This Weekend: 10th Annual Austin Jewish Film Festival
The 10th annual Austin Jewish Film Festival starts this Saturday, March 24, and runs through March 30. In addition, the fest is hosting a special festival kickoff celebration: David Amram in concert on Thursday, March 22.
The fest includes 25 international feature films and shorts from Denmark, France, Israel, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Poland, UK, and the U.S., which will be shown at Regal Arbor.
The AJFF Kickoff Celebration is a David Amram concert on March 22, presented at Congregation Agudas Achim on the Dell Jewish Community Campus (7300 Hart Lane) at 7:30 pm. Thanks to underwriting by the Austin Jewish Film Festival, concert tickets are only $10. This is a rare opportunity to see/hear this amazing musician.
Amram is also the subject of a documentary that will screen on opening night: David Amram, The First 80 Years. Amram and the documentary director will be present for a Q&A after the film.
The 81-year-old composer, musician, conductor and writer has explored and combined classical music, jazz, folk music, and world music. He has performed with other musical giants such as Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, Lionel Hamton, Charles Mingus, Mary Lou Williams, Miles David, Nina Simone, Arturo Sandoval, and Stan Getz; with authors Langston Hughes, Arthur Miller, Gregory Korso, Allen Ginsberg, and Jack Kerouac; with film director Elia Kazan; and with actors Dustin Hoffman and Johnny Depp. There seems to be no limits to his musical abilities, and this concert promises to be a major event in Austin cultural history.
The Amram documentary will be preceded by Praying with My Legs, a short work in progress about the theologian and social activist Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. Then at 10 pm, in an abrupt change of tone, the festival bravely presents the first Israeli slasher film, Rabies (2010).
On Sunday, March 25, AJFF opens with an encore of the David Amram doc, followed by David (USA, 2011), a gentle-sounding film about the friendship between the son of a Brooklyn imam and a young Yeshiva student. The Five Houses of Lea Goldberg (Israel, 2011) presents a stylistic tribute to a beloved poet. Director Yair Qedar will be present for a Q&A after the screening.
Two films are scheduled for Sunday night. Restoration (Israel, 2011) is a provocative tale of restoring furniture and dissolving family ties. The Names of Love (France, 2010) is a political comedy which shows that “Make Love Not War” might actually work. Shorts will generally accompany each feature.
Monday's selections start at noon with a powerful short documentary, Finding Kalman (USA, 2011), about a boy lost in Holocaust fires but immortalized in paintings by a later family member. That night, you can see Bride Flight (Netherlands, 2008), a fascinating narrative feature about postwar Dutch "mail-order" brides going to New Zealand to start new lives. My Lovely Sister (Israel, 2011) draws from a Moroccan Jewish folktale about sibling rivalry, family banishment and a ghostly visitor.
Tuesday afternoon will provide a free screening of My Lovely Sister and a "Best of the Fest" feature (TBA), also free. That night opens with Torn (Israel, 2011), a compelling doc about a Jewish boy, rescued by a Polish Catholic family during WWII, who becomes a Catholic priest. Upon retirement in his sixties, he decides to go to Israel to learn more about his past and his parents’ religion, but with no intentions of giving up his Catholic faith. Intimate Grammar (Israel, 2010) concerns the social dilemmas of a boy whose body won’t mature to match his mind at the time of the Six Day War (1967).
Wednesday, March 28, provides an afternoon of free screenings: Intimate Grammar and a previous festival favorite, The Band's Visit (Israel, 2007) -- a whimsical comedy about a visiting Egyptian police band who ends up in the wrong Israeli village -- as well as various shorts.
Wednesday night marks Polish Heritage Night with two powerful films previously shown at the Austin Polish Film Festival: Joanna (2010) and Little Rose (2010). In the former, a Polish Catholic woman is led to become the lover of a Nazi officer in order to protect the young Jewish girl she is hiding. In the latter a beautiful woman, betrothed to a member of the Polish secret police, is forced by her lover to spy on a writer/professor suspected of Zionist support and anti-Soviet attitudes. What Little Rose didn’t count on was falling in love with her quarry. These two films are co-sponsored by Austin Film Society, the Austin Polish Society and APFF.
Little Rose screens again on Thursday at noon for free. The afternoon lineup also includes Foreign Letters (USA, 2011), in which the title correspondence provides a young Israeli immigrant girl with a new friend, a Vietnamese girl. Together they learn about America, English, and friendship.
Thursday night will bring Crime After Crime (USA, 2011), a heart-rending documentary about two determined lawyers -- one, an Orthodox Jew -- who believe in the innocence of their pro-bono client, an African-American woman who spent 26 years in prison for a murder she didn’t commit. Filmmaker Yoav Potash will be present for a Q&A. The night ends with The Infidel (UK, 2010), a comedy about a semi-observant Muslim who discovers he is Jewish, just as his daughter is planning her wedding.
Friday afternoon will end AJFF with screenings of various short narrative films and documentaries.
There are several ways you can attend the Austin Jewish Film Festival: a festival badge ($150), a "flex pass" good for ten films ($60), and individual tickets ($8 general and $6 for students with ID and seniors). Weekday noontime screenings have free admission. For badge, pass and ticket orders, as well as the full schedule and complete film descriptions, check the official AJFF website. Tickets and passes can also be bought at the Arbor before screenings.
Chale Nafus is the Director of Programming at the Austin Film Society.