Israeli films have been showered with international praise over in the past 18 months. Jellyfish, The Band’s Visit, Waltz With Bashir, Beaufort all won prizes or huge acclaim, and most recently, Samuel Maoz’s Lebanon won the Golden Lion Prize at the Venice Film festival. So anyone surveying the jam-packed, barmitzvah-themed 13th UK Jewish Film Festival programme, will be casting bets on which of the 15 feature-length and short Israeli films are destined for the big time.
Instead of dwelling on the bad luck that a thirteenth anniversary year could bring, the UK Jewish Film Festival is, fittingly, celebrating its barmitzvah year.
It will be the biggest ever year for the festival, which started life as the Brighton Jewish Film Festival back in 1996 before relocating to London and rebranding itself as the UK Jewish Film Festival in 2004.
The Coen brothers new film A Serious Man tops the bill at the festival, along with the UK Premiere of Adam Ressurected director by Taxi Driver writer Paul Schrader and starring Jeff Goldblem.
Mention contemporary British-Jewish film and most people think of Paul Weiland's 2006 barmitzvah tale, Sixty Six, or Ric Cantor's 2004 Bridget Jones-esque Suzie Gold. Although both were produced in an era of cinema when community-specific films such as My Big Fat Greek Wedding and Bend It Like Beckham were connecting with mainstream international audiences, neither, when released, attained the same level of success.
Avi Nesher's latest film, The Secrets, opens with Naomi (played by remarkable newcomer Ania Bukstein), the young pious daughter of a respected Orthodox rabbi, asking her father if her arranged marriage can be postponed so she can study for a year at a Midrasha in Safed. Her mother has just died. Out of love, he gives his consent.
Earlier this year in Israel, a great deal of hype accompanied the cinema release of The Lemon Tree, the latest film from writer/director Eran Riklis. After the success of The Syrian Bride (2004), a film about a Druze woman who has to leave Israel and her family in the Golan Heights, forever, in order to marry a man across the border in Syria, critics and audiences alike were eager to see what Riklis had to say next about the political status quo in Israel.