The Seattle Jewish Film Festival has grown to become one of the top 10 in the nation, size-wise. The 2016 fest opens with a movie directed by and starring Natalie Portman.

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In April, the Seattle Jewish Film Festival celebrates its 21st anniversary with a nine-day offering of food, live music and the screenings of 25 films focusing on Jewish themes and history.

What began in 1995 as a onetime film series at the Grand Illusion Cinema is now one in a nationwide circle of Jewish film festivals in major cities (Atlanta, Boston, San Francisco) that draw thousands of patrons each year to programs of international releases.

“We’re probably in the top 10 in terms of size,” says Pamela Lavitt, the Seattle festival director since 2005, and the curator of an ongoing film series at the Stroum Jewish Community Center.


Seattle Jewish Film Festival

April 2-10, sites vary. Individual screenings, $5-$25; packages are $125-$225 (206-388-0833 or

“Last year we sold 7,500 tickets,” Lavitt notes. “Maybe it’s the longevity, or loyalty, or the ethnic mosaic of our community, but our numbers are going up. (The year) 2015 was a record year for attendance.”

Screenings will take place at AMC Pacific Place and SIFF Cinema Uptown in Seattle, and SJCC on Mercer Island.

The opening-night attraction is “A Tale of Love and Darkness,” directed and starring Israeli native and Oscar-winning actress Natalie Portman (who will make a festival appearance via Skype or a prerecorded interview). Based on a memoir by leading Israeli author Amos Oz, the movie is set in 1945 and depicts a Jewish boy’s coming of age and family struggles in Jerusalem, during the turbulent emergence of the Jewish state. It will be shown at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 2, at AMC Pacific Place.

Some other Seattle Jewish Film Festival highlights:

• “Dough.” Preceded by a brunch catered by Matzoh Momma, this film stars Jonathan Pryce as an elderly Jewish baker in London who, with help from his immigrant Muslim apprentice and some cannabis, revives his failing business. (April 3, 9:30 a.m. brunch with appearance by the KlezKatz band, 11 a.m. screening, at AMC Pacific Place)

• “Oriented,” a documentary that follows three gay Palestinian friends in Tel Aviv and the subculture they are part of. Director Jake Witzenfeld will be at the screening. (April 3, 7:20 p.m. at AMC Pacific Place)

• “Once in a Lifetime” depicts a French high-school teacher whose unruly inner-city students find common ground while creating a class project about teens in the Holocaust. (April 5, 6:30 p.m., SIFF Cinema Uptown)

• “In Search of Israeli Cuisine,” a documentary by Roger Sherman about award-winning chef Michael Solomonov (Solomonov will be in attendance), and Israel’s vibrant food scene. (April 7 at 6:20 p.m., SIFF Cinema Uptown)

• “Rock in the Red Zone,” a look at the war-torn Israeli town of Sderot and its edgy music community, followed by Israeli rock star Avi Vaknin in concert. (April 9 at 8:40 p.m., SJCC)

• “Raise the Roof,” an international team of architects, historians, artists and scholars collaborate on reconstructing one of Poland’s lost wooden synagogues in this documentary. Also playing: the short film “In the Footsteps of Regina Jonas”; director Gail Reimer will attend. (April 10, 3:25 p.m. at SJCC).