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Moon in the 12th House,
Moon in the 12th House,

The 26th annual New York Jewish Film Festival (NYJFF), presented by the Jewish Museum and the Film Society of Lincoln Center, and taking place January 11 to 24, 2017 at the Walter Reade Theater, will feature 29 wide-ranging and exciting films and shorts.

The NYJFF opens on Wednesday, January 11 with the New York premiere of Dorit Hakim’s impressive debut feature Moon in the 12th House, which follows two estranged Israeli sisters on the road to reconciliation. Closing Night is the New York premiere of Aimée and Jaguar star Maria Schrader‘s Stefan Zweig, Farewell to Europe, a dramatic chronicle of the German-Jewish writer’s years in exile from Nazi Germany, on Tuesday, January 24. For the first time in its history, the NYJFF will have a Centerpiece screening on Wednesday, January 18: the U.S. premiere of Peshmerga by French-Jewish philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy, who documented his travels to Iraqi Kurdistan in an effort to better understand the psychology of a culture on the frontlines of the war against ISIS.

Special presentations include the World Premiere of Amos Gitai’s latest, Shalom Rabin, a personal film diary utilizing the director’s own archival footage, featuring a moving interview with Yitzhak Rabin completed shortly before his assassination; the World Premiere of Andrea Simon’s Angel Wagenstein: Art Is a Weapon, a portrait of the revolutionary Bulgarian Jewish filmmaker and novelist, paired with a screening of Konrad Wolf’s 1959 film Stars, for which Wagenstein wrote the screenplay; and the U.S. premiere of Doing Jewish: A Story from Ghana, which follows documentarian Gabrielle Zilkha as she discovers a centuries-old Jewish community in Ghana.

This year’s edition of the festival also features a number of intimate documentaries about captivating Jewish performing artists, including the U.S. premiere of Samantha Peters’s Bette Midler: The Divine Miss M, an ode to the entertainer’s spectacular fifty-year career; Mr. Gaga, Tomer Heymann’s intimate portrait of Ohad Naharin, the renowned choreographer and artistic director of the Batsheva Dance Company, in its New York premiere; and Barak and Tomer Heymann’s Who’s Gonna Love Me Now?, which follows HIV-positive Israeli expat Saar Moaz, a member of the London Gay Men’s Chorus.

Other highlights include the New York premiere of culinary documentary Hummus! The Movie; Scarred Hearts, the latest from Radu Jude (Aferim!), based on the novel by Romanian author Max Belcher; the U.S. premiere of Emmanuel Bourdieu’s Louis-Ferdinand Céline, based on the real-life encounter between the controversial French author (played by Denis Lavant), an accused Nazi supporter, and a young Jewish professor in 1948; and the New York premiere of Marie Noëlle’s Marie Curie, The Courage of Knowledge, an intimate biopic of the trailblazing physicist and chemist.


Opening Night
Moon in the 12th House
Dorit Hakim, Israel, 2016, 110m
Hebrew with English subtitles
New York Premiere
When two estranged young sisters are reunited, they must come to terms with each other and the circumstances that tore them apart: Lenny had stayed in their childhood home to take care of their father, while Mira left for a faster life in Tel Aviv. Despite their divergent paths, love and affection bind the characters and lead them toward fragile redemption. This impressive debut feature by Dorit Hakim features unforgettable performances by Yuval Sharf (Ana Arabia, Footnote) and Yaara Pelzig (Policeman).

Bernard-Henri Lévy, France, 2016, 92m
Kurdish, Arabic, English, and French with English subtitles
U.S. Premiere
In 2015, French Jewish philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy sought to understand the psychology and culture of those embroiled with ISIS in the Middle East. Accompanied by a team of cameramen, Lévy travelled through Iraqi Kurdistan. The Kurdish fighters he encounters share unforgettable stories and show unfailing determination in their fight against jihadi fundamentalism. His journey offers an unprecedented view of a war that rages in our own time, and whose stakes are of global importance.

Closing Night
Stefan Zweig, Farewell to Europe
Maria Schrader, Austria/France/Germany, 2016, 106m
German, English, Portuguese, French, and Spanish with English subtitles
New York Premiere
Known for her performances in Aimée and Jaguar and In Darkness, Maria Schrader goes behind the camera to chronicle the years of exile of Stefan Zweig, one of the most widely read German writers of his time. In the film, told in five chapters, from the mid 1930s to 1942, and taking place in Buenos Aires, New York, and Brazil, Zweig struggles to find the right stance toward the events in Nazi Germany, while searching for a home abroad. Schrader’s emotional film is as much about a tormented literary icon as it is about a continent going up in flames. Starring Josef Hader as Zweig and Barbara Sukowa (Hannah Arendt) as his wife, Friderike.

