London, 19th September 2019 – UK Jewish Film is delighted to announce the 23rd UK Jewish Film Festival, which will run from 6th – 21st November at 15 cinemas across London. A UK tour of festival highlights to 20 towns and cities across England, Scotland and Wales will run until 12th December.
This year’s programme, comprising 96 films, plus Q&As and discussions with directors, actors, politicians, journalists and others, is the largest Jewish film festival programme in the world. The film programme includes 8 world premieres, 1 European premiere, 40 UK premieres, and films from 24 countries, including 23 films from the UK.
For 2019 the festival is launching its first ever Best Documentary Award with a jury headed up by BBC Storyville’s Nick Fraser and also comprising Anna Godas (CEO, Dogwoof), Laura Granditer (Managing Director, Immediate Films), Wendy Ide (Film Journalist, The Observer, Screen International), Charlie Phillips (Head of Video, The Guardian) and Tim Wardle (Director, Three Identical Strangers). Films in competition for this award are Advocate, Fiddler: Miracle of Miracles, The Human Factor, It Must Schwing! The Blue Note Story, The Last Resort and The State against Mandela and the Others.
Films in competition for the Dorfman Best Film Award are Dolce Fine Giornata, Flawless, Jojo Rabbit, My Polish Honeymoon, Stripped and The Unorthodox. Jurors are Jane Barclay (Producer, Blinded by the Light), Roanna Benn (Managing Director, Drama Republic), Phil de Semlyen (Global Film Editor, Time Out), James Kent (Director, Testament of Youth), Jane Lush (Chair, BAFTA) and Dan Mazer (Writer, Borat, Bruno, Who is America).
Films in competition for Best Debut Feature Award are Fig Tree, God of the Piano, The Humorist, Leona, My Polish Honeymoon and The Unorthodox. Jurors are Tammy Einav (CEO, adam&eveDDB), Satwant Gil (Director, Women in Film & Television), Marc Goldberg (CEO, Signature Entertainment), Ofir Raul Graizer (Director, The Cakemaker), Linda Kelsey (Journalist, Author) and Jason Solomons (Broadcaster, Film Critic, BBC).
The Opening Night Gala is the UK Premiere of My Polish Honeymoon, the debut feature from French director Élise Otzenberger. This comedy follows recently- married Parisian couple (Anna and Adam) as they head off on a belated honeymoon to Poland, leaving their baby in the hands of Anna’s parents. Immersed in a new but strangely familiar culture, they discover a Poland awash with absurd and wonderful characters, picture perfect beauty and unbearable sadness. Élise Otzenberger’s debut feature is a life affirming tale about rediscovering roots and being Jewish today.
The Closing Night Gala is the Oscar tipped satire from Fox Searchlight Pictures, Jojo Rabbit, which recently won the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival. Written and directed by cult filmmaker Taika Waititi (Jewish on his mother’s side, while his father is Maori), this World War II satire follows Jojo, a lonely German boy whose imaginary friend is an idiotic Adolf Hitler (Waititi, in a boisterous performance). A keen (if slightly incompetent) member of the Hitler Youth, Jojo’s world view is turned upside down when he discovers his single mother (Scarlett Johansson) is hiding a young Jewish girl in their attic. Also starring Oscar-winner Sam Rockwell and Rebel Wilson, and daringly confronting nationalism and racism, Jojo Rabbit is as hilariously sharp as The Producers and as sentimental as Life is Beautiful.
The Centrepiece Gala is the UK Premiere of The Operative, directed by Yuval Adler and starring Diane Kruger and Martin Freeman. British citizen Rachel is a rootless polyglot, but with a deep love for Israel – traits that make her an ideal Mossad agent. Recruited by a Berlin-based British Jew she is sent to Tehran to spy on a businessman. Based on the Israeli novel, The English Teacher, and featuring a stellar Israeli and international cast, The Operative asks whether love for a man is more important than service to your nation.
The Documentary Gala is the World Premiere of The Human Factor, followed by a Q&A with the film’s director Dror Moreh (The Gatekeepers), and producer Teddy Leifer (Oscar nominee for The Invisible War, Oscar winner for Icarus). With the end of the Cold War and America becoming a sole global superpower, the 1990s brought the promise of a new world order. The dramatic geopolitical shift also raised hopes for a comprehensive peace between Israel and two of its bitterest enemies, the Palestinians and Syria. Featuring key players, this fascinating and important documentary looks back at a pivotal decade which started with the signing of the Oslo Accords and ended with a bitter sense of disillusionment, leading to the Second Intifada.
