The Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey’s seventeenth Israel Film Festival is scheduled March 7 to 22, when seven Israeli films will be shown across the area.
“Our connection to Israel is central to who we are as a federation,” the director of marketing services, Miriam Allenson, said. And a celebration of Israeli film is just one way to express that reality.
The festival is screening films at venues in different communities to make sure that people all over northern New Jersey can attend. Films are being shown from Tenafly to Wayne to Ridgefield Park. “We have a very wide area that we cover,” Ms. Allenson said. Filmgoers can buy tickets online at www.jfnnj.org/filmfestival. There might be some available at the door, but patrons are urged to buy tickets ahead of time.
The film selection committee chose movies that both confront important issues and are excellent films, according to Danit Sibovits, director of the Center for Israel Engagement. One of the goals is to show the country as it is now, she said. “It’s a way to truly engage people with Israel.” Accordingly, “Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem” is a powerful indictment of Israel’s divorce laws, with an extraordinary performance from actress and filmmaker Ronit Elkabetz. The film won best feature at the 2014 Jerusalem Film Festival and was an official selection at Cannes. “Gett,” like so many other films in the festival, is being shown in partnership with a synagogue or community organization. In this case its Teaneck’s Congregation Rinat Yisrael on March 18. A discussion will follow the 7 p.m. screening at the Teaneck Cinemas with Rabbi Jeremy Stern, executive director of the Organization for the Resolution of Agunot.
“Cupcakes,” on the other hand, is a lighthearted musical comedy about a group of Tel Aviv friends watching the kitschy Universong (aka Eurovision) song contest. Certain that they could do better, they record a song on a cellphone, and to their surprise, it becomes Israel’s entry. The film won the audience award for best comedy at the Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival. Tickets to the March 12 screening in Hoboken include a drink – and of course cupcakes.
Commenting on the maturation of the Israeli film industry, Ms. Sibovits said, “Israel has become a world leader in film as well as so many other areas.” To choose a balanced and varied selection of films, the committee began to screen films almost a year ago, watching many more than the final seven. They also formed partnerships with community groups to enhance their outreach, and for the first time the federation secured corporate sponsorships to defray some of the cost.
One of those sponsors is the Israeli American Council, and many festival attendees are Israeli immigrants who live in the area. “We are also working with the Russian community for one of the films, ‘Super Women,'” Ms. Sibovits said. This documentary focuses on several Russian-speaking cashiers at an Israeli supermarket. Low skilled and low paid, the women struggle to make ends meet under the constant threat of reduced hours. In addition to a portrait of some Russian immigrants to Israel, “Super Women” deals with a voracious economic system that punishes people at the bottom. That film is presented in partnership with COJECO – that’s the Council of Jewish Ã‰migrÃ© Community Organizations.
The festival’s closing film, set for March 22, is “Zero Motivation,” a dark comedy about a group of young female army recruits in a remote desert base. Irreverent and often outrageous, the movie is the blockbuster of the year in Israel, according to Ms. Sibovits. “To be a legitimate film festival, we have to show the biggest Israeli film,” she said, whether it suits the political-correctness needs of some viewers or not.
For more information, go to www.jfnnj.org/filmfestival.