The 25th annual Portland Jewish Film Festival, produced by the Northwest Film Center and co-presented with the Institute for Judaic Studies, will feature 18 films that celebrate the diversity of Jewish history, culture, identity, and filmmaking. The festival will take place June 11 to 25, 2017 at the Northwest Film Center in Portland, Oregon.
Complete Film listings:
June 11 – Sunday 7 p.m.
Directed by Joshua Z. Weinstein
United States/Israel, 2017
Deep in the heart of New York’s ultra-orthodox Hasidic Jewish community, Menashe—a kind, hapless grocery store clerk—struggles to make ends meet and responsibly parent his young son, Rieven, following his wife Leah’s death. Tradition prohibits Menashe from raising his son alone, so Rieven’s strict uncle adopts him, leaving Menashe heartbroken. When his rabbi grants him one special week with Rieven before Leah’s memorial, he has a chance to prove himself a suitable man of faith and fatherhood, and restore respect among his doubters. Weinstein’s film is a poignant and funny parable about the tension between best intentions and the effort to uphold them. In Yiddish with English subtitles. (82 mins., DCP)
June 11 – Monday 7 p.m.
Directed by Shimon Dotan
The Settlers traces the history of Israeli settlements in the West Bank since the 1967 Six-Day War. While government leaders and the Israeli public initially saw the military victory as an opportunity for a negotiated peace, many religious conservatives saw it as a calling from God to redeem the Biblical land of Israel. Through the voices of the pioneers of the movement and a diverse range of modern-day settlers—religious and secular, radical and idealist—Dotan weaves a comprehensive, provocative, and often troubling exploration of the controversial communities that continue to influence the sociopolitical destinies of Israel and Palestine. Nominated for the Israeli Academy Award for Best Documentary. In Hebrew, Arabic, and English with English subtitles. (107 mins., DCP)
June 14 – Wednesday 7 p.m.
THE WOMEN’S BALCONY
Directed by Emil Ben Shimon
Emil Ben Shimon’s feature debut is a comical feminist narrative about finding the right path to happiness and the subjectivity of righteousness. When the women’s balcony of the synagogue collapses in the middle of a bar mitzvah, nobody assumes that the cause was anything more than bad architecture— that is, until Rabbi David announces that it was actually a message from God. The charismatic young rabbi warns that the men of the Sephardic congregation haven’t done enough to ensure the modesty of their women, creating a rift between the community’s men and women that puts faith, friendships, and traditions to the test. Hebrew with English subtitles. (96 mins., DCP)
June 15 – Thursday 7 p.m.
Directed by Ferenc Török
When two Orthodox Jews arrive at the train station of a small, rural community in 1945, the villagers must face the consequences of “ill-gotten gains” from the Second World War. Fears that the men may be heirs of the village’s deported Jews and that more survivors will come pose a threat to the property and possessions they have claimed as their own. Based on the acclaimed short story “Homecoming” by Gábor T. Szánt. (91 mins., DCP)
June 17 – Saturday 6:30 p.m.
Directed by Avi Nesher
Nesher’s (The Matchmaker, The Wonders) moving film confronts a trauma and burden of history that is still part of the Israeli present and deeply rooted in the collective subconscious. In ’70s Jerusalem, two daughters of Holocaust survivors investigate a taboo topic: their difficult father’s experiences in Poland during World War II. As they undertake a trans-European journey to try to unravel the mystery that has shadowed their whole lives, they confront tragic questions and the realization that freedom from the past requires painful sacrifices, as does the struggle to discover one’s own unique voice. (109 mins., DCP)
June 17 – Saturday 9 p.m.
Directed by Maysaloun Hamoud
Maysaloun Hamoud’s striking feature debut chronicles the lives of three Palestinian-Israeli women sharing an apartment in the vibrant heart of Tel Aviv. Modern-minded lawyer Layla, activist Salma, and more conservative Nour find themselves in a complicated balancing act between tradition and modernity, citizenship and culture, fealty and freedom as they navigate men, family, drugs, work, school, and their futures. Living in a country that considers them not Israeli enough and not Palestinian enough, they face choices between contemporary and traditional values. Adult audiences. Best Film Prize, San Sebastian Film Festival. (102 mins., DCP)
June 17 – Saturday 4 p.m.
