Twenty-eight world, U.S. and New York premieres are on tap for the 21st New York Jewish Film Festival, opening January 11 with the New York debut of Guy Nattiv's "Mabul" (The Flood).
In all, 35 features and shorts from 11 countries will screen during the event, presented by the Jewish Museum and the Film Society of Lincoln Center at the Walter Reade Theater and Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center January 11 – 26. Closing out the festival will be the world premiere of Caroline Laskow and Ian Rosenberg's "Welcome to Kutsher's: The Last Catskills Resort," which focuses on the last surviving Jewish resort in the Catskills, in its heyday one of the legendary "Borscht Belt" hotels.
Highlights from the 21st New York Jewish Film Festival with descriptions and information provided by the Film Society of Lincoln Center:
[For a full lineup and more information, visit the Film Society of Lincoln Center's website.]
Guy Nattiv's "Mabul" (The Flood) – Opening Film:
Yoni, almost 13 and smart but physically underdeveloped, faces bullying by classmates, parents who barely say a word to each other, and a 17-year-old autistic brother who returns home from an institution right before Yoni's bar mitzvah. Buried secrets come to light, and Yoni's bar mitzvah Torah portion – Noah and the flood – becomes a metaphor for the family's fragile and frozen existence. Nominated for six Ophir Awards (Israeli Academy Awards), "Mabul" features unforgettable performances by Ronit Elkabetz, Tzahi Grad and Michael Moshonov.
Caroline Laskow and Ian Rosenberg's "Welcome to Kutsher's: The Last Catskills Resort":
The film focuses on the last surviving Jewish resort in the Catskills, in its heyday one of the legendary "Borscht Belt" hotels. These resorts were not only a Jewish vacation paradise, they also had significant influence on enter tainment, stand-up comedy and sports. This enjoyable documentary features a young Wilt Chamberlain play ing ball and working as a bellhop at Kutsher's, Freddie Roman's classic comedy routine, ice skating instructor Olga Duffy hopping up on the Zamboni, and an abundance of hearty kosher feasts.
World premiere documentaries:
Jonathan Gruber and Ari Daniel Pinchot's "Follow Me: The Yoni Netanyahu Story":
The film presents a moving portrait of Jonathan "Yoni" Netanyahu, who was killed at the age of 30 leading Israeli special forces in the 1976 hostage rescue mission at the Entebbe Airport in Uganda. Yoni's life is explored through his own poetry, prose, and letters. The film also includes rarely seen footage of the Entebbe raid itself, as covered by journalism legend Walter Cronkite, home movies, and interviews with such figures as Yoni's brother, Benjamin Netanyahu.
Avishai Yeganyahu Mekonen and Shari Rothfarb Mekonen's "400 Miles to Freedom":
The film documents the 1984 escape from Ethiopia to Israel of the Beta Israel, a secluded 2,500-year-old community of observant Jews in the northern Ethiopian mountains. Co-director Avishai Mekonen breaks his silence about the kidnapping he endured as a ten-year-old child in Sudan during the community's exodus.
Joel Katz's "White: A Memoir in Color":
Katz explores what it means to be white in America through the story of his own family across generations. His father's role as a white professor at Howard University, a traditionally black college, during the civil rights era comes to bear on his and his wife's decision to adopt a mixed-race child.
Sam Ball's "Joann Sfar Draws from Memory":
The film details the life of graphic novelist and filmmaker Joann Sfar, author of the popular The Rabbi's Cat series and director of the recent film,Serge Gainsbourg (Vie Heroique), as he visits favorite Parisian neighborhood spots, and muses on his artistic process and the influence of his Algerian and East European family heritage.
Adrian Panek's "Daas":
A dazzling period drama, the film explores the influence of 18th-century false messiah Jacob Frank. The film presents a tale of intrigue and conspiracy, showing Frank's influence as seen through the lives of a Viennese lawyer investigating him as a threat to the Austrian Empire, and a Jewish former disciple seeking justice.
Branko Ivanda's "Lea and Darija":
The film tells the story of Lea Deutsch, known as the Croatian Shirley Temple, and her friend and dancing partner Darija Gasteiger, talented and exuberant 13-year-old girls who were great stars in Zagreb before World War II. Nazi persecution of Jews and, later, German nationals' flight from communists test their friendship.
Thierry Binisti's "A Bottle in the Gaza Sea":
In this film, a 17-year-old Frenchwoman living in Jerusalem writes a letter expressing her refusal to accept that only hatred can reign between Israelis and Palestinians, and has her brother throw it into the sea near Gaza. A few weeks later, she receives a response from a mysterious young Palestinian named Naim. This engrossing and hopeful drama starring Hiam Abbas is based on the award-winning novel by Valerie Zenatti.
Eytan Fox's drama "Mary Lou":
A New York premiere, this film centers on a young man searching for his glamorous mother, years after she mysteriously disappears, learns about love with the help of the Tel Aviv gay community and Israeli pop music while performing as a drag queen. A cross between the television series Glee and the musical Mama Mia, by way of La Cage aux Folles, Mary Lou garnered the equivalent of the Israeli Emmy Award for best mini-series.
Gili Gaon's "Iraq 'N' Roll":
Also a New York premiere, the feature reveals the story of Salah al-Kuwaiti and his brother Daud, highly acclaimed Jewish musicians in 1930s Iraq considered the creators of modern Iraqi music; and details the efforts of Salah's grandson, popular Israeli rock musician Dudu Tassa, to remix the old tunes for contemporary listeners.
Danny Gold and Matthew Asner's "100 Voices: A Journey Home":
The film is a compelling and uplifting documentary that looks at Jewish culture in Poland, past and present, through a unique focus: 100 cantors from around the world who come together for concerts at the Warsaw Opera House and the Nozyk Synagogue.