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The Reeler Blog

NY Jewish Film Fest Compares and Contrasts

Language student Chin speaks up in A Hebrew Lesson, screening this month at the New York Jewish Film Festival (Photo: Eden Productions)

By Ben Gold

While some film festivals strive to provide a thematic undercurrent in their programs, the 17th annual New York Jewish Film Festival, which opened Wednesday and runs at the Walter Reade Theater and The Jewish Museum through Jan. 24, would rather highlight its films' range.

It's really rather fitting, said Aviva Weintraub, NYJFF director and associate curator at The Jewish Museum. "With the Jewish experience around the world there are some common threads, and there also interesting differences," she told The Reeler in a recent interview. "So we want to present both of those." Specifically, this year's festival focuses on rarely seen points of view like those presented in Red Zion, a documentary using found footage to tell the story of Russian Jews immigrating to Palestine in the 1920s. "You kind of get the Russian side of the story," Weintraub said. "It's a story that, if you've seen a lot of Jewish documentary films or read certain books, you've heard told from the American or Israeli perspective, but it's interesting to see it told from the inside perspective."

Among its selection of 23 world, U.S. and New York premieres, the NYJFF also features seven documentaries from Israel, presenting more diverse viewpoints from what is anything but a monolithic society. A Hebrew Lesson, for example, about a language immersion program for immigrants in Israel, exemplifies the country's diversity. "It may be an eye opener for some people to realize -- it's true, it's always been a country of immigrants," Weintraub said. "But I think it's even more striking that most of the characters in the film are not Jewish. And I think that's increasingly the state of Israeli society. I think it's great a film shows that without being a kind of didactic educational documentary saying, 'This is what Israeli society is like today.'"

In addition to more mainstream US premieres like A Secret, starring Mathieu Almaric and Ludivine Sagnier, Weintraub noted that she is especially proud of films like A Hebrew Lesson for their ability to appeal to a wide, not necessarily Jewish, audience -- a mission in line with the Museum's mandate as well. "[They're] absolutely in sync," she said. "The museum presents art work in all different media, and film has always been one of the focuses here. So, in a way, it's yet another platform for exhibition of artwork. One of the museum's main missions is to present art and Jewish culture for people of all backgrounds, and we're hoping the festival does that as well."

The New York Jewish Film Festival runs through Jan. 24 at the Walter Reade Theater and The Jewish Museum. Visit the festival's Web site for additional program and ticket information.

Posted at January 10, 2008 9:42 AM

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