June 18 – Sunday 8 p.m.
Directed by Lola Doillon
Based on an autobiographical novel by Fanny Ben-Ami, Fanny’s Journey tells the story of a heroic young girl in World War II France. Following the arrest of their father in Paris, Fanny and her younger sisters are sent to a boarding school in France’s neutral zone. They are whisked away to another institution, where Jewish children come under the care of the tough but tender Madame Forman. As danger advances yet again, the students’ fate is entrusted to 13-year-old Fanny, who fearlessly treks through the countryside with the children on a perilous mission to reach the Swiss border with only wits and solidarity to guide her. All ages. (94 mins., DCP)
June 18 – Sunday 4:30 p.m.
BODY AND SOUL: AN AMERICAN BRIDGE
Directed by Robert Philipson
United States, 2016
The story of Body and Soul, one of the most recorded songs in the Great American Songbook and a jazz standard, illustrates the complex musical interplay between Jewish and African American cultures. Written by Jewish songwriter Johnny Green and introduced on Broadway by Jewish torch singer Libby Holman in 1930, it was first recorded as a jazz piece by Louis Armstrong. Philipson examines the song’s timelessness, its role at the heart of both black and Jewish music, and cultural links both complementary and contentious. Interviews with experts and historians combine with rare archival footage and diverse performances to celebrate an ageless classic. (60 mins., DCP)
Directed by Joel Katz
United States, 2002
While many people assume Strange Fruit was written by Billie Holiday, it actually began as a poem by a Jewish schoolteacher and union activist from the Bronx, who later set it to music. Disturbed by a photograph of a lynching, Abel Meeropol wrote the stark verse and brooding melody about the horror of lynching under the pseudonym Lewis Allan in 1938. It was brought to the attention of the manager of a popular Greenwich Village nightclub, who introduced Billy Holiday to the writer. Meeropol, who also wrote such classics as Frank Sinatra’s The House I Live In, later adopted the sons of “atom bomb spies” Julius and Ethel Rosenberg after their 1953 execution. (56 mins., Blu-Ray)
June 19 – Monday 7 p.m.
Directed by Job Gosschalk
Set in a tight-knit Jewish community in Amsterdam, Moos is an endearing comedy about following your far-fetched dreams. 20-something Moos takes care of her dad and hangs around the family fabric store singing tunes to her steam iron. Her dream is to be an actress, but going for it seems to be on the back burner until her childhood friend, home from a stint in the Israeli army, reminds her of her past full of passion and ambition. Love, laughter, friendship, and complications take center stage in a film about finding out what’s important and finding your voice. (91 mins., DCP)
June 20 – Tuesday 7 p.m.
Directed by Leah Warshawski
United States, 2016
Big Sonia explores what it means to be a survivor and how this affects families and generations. One of the few remaining survivors of Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen, 91-year-old Sonia Warshawski, the filmmaker’s grandmother, has shared her inspirational story for years. The colorful 91-year-old “diva,” known for wearing leopard print and high heels, has spent decades running her late husband’s tailoring business, the last shop in a dying mall in Kansas City. When she is evicted, Sonia must face another of life’s challenges: her fear of retirement. Winner of numerous audience awards at film festivals throughout the country, Sonia’s inspiring story reveals that it’s up to you to choose your future. (93 mins., Blu-Ray)
June 21 – Wednesday 7 p.m.
A GRAIN OF TRUTH
Directed by Borys Lankosz
Once the star of the Warsaw prosecutor’s office, Teodor Szacki, has retired to a small town to start a new life after his divorce. But he is called upon to help solve a grisly local case: a woman, a prominent social activist, has been brutally murdered outside a synagogue, and a knife used for kosher slaughter of animals is found nearby. More violent murders provoke a wave of anti-Semitism, and Szacki must not only solve the crimes, but also face public hysteria and the simmering history of Polish-Jewish relations. Based on the best-selling novel by Polish author Zygmunt Miłoszewsk, Lankosz’s tense detective thriller explores contemporary xenophobia and the power of centuries of superstition. (110 mins., DCP)
June 22 – Thursday 7 p.m.
