20 Years, 20 Nations


Washington Jewish Film Festival Celebrates Milestone

On Dec. 1, 1990, the inaugural Washington Jewish Film Festival’s opening night presented the now-classic German film “The Nasty Girl” by Michael Verhoeven. The first festival offered a modest eight films to 1,500 attendees at the legendary, now-defunct, single-screen Biograph Theatre in Georgetown. It’s hard to believe how fast time flies. The 20th Anniversary Washington Jewish Film Festival: An Exhibition of International Cinema, which runs Dec. 3 to 13, is now one of the world’s largest Jewish film festivals.

The 20th edition of the Washington Jewish Film Festival (WJFF), co-sponsored by the Embassy of Israel, showcases a whopping 62 features, documentaries and shorts from 20 nations: Argentina, Australia, Austria, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Ethiopia, France, Germany, Hungary, India, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Kazakhstan, Poland, Russia, Slovakia, Switzerland, Tunisia, United Kingdom and United States.

As of today, the festival has also presented nearly 700 films on the Jewish experience from more than 30 countries. And instead of the original eight films it screened 20 years ago at a single venue, today WJFF needs eight venues just to showcase its diverse lineup of Jewish cinema.

WJFF Director Susan Barocas proclaimed, “We are excited that, for our 20th festival, we have more films from more countries than ever before, including box office hits from Israel, France, Argentina and Germany, among others. We are presenting a wonderful balance of outstanding feature, documentary and short films that, for the most part, are not available to be screened in this area outside of our festival.”

With an expected audience of 7,000, this year’s festival is truly a city-wide event with screenings at the following venues across town: The DCJCC’s Aaron & Cecile Goldman Theater, Avalon Theatre, AFI Silver Theatre, Goethe-Institut, Embassy of France, American University’s Harold and Sylvia Greenberg Theatre, Embassy of Switzerland and Embassy of Ethiopia.

The mid-Atlantic premiere of the Israeli comedy “A Matter of Size,” opens the festival on Dec. 3. Winner of four Israeli Ophir Awards, the film chronicles four overweight guys who decide to make the most of their size instead — taking their fight against fat into the world of sumo wrestling to find acceptance, fame and maybe even love. The film precedes WJFF’s 20th anniversary dessert gala at the La Maison Française, i.e. the French Embassy, with actor Dvir Benedek and co-writer Danny Cohen Solal in attendance. The evening is also co-sponsored by the Embassy of Israel, Embassy of Germany, Goethe-Institut and the Alliance Française de Washington.

Other embassy engagements include “Black Over White,” which makes its mid-Atlantic premiere on Dec. 6 at the Embassy of Ethiopia, with a special Ethiopian coffee ceremony afterward.

Also on Dec. 6, German Filmmaker Michael Verhoeven will be honored with the 2009 WJFF Visionary Award along with an encore screening of “The Nasty Girl,” WJFF’s very first film. The reception after the post-film discussion will be hosted by German Ambassador Klaus Scharioth; the festival will also screen three other films by Verhoeven: “Human Failure,” “My Mother’s Courage,” and “The Legend of Mrs. Goldman and the Almighty God.”

On Dec. 8, the Embassy of Switzerland hosts a screening of “Brothers” — about two Jewish-born brothers, separated by circumstances and life choices, who find themselves reunited in Israel — which will be presented by director Igaal Niddam and followed by a reception.

Other notable screenings include the East Coast premiere of “Jump” starring Patrick Swayze as a Jewish defense lawyer in one of the actor’s final film roles; Gerard Depardieu and Fanny Ardant teaming up for the romantic comedy “Hello Goodbye”; “Filmed by Yitzhak,” featuring rare documentary footage of the Israeli prime minister; the world premiere of Switzerland’s “Quentin and Ferdinand” about two friends who convert to Judaism to attract a pair of sisters; “Ajami,” the story of a neighborhood of Jews, Muslims and Christians that will be Israel’s entry for the Academy Awards; and French Director Karin Albou’s powerful portrayal of a forbidden relationship between two women — a Jew and a Muslim — in “The Wedding Song.”

Closing night (Dec. 13) is co-sponsored by the Embassy of Kazakhstan and marks the Washington premiere of the Kazakh film “The Gift to Stalin,” about a young Jewish orphan sent into exile during a Stalinist purge who loses his grandfather on the journey but becomes part of a surrogate family in a remote Kazakh village. Many of the film’s actors and producers will be on hand at the screening at the Washington DCJCC, which is followed by a Chanukah party.

Other special festival guests include Karin Albou (director, “The Wedding Song”), Lilly Berger (producer, “Jump”), Pamela Berger (director, “The Imported Bridegroom”), Boris Cherdabayev (producer, “The Gift to Stalin”), Andrew D. Cooke (director, “Will Eisner: Portrait of a Sequential Artist”), Daniel Jewel (producer, “Sidney Turtlebaum”), Joel Katz (director, “Strange Fruit”), Beth Toni Kruvant (director, “Heart of Stone”), Neil Ira Needleman (director, “Meeskeit” and “Trip to Prague”), Karine Silverwoman (director, “Hello My Name is Herman”), Dr. Marion Usher (director, “Love and Religion: The Challenge of Interfaith Relationships”), and Dror Zahavi (director, “Marcel Reich-Ranicki – The Author of Himself”).

For more information, call (800) 494-8497 or log on to www.wjff.org


About the Author

Ky N. Nguyen is the film reviewer for The Washington Diplomat.