From star-studded features, gripping historical dramas, and stories of iconic Jewish trailblazers and innovators, the Jewish International Film Festival (February 17 – March 24) returns for another year of spectacular Jewish cinema from around the world.
Featuring 51 films from 19 countries, the Festival builds on over 30 years of bringing the best of Jewish cinema to Australia, presenting 29 features, 19 documentaries, and episodes from 3 TV series to audiences in Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, Brisbane, and Canberra.
“I am delighted to present our vibrant 2021 program, now back in cinemas. This year’s program celebrates the richness and diversity of Jewish culture around the world. The line-up includes Australian premieres of fifty films and three series; as usual split equally between Israeli and diaspora productions, with nineteen countries represented on screen. From deeply personal documentaries on the trailblazers who changed the world, to touching true stories illuminating the untold stories from our history, as well as some truly impressive star-studded films, JIFF 2021 will reach all ages across the full spectrum of politics and religion,”Eddie Tamir, Jewish International Film Festival Artistic Director
OPENING AND CLOSING NIGHTS
Kicking off the Festival is winner of Best Film at the Ophir Awards (Israeli Oscars), Incitement – a timely film mirroring the radicalised final days of the Trump-era, revealing the forces which incited a young Orthodox law student to assassinate the Israeli Prime Minister in 1995 and effectively doom the peace process that would have changed the Middle East.
The Festival will close by premiering the first two episodes of the global phenomenon, Shtisel,season three. Starring Shira Haas (Orthodox), the series, follows a Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) family in Jerusalem as they reckon with love, loss, and the daily doldrums of life.
Hollywood legends unite to pay tribute to multi-Academy Award winning director, Alan Pakula (To Kill a Mockingbird, Sophie’s Choice, All the President’s Men), whose films launched many of their careers. Featuring interviews with Meryl Streep (Sophie’s Choice), Jane Fonda (Klute), Harrison Ford (Presumed Innocent), Robert Redford (All the President’s Men), and Dustin Hoffman (All the President’s Men), to name a few – Alan Pakula: Going for Truth tells the rich and deeply personal story of one of Hollywood’s greatest directors, before his tragic death in 1998.
Starring Golden Globe nominee and Australian film star, Guy Pearce (Momento), and Danish actor, Claes Bang (Dracula), The Last Vermeer is a post-World War II feature following an Army officer (Bang) tasked with investigating paintings that fell into Nazi possession during the war. A notorious Dutch art dealer (Pearce) is tried for selling the Nazis a valuable masterpiece by Johannes Vermeer, but pleads his innocence by claiming it was a forgery.
Distinctly female stories are explored in this year’s program. From multi-Academy Award winning director, Freida Lee Mock (Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision), comes Ruth – Justice Ginsburg In Her Own Words. It tells the story of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who despite having “three strikes” against her – being Jewish, a woman, and a mother – went from a top-of-the-class law graduate struggling to find work to a Supreme Court Justice who changed the world.
Multi-award winner at Tribeca Film Festival, as well as Israel’s submission to the Best International Feature Film category at the upcoming Academy Awards – Asia stars Primetime Emmy Award nominee Shira Haas (Orthodox) as a girl determined to spend her final days as a rebellious, free-spirited teenager despite her degenerative disease, all with the help of her mother (Alena Yiv).
And from the Official Selection of Toronto International Film Festival and South by South West comes Shiva Baby, a playful and sex-positive coming-of-age story following a directionless college student forced to juggle her pushy relatives, a successful ex-girlfriend, and a surprise appearance from her sugar daddy, his accomplished wife, and their baby at a family shiva.
Films taking an unflinching look at some of the world’s most controversial figures include: They Call Me Dr. Miami, a nuanced portrait of Dr. Michael Salzhauer – an American plastic surgeon who rose to social media fame with viral Snapchat videos and by livestreaming tummy tucks and breast augmentations online. And from Jesse Dylan (son of musician Bob Dylan) comes Soros, the life and career of Hungarian-born, American billionaire investor and philanthropist, George Soros, whose progressive politics have made him a target for America’s far-right.
Stories revisiting World War II include: When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, based on a best-selling trilogy for children, following a Jewish family fleeing Berlin in the 1930s, as seen through the innocent eyes of their nine-year-old daughter; Love, It Was Not, which examines whether the relationship between an Auschwitz prisoner and an SS guard was genuine; and Adventures of a Mathematician, the story of Polish-born mathematician, Stan Ulam, who moved to the United States and joined the Manhattan Project to build the hydrogen bomb.
Cultural divides are explored in Breaking Bread, a documentary about the A-sham Food Festival, a yearly event in the mixed city of Haifa that invites Arab and Jewish chefs to set aside politics and collaborate on new dishes. With unprecedented access to high-ranking government officials, the story of the United States’ thirty-year effort to secure peace in the Middle East is revealed in The Human Factor, through the perspective of six American negotiators. Til Kingdom Comes takes a deep-dive into the phenomenon in which American Evangelical Christians offer support to Israel, only because they believe Israel will play a part in the return of the Messiah and bring upon their version of the apocalypse to the world.
Based on the true immigration story of Ophir Award-nominated writer and director, Evgeny Ruman, Golden Voices is an absurd tragi-comedy about a veteran Soviet voice-dubbing duo struggling to make a new life in Israel with their new jobs at an erotic phone line and an illegal dubbing operation.
Other cinematic dramas in the festival line-up include: Persian Lessons, following a Jewish man who, by falsely claiming he’s Persian instead of Jewish, narrowly escapes execution and becomes tasked with teaching a camp officer how to speak Persian, despite not knowing a single word of it himself. Official Selection of both Cannes Film Festival and Toronto International Film Festival, as well as having won and been nominated for several awards at the Ophir Awards, is Here We Are, a touching coming-of-age story following a father struggling to let go of his autistic, young adult son about to enter a specialised care home.
Thou Shalt Not Hate, which swept up multiple awards at Venice International Film Festival, is a powerful reflection of the Nazi legacy in contemporary Italy. It follows a Jewish surgeon and son of a Holocaust survivor who, because of his guilt, hires a young woman as his housekeeper after letting her father die in a car accident because he had a swastika tattoo on his chest.
Audiences in Sydney and Melbourne can enjoy a range of special events associated with their screenings – from an exclusively prerecorded Q&A with Yaron Zilberman, director of Opening Night film Incitement; a digital Q&A with Shiva Baby director Emma Seligman; a historical tour of the Ritz Cinema in Sydney and Classic Cinemas, Elsternwick in Melbourne, respectively; a back-to-back binge session of all six Nisman: The Prosecutor, the President and the Spy episodes, and much more.
2021 Jewish International Film Festival Screening Dates
|MELBOURNE||17 February – 16 March||Classic Cinemas, Elsternwick|
|18 February – 16 March||Lido Cinemas, Hawthorn|
|SYDNEY||18 February – 17 March||Ritz Cinemas, Randwick|
|6 – 24 March||Roseville Cinemas|
|PERTH||18 February – 3 March||Luna Cinemas, Leederville|
|BRISBANE||18 February – 28 February||New Farm Cinemas|
|CANBERRA||17 – 28 February||Dendy Cinemas, Canberra|