Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Atlanta Jewish Film Festival - Preview!

The Atlanta Jewish Film Festival launches in just one more week! Due to the generosity of the AJFF and their press representatives at GCI Group, I had access to 35 programs and was able to screen 25 of the films. (The holidays got in the way of finishing!) As the festival approaches, I'll be posting 'daily previews', three days in advance of the screenings, with more detailed reactions to the individual films. For now, briefly, here are the highlights of what was in that big, box of screeners!

The Opening Night feature is Helen Hunt's directorial debut, THEN SHE FOUND ME. Frankly, I've never been a big Helen Hunt fan, however she gives a great performance here, though her direction is satisfactory. Casting Bette Midler as her mother is nearly inspired. It is a really good choice for an opening night film, as it is commercial, accessible, enjoyable and the opening night crowd should leave feeling good and ready for the rest of the fest! It has encore screenings throughout the fest.

On the opposite end of the "comfortable/accessible" scale is THE MEMORY THIEF, directed by Gil Kofman. Though it is fiction, the performance by Mark Weber as a young man who becomes obsessed with survivors of the holocaust is disturbingly real. I MUST see this with an audience to see their reactions, as well as what should be a very animated Q&A afterward! It screens on January 24th.

Speaking of great performances, Valerie Harper gives a brilliant performance as Golda Meir in GOLDA'S BALCONY, which is an adaption of William Gibson's one-woman play (which Harper performed on Broadway). It is not necessarily cinematic, however it does capture a performer at her peak and in the role of a lifetime. It screens several times throughout the festival.

In the middle of the festival, the programmers have actually pulled together a near brilliant triple-feature of films that are aimed for young audiences. Sunday, January 20, begins with the documentary PRAYING WITH LIOR, about a 13 year old boy with downs syndrome whose "uncanny spiritual connection has made him a savant in the eyes of classmates and earned him a following among local synagogues". It is followed by MAX MINSKY AND ME, which is a sweet comedy from Germany about a 13 year old girl's dilemma between preparing for her Bat Mitzvah or obsessing over a boyfriend. The day continues, and matures some, with the documentary AS SEEN THROUGH THESE EYES, which features the artistic depictions of the holocaust by the survivors - when they were children and now as adults. It features a wide range of expressions, from art to theatre (i.e. the children's opera, BRUNDIBAR).

As one might expect, there are quite a few documentaries. Unexpectedly, though, my favorite by leaps and bounds, was MAKING TROUBLE: THREE GENERATIONS OF FUNNY JEWISH WOMEN. The film profiles Molly Picon, Fanny Brice, Sophie Tucker, Joan Rivers, Gilda Radner and Wendy Wassertsein. It is 'hosted' by Jackie Hoffman, Corey Kahany, Jessica Kirson and Judy Gold. It was informative and really entertaining! LOVED it! It screens several times throughout the fest, however it is SELLING OUT!

Of the narrative features, my favorites out of the selections I saw include the SOMBER, yet GORGEOUS MY FATHER MY LORD and the delightful SIXTY SIX, which is equally a visual treat in its production design and recreation of 1966 London. They are both 'family oriented', with the former looking at the dark side of religion and family relationships, and the latter being a humorous, if nearly farcical story of a boy preparing his Bar Mitzvah, scheduled on the day that Great Britain played in the finals of the 1966 World Cup. Two totally different emotional experiences, but equally satisfying. MY FATHER... plays on Jan. 20, 21; SIXTY SIX screens on the 23rd and 24th.

Two films which might interest special interests within the local community are JERUSALEM IS PROUD TO PRESENT...", which documents the drama and struggle of hosting the 2006 World Pride Celebration in Jerusalem, where the city literally melts down in riots against the concept of "gay pride" in an Orthodox capitol. And for regional interest, there is the documentary SO LONG ARE YOU YOUNG, which profiles Samuel Ullman, who was from Birmingham, AL, and the influence his poem (initially made famous by General MacArthur, and then numerous state leaders since then) has on the world.

There are a couple films that I was unable to appreciate in a 'screener' situation (regardless of my home projector, which is nearly the size of San Francisco's Opera Plaza Screening Room), that I look forward to a second attempt at the festival itself. They are the award winning AVIVA MY LOVE and DISENGAGEMENT starring Juliette Binoche. Both of them are quite subtle and requires a focus, or at least a submission to their pacing and language.

The Atlanta Jewish Film Festival screens January 16 through the 27 and will be primarily based at the Lefont Sandy Springs, with a mini-fest at the Regal Medlock Crossing Stadium 18, and special events at the Regal Atlantic Station and the Fox Sports Grill next door. It has an excellent website where tickets can be purchased:

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