Michael Etherton, Chief Executive of UK Jewish Film, said: “We are the UK’s only film festival dedicated to telling stories about Jewish life and experience, and the majority of our UK and international films would not otherwise make it to cinemas or streaming services. At a time of increasing fears about the rise of racism, including antisemitism, the UK Jewish Film Festival has a crucial role to play in making sure that Jewish life and culture is being adequately represented on our cinema screens. That’s why this year, with the support of the BFI Audience Fund, we are unrolling an extensive and important nationwide tour. From Inverness to Brighton and Bangor to Norwich, we will reveal wonderful cinematic snapshots of Jewish life to diverse audiences who may not otherwise have any interaction with Jewish culture.”
The UK Jewish Film Festival programme this year reflects both the global reach and historical depth of Jewish culture, taking us from 15th Century Aleppo (The Lost Crown) to futuristic neon-lit Tokyo (Call for Dreams) via mid-century Miami Beach (The Last Resort).
The richness of the programme allows for some interesting and at times conflicting trajectories to emerge. In Nadav Lapid’s Berlinale-winning Synonyms, the protagonist wishes to leave Israel and reinvent himself as a French citizen in Paris, whereas From Slavery to Freedom and Ethiopian drama Fig Tree tell stories of people who are desperate to escape their home countries due to war or persecution and settle in Israel instead. And whilst we continue to be fascinated by past events (The Human Factor, The State Against Mandela and the Others, Murer: Anatomy of a Trial), current political and social trends loom large in documentaries such as King Bibi and Lieber-man and dramas such as Yaron Shani’s Love Trilogy and the dystopian Autonomies (from the creators of Shtisel).
The programme this year not only presents the incredible output of more artists than ever before, it also celebrates their many talents by delving into their respective worlds. We have dedicated a special strand to documentaries about the world of music, including a documentary about Fiddler on the Roof and a film about avant-garde musician Chilly Gonzales, and another strand to films about trailblazing photographers.
New films about the late Oscar-winning Czech director Milos Forman and Shoah’s film editor Ziva Postec are also in the mix, shedding light on the art and magic of filmmaking.
INCLUSIVITY AND DIVERSITY
As always, the values of inclusivity and diversity frame our artistic decisions and vision. A strand of bold, funny and thought-provoking queer short films celebrates the growing acceptance and understanding of the fluidity of gender and sex.
Another new strand, made possible by the Toni Schiff Memorial Fund, brings eight new films that explore the experiences of girls and women during and following the Holocaust. While, inevitably, the films expose the merciless brutality of war, their focus is elsewhere – on women’s bravery and determination to rescue themselves and others, to stand as witnesses, and, most importantly, to flourish, thrive and rebuild.
The Festival also features films that mark notable cinematic milestones including the 20th anniversary of the Oscar-nominated Jewish-Welsh epic, Solomon & Gaenor, the only film ever made in Yiddish and Welsh. The film will screen in London and then on tour across Wales and the UK with the director Paul Morrison and actors attending many screenings. It’s also the 10th anniversary of Coen Brothers’ wry comedy classic A Serious Man, and the 30th anniversary of the delightful Oscar-winning comedy, Driving Miss Daisy.
NEW CREATIVE TALENT
UK Jewish Film continues its focus on supporting a new generation of creative talent and this year has commissioned and produced two new British short films through its Pears Short Film Fund. Both films will receive their world premieres on Monday 11th November at the Phoenix Cinema.
Home, a stop-motion animation, directed by Anita Bruvere, is a true story of community, immigration, and diversity, told through the history of a single building: 19 Princelet Street, Spitalfields, East London.
On the Beaches, a drama based on a true event, directed by Luke Rogers, is set in Norfolk in 1933. After running away from home, Kitty and her brother David cheer themselves up by playing soldiers. But their game takes an unexpected turn when they discover a suspicious German hiding in a clifftop hut. The man is a Jewish refugee by the name of Albert Einstein.
Among this year’s sneak previews of new TV shows is Autonomies, the new TV series from the director of Netflix’s Shtisel. The series imagines an alternative reality in which Israel is split into two separate entities: the secular State of Israel, whose capital is Tel Aviv, and, on the other side of a dividing wall, an ultra-orthodox autonomy based in Jerusalem. The battle over the custody of a girl who was born into a Haredi family but has been raised by secular parents threatens to push the two territories into irrevocable chaos. The screening will be followed by a panel discussion, which will try to determine just how much of what Autonomies portrays is already a reality.
A number of films explore issues surrounding growing concerns over the rise of antisemitism in Britain and Europe. Why Do They Hate Us? was prompted by a series of deadly attacks in Paris in 2015. Inspired by his son’s query about why Jews were one of the targets, Alexandre Amiel, a French-Moroccan Jewish filmmaker, set out to make a trilogy of films whose aim is to trace the origins of modern xenophobia in France towards Jewish, Arab and Black communities. The film is a fascinating, if disturbing, journey into the dark depths of prejudice as it is experienced by members of the largest Jewish community in Europe. The film is preceded by a German short, Kippa, based on true events, which reflect the context in which most German Jewish children have been withdrawn from regular state schools for their safety. The films will be followed by a discussed with leading politicians, names to be confirmed.