Aida’s Secrets
Alon Schwarz, Shaul Schwarz, Israel/U.S./Germany/Canada, 2016, 90m
English and Hebrew with English subtitles
New York Premiere
A web of family secrets begins to unravel in this gripping documentary from Alon and Shaul Schwarz following a family fractured by war. Born inside a displaced persons camp in 1945 and sent for adoption in Israel, Izak learns at a late age the details of his birth mother, an unknown brother in Canada, and his father’s true identity. This emotional, thought-provoking film about the plight of displaced people and war refugees is a work of resilience and compassion.

Angel Wagenstein: Art Is a Weapon
Andrea Simon, U.S./Bulgaria, 2017, 84m
Bulgarian, English, German and Russian with English subtitles
World Premiere
This documentary portrait of Bulgarian Jewish filmmaker, novelist, partisan warrior, and lifelong revolutionary Angel Wagenstein introduces American viewers to a brilliant and charismatic artist, for whom art became a form of resistance against a series of oppressive and corrupt regimes. It is also a meditation on what his life and films reveal about the intimate realities of Cold War culture in a divided and contentious post-war Europe, and the vertiginous transformations of 1989 and after in the former Eastern Bloc states.

Screening with:
Stars (Sterne)
Konrad Wolf, East Germany/Bulgaria, 1959, 88m
German, Bulgarian, Yiddish, and Ladino with English subtitles
This gripping drama, based on the personal story of screenwriter Angel Wagenstein during the Holocaust in the Balkans, sheds light on the Sephardic experience of WWII. Stationed in a secluded Bulgarian village in 1943, Walter, an artist and sergeant in the Wehrmacht, lives an almost idyllic life far away from the war. Soon, a transit camp is set up for Jews arriving from Greece. When Ruth, one of the Greek Jews, asks Walter to help a pregnant woman in the camp, the two form an unlikely bond. Presented in a new digital restoration from the original 35mm negative.

Bette Midler: The Divine Miss M
Samantha Peters, UK, 2014, 75m
U.S. Premiere
For five decades the woman they call “The Divine Miss M” forged a path that has taken her from a pineapple canning factory in Honolulu to the highest echelons of Hollywood. The BBC’s Imagine series joins Bette Midler on her journey through the chorus lines of Broadway, the bathhouses and nightclubs of New York City in the 1970s, and to the top of the film industry. Her combination of soulful voice and raucous wit made her irreplaceable as an outrageous, captivating entertainer. As she releases her first album in eight years, host Alan Yentob joins Ms. Midler to revisit the places and early influences of her spectacular career.

Dimona Twist
Michal Aviad, Israel, 2016, 70m
Hebrew with English subtitles
U.S. Premiere
Israeli documentarian Michal Aviad (The Women Pioneers) returns to the NYJFF with another moving film focusing on the lives of women in Israel, specifically those from North Africa and Poland who came by ship in the 1950s and 1960s and were sent to Dimona, a newly established town in the desert. They talk about the pain of leaving their homes behind, about poverty and the difficulties of adjusting in their new homeland, and about their determined attempts to create rich and meaningful lives. These intimate conversations are interwoven with stunning archival footage and music of the time.

Doing Jewish: A Story from Ghana
Gabrielle Zilkha, Canada, 2016, 85m
U.S. Premiere
Who would expect to find Jews in Ghana? Certainly not filmmaker Gabrielle Zilkha. But when she volunteered to work in Africa, and found herself alone as the Jewish New Year approached, she made a surprising connection with the Jewish Africans she met there. In remote Sefwi Wiawso, Zilkha encounters a group of practicing Jews, dedicated and devout, who perform rites like circumcision and observe Kosher dietary laws. Only recently did this Ghanese community discover they were part of a worldwide religion with millions of followers, and were as surprised as the filmmaker who made this inspiring documentary.

Screening with:
Kol Nidre #3
Tatiana McCabe, U.S. 2016, 4m
World Premiere
Images from Brooklyn-based artist Archie Rand’s acclaimed book The 613, an illustrated reimagining of the 613 Jewish commandments that earned praise from the likes of Art Spiegelman and Ang Lee, are recreated in this charming animated short.

