The 21st annual Miami Jewish Film Festival runs from Thursday through Jan. 25, featuring 60 films and 50 special guests from around the world.
The films touch on diverse issues, not just Jewish issues, although naturally most of the movies focus on the Holocaust and persecution of Jews during World War II, issues that are sensitive and have a powerful historic and identity value.
The movies will also celebrate life, inclusion and respect for everyone, from the LGBTQ community to the disabled, because they are movies for all tastes, movies that surprise and fight stereotypes.
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“This year’s Miami Jewish Film Festival program is monumental in the breadth of talent breaking through in each of the beautifully rich, distinct and emotional stories that transcend geographical boundaries,” festival Executive Director Igor Shteyrenberg said.
“It is during uncertain and tumultuous times like these that we most need artists and storytellers, and this year’s program is a testament to the unending capacity of film to move us, impact our lives, and even provide much-needed escapism,” he said.
The two-week event will be an opportunity to learn more about the world of culture and entertainment, “a memorable and enriching experience for lovers of movies in Miami,” according to a festival news release.
“We should not forget that it is the third-largest and respected Jewish film festival in the world, the fastest growing film festival in Florida and the largest Jewish cultural event in the southeastern United States,” the release reads.
Much of that success belongs to Shteyrenberg. For the past five years he “has pushed the festival into a period of expansion and commitment to educational and artistic quality,” according to the release.
Shteyrenberg, 34, says that since he became director, the festival audience has grown from 4,000 in 2013 to 27,000 in 2017. This year, he hopes to attract 30,000 spectators.
The films will be shown at the Coral Gables Art Cinema, Miami Beach Cinematheque, O Cinema Miami Shores, Regal Cinemas South Beach, Aventura Arts & Cultural Center, Aventura Turnberry Jewish Center, Miami Beach JCC and Temple Beth Am.
They will include the U.S. and Florida debuts of movies from 20 countries, among them Germany, Poland, Ukraine, France, Israel, Denmark, South Africa, the Czech Republic, Netherlands, Australia, Argentina and Spain. Almost all the films were released in 2017.
This year's theme is strengthening the ties between members of our community through the magic of movies and the evocative power of music. Many of the films will be accompanied by live music that will turn the festival into a grand party.
“Itzhak,” a documentary about Itzhak Perlman by Alison Chernick, will be screened on opening night, accompanied by the acclaimed violinist's music as performed by FIU's Amernet String Quartet.
There's also “Sammy Davis, Jr.: I’ve Gotta Be Me” by Sam Pollard; “Django” by Étienne Comar about jazz legend Django Reinhardt; and “Good Deeds: The Conductor Zubin Mehta” (2017) — all biographies that portray those masters' contributions to the history of music.
The classic 1973 animated film “The Fantastic Planet” by French director Rene Laloux, with a live score by Mystvries, a synthwave artist signed to the Bribery Corporation in Miami, will also be screened.
This year’s festival also celebrates women directors.
The dozen films directed by women will include “GI Jews: Jewish Americans in World War II,” about the 550,000 Jewish men and women who served in the U.S. Military during that war; the powerful period drama “The Light of Hope” by Silvia Quer; the documentary “Moritz Daniel Oppenheim: The First Jewish Painter” (2017) by Isabel Gathof; the Florida debut of “Cuba's Forgotten Jewels,” a documentary by Judith Kreith and Robin Truesdale about Jews from Nazi-occupied Europe who found refuge in Cuba.
Also to be screened: the highly praised documentary “Bombshell! The Hedy Lamarr Story” by Alexandra Dean, which mixes Hollywood secrets with history and science; and the moving love story “Keep the Change” by Rachel Israel, about an autistic man and the woman he meets in a support group. The movie, whose presentations will coincide with Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month, won three prizes at the Tribeca Film Festival, including best picture, and the best debut award at the Karlovy Vary Film Fest.
The festival also will mark the 70th anniversary of the birth of Israel with a specially curated program titled “Israel at 70,” headed by the Florida debut of “Ben Gurion, Epilogue,” winner of Israel's Oscar, the Ophir, for the best documentary of the year.
Films by Israeli directors will also be featured, including “Foxtrot” by Samuel Maoz, winner of eight Ophirs and Israel's official entry for the Oscars in the foreign film category; the thriller “Shelter” by Eran Riklis; the period drama “An Israeli Love Story” by Dan Wolman; the film “Longing” by Savi Gabizon, which won the People's Award at the Venetian Film Festival; and the drama “Saving Neta” by Nir Bergman.
Other recommended films include “The Cakemaker,” a gay romance that won the Jury's Award at Karlovy Vary; “The Testament,” a drama by Amichai Greenberg; the comedy “Maktub” by Odetz Raz; and “Scaffolding” by Matan Yair, winner of the Best Israeli Movie Award at the Jerusalem Film Festival.
The festival will also screen several films and documentaries about Miami including the “Last Resort” and “A Call to Remember,” both world premieres; and “Filmworker,” the untold story of Leon Vitali, the long-time right-hand man to film director Stanley Kubrick; “The Last Poker Game,” which was the final film by Oscar-winning actor Martin Landau; “Ismael's Ghosts” by director Arnaud Desplechin; and “City to City,” a section devoted to new talent and animated shorts.
Rubens Riol is an art historian, movie critic and cultural promoter.
For the festival program go to miamijewishfilmfestival.org.