Jewish film festival serves up variety

A scene from the festival’s closing night film, “AKA Nadia” with Neta Shpigelman and John Hurt.

Love, romance, drama, escape, rock music under the threat of rockets, a budding artist who dies too soon, a child coming of age, the horrors of the Holocaust - the Tampa Bay Jewish Film Festival's 21st season has all that and more.

In total, 13 feature length films and six shorts, all by Jewish directors or with Jewish themes will be shown at a variety of venues in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties from April 19- 27. Tickets are $10 per film or double feature, unless otherwise noted. For more information, visit www.tbjff.org or call (813) 769-4725.

Opening night

The festival opens on Wednesday, April 19 at the Bryan Glazer Family JCC, 522 N. Howard Ave., Tampa. There will be cocktails and heavy hors d'oeuvres at 6 p.m., opening ceremonies with STARR awards presented to two longtime film festival supporters, Ed Rudd and Stuart Novick, then the showing of the feature-length film Harmonia and a short, Mr. Bernstein. The event wraps up with a dessert reception at 9:30 p.m. Admission is $36 for opening night.

Harmonia was winner of the Van Leer Award for Best Cinematography at the Jerusalem Film Festival in 2016. Set inside the inner sanctum of a symphony hall, the film is a contemporary adaptation of the biblical tale of Abraham and Sarah as a childless couple seeks to form a family.

In Mr. Bernstein, a woman meets Leonard Bernstein, the conductor who lifted the spirits of her father in a post-war refugee camp.

Thursday, April 20

Three feature length films and two shorts will be shown at two theaters set up in the Glazer JCC.

The evening begins with The Women's Balcony and a short film, Wig Shop, at 6 p.m. (Full descriptions of the films are listed under the April 21 lineup.)

The satirical feature film, The 90 Minute War, will be paired with a short, Irving, at 6:30 p.m. In 90 Minute War, the Israeli- Palestinian conflict is resolved in a soccer game. In Irving, a Brooklyn curmudgeon gets a surprise visit from a British gent claiming to be his son.

Mr. Predictable will be shown at 8 p.m. In this film this lead male character, Adi, is brought up to be dependable and, well, predictable. Then he meets wild, romantic and passionate Natalia. Adi must then choose between love and reason, dreams and reality, Natalia and family.

Friday, April 21

Three feature length films and a short will be shown at Muvico Palm Harbor: The Women's Balcony along with the short Wig Shop will begin at 11 a.m. The film Moos will be shown at 2 p.m. and the movie 1945 will be screened at 4:15 p.m. The theater is at 37912 U.S. 19 N. in Palm Harbor.

In The Women's Balcony what begins as a joyous celebration turns into disaster when a women's balcony at an Orthodox synagogue collapses during a Bar Mitzvah party, injuring a number of people and leaving the senior rabbi in a state of shock. Stepping in to assume authority in the face of crisis, the young and charismatic Rabbi David first appears as a savior. His fundamentalist ways soon divide the close-knit Sephardic congregation along gender lines, as the self-righteous interloper insists that the accident is a divine warning against female nonconformity. The film was nominated for five Israeli Academy Awards, including Best Supporting Actor and Actress. Following the film there will be a luncheon catered by Jo-Els Delicatessan & Marketplace for an additional cost of $5.

In Wig Shop, Emily Mortimer (MacKenzie McHale in The Newsroom) portrays a Los Angeles Orthodox woman who uncovers a life-changing secret from a hairdresser along a melting pot stretch of Pico Boulevard.

In Moos, a Dutch romantic dramedy, a socially awkward young woman takes her first tentative steps toward independence and fulfilling a lifelong dream. Ever since her mother's death, Moos (Jip Smit) finds herself caught between caring for her grieving father (Michiel Romeyn) and having a life of her own. Her father wants her to take over the family textile business. Moos wants to act and applies to a prestigious performing arts academy. When her audition fails, she settles for a job at a school cafeteria, while taking private singing lessons. Balancing her family's low expectations of her against her own pride and determination to make something of herself, Moos reveals an inner strength few suspected she possessed.

1945 is an astonishingly haunting film. Deep undercurrents run beneath the simple surface in a quaint village that's ultimately forced to face up to its "ill-gotten gains" from World War II. On a sweltering August day in 1945, villagers prepare for the wedding of the town clerk's son. Meanwhile, two Orthodox Jews arrive at the village train station with mysterious boxes labeled "fragrances." The town clerk fears the men may be heirs of the village's deported Jews and expects them to demand their illegally acquired property back. Other villagers are afraid more survivors will come, posing a threat to the property and possessions they have claimed as their own.

Rock in the Red Zone will be screened during a special engagement at USF Hillel, 3101 USF Sycamore Drive, at the University of South Florida in Tampa. There will be a Shabbat dinner at 6:30 p.m., followed by the documentary film. Admission is donation based. To RSVP for the dinner and movie, contact Sylvie Cohen at (813) 899-2788.

Rock music is a means of coping and expressing defiance in an isolated southern Israeli border town under nearly constant state of attack in Rock in the Red Zone. Fear and danger are never far for residents of Sderot, where missiles rain down routinely from militant Islamic forces in the nearby Gaza Strip. Despite the daily trauma of air raid sirens and mortar explosions, war-weary Sderot has also managed to thrive as the epicenter of a music revolution. A united community of young artists - Jews of mainly Moroccan, Kurdish and Persian descent - has found an artistic outlet for their anger and hope, creating music that fuses various world influences, including contemporary Israeli sounds and North African rock.

