Diversity of character and approach defines Edmonton Jewish Film Fest’s lineup

Miguel Ángel Solá stars as Abraham Bursztein in The Last Suit, playing Sunday at Edmonotn Jewish Film Festival. supplied

From a fly-on-the wall museum documentary to a scathing examination of Kurt Waldheim’s ugly past to a feature-length portrait of beloved, India-born conductor Zubin Mehta, the 23rd annual Edmonton Jewish Film Festival (EJFF) features a decidedly diverse lineup of perspectives this year.

Running May 21-30 at Landmark Cinemas Edmonton City Centre (10200 102 Ave.), its nine features and numerous shorts include a dessert reception with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra’s chief conductor Alexander Prior, an informal political discussion over pints at Fionn MacCool’s and a Q&A with Rabbi Mark Glickman about a historical treasure trove.

The EJFF — a study in characters featuring dramas, comedies and documentaries — is the primary fundraiser for Partnership 2Gether (P2G), The Jewish Federation of Edmonton’s bridge-building partnership with the communities of the Galilee panhandle in Northern Israel.

Festival coordinator Susan Schiffman — also director of development for the Jewish Federation of Edmonton — is as candid as ever breaking down the films one by one, so here’s what she had to say about each.

Shoelaces — 7 p.m, Tuesday, May 21: An engaging, humorous and life-affirming story of the relationship between Reuben, an aging auto mechanic, and Gadi, the exuberant special-needs son he abandoned long ago. “An Israeli drama, both heartwarming and funny. The minor characters, the smaller roles, are great,” says Schiffman.

From Cairo to the Cloud – 7 p.m., Wednesday, May 22: The gripping documentary of the discovery and significance of the Cairo Geniza, a vast treasure trove of manuscripts hidden for centuries in the sacred storeroom of an ancient synagogue in Old Cairo. “It’s a true history adventure, better than Raiders of the Ark,” she laughs. “In Jewish tradition you’re not supposed to throw away anything with sacred text in it. So for thousands of years people had been throwing documents in there: love letters, bills, children’s drawings.” Rabbi Mark Glickman, who wrote a book on the subject, speaks afterwards.

Tel Aviv on Fire — 7 p.m., Thursday, May 23: In this dark comedy, Salam is a production assistant on the set of an Arab-language soap opera, popular in both Israel and the Palestinian Territories. With an unexpected promotion, he becomes the show’s main scriptwriter, despite his obvious lack of experience. “It’s sort of a farce, a little screwball, sometimes dark. It’s praised for an ability to laugh about something that’s so harsh and divisive.”

The Museum — 3 p.m., Sunday, May 26: A documentary exploration of the Israeli soul through visiting the galleries, storerooms and visitors to the Israel Museum, Israel’s most important cultural institution. “You’re seeing artwork, meeting the people. It starts with a very touching scene, a man and his wife, he’s describing the picture to her. It’s really about the lifeblood of the museum. If you don’t like museums you’d be bored out of your mind,” Shiffman laughs. “It’s quirky and cool.” Before the film, short films by students from the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem​ play.

The Last Suit — 7 p.m., Sunday, May 26: In this poignant, humorous, late-in-life road trip drama, Abraham Bursztein, an 88-year old tailor and Holocaust survivor, leaves his home in Buenos Aires for Poland, to find the friend who saved him from certain death long ago. “It’s so good. Great scenes of the Argentinian Jewish community, it’s a different take. It’s not heavily Holocaust, but more about the present.” Spanish with English subtitles.

Leona — 7 p.m, Monday, May 27: An intimate, insightful and moving story of a young Jewish artist from Mexico City who finds herself torn between her family and her forbidden love of a non-Jewish man. The film is ripe with all the drama and interpersonal conflicts of a Jane Austen novel. “It’s about the Syrian Jewish community, very tight-knit. She falls in love and her family is totally against it, she won’t bring him home. Some people have criticized it as negative in the Jewish press, but I see it as your typical star-crossed lovers story. It’s reality.”

The Waldheim Waltz — 7 p.m., Tuesday, May 28: In this fascinating film about truth, lies and how a dishonest man can rise to power, Ruth Beckermann documents the process of uncovering former UN Secretary General Kurt Waldheim’s wartime past. “It’s very topical, not a coincidence the director made this movie now, a reaction to rise of anti-Semitism in Eastern Europe. I find it very relevant to the North American political scene as well — what happens when a despicable liar comes to power?” A pub chat with Austrian musicologist and University of Alberta visiting associate professor Gregor Kokorz at Fionn MacCool’s outside the theatre follows the film.

Between Worlds — 7 p.m., Wednesday, May 29: Visiting their gravely injured son in a Jerusalem hospital in the aftermath of a terrorist attack, Orthodox couple Bina and Meir form a surprising bond with a beautiful young woman, who is seemingly at the hospital to attend to her dying father. “It’s beautiful, a bit of a mystery. Slow and moody.”

Good Thoughts, Good Words, Good Deeds — 7 p.m., Thursday, May 30: “It’s not a Jewish movie per se, but a person (conductor Zubin Mehta) much beloved in Israel. One of the themes I like a lot is the power of music to heal. His philosophy is that an orchestra is so much more than that, it really has the power to bring people together, connecting people of different cultures.” This closing night event features ESO’s Alexander Prior speaking about orchestra and community with a free dessert reception after the film.

Ticket information, trailers and more details are at jewishedmonton.org, including how to get a $100 pass to get into all the films. Tickets may also be purchased for regular price at the theatre.

fgriwkowsky@postmedia.com

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