Any way you slice it, the 12th Annual Joan and Murray Gefen Memorial Savannah Jewish Film Festival is quite a mouthful.
Fortunately, SJFF organizers have arranged the festival’s tremendous breadth of topics into an easily digestible format: Ten films in ten days, with plenty of noshing in between.
It’s nothing new that food is a groyser kunst (big deal) in Jewish culture, but it seems that audiences are simply starving for films about Jewish cuisine. Bellies are bound to rumble at the line-up at this year’s festival, lighting up the ballroom at the Jewish Educational Alliance Jan. 27 through Feb. 6.
“It was never our intention for there to be a food theme, but there were just a number of really enjoyable films to choose from this year that seemed to have something to do with food,” says coordinator Lynn Levine.
The first ever “Foodie Day” begins with the Jan. 28 daytime screening of In Search of Israeli Cuisine, a gastronomic tour of the Holy Land that goes far beyond falafel and matzah ball soup. Chef Michael Solomonov explores the culinary offerings of over 70 ethnicities, serving up a mouth-watering pictorial of Old World tradition and New World tastes in one tiny country. Only in Israel does Polish kreplach meet Moroccan spices, and the result is one of the most dynamic foodie scenes in the world.
Later that evening, it’s all about the American pastime of pastrami sandwiches and kosher pickles: Deli Man tracks the history and current state of the typical Jewish delicatessen—and its rather untypical success in places like Houston, Texas. Even as famous delis like Katz’s in New York City close, outposts around the country thrive, continuing to bring the traditions of stuffed cabbage and smoked whitefish to the masses.
You may have already heard of Dough, the smash hit from Britain that’s giving everyone the munchies. Screening Saturday, Jan. 30, Dough stars the award-winning Jonathan Pryce as an orthodox Jewish baker who hires a young Muslim assistant who happens to be a part-time weed dealer. Hilarious high-jinks ensue when the young man adds a little sumpin’ to the challah and everyone gets baked, but there’s more to the message than goofy giggles.
“This is a universal story,” writes Dough’s director John Goldschmidt.
“Two guys as different as can be, divided by race, religion, and age. Both prejudiced about the other, but needing each other to survive. [In a time when] tensions between Muslims and Jews are increasing worldwide, the best way to challenge prejudice is through comedy.”
The festival assuages both intellectual appetites as well as visceral ones: Almost every screening is preceded by a delicious catered kosher meal or dessert reception from the JEA kitchen. Levine recommends that reservations are made at least 48 hours in advance; experienced festivalgoers know these snacks and suppers always sell out.
Though somebody’s bubbe will beg to differ, Jewish life isn’t all about the food. The festival opens on Jan. 27 with the Christopher Plummer-Martin Landau thriller Remember, chronicling the efforts of an Auschwitz survivor to track his family’s killers. The screening coincides with the United Nations’ International Holocaust Remembrance Day, as communities around the country reflect on the six million Jews and four million others murdered under the Nazi regime during WWII.
Those who think Jews and football aren’t a common pairing ought to check out Touchdown Israel on Thursday, Feb. 4. (You should also know about former Atlanta Falcons offensive tackle Gabe Carimi, but that’s another shpiel.) Touchdown Israel shines the Friday night lights upon the growing popularity of American football in the Holy Land, where a league of 11 teams comprised of Jews, Arabs and Christians leave their differences on the sidelines and bash helmets in the name of gridiron glory.
Nobody could ever deny the Jewish influence on show biz, and the festival closes on Saturday, Feb. 6 with a tribute to one of modern movies’ biggest machers (big shots.) Marvin Hamlisch: What He Did For Love showcases the life and art of a composer who earned three Oscars, four Emmys, a Tony and a Pulitzer for his contributions to the American songbook. Barbra Streisand, Quincy Jones and Carly Simon offer their adulation to the man who penned some of their most popular hits, proving that nobody did it better than Marvin Hamlisch.
Also on the SJFF marquee is the musical doc 100 Voices: A Journey Home, the Hebrew-with-English-subtitled Apples from the Desert, and The Green Prince, the award-winning true story of Palestinian Mosab Hassan Yousef, a son of one of the founding members of Hamas who is captured by the Israeli army and forms an unlikely alliance.
Tickets for the festival screenings are $10 each and open to the public, and most are appropriate for the whole mishpocha (family.) For members of Savannah’s historic Jewish community, it’s a way to engage and educate their neighbors and friends.
“The Savannah Jewish Film Festival and its great films are an annual opportunity for us to showcase the richness of the Jewish experience in America and throughout the world,” says Levine.
“Whether documentaries or narrative stories, comedies or dramas, stories of religious observance, history or culture, diverse audiences can enjoy, learn from and relate to shared experiences through the Festival’s films.”
Savannah Jewish Film Festival
When: Wednesday, Jan. 27-Saturday, Feb. 6
Where: Jewish Educational Alliance, 5111 Abercorn
Tickets: $10/$8 members per screening; $100/$80 full festival passes
Info and schedule: savannahJEA.org