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Jewish Film Festival gets spotlight

The 11th Annual Portland Jewish Film Festival begins Jan. 16 and runs through Feb. 11 at the Whitsell Auditorium (the south wing of the Portland Art Museum) and the Guild Theatre.

Opening night, the Portland Art Museum will be celebrating with a patron reception. Reception and film tickets are $25, while film tickets are $6.50 for general admission and $5.50 for students.

The festival is presented by the Institute for Judiac Studies and the Northwest Film Center, and co-sponsored by the Jewish Review.

Director of the film center, Bill Foster, explained, “Following a year’s absence, during which we worked to strengthen the festival’s financial and leadership base, we are pleased to welcome its return with 18 films that address universal concerns in a Jewish context. While these films do express the Jewish experience, you will find that they resonate beyond their cultural inspiration and speak to ideas, experiences and issues that confront our common humanity.”

With more than 16 different films ready to be shown, audiences are bound to find something of interest in this festival. For example, the film showing on Jan. 18, at 7 p.m. at Whitsell Auditorium is “Desperado Squares” a 2001 Israeli film directed by Benny Torati. According to Northwest Film Center “the story takes place in the atmosphere of a Mediterranean community of Greek Jews living in a dusty village somewhere outside of Tel Aviv, totally removed from big-city culture. Reminiscent of ‘Cinema Paradiso’ and spiced with a heavy Sephardic flavor, this film is a story about unfulfilled love and a neighborhood’s affection for an old theater.” The story follows Nisim, a young man who follows a dream in which his father Morris orders him to reopen the old family-run cinema. This film won the Israeli Academy Award for best director, music and art direction.

Also showing is “God Is Great, I’m Not” on Jan. 25 at 7:30 p.m. at the Guild Theatre. The movie was filmed in France in 2001 and directed by Pascale Bailly. The people involved in production of the film feel that “this movie showcases Audrey Tautou, the expressive star of ‘Amelie,’ who once again will no doubt prove irresistible in this charming, contemporary romantic comedy that reaches out across cultural boundaries.”

The description of the film by Northwest Film Center states, “Tautou plays Mich퀌�le, a pixilated model-cum-spiritual-quester who decides to convert from Buddhism to Judaism when she falls for Fran퀌_ois, a down-to-earth Jewish veterinarian. As secular as Mich퀌�le is spiritually inclined, Fran퀌_ois can’t quite muster the requisite enthusiasm for his girlfriend’s energetic embrace of all things Jewish, especially when she insists that he prove his love by being more observant. A son of Holocaust survivors living in Israel, Fran퀌_ois doesn’t need reminders that he’s Jewish. With a light touch and sure sense of irony, first-time feature director Pascale Bailly explores Jewish identity, interfaith coupling and France’s ethnic mix.”

Bringing the festival to a close is the showing of “Blue Vinyl,” directed by Judith Helfand and Daniel Gold.

According to her website activist filmmaker Judith Helfand, who explored the devastating effects of DES on her own body in “A Healthy Baby Girl,” “is not one to look the other way when a potential toxin gets too close to home. So when her Jewish parents affix vinyl siding to their suburban Long Island abode, she gets suspicious.”

This film was also shown at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival and was the winner of the Documentary Award for Excellence at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival.

If you’re big on going to the movies and ready for some fresh new stories, be sure to check out the NW Film’s Website at