The mission of the 22nd annual Seattle Jewish Film Festival, says festival director Pamela Lavitt, is “to introduce people to nuanced thinking about the Jewish experience.” The fest runs March 25-April 2.
Films from across the globe will be showcased at the 22nd annual Seattle Jewish Film Festival (SJFF), which opens Saturday (March 25) and runs through April 2. That international flavor is no accident.
“We’re trying to heighten and highlight the positive aspects of internationalism,” said festival director Pamela Lavitt. “I think that broadening people’s horizons in our own community is our responsibility.”
At a time when a surge of anti-Semitic acts is opening fresh wounds in Seattle and across the country, Lavitt sees a clear mission for the SJFF.
Seattle Jewish Film Festival
March 25-April 2, at Stroum Jewish Community Center (Mercer Island), AMC Pacific Place and SIFF Cinema Uptown. Full festival pass is $225. Individual screening tickets also available; (seattlejewishfilmfestival.org)
“Film has the ability to reach your soul,” she said. “You can arrive in an hour someplace, somewhere, and understand and empathize and relate to people. I think that the power of that is undeniable. That’s our mission — not so much to fight anti-Semitism, but to introduce people to nuanced thinking about the Jewish experience.”
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This year’s lineup features films from the Netherlands (offbeat tale of self-discovery “Moos”) and France (“The Origin of Violence,” a novel take on hidden histories of the Holocaust, Lavitt says) alongside selections from Israel and the United States.
Many of the films deal with weighty issues, from the struggles of refugees in Israel (documentary “Freedom Runners”) to an adaptation of a true story of Polish resistance in World War II (“The Zookeeper’s Wife,” starring Jessica Chastain).
But the festival’s tonal scope is broader than that.
“People have the perception a lot of the time that a Jewish film festival is dark or dour or focuses on really nitty-gritty conflicts and the Holocaust,” Lavitt said. “We open up with something musical and lyrical.”
That would be “Harmonia,” a modern version of Genesis’ Abraham-Sarah-Hagar story, refashioned as a love triangle set against the backdrop of the Jerusalem Philharmonic Orchestra. Star Alon Aboutboul, a prolific film and television actor, will be in attendance.
Also attending the festival is director Dani Menkin to present his documentary “On the Map,” about the Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball team’s unlikely win over the Soviet Union in the 1977 European Championship.
“This is an iconic story for everyone who grew up in Israel in the 1970s,” Menkin said. “This is like the first man walking on the moon for us.”
The United States’ triumph over the Soviet Union in the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” Olympic hockey game is the stuff of sports legend. But the game in “On the Map” has many of the same Cold War implications, and it happened first.
“Most of the best [basketball documentaries] are much more than just a basketball story,” Menkin said. “They’re much more than just sports.”
Local filmmaking will be represented by wife-and-husband team Leah Warshawski and Todd Soliday’s “Big Sonia,” a documentary about diminutive 91-year-old Holocaust survivor Sonia Warshawski, Leah’s grandmother. When her beloved tailor shop is threatened with eviction, Sonia must grapple with the possibility of having to reinvent herself.
“We’d always known in the family that there were a lot of Sonia stories,” said Leah, who didn’t know her grandmother very well growing up.
That changed when the planned 20-minute short morphed into a feature film that took six years to complete, finished last year with the help from a grant from SIFF and True Productions. The film, which explores how a family responds to tragedy, got personal.
“What happened in the film is Leah and her grandmother became closer in a way that they hadn’t [before],” Soliday said. “I think that was the surprise for us as filmmakers. Nothing ends the way you think it is going to end when you start making a documentary. There’s always a surprise.”
“Big Sonia” will close out the festival, with the filmmakers and Sonia herself in attendance.