THE Jewish International Film Festival (JIFF) returns to cinemas next month – one of the first Jewish film festivals in the world to come out of COVID-19 lockdown – with more than 50 feature films and documentaries on the program.
The festival opens with the Australian premiere of the award-winning Israeli film Incitement in Melbourne on February 17, in Sydney on February 18, as well as Canberra (February 17), Brisbane and Perth (February 18) in shorter programs.
JIFF artistic director Eddie Tamir admits that it was tough when COVID-19 forced the postponement, announced last July, of the festival originally planned to start last October.
“In the United States every Jewish film festival to date has been online, but we decided to move it to February-March because we love the shared-cinema experience,” he told The AJN ahead of this weekend’s program launch.
“The alchemy of JIFF, and the reason why it is so compelling, is the shared audience experience.”
In a treat for fans of the hit series Shtisel, JIFF will present an advance screening of the first two episodes of season three of Shtisel, filmed in Israel during lockdown and starring Michael Aloni, Dov Glickman and Shira Haas, which is set to premiere on Netflix later in the year.
“It’s a big coup for us,” said Tamir. “It’s very exciting how universal the series has became through Netflix, and it shows how the promotion of a native-language product originally meant for a local market can work globally.”
And in further good news for festival fans, JIFF will be held twice during 2021 in what Tamir describes as summer and spring festivals, including live Q&A panel discussions with directors as well as online events.
Incitement, which won the 2019 Ophir Award (Israeli Oscars) for best film and was Israel’s submission for the 2020 Academy Award for best international feature film, is a historical drama which follows the radicalisation of Israeli nationalist Yigal Amir in the year leading up to him assassinating Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995.
A law student and Orthodox Jew outraged by Rabin’s announcement of the Oslo Accords, Amir turns to violent extremism and begins to recruit fighters and gather weapons.
As he becomes fixated on his righteousness and his justification of the assassination, his mental health continues to decline.
Tamir commented: “In Incitement, director Yaron Zilberman gives a perspective on Yigal Amir, the assassin, and explores political division and the dangers of extremism that are still relevant today.”
Fans of Israel’s Shira Haas are in for a treat with two films starring the Shtisel and Unorthodox actress who is currently enjoying worldwide acclaim.
For her role in Asia, Haas won the 2020 Ophir Award for best actress for playing Vika, the rebellious daughter of mother Asia (Alena Yiv) who strives to live her own life.
Haas also stars in Esau alongside Harvey Keitel, Lior Ashkenazi and Mark Ivanir, the 2020 English-language film from acclaimed Russian-French director Pavel Lungin.
Esau follows a 40-year-old writer who returns to his family home after half a lifetime to face the brother who stole both his love and livelihood.
One of the headline films in JIFF is When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, a 2019 German-Swiss production directed by Caroline Link (Nowhere in Africa) which offers a moving perspective on the experience of German Jews who fled the country before World War II.
The only Australian film in the festival is director Mitzi Goldman’s documentary Jez: A Letter for Life, set around Jeremy Spinak – former president of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies – who was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer soon after becoming a father to twins.
Australian actor Guy Pearce stars in the American film, The Last Vermeer, playing renowned Dutch artist Han van Meegeren, who is accused of conspiring with the Nazis.
“It’s amazing how many films there are about art and the Holocaust and this film is about a Jewish resistance fighter who becomes a prosecutor after the war and tracks down an art dealer who was involved in shady dealings while acquiring paintings,” Tamir explained.
A major feature is the 2020 Russian film The Oath, directed by Roman Nesterenko, based on a true story of a doctor who runs a sanitarium and hides Jews during the war, injecting them with a drug that leaves them unconscious for a few hours.
After their death certificates are signed, they are removed from the sanitarium, allowing them to escape.
Hollywood star Anjelica Huston heads the cast in the British film, Waiting for Anya, set in 1943 in the picturesque French Pyrenees where Jewish children are being smuggled out of Nazi-occupied France to the safety of Spain.
The 2020 Israeli film, Here We Are, which enjoyed acclaim at the Cannes Film Festival, sees a father takes his autistic adult son on a road trip instead of sending him to a home. Here We Are is directed by Nir Bergman.
Among the documentaries screening at the festival are Ruth – Justice Ginsburg in Her Own Words, which tells how Ruth Bader Ginsburg – who died last September aged 87 – rose to become an Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court. Oscar winning director Freida Lee Mock presents a compelling portrait of Ginsburg.
In 1934, celebrated British film producer Alexander Korda signed up Winston Churchill as a screenwriter and historical adviser for his projects.
When World War II broke out, Korda was sent to Hollywood with the aim of bringing America into the war, as revealed in the documentary Churchill and the Movie Mogul.
The incredible story of an unlikely love affair between Auschwitz inmate Helena Citronova and an SS officer is told in Love, It Was Not.
Jewish and Arab chefs collaborate on dishes in a food festival established by Dr Nof Atamna-Ismaeel, the first Muslim Arab to win Israel’s MasterChef, in the documentary Breaking Bread.
Controversial Pope Pius XII’s response to Hitler and the Vatican’s inaction during World War II is told in the American documentary Holy Silence.
JIFF will be held in Melbourne from February 17 to March 16 at the Classic Cinemas Elsternwick and the Lido Cinemas Hawthorn.
In Sydney, the festival will be held from February 18 to March 17 at the Ritz Cinemas Randwick and Roseville Cinemas from March 6-24.
In Canberra at Dendy Cinemas from February 17-28, in Brisbane at New Farm Cinemas from February 18-28 and in Perth at Luna Palave Leederville from February 18 to March 3.