Six quick global picks from the Seattle Jewish Film Festival

Still from "Bethlehem" about an Israeli secret service officer and his Palestinian informant, playing at the Seattle Jewish Film Festival.

The Seattle Jewish Film Festival is back this weekend for its 19th run, and has a slew of guests and films from around the world to make you laugh, cry, and think deeper about everything from the Arab-Israeli conflict to Amy Winehouse.

Here is a selection of a few of the 28 films from 15 countries presented in this year’s festival:

THE LONGEST JOURNEY // Italy // Sunday, March 2nd // 1:00 p.m. // AMC Pacific Place

This film features the story of the Jews of Rhodes, a small community living on the idyllic island off of Greece, worlds apart from the German occupation of the period leading up to World War II. One a single day in 1944, the Nazi’s arrived in Rhodes and removed the 1,800 unassuming Jews from their homes, bound for Auschwitz — 151 survived.  The documentary follows members of this community who return to the island where no Jews remain, to recall stories.

Fun Fact: Seattle has one of the largest Rhodesli Jewish communities in the United States. Jews (like my great-grandparents), were drawn to our city for it’s familiar industries by the water — at the turn of the century, many of them started fish stands and small grocers down in a little place called Pike Place Market.

A roundtable discussion featuring academics and historians from the Seattle, Israel, and Turkey, is hosted by the Sephardic Studies Program of the Stroum Center for Jewish Studies at the University of Washington, following the screening

AMY WINEHOUSE: THE DAY SHE CAME TO DINGLE // Ireland // Monday, March 3rd // 8:30 p.m. // SIFF Cinema Uptown

We didn’t quite know what to do with Amy Winehouse. When she was alive, her voice and songs were both from a past era, and wise beyond her years. When she died, her songs about excess and self-deprication haunted us with it’s self-fulfulling prophecy. After all of that, die-hard fans like me were left with only two albums condemning us to a life of torturing roommates with Winehouse repetition.

In this concert documentary, Maurice Linnane shares precious footage of the beloved and troubled singer from a rare 2006 performance seemingly not plagued by booze, drugs, or antics. Performing in an intimate setting — a church, in front of a crowd of 80 in an Irish fishing village — the film is a rare window into the elusive singers raw and soulful talent.

Fun Fact: There’s nothing Jewish about this movie except for Amy Winehouse.

MAKE HUMMUS, NOT WAR // Austalia // Tuesday, March 4th // 8:30 p.m. // SIFF Cinema Uptown

Someone was bound to make this movie — though you might not have expected it would be an Australian. The film  follows the makers and eaters of the ubiquitous Middle Eastern snack as a cheeky exploration of the Middle Eastern conflict, identity, and culture. A film for politicos and foodies alike, the producer begs the question — can chickpeas be the thing people can come to the table over?

Mathew Rovner, a blogger for The Jewish Daily Forward, will lead a discussion at Uptown Espresso directly following the screening. 

Fun Fact:  In May 2010, Lebanon secured the Guinness World Record for the largest platter of hummus, weighing in at 10,452 kg. They took the title from the previously reigning champions, Israel. And you wonder why the conflict’s not over.

BETHLEHEM // Israel – Belgium – Germany // Wednesday, March 5th // 8:30 p.m. // SIFF Cinema Uptown

Israel’s burgeoning film industry and movie-watching culture offers as a unique space for Israelis and non-Israelis alike to explore some of the impossible questions and moral dilemmas deeply embedded within the Arab-Israeli conflict. This political thriller covering the complex relationship between an Israeli secret service officer and his Palestinian informant makes personal the very real and complex world of military intelligence in Israel.

Professor Joel Migdal, from the University of Washington ‘s Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies, will lead a discussion following the film.

Fun Fact: Bethlehem was the official Israeli submission for Best Foreign Language Film for the 2014 Oscar Awards.

BRAVE MISS WORLD // USA – Israel – Italy – South Africa // Thursday, March 6th // 6:00 p.m. // SIFF Cinema Uptown

A harrowing story that crosses borders from Israel to Italy to a cross-country fight to end shaming and silencing of rape. At 18, Linor Abargil, already crowned Miss Israel in the international pageant, was kidnapped, raped and stabbed while modeling in Milan. The 5 year documentary covers her journey as an activist — fighting to keep her perpetrator behind bars and support other survivors — to an attorney, all while becoming more and more religious.

The producer, Inbal Lessner, and director, Cecilia Peck, will lead a discussion following the film on global perceptions of rape and abuse of women. They will be joined by speakers from The Dvora Project, Jewish Family Service’s Domestic Violence Outreach, Response and Advocacy organization.

Fun Fact: The director is the daughter of actor Gregory Peck.

ARAB LABOR // Israel // Wednesday, March 12th  // 7:00 p.m.  // UW Hillel Auditorium

Called, “the sitcom the Middle East can agree on”, this popular Israeli TV show is written by Arab-Israeli author, Sayed Kashua. In an effort to “bring likable Arabs into the average Israeli living room,” the show centers on an Arab-Israeli family, often invisible from the wider cultural landscape in Israel. It addresses real tensions of belonging, class, and identity in Israel with nuance, levity, and a colloquial Arabic.

Professor Naomi Sokoloff, from the University of Washington’s Department of Comparative Literature, will lead a discussion following a screening of two episodes. Students get in free. 

Fun Fact: In 2006, Arabs accounted for 2% of the characters on prime-time Israeli television.

Single tickets to the festival films are $12; various discounts are available. Special events cost $18-25. Passes cost $90-$250. Full schedule of films here.

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