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A Festival of Films You'll See Nowhere Else

Hava Nagila

World cinema onscreen at the Jewish International Film Festival

Now in its 28th year, the Jewish International Film Festival is this area’s most reliable annual presentation of quality world cinema. This year’s lineup includes 16 films of which only one, a revival of 1985’s Joshua Then and Now, has previously been screened in Buffalo; most have not been commercially distributed in the United States.

It runs from Thursday June 6 through Sunday June 16 with screenings at the Maxine & Robert Seller Theatre in the Jewish Community Center’s Benderson Family Building, 2640 North Forest Road. With the exception of the Sunday gala, all films will be screened twice.

The Gala film is Hava Nagila, a feature about the tune that is probably even more universally recognized than “Happy Birthday.” It’s been performed by Harry Belafonte, Connie Francis, Glen Campbell, Leonard Nimoy, and Regina Spektor, all interviewed as part of a film that looks at its role in Jewish assimilation in 20th-century America. It will be screened on Sunday June 9 accompanied by live music and a kosher Israeli feast.

A Bottle in the Gaza Sea
Re-emerging: The Jews of Nigeria

The opening night film is the family drama Mabul (The Flood), a recent hit in Israel. At the center of a troubled family is Yoni, an intelligent but slightly built adolescent who is more concerned with avoiding bullies than with studying for something he considers so irrelevant as a bar mitzvah. The Thursday screening will be presented by the film’s producer, Ina Fichmanat.

You can expect one of the larger crowds to be present for the concisely titled PBS documentary Broadway Musicals: A Jewish Legacy. “Show tunes” may have become a genre unto themselves since the arrival of rock and roll, but prior to 1960 Broadway was the main force for developing and disseminating popular music. Narrated by Joel Grey, the film includes interviews with Mel Brooks, Stephen Sondheim, and Harold Prince, and performance footage featuring David Hyde Pierce, Matthew Broderick, Zero Mostel, Nathan Lane, Al Jolson, Fanny Brice, Barbara Streisand, Joel Grey, Dick Van Dyke, and Kristin Chenoweth. The first screening is on Monday, but if you wait until Sunday, June 16, you can enjoy a warm-up show by the Kol Rina choir.

Director Jeff L. Leiberman will be present on Monday to introduce his documentary Re-emerging: The Jews of Nigeria, about the Igbo people of southeastern Nigeria and their efforts to trace their origins in Jewish history.

Because Canada has a smaller population than the US, they found it necessary to roll Saul Bellow, Lenny Bruce, Philip Roth, and Norman Mailer into one home grown equivalent. Okay, not really, but that’s as good a way of any of describing the late novelist and provocateur Mordecai Richler, author of The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz and Barney’s Version. The festival will present a recent Canadian documentary about the writer’s life and place in North American culture, along with the 1985 film Joshua Then and Now, starring Alan Arkin and James Woods in what is arguably the best film version of a Richler novel.

Other documentaries include Life in Stills, about a 96-year-old woman and her efforts to save her husband’s life work, an enormous collection of photographs charting the history of modern Israel, and The Boys of 2nd Street Park, about the lifelong bond developed among a group of working-class Jews who played basketball in Brighton Beach in the early 1960s.

Several of the festival’s fictional films center on relationships between two disparate characters. From France, A Bottle in the Gaza Sea (Une bouteille à la mer), about the email correspondence of a girl in Jerusalem and a boy in Gaza, which the New York Times called “a gentle pairing of youthful idealism and tenacious hope.” In the German Kaddish for a Friend, a Russian Jewish WWII veteran and a Palestinian teen form an unlikely friendship after the boy vandalizes the old man’s apartment in an attempt to impress his friends. Also from Germany, Remembrance (Die Verlorene Zeit) is a love story about the reunion of two concentration camp prisoners, a Polish boy and a Jewish girl, 30 years after their escape. From Austria, Mein bester Feind (My Best Enemy), a comedy in which the son of art dealers and his one time friend, now a Nazi, conspire to save a Michelangelo drawing from Hitler’s art confiscation program;

Other dramatic offerings include The Fifth Heaven (Ba-rakia ha-hamishi), adapted from Rachel Eytan novel recounting her youth in a Tel Aviv orphanage after World War II, and Dorfman in Love, a romantic comedy with Elliott Gould as the father of a 27-year-old daughter living in LA who is having trouble getting her life off the ground.

For a complete schedule and ticket information, visit

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