The Miami Jewish Film Festival: Ethiopians on the Run, Jews in Cuba, and Lesson Number One: "Be Nice to Your Mother"

All that television and rap music? Your mother worries you're not seeing enough movies. Fortunately, the 2013 Miami Jewish Film Festival kicks off on Saturday, January 26, and the schedule is more packed with goodness than your stomach after a weekend at home. Cultist spoke with festival director Ellen Wedner about some of this year's highlights. (Speaking of which, would it kill you to call home once in a while?)

"There was an old ad slogan in New York for Levy's rye bread," Wedner told us. "It was: 'You don't have to be Jewish to love Levy's.' Well, you don't have to be Jewish to enjoy these films. You don't have to be one thing or another."

Like most film festivals, there are entries from around the world, but if you're expecting two dozen films featuring Jackie Mason complaining on benches in various world capitals, then you are mistaken, boychick.

At venues across Miami, the MJFF will screen films as disparate as 400 Miles to Freedom, a tense documentary about African Jews fleeing a dictatorship in Ethiopia; Divorce Invitation, a romantic comedy starring Jamie-Lynn Sigler, Lainie Kazan and Eliot Gould; and The Third Half, this year's Academy Award submission from Macedonia.

"You'd be shocked by how many films I get from Macedonia," Wedner said. In her festival, place has little to do with a film's Jewish qualities.

"Last year we had an animated film from China and it was very Jewish. I hope I always have them from the U.S., Spain and France. But this year we have The First Fagin, from Tasmania and it's about the real life person they think Charles Dickens modeled Fagin on."

But this isn't just any old Jewish Film Festival. This is the Miami Jewish Film Festival. Wedner wants her festival to reflect its setting.

"It's South Florida," she said. "To that issue, if I can find a great film in Spanish, I'm inclined to include it. But this year, we have The Chosen Island. It's about the Sephardic Jewish population in Cuba. It was done last year and the filmmaker now lives in Miami. Do I think he's going to be playing in Des Moines? Maybe not so much."

Obviously, Wedner thinks all of the films she has selected are well worth watching. But she has a short list of choices she thinks Cultist readers will particularly enjoy.

Room 514 is a military drama that was a big hit at the TriBeCa Film Festival. In it, an Israeli investigator faces resistance when she looks into allegations of unnecessary violence against Palestinians by Israeli soldiers in the Occupied Territories.

"On the surface, it's about right and wrong but also how military and non-military people can relation and how we think about those roles," Wedner said.

She also recommends Besa: The Promise, a documentary about Albanian Muslims who swore to protect Jews during the Holocaust.

"They took them in," Wedner explained, "because in the Koran said it was the right thing to do. There's a lot in this film that people don't know."

Nominally, what all the films have in common is their Jewishness. But Wedner sees the commonalities of Jewish film as more nuanced than that.

"All of them have lessons. In the case of a movie like Guilt Trip, it's 'Be Nice to Your Mother.'"

For venue and ticket information, visit miamijewishfilmfestival.net.

Follow Cultist on Facebook and Twitter @CultistMiami.

We use cookies to collect and analyze information on site performance and usage, and to enhance and customize content and advertisements. By clicking 'X' or continuing to use the site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. To find out more, visit our cookies policy and our privacy policy.


Join the New Times community and help support independent local journalism in Miami.


Join the New Times community and help support independent local journalism in Miami.