Screen Time


Still standing -- and still expanding.

That's the Las Vegas Jewish Film Festival, which begins its ninth annual run tonight -- and continues through the end of the month at three separate venues.

The festival opens tonight with the award-winning Israeli drama "Lemon Tree" -- and closes Jan. 31 with "The Little Traitor," another award-winning Israeli film (see schedule below).

In between, 15 additional features and documentaries explore a world of subjects with movies originating from Peru to Switzerland, North Africa to North America.

The 2010 cancellation of CineVegas, Las Vegas' largest cinematic celebration, makes the Jewish Film Festival the longest-running active film festival in Southern Nevada, observes festival director Joshua Abbey.

"CineVegas helped lay the groundwork to establish film festivals as a popular attraction in Las Vegas," says Abbey, who was one of CineVegas' founders. "The audiences it developed will also appreciate and gravitate to this film festival."

The fact that the Jewish Film Festival is not only surviving but thriving -- with four more movies scheduled this year than last -- brings "a tremendous sense of achievement," he says.

In part, that's because the festival "reaches out beyond just the Jewish community" to appeal to movie lovers of all backgrounds.

After all, "not every city has an art cinema like New York or L.A.," notes filmmaker Gaylen Ross, who'll be at the festival Monday to lead a discussion following a screening of her documentary "Killing Kasztner," which has played theatrically on both coasts.

In Abbey's view, "it's really a rare opportunity" for movie fans to see movies that "bypass Las Vegas" and "may or may not make it to cable."

Unlike many festivals programmed by individuals or small committees, sponsoring organizations choose the Las Vegas Jewish Film Festival's lineup.

"We gave each group two to three films to choose from -- they could not make a wrong choice," Abbey explains. "It's a collaborative effort."

And, especially this year, he's "impressed with the variety and depth of content" selected by more than a dozen sponsoring groups, including synagogues, schools and service organizations. (Festival proceeds will benefit Jewish Family Service Agency of Las Vegas, where Abbey is executive director.)

Several of this year's selections -- including Sunday's "Inside Hana's Suitcase" and Monday's "Four Seasons Lodge" -- "are related to the Holocaust," Abbey notes.

And he finds their themes particularly timely in light of a recent controversy surrounding Las Vegas teacher Lori Sublette, who allegedly denied the Holocaust in her Northwest Career and Technical Academy classroom.

Director Richard Trank, whose documentary "Against the Tide" focuses on conflicts within the American Jewish community before the United States entered World War II, notes how the movie not only explores "what happened in history" but draws "parallels with things going on today."

Among those connections, he says, are "people whose lives were touched by the Holocaust," including the daughter of one Holocaust survivor who now works "photographing genocide in Rwanda and Darfur."

Other festival features, including contemporary Israeli dramas, "have to do with tolerance and hate and diversity," notes Abbey, who says he's "excited to see what kind of dialogue" will develop following their screenings.

But the festival also features lighter fare.

"A Matter of Size," a comedy about an Israeli sumo wrestling club, has been the biggest hit on the Jewish film festival circuit this year, Abbey says.

And "The Yankles," from the filmmaking Brooks brothers Zev and David, focuses on a disgraced professional baseball player who winds up coaching an upstart team of students at an Orthodox Jewish yeshiva.

"For us to be in the Las Vegas Jewish Film Festival is sort of a homecoming," Zev Brooks says -- in part because the Brooks brothers' rabbi father, Hershel, formerly served at Las Vegas' Temple Bet Knesset Bamidbar. And, he adds, "the Las Vegas community has been very supportive of this film."

Looking for a project that was "fresh and unique," the Brooks brothers concocted a comedy aimed at reaching "as broad an audience as possible," Zev Brooks explains.

The festival's also a homecoming of sorts for filmmaker Ben Loeterman, who spent seven months in Las Vegas directing the Sundance Channel reality series "Sin City Law" -- where it was "all court, all the time."

Loeterman's "The People vs. Leo Frank" (which aired on PBS in many cities, but not Las Vegas) focuses on a 1913 murder trial that sparked the Ku Klux Klan's revival -- and the founding of the B'nai B'rith's Anti-Defamation League.

"The lessons of the Frank case are still very much with us," Loeterman says, citing questions of racial, regional and religious bias that continue to resonate.

Contact movie critic Carol Cling at ccling@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0272.

