Audiences outside the scope of the mainstream studio system are sometimes forced to wander along the margins in search of familiar reflections of themselves, honing in on specific stories conceived and produced by members of their communities of origin. But a funny thing happens on the way to film festivals dedicated to their collective experiences — this is where universality truly comes to the fore. The more we learn about the lives of others, the more we see (and appreciate) how there is only one true human narrative. Once again, the Mayerson JCC Jewish & Israeli Film Festival presents award-winning films born within the independent film scene and features appearances by filmmakers as well as special Q&A events with leading scholars in the region. With 12 screenings of 10 films in five venues across the city, the festival indeed seeks to live up to the claim on its website of offering “More controversy. More comedy. More films.”
Peace After Marriage (8 p.m. Feb. 7, 20th Century Theater)
It is fascinating how love and marriage narratives transform social debates and various conflicts, offering an obvious and necessary bridge across racial and cultural divisions. On film, a sub-genre exists — a collection of comedies and dramas capturing the interpersonal dynamics of these more perfect unions. The 2015 Jewish & Israeli Film Festival kicks off with the story of a sexually frustrated Palestinian-American actor (writer and co-director Ghazi Albuliwi) whose parents are pressing for an arranged union. Thanks to his sex addicts group sponsor, he ends up in a sham marriage with an Israeli woman (Einat Tubi) so that he can get his green card. Expect a culture clash with humor as a primary weapon, due to Albuliwi’s roots in stand-up comedy. Peace After Marriage earned the Audience Award at Montpellier’s Cinemed festival.
Dancing in Jaffa (3:30 p.m. Feb. 15, Kenwood Theatre; 1 p.m. Feb. 18, Mayerson JCC)
Produced by La Toya Jackson and Nigel Lythgoe, director Hilla Medalia’s documentary Dancing in Jaffa tracks the efforts of world champion ballroom dancer Pierre Dulaine and his labor of love program Dancing Classrooms, created in his chaos-ridden birthplace of Jaffa to unite and teach Jewish and Palestinian children the joyous art of ballroom dance. Called “irresistible to behold” by The New York Times, the film received the Best Documentary Award at the 2014 Ramdam Film Festival.
Zero Motivation (7:30 p.m. Feb 19, Esquire Theatre)
From Israeli writer-director Talya Lavie, Zero Motivation tells the story of young female Israeli soldiers serving in the human resources unit of a remote desert military base. Lavie, who got her start making shorts like Sliding Flora and The Substitute, has also dabbled in animation (The Waitress), but focuses on the dramatic (and somewhat existential) situations of women in the world. Told in three sections, Zero Motivation explores the complex trials of these female soldiers serving in a dysfunctional military office. The synopsis for this title recalls Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 and MASH as seen through the eyes of modern women warriors. This film, which premiered at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival, won the festival’s Best Narrative Feature award as well as the Nora Ephron prize for outstanding female directors or writers.
Above and Beyond (7:30 p.m. Feb 26, Mayerson JCC)
When Israel found itself engaged in the War of Independence (1948), a group of pilots from World War II joined the battle, helping not only to turn the tide, but also form the foundation for the Israeli Air Force. Director Roberta Grossman and writer Sophie Sartain delve into the history extensively in Above and Beyond, gathering information on the members of “Machal,” in addition to consulting with scholars and statesmen like Shimon Peres in order to link the past with present day realities. The film is currently in the midst of an international film festival run that includes the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, the Heartland Film Festival, the Warsaw Jewish Film Festival and most recently the Palm Springs International Film Festival, while capturing the Bevie Audience Award at the Chicago Festival of Israeli Cinema. (tt stern-enzi)