From Mary Burgan. Email her at [email protected].
There is still plenty of time to take in some of the movies on offer by the Washington Jewish Film Festival. The film lovers of Borderstan are especially privileged by this festival because its main venue is only blocks away — at the Washington D.C. Jewish Community Center on 16th and Q NW.
Festival films can also be viewed at theaters and embassies around the city, and in the coming week, residents of Borderstan can get a twofer by exploring some of the embassies before viewing the films. For example, the documentary on the life of Simone Weil will be showing at the Italian Embassy at 5 pm on Tuesday.
The festival opened December 1 and runs through December 11. You can get the full schedule of films, venues, location maps, and directions to get there by public transportation online. Also, see Washington Jewish Film Festival Runs Through Dec. 11 from Kate Hays.
I attended the festival on its opening night at the Avalon Theatre on Connecticut Avenue. The film was Mabul (The Flood in English), and I thought that it was one of the finest I’ve seen all year.
The setting is a farming village bordering the Mediterranean Sea near Haifa. Its protagonist is a 13-year-old boy named Yoni, who is trying not only to prepare for his Bar Mitzvah but also to make himself taller, deeper-voiced, and more athletic as he enters manhood. No matter how hard he tries, though, he cannot remake himself. And he is diverted from all his attempts by the fact that his disintegrating family must take in his autistic older brother, Tomer, who has been sent home from an institution that has been forced to shut down.
Yoni’s real maturing comes not from any of his awkward physical attempts, but from his growing bond with Tomer as well as his dawning realization about the complexity of his family. His awakening is shared with his family as Yoni chants his assigned Torah scripture at his Bar Mitzvah. The passage is the scripture description of Noah and his family and their preparations for the great flood to come.
Mabul carries out a number of themes, but they are never obtrusive or programmatic. Rather, they are rendered through excellent acting — especially by the boy who plays Yoni — and by camera work that bathes the characters in warm summer sunlight.
I expect there will be more terrific films to come at the Washington Jewish Film Festival. Such a festival can bring outstanding international cinema to Washington, since ordinary theaters will not risk showing foreign-language films that have unfamiliar settings. As a representative of the JCC told me, the Jewish Film Festival offers Washingtonians their only chance to see films such as Mabul.
Although Mabul is showing on many Israeli theater screens, it has had screenings only at film festivals in the United States. Fifteen different countries are represented in the WJFF presentations, and although a share of them treat the Holocaust and its remembrance in modern Israel, they are fully aware of the controversies that must be confronted in our times. Thus they represent both the unity of the Jewish cultural experience and its diversity.
The variety on offer at the WJFF should open up conversations on many levels — cultural and political as well as cinematic. For example, I have tickets for an 11 am showing of The Kissinger Saga: Walter and Henry Kissinger, Two Brothers from Feurth. The discussion will be conducted by its director, Evi Kurz, and Marvin, Bernard, and Deborah Kalb.