2009 LAS VEGAS JEWISH FILM FESTIVAL

The ninth annual festival runs tonight and Jan. 28 at Cinemark's Century South Point, 9777 Las Vegas Blvd. South; Saturday through Monday, plus Jan. 21, 23 and 24 and Jan. 30-31 at the Adelson School Performing Arts Center, 9700 Hillpointe Road; and Jan. 28 at Greenspun Hall, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, 4505 S. Maryland Parkway. Screenings are at the Adelson School, except where noted otherwise; tickets are $10 (except for free programs as indicated) and are available online at www.jfsalv.org; call 732-0304 for additional information.

The complete schedule

TONIGHT
7 p.m. "Lemon Tree" (2008) -- at South Point
A Palestinian widow ("The Visitor's" Hiam Abbass) tests the integrity of the Israeli justice system when the Israeli Defense Minister moves in next door -- and threatens to have her lemon grove torn down.

SATURDAY
• 7 p.m. "Jaffa" (2009)
This contemporary story of star-crossed love between a young Jewish woman and an Arab mechanic unfolds in the ancient title city, where Jews and Arabs live an uneasy alliance.

SUNDAY
• 1 p.m. "Inside Hana's Suitcase" (2009) -- Free, limited seating
When Japanese students and their teacher receive a battered suitcase from Auschwitz, they seek to solve the mystery of a young girl whose name was painted inside.
• 4 p.m. "A Matter of Size" (2009)
Overweight, underemployed Herzl, working as a dishwasher in a Japanese restaurant, discovers sumo wrestling -- a sport where his size is an asset.

MONDAY
• 1 p.m. "Four Seasons Lodge" (2008)
This documentary focuses on Holocaust survivors who reunite each summer to celebrate their lives -- and find inner peace despite their memories.
• 6 p.m. "Killing Kasztner" (2009)
This documentary focuses on Rezso Kasztner, known as the Jewish Schindler, who saved 1700 Jews on a train to Switzerland by negotiating with Adolf Eichmann -- and was condemned in Israel as a traitor and assassinated by Jewish extremists in 1957.

JAN. 21
• 7 p.m. "Against the Tide" (2009)
A documentary look at what happened in the U.S. during the Holocaust -- and the radical activist who challenged both Washington and the Jewish establishment to demand the rescue of Europe's Jews. JAN. 23
• 7 p.m. "The Wedding Song" (2008)
The Nazi occupation of Tunisia strains the bonds of friendship between a Muslim woman and a Sephardic Jewess who are both preparing for their marriages in a traditional society.

JAN. 24
• 1 p.m. "Love and Religion: The Challenge of Interfaith Relationships" (2009) -- Free, limited seating
Interfaith couples discuss issues they face as partners from different religious backgrounds.
• 4 p.m. "Matchmaker: In Search of a Kosher Man" (2006)
In Zurich, a young woman decides it's time to find a Jewish husband -- and tries to make a match by baking challah with various prospects.
• 7 p.m. "The Impossible Spy" (1987)
The story of Israeli spy Eli Cohen (John Shea), who joined the Mossad in the early '60s and infiltrated the Syranian political establishment, learning secrets crucial to Israel's victory in the Six Day War of 1967.

JAN. 28
• 7 p.m. "Zrubavel" (2008) -- Free with student ID; at Greenspun Hall, UNLV
A look at conflicts faced by Ethiopian Jews in Israel, from their love for their new homeland to the racism they face -- and the clash between generations torn between tradition and assimilation.
• 7 p.m. "The Fire Within" (2009) -- Free, limited seating; at South Point
A documentary about the conversion process of a contemporary Peruvian community descended from indigenous women and Jewish men who settled the Amazon in the late 19th century.

JAN. 30
• 7 p.m. "The Yankles" (2009)
A disgraced professional baseball player (Brian Wimmer) performing mandatory community service coaches an upstart team of Orthodox yeshiva students.

JAN. 31
• 1 p.m. "Praying in Her Own Voice" (2009)
A documentary about the "Women of the Wall" movement battling for female equality at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.
• 4 p.m. "The People vs. Leo Frank" (2009)
This dramatized documentary, based on actual court transcripts, explores the racial, religious and regional biases surrounding the 1913 trial of a Jewish factory manager convicted of -- and lynched for -- murdering a 13-year-old girl.
• 7 p.m. "The Little Traitor" (2007)
In 1947 Palestine, on the eve of Israeli independence, an unlikely friendship develops between a British officer (Alfred Molina) -- and an 11-year-old Jewish boy who wants the British out.

 

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