The 2005 Seattle Jewish Film Festival opens at the Cinerama Saturday night, with a new screwball comedy from Spain, "Only Human." The film is...

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The 2005 Seattle Jewish Film Festival opens at the Cinerama Saturday night, with a new screwball comedy from Spain, “Only Human.”

The film is a fresh twist on the interracial love theme in “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?,” the old Sidney Poitier film. Only in this version, the woman who brings a new fiancé home to meet her parents is a Spanish Jew. And — surprise, surprise — her intended is a Palestinian.

More than two dozen features and shorts later, the festival closes on March 20, at the 5th Avenue Theatre, with the gala premiere of “Turn Left at the End of the World.” The tale it tells is also about cultural clash — but between two groups of émigrés to Israel whose stories are rarely heard in the West: Jewish Moroccans and Jews from India.

Works depicting a striking variety of Jewish life and history will be screened in this year’s Seattle Jewish Film Festival, marking its 10th anniversary with an international spread of films and related panels and programs.

The 28 feature-length films and shorts on the schedule hail from such disparate locales as Mexico (“Jai”), France (“Le Grand Role”), England (“Suzie Gold”), Norway (“The Man Who Loved Haugesund”), Canada (“The Chosen People”) and the U.S. ( “The Personals: Improvisations on Romance in the Golden Years”).

However, the majority of the 2005 attractions (about 60 percent) come out of Israel. Former Microsoft executive and festival co-chair Moshe Dunie says Israel, for its all troubles, is in the midst of a cinematic flowering “comparable to France’s New Wave, and the rise of Iranian film.”

Seattle Jewish
Film Festival

Opens at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow, with a screening of the short film “Sliding Flora” and the feature “Only Human,” at the Cinerama, Fourth and Lenora, Seattle. The festival runs through March 20 with films at the Cinerama, the 5th Avenue Theatre and Broadway Performance Hall in Seattle. Tickets: $7-$9 per show, with higher prices for special events. Festival passes: $85-$150. For tickets and schedules, and details about special screenings for seniors, go to: or call 206-325-6500.

Modern Israeli movies are regularly showcased at the many Jewish film festivals held annually in this country, and other nations. But SJFF curator Pamela Lavitt says now “we’re seeing a marked difference in their subject matter. There are fewer stories about Israeli politics and the intefadeh [Palestinian uprising], and more about dealing with the extraordinariness in ordinary life.”

One such example is the award-winning feature “To Take a Wife,” (playing on March 17 at Broadway Performance Hall). This intense study of a loveless marriage stars the riveting Israeli actress Ronit Elkabetz (seen here previously in the black comedy “Late Marriage”), who co-wrote and directed “To Take a Wife” with her brother Shlomi Elkabetz.

Another Israeli hit, “Or,” affords a gritty look at a Tel Aviv teenage girl trying desperately to free her mother from a life of prostitution. It took the coveted Camera d’Or (best first film) prize at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival.

While there are also movies dealing with continuing reverberations from the Holocaust (including Daniel Anker’s first-rate documentary, “Imaginary Witness: Hollywood and the Holocaust”), and with the tragedies and bloodshed on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (“Behind Enemy Lines”), there’s also some romantic comedy in the mix. (Tovah Feldshuh co-stars in “The Tollbooth,” a blithe bagatelle about a young Jewish artist in 2004 New York City.)

And there are several documentaries devoted to remarkable individuals. “Keep on Walking” profiles an African-American gospel singer, Joshua Nelson (who will perform live at the festival).

And “Sugihara: Conspiracy of Kindness” concerns how a principled Japanese diplomat in Europe helped 2,000 Jewish refugees escape from Nazi terror. (The late Chiune Sugihara is today known as “the Japanese Schindler.”)

SJFF is produced by the Seattle Chapter of the American Jewish Committee on a $200,000 budget. And this year, festival director Julie Hammer Mahdavi has worked to broaden the festival’s links with other local Jewish groups and create special senior screenings at community centers.

Seattle’s longstanding enclave of Sephardic Jews is helping to sponsor the local debut of “The Last Sephardic Jew,” a Spanish documentary on the journey of Jews through and beyond Spain. (Director Miguel Angel Nieto will appear at Sunday’s screening of the movie at the Cinerama.)

And after a March 20 showing of “Finding Eliazar,” the chronicle of an American tenor preparing a role in a Viennese staging of the 19th-century opera “La Juive (The Jewess),” SJFF will host a discussion titled “Staging the Jew.” Among the participants: singer Peter Kazaras and education director Perry Lorenzo from Seattle Opera, and Aaron Posner, director and co-adapter of the play “The Chosen” at Seattle Repertory Theatre.

Misha Berson: