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 firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0272.