Hummus! The Movie
Oren Rosenfeld, Israel, 2016, 70m
English, Arabic, and Hebrew with English subtitles
New York Premiere
Three Israelis from very different backgrounds are brought together by their love for a common dietary staple: hummus. Jalil, a young Christian-Arab from Ramla who has taken over his family’s hummus restaurant, struggles with the urge to forge his own path. Eliyahu is a former dread-headed vagrant turned Hasidic Jew, who opens a chain of successful kosher hummus restaurants. Suheila, the only woman to own her own business in the Arab market, has won the Golden Pita Award for Best Hummus, beating ten men for the title. Weaving together their stories, director Oren Rosenfeld tastefully demonstrates how food can positively affect our culture—and is even able to transcend religious and political divides.

Screening with:
Numbers Guy
Vanessa Jung, Canada, 2015, 33m
New York Premiere
From behind his counter in Toronto, cashier David delivers more than your purchase; funny, fascinating trivia about facts and figures await his customers.

Louis-Ferdinand Céline
Emmanuel Bourdieu, France/Belgium, 2016, 97m
French with English subtitles
U.S. Premiere
This stirring drama is based on the real-life encounter between the controversial French author Louis-Ferdinand Céline, and Milton Hindus, a young American literature professor, in 1948 Denmark, where the Frenchman was in self-imposed exile. Hindus, who was Jewish, would later write of his shock and disappointment at his encounter with Céline, who was accused of collaborating with the Nazis. Denis Lavant (Holy Motors) brings us into the mind of the great, if deeply troubled, artist and author of Journey to the End of the Night. Directed by Emmanuel Bourdieu (co-writer of the Arnaud Desplechin films Esther Kahn and My Sex Life … or How I Got Into an Argument).

Marie Curie, The Courage of Knowledge
Marie Noëlle, Germany/France/Poland, 2016, 95m
French, German and Polish with English subtitles
New York Premiere
A sweeping biographical film about the first woman to win the Nobel Prize, Marie Curie, The Courage of Knowledge is as much an intimate portrayal of the struggles of the scientist’s private world as of her legendary public accomplishments, chronicling her battles against the male academic establishment, as well as her blissful marriage to her scientific partner, Pierre. Her world falls apart when her husband perishes in a tragic accident, and despite near scandal, Curie perseveres and triumphs once more. Director Marie Noëlle vividly depicts turn-of-the century Europe in this inspiring true story.

Mr. Gaga
Tomer Heymann, Israel/Sweden/Germany/Netherlands, 2015, 100m
English and Hebrew with English subtitles
New York Premiere
Enter the world of Ohad Naharin, renowned choreographer and artistic director of the Batsheva Dance Company, and creator of an innovative and exciting movement language known as Gaga. Eight years in the making, this high-energy documentary immerses the audience in the creative process behind Batsheva’s unique performances. Using intimate rehearsal footage, extensive unseen archival materials, and stunning dance sequences, acclaimed director Tomer Heymann (Paper Dolls, The Queen Has No Crown, I Shot My Love) tells the fascinating story of an artistic genius who redefined the language of modern dance.

Past Life
Avi Nesher, Israel, 2016, 110m
Hebrew, English, German, and Polish with English subtitles
New York Premiere
Inspired by true events, Past Life tracks the daring 1977 trans-European odyssey of two sisters—one an introverted ambitious classical music composer, the other a combative liberal magazine editor. As they try to unravel a disturbing wartime mystery that has cast a foreboding shadow on their entire lives, they realize that freedom from the shackles of the past requires painful sacrifices, as does the struggle to discover one’s unique voice. Nelly Tagar (Zero Motivation), Joy Rieger (Live and Become), Doron Tavory (Lemon Tree), and Evgenia Dodina (The Attack; Nina’s Tragedies) lead the cast. Acclaimed filmmaker Avi Nesher (Turn Left at the End of the World, The Matchmaker) directed from his own screenplay.

The Patriarch’s Room
Danae Elon, Israel/Canada, 2016, 83m
English, Hebrew, and Greek with English subtitles
New York Premiere
In 2005, the elderly Patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church in Jerusalem was accused of selling properties to Jewish Settlers. He was deposed and confined to his room in the Old City for eleven years. Documentarian Danae Elon (Another Road Home) forges a special relationship with the Patriarch to unravel the twisted story. With humor and sensitivity, Elon probes the workings of the Church and presents a portrait of a complicated religious community.

Saving Nur
Nili Tal, Israel, 2016, 70m
Hebrew and Arabic with English subtitles
New York Premiere
Afflicted with a rare genetic disease, nine-year-old Nur has only one chance of survival: crossing the border from Gaza into Israel, where doctors are capable of performing a liver transplant. Meanwhile, her Palestinian parents Ibrahim and Maha are fighting resolutely for the life of their daughter while their family struggles back in Gaza. Director Nili Tal (Ukraine Brides, Etched in My Body, Sixty and the City) takes us on Nur’s journey across borders and shows us the transformative power of humanity and hope.

