Organizers of the annual William and Irene Weinberg Family Baltimore Jewish Film Festival listened closely to attendees after last year’s series, and they decided to make some changes to the program.
While last year’s screenings were a hit, “people said they wanted to see more contemporary Israeli movies that were not about terrorism and political strife, so we made an effort to look at movies set in Israel that just portray Israeli life,” said Alyson Bonavoglia, director of film festival and special projects at the Gordon Center for Performing Arts.
This year’s festival, now in its 29th year will offer a wide range of Israeli films. There will also be Jewish-themed comedies and dr amas along with documentaries, short films and other pieces.
The festival runs from Mar. 19 to Apr. 30. In addition to screenings at the Owings Mills Jewish Community Center, this year’s festival will extend into the general community with a Feb. 16 showing of “Awake Zion” at the Creative Alliance and a Feb. 19 showing of “Olympic Pride, American Prejudice” at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African-American History & Culture.
Meanwhile, a pair of Israeli films presented at the festival will take a thoughtful look at just what constitutes “normal” life in the Jewish state, and how that can change quickly.
“‘Mr. Predictable’ is about a man who is living a straight-ahead life,” said Bonavoglia. “He’s married, he has a son, but he’s a little bit spineless. People walk all over him. But he meets a woman who shakes him up and helps him live life more fully. Hijinks ensue. It’s really cute.”
“An Average Story” mines a similar vein of Israeli life. In this film, “the Israeli government declares this man to be the ‘most average man’ in all of Israel. So again, it’s this idea of how being middle-of-the-road seems like a good place to be, but it can come with problems,” Bonavoglia said.
David and Goliath
This year’s festival also offers up a number of documentaries exploring diverse facets of the contemporary Jewish experience.
Sports fans will not be alone in rooting for the Maccabee Tel Aviv basketball team as “On The Map” spins out the vivid tale of the team’s exhilarating 1977 season. Still reeling from the Yom Kippur War, Israel at that time desperately needed heroes, and the Maccabees delivered.
“It doesn’t matter that we know how the story ends, because the movie tells that story in such a gripping way,” said Bonavoglia. “It’s a David and Goliath story, and it came at a time when Israel very much needed something uplifting to happen.”
For fans of cinema (and this is a film festival, after all), two of this year’s documentaries entries at the festival offer Jewish perspectives on the Hollywood experience.
“Harold and Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story” describes the romantic and creative partnership of storyboard artist Harold Michelson and film researcher Lillian Michelson.
“It’s about the unsung heroes of ‘old Hollywood,’ people who defined how we see movies. In ‘The Graduate,’ that [famous] shot through [Anne Bancroft’s] leg? That was Harold, he came up with that shot,” Bonavoglia said.
The short film “The Man Who Shot Hollywood” offers a glimpse into the life of Jack Pashkovsky, a virtually anonymous artist who quietly compiled one of the greatest collections of celebrity photographs.
The festival also will offer the Maryland premiere of “Rock in the Red Zone,” featuring a talk with its American-Israeli director, Laura Bialis. The 2015 film looks at the evolution of a new musical genre among North African immigrants in Israel.
In another Maryland premiere, “Fever at Dawn” tells the story of Miklós, a 25-year-old Hungarian man diagnosed with severe lung disease after being freed from a concentration camp.
For this year’s festival, more than two dozen people served on the selection committee, of which Gary Meliker was the chair.
“These are all people who really love movies, and each one brings a different perspective,” Bonavoglia said. “So the vetting process was really intense.”
For information about the festival, visit http://www.jcc.org/gordon-center/film .
Adam Stone is an Annapolis-based freelance writer.
Top Photo: From the film “Awake Zion”
Middle Photo: Alyson Bonavoglia, director of film festival and special projects at the Gordon Center for Performing Arts
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