Directed by David Bezmozgis
Sixteen-year-old slacker Mark is the son of Russian-Jewish immigrants in the suburbs of Toronto. When his uncle enters into an arranged marriage with a woman from Moscow, she arrives with her troubled 14-year old daughter, Natasha. A secret and forbidden romance begins between the two of them that has bizarre and tragic consequences for everyone involved. Natasha is adapted from Bezmozgis’s collection of short stories, “Natasha and Other Stories,” which was named a New York Times Notable Book and has been translated into 15 languages. (97 mins., DCP)
June 24 – Saturday 4 p.m.
June 26 – Monday 7 p.m.
TO BE OR NOT TO BE
Directed by Ernst Lubitsch
United States, 1942
Like Chaplin’s The Great Dictator, Lubitsch’s film was widely criticized upon release for trying to find laughs in Hitler’s assault on civilization and, in this case, the desperate and tragic situation in Poland. But on its 75th anniversary, it remains a black-humored classic and one of the most profound comedies ever made. Jack Benny and Carole Lombard star in this story about a Polish theater company mixed up in espionage in Gestapo-ruled Warsaw. A send-up of Nazi mystique and manners, it also endures as a prime example of the famed “Lubitsch touch”—witty, stylish, and broadly satiric. (99 mins., DCP)
June 24 – Saturday 6:30 p.m.
Directed by Ori Sivan
A contemporary adaptation of the biblical tale of Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar, Harmonia presents a poignant metaphor for the contemporary challenges facing Israel’s sibling religions. Sarah, a harpist in the Jerusalem Philharmonic Orchestra, is married to Abraham, its charismatic conductor, and they have no children. When Hagar, a young Arab horn player, joins the orchestra, a unique friendship evolves between the two women. Hagar, feeling Sarah’s pain from not having children, offers to have a baby for Sarah. Ismail, born to Hagar and Abraham, is a wild and gifted pianist whom Sarah raises as her own. But when Ismail discovers the true identity of his mother, his world—and that of those around him—falls apart. (98 mins., DCP)
June 24 – Saturday 8:45 p.m.
BEYOND THE MOUNTAINS AND HILLS
Directed by Eran Kolirin
Nominated for six Israeli Academy awards, including Best Picture, this film by writer-director Eran Kolirin (The Band’s Visit) weaves several narratives into a moving portrait of a family and a society at a crossroads. Facing a difficult transition after 27 years of military service, Lieutenant-Colonel David Greenbaum takes a dispiriting job as a salesman, while the rest of his increasingly alienated family struggle with their own issues. His wife, a high school teacher, begins an affair; his activist teenage daughter forms a troubling bond with Arab neighbors; and his son observes the simmering tensions from afar. As David’s household unravels, blind frustration leads to an impulsive act, triggering a cascade of events that corrupt everyone’s innocence. “Like an Israeli American Beauty… a poignant and political family drama.”—The Hollywood Reporter. (92 mins., DCP)
June 25 – Sunday 7 p.m.
MOON IN THE 12TH HOUSE
Directed by Dorit Hakim
Sisters Mira and Lenny, separated at youth by traumatic circumstances, are young women when they meet again. The older and wilder Mira, who works in a hip Tel Aviv nightclub, unexpectedly returns to their childhood home, where the dutiful Lenny has stayed to care for their father. This reunion leads them on an emotional journey of healing and reconciliation. Commanding performances and hypnotic cinematography elevate this moving meditation on family ties and lost youth. Opening Night, New York Jewish Film Festival. (109 mins., DCP)
June 25 – Sunday 4:30 p.m.
Directed by Alon Schwarz, Shaul Schwarz
Israel/United States/Germany, 2016
In this sweeping international story that begins in World War II and concludes in an emotional family reunion seven decades later, layers of family history and untold secrets surface. Izak Szewelewicz was born inside the Bergen-Belsen Displaced Persons camp in 1945 and put up for adoption in Israel. Secret details of his birth mother, an unknown brother in Canada, and his father’s true identity slowly emerge in a heartfelt story that raises poignant questions of identity, resilience, compassion, and the plight of displaced persons. Closure comes when brothers Izak and Shep meet in Canada and travel to Quebec to meet Aida, their mysterious elderly mother. Winner of the Audience Award at 2016 Docaviv International Film Festival. (90 mins., DCP)