Film & TV

Miami Jewish Film Festival Celebrates 25 Years with Its Largest Lineup Ever

Nadav Lapid's Ahed's Knee will screen at the Miami Jewish Film Festival.
Nadav Lapid's Ahed's Knee will screen at the Miami Jewish Film Festival. Photo courtesy of Miami Jewish Film Festival
Next month, the Miami Jewish Film Festival celebrates its silver jubilee of bringing the best of Jewish cinema to South Florida audiences. Such a monumental achievement requires a certain level of pomp and circumstance, so the 2022 lineup marks the festival's most extensive program ever, consisting of 148 films, including a collection of world, continental, and national premieres, screening January 13-27.

Unfortunately, the current pandemic is celebrating its own anniversary: It's the second year of impinging on the festival. In response, MJFF is committed to innovative hybrid programming featuring pop-up outdoor events across the city and virtual screenings that transform your living room into the latest film festival premiere.

After another year of trials, tribulations, and some triumphs, executive director Igor Shteyrenberg is excited by this year's offerings.

"The films this year are enriched by inexhaustible curiosity and a fearless desire for adventure," Shteyrenberg says. "They prove that cinema continues to illuminate and inspire and provides light through the darkest times, and the ability to lift our spirits."

The self-proclaimed largest Jewish film program in the world continues to explore and celebrate Jewish identity, tradition, and cinema, The 25th anniversary is reflected in contemplation about past, present, and future that permeates this year's programming.

Opening the festival on Thursday, January 13, iMordecai is a heartwarming coming-of-age comedy that proves you never finish growing up. The cross-generational tale focuses on a stubborn curmudgeon of a man who reconnects with his family when he evolves from a flip phone to a new iPhone. Judd Hirsch, Sean Astin, and Carol Kane add star power to this pitch-perfect opener, billed as "a love letter to Miami."

The festival's closer is Persian Lessons, a Belarusian Oscar entry that takes a more somber tone, blending comedy with tragedy. Trapped in a concentration camp, one man tells a fib and has to give fake Farsi lessons to a guard in order to survive. Persian Lessons excels with exceptional performances and incomparable cinematic craft.

Of the myriad films between the opening and closing nights, the Headliner Section includes some of the year's buzziest titles and film festival circuit winners. Not to be missed is the Israeli Oscar entry, Let It Be Morning, from acclaimed filmmaker Eran Kolirin. (He also directed 2007's The Band's Visit, which inspired the Tony Award-winning musical.)

Also on the lineup is Nadav Lapid, the bad boy of Israeli cinema, who won the Jury Prize at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival for his provocative film Ahed's Knee. Another provocateur, Gaspar Noe's Vortex, a pandemic-made meditation on mortality, stars cinematic legends Dario Argento and Francoise Lebrun. On the documentary side, in Jane by Charlotte, actress and singer Charlotte Gainsbourg directs an intimate window into the life of artist and icon (and her mother) Jane Birkin.

At this pivotal time, MJFF is also focusing on its future. This year shows a continuation of efforts toward expanding its audience and programming to be more inclusive and accessible. Beyond featuring a record number of films directed by women, the festival has launched the aptly named Accessibility + Inclusion section, featuring eight films that "highlight the diversity and commonality of the human experience." The Made in Florida section showcases the best of local cinema while spotlighting emerging talents. And lastly, the Next Wave Competition, featuring 11 films judged by a group of students and young professionals, connects with the next generation through cinema focused on youth culture.

Parallel to these efforts to expand its reach, MJFF has dedicated a programming block to noteworthy international series. It's a savvy choice with the relatively recent phenomenon of easy access to international series through streaming platforms. Given Miami's place as a geographical and cultural bridge between Europe, Central America, and South America, the festival has expanded its Ibero-American section, featuring Spanish- and Portuguese-language cinema. The festival has also thought of old-fashioned family fun and nostalgia, organizing anniversary outdoor screenings with OnStage! of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and The Princess Bride at local parks.

The inaugural series "Yiddish and Jewish Cinema: Between Two Worlds" celebrates the history of Jewish cinema with a contemporary twist. A winner of the Knight Arts Challenge, the program takes place on the rooftop of the Betsy Hotel featuring new restorations of silent classics with commissioned contemporary accompaniment from local artists. This synergistic juxtaposition of image and sound elevates the foundations of the cinematic experience.

MJFF board chair Barbara Black Goldfarb is delighted by the state of the festival, noting, "Despite the formidable challenges imposed by the ongoing pandemic, I am excited to say that this year's 25th Miami Jewish Film Foundation will once again exceed all expectations."

The recent obstacles put before it has only strengthened its resolve to persevere and challenged the festival's organizers to become more inventive. At age 25, MJFF is reimagining how a film festival can serve and enrich its community, audience, and cinema.

Miami Jewish Film Festival. Thursday, January 13, 2022, through Thursday, January 27, 2022, at various locations; miamijewishfilmfestival.org.
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