By Liz Lopez
The Austin Jewish Film Festival (AJFF) celebrates their 18th year by presenting a large number of Jewish films from the U.S. and around the world – four times more programming. For this year, AJFF has produced a festival consistent with the needs during the pandemic, including secure, socially-distanced drive-in events for opening and closing nights at the Dell Jewish Community Center and a Virtual Film Festival for the rest of the week. The Virtual Festival will also offer the “Besti of the Fest Past” – movies from the past festivals, as well as filmmaker Q&As that can be viewed live or later through Vimeo.
There are approximately 70 titles from various genres, including dramas, documentaries, as well as niche films. Below is a small sample of this year’s lineup from the full slate of features and shorts, and the full slate is available on the website https://austinjff.org/ as well as information on how to view the films and the filmmaker Q&As with a Virtual Pass. You can also follow the festival on their social media: Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
“The Crossing,” Opening Night Drive-In Event
Texas Premiere Director: Johanne Helgeland Film Followed by Live Filmmaker Q&A
The Crossing tells the story of the adventurous 10-year-old Gerda and her brother Otto, whose parents are in the Norwegian resistance movement during the Second World War. One day, just before Christmas in 1942, Gerda and Otto’s parents are arrested, leaving the siblings on their own. Following the arrest, they discover two Jewish children, Sarah and Daniel, hidden in a secret cupboard in their basement. It is now up to Gerda and Otto to finish what their parents started: to help Sarah and Daniel flee from the Nazis, cross the border to neutral Sweden, and reunite them with their parents. The Crossing is a film about the confidence, uncompromising loyalty, and great courage you can find in even the youngest of children. Winner of the 2020 Amanda (Norway’s equivalent of the Oscars for “Best Children’s Film.”)
North American Premiere Director: Michael Mayer Q&A with Director and Cast Members
Hebrew (with subtitles) A boorish Israeli-American couple plan a Sabbath dinner party for a group of fellow ex-pat friends and family in their Hollywood Hills mansion. What could possibly go wrong? Well, start with a deadly mix of alcohol, add inflated egos, some inappropriate lust, and top with raging jealousy, and the result is a cauldron of murderous mayhem. A shotgun, garden shears, kitchen knives, and even a garbage disposal are used as weapons of choice as these deranged guests turn on each other in director Michael Mayer’s outrageous and bloody comedy. Actors include Austin’s own Alon Pdut.
The Prague Orgy
US Premiere Director: Irena Pavlásková
Based on the Philip Roth novel. A famous American writer accepts a quest from a Czech emigrant to bring him back unique Yiddish manuscripts from communist Czechoslovakia. The writer accepts not only a dangerous journey to Prague, where he is watched at every step by communist secret police, but he also needs to face the emigrant’s flamboyant and wild wife. She is in possession of the manuscripts and very angry at her husband, as he left with his mistress for the US. She will not surrender the manuscripts easily.
The Dead of Jaffa
Director: Ram Loevy
Three children from the West Bank are smuggled into Israel, arriving at the doorstep of George and Rita’s house in Jaffa. Their mother is dead, and their father has been sentenced to life imprisonment. As Israeli Palestinians, George is afraid that hiding illegal aliens will endanger Rita and himself, while Rita believes the arrival of these children could give meaning to her life. Nearby, a foreign film is being shot. Jerry, an English director, is making a movie about his parents’ love affair in 1947, when they served in the British army in Palestine. George is invited to play a part in the film. When the two stories intertwine, tensions erupt.
Texas Premiere Director: Aviad Givon, Imri Matalon
“Yet another standout performance by Shira Haas (Shtisel, Unorthodox), cementing her place as one of the best young Jewish actors today. This tale of a dysfunctional family is an intense, gripping drama.” Shadowed by a strict, military father who inflicts severe methods of punishment as a form of discipline, seventeen year old Ariella commits a grave error that her father isn’t willing to punish her for. Seeking a punishment of her own, Ariella embarks on a dark quest where she will discover a secret to her father’s past that will lead them to confront one another.
Thou Shalt Not Hate
Texas Premiere Director: Mauro Mancini
Simone Segre, a renowned surgeon of Jewish origins, lives in the city of Trieste in the north-east of Italy. He has a quiet life, an elegant apartment, and no connection with his past. One day he finds himself assisting a male victim of a hit and run accident. But when he discovers a Nazi tattoo on his chest, Simone abandons him to his destiny. Filled with guilt, he ends up tracing the man’s family: Marica, the eldest daughter; Marcello, a teenager plagued with racial hate; and little Paolo. The night will come when Marica knocks at Simone’s door and unknowingly asks for payback.
Texas Premiere Director: Anders Østergaard, Erzsébet Rácz
Martin Goldsmith never knew what happened to his parents before they escaped from Germany in 1941. Over a weekend, he confronts his father, and we are brought back to the complex and confusing 1930s. His parents, talented musicians, are only able to perform as members of the Jewish Cultural Federation, a bizarre propaganda organization fully controlled by the Reich Chamber of Culture. Featuring Bruno Ganz as Goldsmith’s father in one of his last performances, this film to all intents and purposes seems like a documentary but is in fact a masterful recreation of Goldsmith’s book “Winter Journey.”
Aulcie, Closing Night Drive-In Event
Texas Premiere Director: Dani Menkin Film Followed by Live Filmmaker Q&A
The inspiring story of Aulcie Perry, an Israeli basketball legend recruited in Harlem in 1976, who went on to lead Maccabi Tel Aviv to an upset win in the European Championship. His rise to fame was precipitous, and his relationship with supermodel Tami Ben Ami became the subject of relentless media attention, solidifying his status as one of Israel’s biggest stars. Aulcie Perry converted to Judaism, adopted the Hebrew name Elisha Ben Avraham, and became an Israeli citizen. But behind the scenes, he had a growing drug addiction that culminated in his arrest and imprisonment. Since his release he has committed himself to uplifting those suffering from drug abuse and addiction. He remains a beloved Israeli sports figure. Menkin’s documentary tells the story of this legendary athlete and his amazing journey of redemption.
Bukra fil Mish-Mish
US Premiere Director: Tal Michael Film Followed by Live Filmmaker Q&A
Shortly after the death of his uncles, Didier Frenkel descends into the basement of their shared home and finds a treasure: an ancient archive of animated films from Egypt starring Mish-Mish Effendi, the Arab equivalent of Mickey Mouse, and others. His Jewish father and uncles created these characters but never got the attention they richly deserved. Didier begins restoring the films and unveils the story of the rise and fall of these pioneers of Arab animation. Surprisingly, Didier’s mother strongly opposes this project.
The Day of Wrath
Texas Premiere Director: Jacek Raginis-Królikiewicz
In the autumn of 1943, a young Jew named Emanuel Blatt, a refugee from a nearby ghetto, appears at a Polish monastery asking for help. Nazis are punishing Poles with death for hiding Jews. An SS squadron-leader in charge of a death squad comes to the monastery. The Day of Wrath is a full-of-tension blend of war thriller and morality play. Written by Polish writer of Jewish origin, Roman Brandstatter, the Holocaust and hope for survival are the main themes of this movie.