 p.m.

Additional Films of Note 

The Wjff will present the mid-Atlantic premiere of "Barash." In the film, seventeen-year-old Naama Barash enjoys drugs, alcohol and hanging out with like-minded friends. Her activities are an escape from a strained home life where her parents fight and her rebellious, army-enrolled sister wreaks havoc by dating a Palestinian before going Awol all together. As her parents fret about their older daughter’s disappearance, Naama meets a wild girl in school and discovers the intoxicating rush of first love. “Barash” will be screened three times during the festival, on February 27 at 8:45 p.m. at E Street Cinema, on March 2 at 8:45 p.m. at the Avalon Theatre and on March 3 at 6:15 p.m. at Bethesda Row Cinema.

"Black Jews: The Roots of the Olive Tree" will have its World Premiere at Wjff. The documentary offers a fascinating exploration of African tribes with Jewish roots – in Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal and Cameroon. Some claim to be descendants of the Ten Lost Tribes; others believe their ancestors were Jews who immigrated from Judea to Yemen. Far from a dry archaeological account, the film focuses on the modern-day personal and institutional practice of Judaism throughout Africa, as well as of recent African immigrants in Israel. This film will be screened on March 2 at 6:45 p.m. at Bethesda Row Cinema and on March 3 at 6:30 p.m. at E Street Cinema.

The mid-Atlantic premiere of "Demon," from director Marcin Wrona, features a chilling, modern interpretation of the Dybbuk legend. Piotr’s joy at visiting his bride-to-be at her Polish home is quickly upended by his discovery of human bones on the property. Since his future father-in-law plans to gift the newlyweds the land, Piotr at first overlooks this ominous find. The disturbed spirit inhabiting these remains isn’t willing to let him off so easily however. Marcin Wrona’s wickedly sharp and creepy story of possession is set against a bacchanal celebration of blissful union. “Demon” will be screened on February 25th at 8:45 p.m. at E Street Cinema and on March 1 at 9:15 p.m. at AFI Silver Theatre.

From Spain, the mid-Atlantic premiere of "Dirty Wolves" is a WWII thriller imbued with notes of magical realism. Director Simón Casal  works in the Wolfram (aka tungsten) mines in rural Galicia. A ruthless Nazi brigade, intent on harvesting the rare metal to feed the Third Reich’s war machine, has captured the mines. When Manuela’s sister helps a Jewish prisoner cross the border to Portugal, they are unwittingly forced into a desperate test, which puts their survival squarely at odds with their sense of justice. “Dirty Wolves” will be screened on February 27 at 6:15 p.m. at West End Cinema, on March 1 at 8:45 p.m. at the Avalon Theatre and on March 2 at 6:45 p.m. at AFI Silver Theatre.

In "The Hebrew Superhero," directors Saul Betser and Asaf Galay examine how Israelis long shunned comics as something on the cultural fringe – they were deemed childish, trivial and, perhaps most cuttingly, un-Israeli. Shaul Betser and Asaf Galay (“The Muses of Isaac Bashevis Singer”) outline the medium’s origins, tracing its evolution from quirky upstart to an indelible reflection on the various forms of Israeli heroes. Featuring gorgeous animation and interviews with Daniella London Dekel, Etgar Keret and Dudu Geva, Wjff is presenting the mid-Atlantic premiere of this documentary, which will be screened on February 25 at 7:15 p.m. at the AFI Silver Theatre, March 1 at 6:30 p.m. at Bethesda Row Cinema and March 3 at 8:30 p.m. at E Street Cinema.

Simone Veil’s intrepid fight to legalize abortion in France is brilliantly brought to life in "The Law." In 1974, Veil was charged with decriminalizing abortion and easing access to contraceptives. Facing strong opposition from politicians, an enraged public and the Catholic Church, Veil— an Auschwitz survivor—refused to give up. Fighting for justice amidst a swirl of anti-Semitic sentiment, sexism and personal attacks, her perseverance struck at the heart of national bigotry in a rallying cry for a woman’s right to choose. Wjff will present the D.C. premiere of this French film. It will be screened on February 25 at 8:15 p.m. at Bethesda Row Cinema, on February 29 at 8:45 p.m. at E Street Cinema and on March 5 at 4:45 p.m. at the Dcjcc.

At 90, Miriam Beerman is a survivor. This groundbreaking artist and Potomac, Maryland resident has overcome personal tragedy to inspire friends, family, peers, patrons and students about how to remain defiant, creative and strong. Miriam has struggled with her artistic demons to create haunting images that evoke the suffering of generations of victims. "Miriam Beerman: Expressing the Chaosis" a memorable profile of an artist who has elevated her empathy for the plight of the world’s cast-offs into powerful portrayals of dignity. The Wjff is hosting the mid-Atlantic premiere of this documentary. Screenings will take place on March 2 at 6:30 p.m. at Bethesda Row Cinema and March 3 at 6:15 p.m. at the Dcjcc.

Author and director David Bezmozgis brings his film "Natasha" to Wjff for its D.C. premiere. Adapting his prize-winning story collection,Natasha and Other Stories, to screen, Bezmogis delivers a tragic story of young love. Sixteen-year-old Mark Berman, the son of Latvian-Jewish immigrants, wiles away his hours reading Nietzsche, smoking pot and watching porn. His slacker lifestyle is upended when a 14-year-old hurricane, named Natasha, enters the picture. Drawn to her reckless ways and whispers of her promiscuous past, Mark enters an illicit romance with calamitous consequences. Screenings will take place on February 28 at 5:00 p.m. at West End Cinema, March 3 at 8:30 p.m. at Bethesda Row Cinema and March 5 at 6:15 p.m. at AFI Silver Theatre.

If you believe the fastest way to the heart is through the stomach, "In Search of Israeli Cuisine" offers a delectable, eye-popping culinary journey through Israel is your personal valentine. Weaving through bustling markets, restaurants, kitchens and farms, we meet cooks, vintners and cheese makers drawn from the wide gamut of cultures making up Israel today — Jewish, Arab, Muslim, Christian and Druze. With James Beard award-winning chef Michael Solomonov as your guide, get ready for a cinematic buffet that’s humorous, heady, and of course, delicious! Wjff will be showing the mid-Atlantic premiere of this new documentary. Screenings will take place on February 28 at 5:15 p.m. at E Street Cinema, March 1 at 8:15 p.m. at Bethesda Row Cinema and March 4 at 12:30 p.m. at the Dcjcc.

A complete festival schedule can be found online at www.wjff.org »

- Sydney Levine

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