Saturday, April 22

Across the Waters will be shown at 8:45 p.m. at Muvico Sundial 19, 151 2nd Ave. N., St. Petersburg.

Unsure of whom they can trust, a Jewish musician and his family make a frantic escape from Nazi-occupied Denmark in a gripping story of survival and rescue. Enjoying the nightlife of 1943 Copenhagen, jazz guitarist Arne Itkin (David Dencik) and wife Miriam (Danica Curcic) are seemingly immune to the hardships of war, as the Danish government opts for a compliant relationship with Nazi Germany. A raid however, forces the couple to flee their home with 5-year-old son Jakob (Anton Dalga°rd Guleryu¨z). Aided by a church pastor and underground resistance, they set out on a journey for the fishing village of Gilleleje, where refugees await passage to Sweden by boat. Based on true events, Across the Waters is directed and co-written by Nicolo Donato, whose own grandfather was among the courageous Danish fisherman to ferry war refugees to safety. This film showing is supported by the Florida Holocaust Museum.

April 23 and 27

There will be three double-feature matinees on Sunday, April 23, all in the Glazer JCC's two theaters.

At 2 p.m., the family-friendly Fanny's Journey will screen, followed by the short film Framed: The Adventures of Zion Man. These two movies are appropriate for those 10 and up. Children tickets, $5.

At 3 p.m., the film Eva Hesse will be shown, followed by the short, Joe's Violin. (The two documentaries will repeat in St. Petersburg on Thursday, April 27).

At 4:30 p.m.. The Second Time Around will be shown, followed by the short, The Stairs.

At 6:30 p.m., A.K.A. Nadia will be shown, followed by a gourmet coffee bar and dessert reception as the official closing night film. Tickets, including dessert, are $18 per person.

A brave, resourceful young girl leads a small band of orphans through Nazi-occupied France in Fanny's Journey, a coming-of-age drama bristling with suspense and poignancy. Following the arrest of their father in Paris, Fanny and her younger sisters Erika and Georgette are sent to a boarding school in France's neutral zone. Their safe haven is only temporary however, and the Jewish students are whisked away to another institution. As danger advances yet again, the children's fate is entrusted to 13-year-old Fanny who fearlessly treks through the countryside on a perilous mission to reach the Swiss border, with only wits and solidarity to guide her. Old-fashioned family entertainment, Fanny's Journey is based on an autobiographical novel by Fanny Ben-Ami.

Framed: The Adventures of Zion Man is about a young Jewish boy in prewar Germany who finds escape in the alternate universe of a superhero. This short is narrated by Ed Asner and inspired by a true story.

Eva Hesse profiles the groundbreaking artist whose brief but consequential career helped usher in the 1960s post-minimalist movement before her premature death. A brilliant and beautiful painter-turned-sculptor, Eva Hesse created wildly imaginative and evocative abstract art, pioneering the use of industrial materials including latex, fiberglass and plastics. Her work is often viewed in light of the emotional turmoil of a troubled life. Born in 1936 Hamburg, she fled Nazi Germany for New York, where her mother left the family and subsequently committed suicide. Her own failed marriage to fellow sculptor Tom Doyle was followed by a diagnosis of terminal brain cancer. Hesse died in May 1970 at the age of 34.

This film is supported by the Tampa Museum of Art and the Museum of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg, 255 Beach Drive NE, St. Petersburg, where the documentary will also be shown on April 27 at 7 p.m.

Paired with Eva Hesse is the short, Joe's Violin. Across generations and backgrounds, a musical instrument unites a Holocaust survivor and a Bronx schoolgirl. It was an Oscar nominee for short Documentary Film this year.

Two senior citizens discover it is never too late to fall in love, in the unabashedly sentimental romance The Second Time Around. An independent and vivacious widow, opera-loving Katherine Mitchell, finds herself in an assisted living facility with a broken hip. Determined to make a quick recovery and get back on her feet, she puts on a brave face and tries to ingratiate herself with the other residents. She seems unable, however, to soften the heart of Isaac Shapiro, a cranky and cynical Polish immigrant. Over time, a shared love of music slowly thaws their relationship and sows the seeds of a blossoming romance. The movie features career-capping performances by its two veteran actors - Linda Thorson of The Avengers and two-time Emmy Award winner Stuart Margolin of The Rockford Files.

The Stairs is a poignant recounting by a Holocaust survivor of his most harrowing day at Auschwitz. He's unable to tell this story to his son face to face, but he records his account of the day he arrived at the death camp and has the cassette tape mailed to his son after his death.

An Israeli woman living under false pretenses is haunted by her past in A.K.A. Nadia, a powerful meditation on the personal and political nature of identity. Born into a Palestinian family, the naive and lovestruck Nadia severs ties to her Jerusalem home life, and follows a PLO activist (Ali Suliman) to London where they secretly marry. When her husband is arrested, Nadia finds herself alone and in exile, with no option of returning to Israel where she is viewed as a terrorist. Flash forward 20 years, Nadia has forged a new identity as Maya, an Israeli Jew who by all appearances enjoys a successful life as a choreographer, devoted mother, and wife to a high-ranking Ministry of Justice official (Oded Leopold). But the resurfacing of a figure from her past threatens to unravel both her family and her own sense of self.

A.K.A. Nadia features Oscar nominee John Hurt in a small but pivotal role. The film was nominated for five Israeli Academy Awards and winner of the Israeli Critics' Forum Award at the Jerusalem International Film Festival.