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The Jewish Film Festival

Eddie Tamir was in Sydney for the opening night of the Jewish International Film Festival when we spoke. Tamir’s day job is a number of independent cinemas in Melbourne, a business he’s been in for 20 years, so a festival is a natural extension to that business.

The festival has been running for many years, one of about 50 around the world. Tamir took over the ANZ festival five years ago. The programme is made up of films “by and about people trying to make sense of our crazy, beautiful world’ he says in his welcome to the event.

As part of the cinema business, Tamir’s a regular at major markets including Berlin and Cannes, as well as markets that more closely align with the Jewish International Film Festival, such as Doc Aviv. As a result of being in the business of acquiring films for exhibition, JIFF has a jump on a lot of the national and cultural festivals that do the rounds in New Zealand. It shows in the line-up. Most such festivals bring titles two, three, four years old. Half the JIFF programme, at least the films making the trip to NZ if not all the Australian venues, are 2015 and 2016 titles.

Opening night film Denial (pictured, top) premiered in Toronto less than two months ago. Also via Toronto, but having premiered at Sundance and also played the Berlinale, is Israel’s current submission for the Foreign Language Oscar, Elite Zexer’s Sand Storm.

As Tamir notes, it wouldn’t be a Jewish collection without a healthy dose of politics. The line-up doesn’t disappoint in that respect and also includes Hans Steinbichler’s The Diary of Anne Frank and Ferne Pearlstein’s The Last Laugh – both of them also 2016 releases.

Lars Kraume’s 2015 The People vs Fritz Bauer, recently also here for the Goethe Institut’s German Film Festival, is another of the titles picking up on themes and events from of the Second World War.

While such titles are strongly focused on Jewish experience, Tamir talks a little about how – for the purposes of programming – he decides what makes “a Jewish film”.

“We’re trying to present a window into the Jewish experience,” he says. “We focus on context, not necessarily just content. Anything from Israel is effectively speaking to the Jewish experience, but it’s not just about Israel.

Sand Storm is a Bedouin story, told in Arabic – but made by a Jewish woman.”

He admits it can be challenging to find the balance between the titles that will resonate with Jewish audiences and those that will illuminate the Jewish experience for those with limited knowledge. Sometimes it just comes down to the quality of the film and filmmaking.

Asaph Polonsky’s One Week and a Day addresses a universal theme, grieving the loss of a child, but within the context people struggling with fitting Jewish traditions of mourning into a world that keeps going. Cannes premiered, it picked up three gongs at the Jerusalem Film Festival and has six nominations at the Israeli film awards, the Ophirs, earlier in the year.

At the populist end of the programme are titles including Michael Manasseri’s US-set comedy The Pickle Recipe.

“I hope people can take advantage of the programme,” Tamir says, “and enjoy and argue about the films.”

The Jewish International Film Festival plays at Auckland’s Academy Cinemas 10, 12, 13, 19 & 20 November.