The 19th Annual “New York Jewish Film Festival” January 13-28

"Mary and Max" is the first claymation film to play at the New York Jewish Film Festival

It may seem odd for a film critic to write about movies he has not yet seen, but then again unseen films comprise the fun and mystery of a film festival.  The 19thannual “New York Jewish Film Festival” will run from January 13th through the 28th.  A film festival at its best can be a veritable cornucopia of untested commodities for the curious and adventurous filmgoer to discover and this year’s festival is shaping up to be no exception.

The festival will consist of 32 films from 13 countries and will include features, documentaries, animation and shorts. Twenty-Eight of the films will be having their New York, and in some cases U.S., premieres.  Many of the filmmakers, along with special guests, will be in attendance to engage in post screening discussions with festival audiences.  Most of the screenings will be held at The Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Walter Reade Theatre with additional screenings at The Jewish Museum and the JCC in Manhattan.  Like any festival-goer I have had to rely largely on descriptions to see what appeals to me.

My rule of thumb for film festivals is to stick with the documentaries of which this year’s festival will be presenting 11.  Two of the documentaries, “Gevald!” and “Chronicle of a Kidnap” are from Israel.   “Gevald!” juxtaposes the lives of two of Isreal’s ultra-orthodox leaders Shmuel Chaim Pappenheim and Avraham Ravitz.  “Chronicle of a Kidnap” follows activist Karnit Goldwasser who stepped into the media spotlight when her husband, a soldier, was abducted in 2006 by Hezbollah in Lebanon.  Another documentary that looks good is “Making the Crooked Straight,” a short about an orthodox Jewish doctor from Long Island, Dr. Rick Hodes, who has dedicated his career to healing the sick and poor of Ethiopia.  It will precede the screening of “Ahead of Time,” an interesting sounding documentary about the seven decades long career of foreign correspondent and photojournalist Ruth Gruber.

My advice about documentaries does not mean that one should shirk the narratives.  In fact the only one of this year’s festival’s movies that I have actually seen is a very good drama that will be the festival’s closing night film, “Within the Whirlwind.”  Emily Watson gives a stirring and heart wrenching performance as Russian Jewish poet Evgenia Ginzburg who, under Stalinist Russia, was sentenced to and survived 10 years in a Siberian gulag.   The film is touching, harrowing and life affirming.

As Ms. Watson’s presence demonstrates, no film festival would be complete without celebrities.   The festival’s unique answer to that will be a festival first, a claymation movie.  The film, “Mary and Max,” stars the voices of Philip Seymour Hoffman, Toni Collette, Eric Bana and Barry “Dame Edna” Humphries.  The story concerns a pen-pal relationship between Mary, an eight-year-old living in the suburbs of Melbourne Australia, and Max Horovitz, a 44-year-old obese New Yorker.

While the subjects are obviously all very different, taken as a whole the festival’s films all contribute to the common theme of a global perspective on the Jewish experience.  For complete festival information  visit www.FilmLinc.com orwww.TheJewishMuseum.org or call (212) 875-5601.  For tickets and information about the JCC screening visit www.jccmanhattan.org or call (646) 505-5708.

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About unpaidfilmcritic

Up until 2009 Seth Shire spent nearly two decades in the New York film industry as a post production supervisor of feature films. Highlights include working on the films of Martin Scorsese, James Toback and Spike Lee. Since leaving the film industry Seth has expanded into new and varied areas where he has found a great deal of satisfaction. Seth currently teaches in the Sociology Department of CUNY Queens College. His courses include "Mass Media and Popular Culture," "Introduction to Sociology," and "Sociology of Cinema" where he is a very popular teacher. Seth is also the film critic for "Town & Village," a Manhattan weekly newspaper, a position he has held for the past six years. Seth gives back to his community through volunteer teaching at Manhattan's "The Caring Community," a center for senior citizens, where he teaches a very popular course on documentaries called "The Golden Age of the Documentary. In the fall of 2010 Seth taught "Critical Reading and Writing" at Parsons School of Design. He has also taught "Cinema Studies" at the New York Film Academy. Seth lives in Stuyvesant Town, in Manhattan.

Posted on January 11, 2010, in Feature Articles. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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