by John Dreyfus, Houston Jewish Film Festival Chair
After all the previewing and planning, it is hard to believe the 13th Annual Houston Jewish Film Festival is upon us. Doreen Joffe and Sharon Kagan gave birth to this project 13 years ago. Now our adolescent program celebrates a Bar Mitzvah. The celebration kicks off with a sneak preview of the drama Fever at Dawn on Monday February 27, and officially opens March 5 and runs through March 19.
This is the 6th Festival I have been involved with, and we are doing a few things differently this year. We’re adding two screenings at MATCH (Midtown Arts & Theater Center Houston), our first screening at The Emery/Weiner School, and our second screening in Galveston. Our goal is to expand the audience with these additional venues. I have already watched 12 of the films; there are films to suit everyone’s tastes.
It is always interesting to see how an audience reacts to a film I have already previewed. I can’t wait to see the reaction to Harmonia on Opening Night. Last year, I appalled the audience with the film The Man in the Wall. This year I think the audience will embrace Harmonia. One of my other personal favorites is On the Map, a documentary about the Israeli Basketball team that played in the European Championships in the late 1970s. This is not just a film about basketball. It was produced by Nancy Spielberg (who you will remember her from Above and Beyond) and was directed by Dani Menkin, who will introduce the film. OK, I will be honest with you. The real reason we are showing On the Map is so I can avenge my 3 set loss to Dani in tennis when he was here two years ago for Is that You? This year, he is going down! I anticipate a sell out for On the Map. It has received a lot of buzz.
There are four modern day Israeli films. The first one is Beyond the Mountains and Hills. It can be described as an Israeli version of American Beauty. One Week and a Day shows how an atypical Israeli family deals after their son’s Shiva. Ping pong and pot-smoking are part of the grieving process. I am crazy about Our Father, but it is not for everyone. The film committee was sharply divided. Half of us really liked it, the other half, not so much. It is dark, extremely violent with drug use. It is the story of a bouncer in a bar (a brilliant performance by Ophir award winning Best Actor Moris Cohen) who makes extreme sacrifices so he and his wife can produce a child. If you like the Sopranos and that genre, you should like Our Father.
Finally, my Chairman’s Choices are two classic Marx Brothers Films: Duck Soup is one of the greatest comedies of all time. At the Circus is a more polished MGM production. I hope members of our audience will introduce new fans to the Marx Brothers. These movies are timeless.
We have a few surprises in store. In addition to the films, we have three special guests who will join us throughout the festival. Directors Dani Menkin and Shimon Dotan will be in attendance for the viewing of their films On the Map on March 7 and The Settlers on March 16. Howard Rosenman will join us March 8 to talk about his spectacular career of producing more than 35 films, including Father of the Bride, The Family Man, Resurrection, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The Celluloid Closet.
My last bit of advice to our audience is to watch the film trailers on our website. Play the video below and get inspired. Bring your family, friends, kids and neighbors to the Houston Jewish Film Festival and be a part of the celebration.