THE Savannah Jewish Film Festival is back with nine films to share with the community.
For more than a decade, the celebration of fresh voices and narratives in the Jewish community has brought one-of-a-kind, acclaimed films to town.
For the 2018 festival, JFF offers a spectrum of picks for movie lovers, ranging from comedy to drama to documentary.
This year marks the 70th anniversary of Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel, and the film festival’s selection is reflective of that milestone.
“The whole festival is about Jewish experiences, but this year, we tried to focus more on Israel at 70,” organizer Jacqui Drazen says.
To create their program, the JFF committee began with a list of roughly 40 films, pouring over trailers and reviews to narrow down the lineup.
“The committee considers each of the film’s themes of identity, history, culture of Judaism,” Drazen explains. “It’s a long process. We start meeting in the early summer, and by November, we had our meeting to finalize the films.”
The festival kicks off with The Testament, a 2017 drama in Hebrew. Yoel, a historian leading a debate against Holocaust deniers, suddenly discovers that his mother carries a false identity. Ori Pfeffer, best known for starring in Hacksaw Ridge, Princess, and You Don’t Mess with the Zohan, takes on the leading role.
Keep the drama going with Menashe, a film about a goodhearted but somewhat hapless grocery store clerk. Within New York’s Hasidic Jewish community, Menashe struggles against tradition to keep custody of his son following his wife’s death.
On Tuesday, experience The 90 Minute War, a satirical narrative about both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict settling their differences on the soccer field.
As a first-year committee member, Drazen is particularly excited to see a romantic comedy in this year’s mix. The Wedding Plan focuses on Michal, a bride-to-be who finds herself jilted on the eve of her wedding and refuses to cancel the ceremony, insisting that God will find her a husband.
“Our committee really loved it!” says Drazen. “As soon as we saw the trailer, we knew it was a shoo-in. It didn’t win a lot of awards in the film circuit, but it’s a really good, feel-good movie and very funny.”
Comedy/drama fans will also want to check out The Women’s Balcony. Set in the devout Orthodox community in Jerusalem, the 2016 film chronicles a rift in the church after a bar mitzvah mishap. The film, which explores gender, religion, and tradition, was a box office smash in Israel.
If mysteries are more your pace, mark your calendar for Past Life. Set in Jerusalem in 1977, Past Life follows two sisters, the daughters of Holocaust survivors, unearthing the mystery of their father’s wartime experiences. Written and directed by Avi Nesher (Timebomb, The Matchmaker), the film is inspired by a true story.
Speaking of true stories, how about some documentaries? Meet the inimitable “Big” Sonia Warshawski in Big Sonia. A Holocaust survivor and total diva, Sonia revisits her past as a refugee after her business receives an eviction notice.
In In Our Hands: The Battle for Jerusalem, audiences learn about Israel’s 55th Paratrooper Brigade and how Israel Defense Forces risked everything for the sake of their homeland.
See the story of Marion Kreith and her experience escaping war-torn Europe as a young girl in Cuba’s Forgotten Jewels. Per JFF tradition, every film is preceded by a lunch or dinner, often theming each meal based on the movie to follow. Cuba’s Forgotten Jewels will certainly make for a tasty Havana affair.
“The family evaded the Nazis by escaping to Havana,” Drazen explains, “so we got together with the caterer and committee and we’re doing a mojo lime chicken with black beans, rice, and vegetables. Our caterer, Bryan Graves, is amazing, and he really helps us develop a menu that reflects the films.”
Reservations should be made in advance for all meals and receptions. Attendees can be book their spots through savannahjea.org.
As it celebrates its 16th year, the JFF welcomes all to its dinners and screenings.
“I think it is a unique experience,” says Drazen. “I don’t think it’s just a Jewish experience. I think Savannah itself is a very diverse city, which is why so many people love living here. The Film Festival really is a part of that diversity, and the Jewish community it’s celebrating its 286th year in Savannah. The Jewish community is really in the fabric of the city itself, and I think it’s important for us to live and thrive together, love together. And we should watch films together.”