Screening with:
My Travels with Oliver
Laurel Chiten, U.S., 2017, 7m
World Premiere
With heartfelt humor, photojournalist Lowell Handler narrates a series of photographs she took while traveling the world with British neurologist, naturalist, and author Oliver Sacks.

Scarred Hearts
Radu Jude, Romania, 2016, 141m
Romanian and German with English subtitles
New York City Premiere
Set in 1937, Scarred Hearts, inspired by Romanian author Max Blecher’s novel, centers on Emanuel, a young intellectual with a penchant for poetry who spends his days at a sanatorium on the Black Sea coast, suffering from bone tuberculosis. Despite his physical condition, Emanuel falls in love, quotes literature, and encourages his fellow patients to live life fully, which includes listening to jazz and throwing the occasional drunken party. Meanwhile, outside the sanatorium walls, fascism is on the rise. Director Radu Jude’s richly detailed camerawork—shot on 35mm film in the full-screen, square Academy ratio—provides a master class in mise-en-scène.

Shalom Rabin
Amos Gitai, Israel, 2017, 89m
English and Hebrew with English subtitles
World Premiere
Shalom Rabin is a film diary that follows director Amos Gitai as he journeys to Washington, Cairo, Gaza, and Jerusalem at the time of the Oslo Accords. With footage taken from Gitai’s exclusive archive, it includes excerpts from a profoundly moving, extended interview with Yitzhak Rabin and some of the leaders of the time shortly before Rabin’s assassination in November 1995. The events and conversations shown here reveal a watershed moment in the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Who’s Gonna Love Me Now?
Barak Heymann, Tomer Heymann, Israel/UK, 2016, 84m
English and Hebrew with English subtitles
New York City Premiere
An HIV-positive gay man living in London, Israeli expat Saar finds refuge in the British capital from the religious kibbutz where he grew up. Since his diagnosis, Saar craves his family’s love, while they struggle with their fears and prejudices. Saar and his fellow members of the London Gay Men’s Chorus provide a glorious soundtrack for this documentary about the necessity of forgiveness and the power of home.

William Kentridge: Triumphs and Laments
Giovanni Troilo, Italy, 2016, 67m
English and Italian with English subtitles
U.S. Premiere
Triumphs and Laments documents one of contemporary artist William Kentridge’s most ambitious and controversial projects: a colossal frieze along the banks of the Tiber river in Rome portraying the glories and tragedies of the Eternal City that was commissioned in the summer of 2016. The film, shot with exclusive access to Kentridge over the course of two years from his home in South Africa to the center of Rome, details the artist’s vision and his creative process in developing a work of art that will disappear in just a few years.

The Women’s Balcony
Emil Ben-Shimon, Israel, 2016, 96m
Hebrew with English subtitles
New York Premiere
In this sharply observed dramedy about a literal and metaphorical fall—a women’s balcony collapses during a Bar Mitzvah—a close-knit Sephardic congregation in Jerusalem fractures along gender lines. Emil Ben-Shimon’s feature debut is a warm portrait of a community seeking to balance protocol with practical and progressive values. This rousing, good-hearted tale about women speaking truth to patriarchal power is accompanied by stirring music and sumptuous food.

Shorts Program
Various languages
New York Premieres
A collection of five short films transport us from 1930s Czechoslovakia to a contemporary Tel Aviv museum. In Mr. Bernstein (Francine Zuckerman, Canada, 2015, 12m), when Debbie hears of her father’s life-changing musical experience in a refugee camp, she tracks down the famous conductor years later, with unexpected consequences. In Home Movie (Caroline Pick, UK, 2013, 17m), filmmaker Caroline Pick uses footage that her father shot from the 1930s to 1960s to look back at her family’s past in Czechoslovakia and Britain, gradually unearthing the story that her parents hid. Eleven-year-old Tamal, overweight and a victim to bullying, develops a unique coping mechanism in Vow (Netalie Braun, Israel, 2015, 28m), a darkly funny portrayal of an adolescent in crisis. As Uri prepares for his wedding, he relives memories of his parents’ cancerous relationship In Lamps Lit on the Towpath (Efim Graboy, Vitali Friedland, Israel, 2016, 23m). In Hounds (Omer Tobi, Israel, 2015, 30m), Iris, a museum security guard, faces an ethical dilemma following a terrible accident on the day of her long-awaited promotion.

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