The maxim of my parents was that March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb. With the Seattle Jewish Film Festival opening on the 1st of March, its shape is the opposite, coming in like a lamb and going out like a lion.
The festival opens Saturday night with the charming, delicate film, The Zigzag Kid, from David Grossman’s beloved novel. Mr. Grossman of course is known for his excellent debut novel, The Smile of the Lamb, the first Israeli novel to be set in the West Bank. The Zigzag Kid, along with Someone to Run With, are the books that he refers to as “lighter works” and the film is no different.
Now in its nineteenth year, the Seattle Jewish Film Festival has taken on the subtitle of “The Good, The Bad, The Funny.” Where past festivals, even up to three years ago were often brutally dour, with the occasional exception of a pleasantly silly film like Dorfman, the festival seems to have found its stride in programming more “lighter works” and humorous pieces that draw upon the wonderful tradition of Jewish humor.
That tradition in the United States serves as the focus for the documentary, When Comedy Went To School, directed by Mevlut Akkaya and Ron Frank. A more Continental version of it suffuses Leander Hausmann’s romper room style Hotel Lux as well as the director’s somewhat more linear Hunting Elephants, which play back to back on the 8th of March.
Of course it would hardly be a Jewish Film Festival without films on the standby topics: Arab-Israeli relations — present in the documentaries Dancing in Jaffa and Make Hummus Not War on the 4th of March, and the political thriller Bethlehem (5th of March); Jewish musical history — the stuff of Hilan Warshaw’s documentary Wagner’s Jews and other documentaries about Amy Winehouse, Neil Diamond and Dan Nichols; and the ever-present ghosts of the Holocaust — delineated clinically in Władysław Pasikowski’s haunting Aftermath and Ilan Duran Cohen’s intriguing Le Métis De Dieu (The Mongrel of God, inexplicably translated as The Jewish Cardinal).
There are, however, truly interesting films that do not fall cozily into those categories. A documentary on influential theater producer Joe Papp, who was the first to bring free Shakespeare productions to millions of people holds a particular interest for artistically inclined people. Brave Miss World, the harrowing documentary about the rape of 1998 Miss World winner Linor Abargil one month before she was crowned moves well beyond the level of sensational documentary into a lucid portrait of a remarkable woman.
Three other films, the dramatic Les Interdits (The Forbidden, translated as Friends From France) and the documentaries Before the Revolution and Il Viaggio Pìu Lungo (The Longest Journey: The Last Days of the Jews of Rhodes) deal with much less weathered tales of the Diaspora. And the remaining two films, documentary Sukkah City, about author Joshua Foer’s inspiration for an international competition to design radical variation on the sukkah and Avi Nesher’s strange feature פלאות (The Wonders) are in a class of their own.
All in all, it looks to be a rounded festival. Moving from the delicate opening night movie to the much more roaring musical concert by Dan Nichols and his band, this is a festival that should definitely be seen before it goes out like a lion.