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Festival of Plenty

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When it comes to film, everybody loves a catchy tagline. And the 2016 edition of the Mayerson JCC Jewish & Israeli Film Festival promises “Mystery, History, Mischief and More.” What more can you ask for?

Audiences will have the opportunity to criss-cross around the Queen City in order to take in a program of films with variety and topicality, as well as special events featuring access to filmmakers and celebrated film critic Leonard Maltin, who will close out this year’s fest. The festival finale includes an open and highly engaging conversation with Maltin about his amazing 30-plus-year career as a critic, allowing him to regale listeners with stories involving his contact with Hollywood players and insight surrounding the role and impact of Jews in the industry. He will also share his own review of films from the festival.

Of course, that means film fans will want to prepare with a heads-up on all that the 2016 festival has to offer. Starting off with a sprinter’s pace, the opening night selection, Remember, from Academy Award nominee Atom Egoyan (The Sweet Hereafter), tracks the efforts of an elderly Auschwitz survivor suffering from dementia who attempts to hunt down the person responsible for the death of his family. The star-studded cast includes Oscar winners Christopher Plummer (Beginners) and Martin Landau (Ed Wood) along with Dean Norris, Jürgen Prochnow, and Bruno Ganz. The kickoff takes place Saturday at 8 p.m. at The Carnegie.

Victor “Young” Perez, a historical biopic from Jacques Ouaniche (Maison Close), details the extraordinary rise of Perez (Brahim Asloum), a Jewish Tunisian boxer who left his native land in 1929 to pursue the dream of becoming the World Flyweight Champion.

While working his way up the ranks in Europe, Perez battled open hostility, a series of uneventful romances and ultimately deportation to Auschwitz, where he was forced to fight against Germans under impossible conditions for the entertainment of the Nazis. What is fascinating about the film and so terribly relevant to current political realities is the gradual awareness Perez gains of his position as not only a Jew, but also as an immigrant in Europe. His realization, and inevitable response, will no doubt bear an uncanny resemblance to the situations of individuals around the globe, and sadly, right here in the United States. Victor “Young” Perez screens Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. at Cinemark Oakley Station.

Another such intimate portrait comes from documentary director Laura Bialis, whose Rock in the Red Zone zeroes in on the city of Sderot, on the fringe of the conflict-laden Gaza Strip, where a community of factory workers and refugee families do all they can to avoid the constant rocket fire that bombards the region. The main outlet and lifeblood of Sderot is music, which has transformed underground bomb shelters into the production hub for a resilient scene that more than rivals the notion of “underground” Rock & Roll elements anywhere in the world. Bialis focuses on a small and eclectic sample of performers who are survivors in every sense of the word, and before long, it becomes quite clear that the infectious never-say-die spirit of these people seeps into Bialis as well. The Feb. 16 screening at 7:30 p.m. at Kenwood Theatre will feature a Skype talkback with Bialis and a 20-minute concert and Q&A with Avi Vaknin, one of the musicians highlighted in the film.

Other noted topics and themes include international cuisine (In Search of Israeli Cuisine from Roger M. Sherman), family dramedy (Hill Start from Oren Stern) and the intersectionality of ethnicity and sexual orientation (Oriented from Jake Witzenfeld). I asked at the start — What more can you ask for? — and it would appear that the Mayerson JCC Jewish & Israeli Film Festival indeed covers all of the bases, although I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that what truly matters is that this festival and its planners seek to reach out to audiences hungry for a diverse array of films and experiences. Diversity, in recent weeks, has added buzz value, but for this annual event, it harkens back to this year’s tagline.

“Mystery, History, Mischief and More.” So much more.

The 2016 JEWISH & ISRAELI FILM FESTIVAL runs Feb. 6-25. For more info: mayersonjcc.org.

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