Like a gorgeous holiday (or any day) meal made by my Jewish mother, this year’s New York Jewish Film Festival, co-sponsored by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and The Jewish Museum, is a banquet with seemingly endless offerings. (Ess, kinder.)
Forty-nine features and shorts from 10 countries, reflecting a vast variety of Jewish experience, both contemporary and historical, make up the main slate.
Amos Gitai, director of more than 80 films, and perhaps the dean of the lively Israeli film community, presents (in-person) his latest feature, “Ana Arabia,” photographed in a single, bravura 81-minute shot. Yael (Yuval Scharf), a brainy, red-headed young Israeli journalist, travels to Jaffa to investigate if the story of a Holocaust survivor who married an Arab and converted to Islam is more than an urban myth. In the small enclave she finds Jews and Arabs, a flourishing garden where there had been garbage (she’s told, “nature works harder than man”), and life that transcends the region’s clichés.
Gitai will also hold a free master class, part of NYJFF’s expansion this year into “beyond the screen” special programming. The presentations include Artist Focus: Yael Bartana, Focus On: Otto Preminger, Looking At: Saul Bass and Guest Selects: Wim Wenders.*
His classic road movie, “Paris, Texas,” will receive a special screening on the occasion of its 30th anniversary. While I have a vintage VHS and Criterion’s DVD, I’ve only seen “Paris, Texas” (the first film I worked on) on a big screen once, at Alice Tully, during the 1984 New York Film Festival and can’t wait to watch it again in optimum conditions.
Wenders’ selections include Israeli director Nir Berman’s moving first feature, “Broken Wings,” (2002) a well-acted story of family tragedy–unusual for an Israel film when it was released for dealing with a freak yet mundane death, rather than a tragedy caused by the geopolitical situation in the region.
The 23nd annual New York Jewish Film Festival, at the Film Society’s Walter Reade Theater and Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center, will run through January 23.
*In the I-can’t-resist department: When I first heard that Wim would be NYJFF’s inaugural Guest Selects director, I spontaneously started singing a favorite satirical song, “Would You Believe It,” from a classic 60s comedy album owned by my parents, “When You’re In Love the Whole World Is Jewish.” As I remembered, it began: “Steve McQueen** is Jewish, would you believe it? Such a living doll, in a prayer shawl.”
The song was infinitely adaptable–insert any name. And we did, with names as outlandishly unlikely as possible–like Wim’s–as a way to make fun of our wonderful, usually too savvy mother who had a habit of declaring anyone who had characteristics that appealed to her (handsome, brilliant, kind, a Democrat, etc.) a member of the tribe.
Of course, in mom’s defense, it could be hard to tell just by a name. We’re Holland. And there was her cousin Dennis Cunningham, who admittedly had a very unexpected surname. And the apocryphal story she told of some Jews, when asked their names at Ellis Island nervously replying in Yiddish, “Ich habe vergessen”–I’ve forgotten–and entering the new country called Ferguson.
**no, not the director, the other one