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Boston Jewish Film Festival Expands Its Horizons

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As one of the oldest festivals in the region, the Boston Jewish Film Festival looks just as appealing as ever with an impressive program spanning 12 days across 12 venues in the Greater Boston region. After the Nov. 6 premiere of "The Zig Zag Kid" with Isabella Rossellini, the BJFF will move on to nonconventional fare, including its first midnight movie, a dark comedy, steamy romances, a spotlight on Jews in Africa, and social hours for young attendees.

With an entire program focusing on younger filmgoers, the FreshFlix program is a mix of young filmmakers’ short films and off-color movies that wouldn’t appeal to parents who just don’t understand. For example, in the dark comedy, “Blumenthal,” filmmaker Seth Fisher, who’ll be in attendance, mixes Woody Allen’s neurosis with horrid entitlement and bad manners.

A privileged young man is unmoved by the death of an unpleasant uncle and the dissolution of a romantic relationship, while his father struggles about how best to mourn his brother and his mother attempts to return to acting with the help of plastic surgery. Among the swear words and constipation complaints, there’s dialogue devoted to interfaith relationships and what the American dream means to Jewish-Americans. You may not like a single member of the dysfunctional Blumenthal family, but it’s hard to keep a straight face as they all deal with unreal expectations for themselves and others.

There’s a particularly fun double feature Dec. 9 at the Coolidge Corner Theatre with “Blumenthal” and Israel’s latest horror export, “Big Bad Wolves.” Copresented by the dark minds of the Boston Underground Film Festival, "Big Bad Wolves" is a favorite of Quentin Tarantino’s and a multi-award winner, this genre film is only playing that night before scurrying back to the film festival circuit until its formal release next year.There's also the thought-provoking LGBTQ block, OUT Loud. It’s not just Jewish identity at the center of each of these shorts, but other faiths, sexualities, generations, and races. The shortest film, “Akin,” is a breezy walk through the history of one man’s transgender transformation and his mother’s conversion to Judaism. In the longer “A Matter of Sex,” an Israeli gay couple must deal with one partner’s heterosexual infidelity. And in the moving “Natives,” a young Jewish-American woman fails to connect with her partner’s Native American parents and risks breaking her relationship.

Another portion of the festival is dedicating space to documentaries about the Jewish diaspora in Africa. In “Tinghir,” Muslim filmmaker Kamal Hachkar turns his lens toward his Jewish neighbors in his Moroccan hometown. “Jews in Egypt” is a bit more self-explanatory, but no less moving as it documents the political changes of the region.

But it is “El Gusto” that captures something incredibly fulfilling: the reunion of an orchestra disbanded over 60 years ago by revolution. Filmmaker Safinez Bousbia’s project reunited a group of Algerian Jewish and Muslim musicians who specialize in Chaabi music, a regional hybrid of Spanish and Arabic melodies. Despite the members’ age, averaging about 70-100 years, the band gets together and begins touring—an opportunity they lost in the civil war.

Other special events includes a tribute to the founding programmer of the festival, Michal Goldman; a screening of “Jerusalem in IMAX” at the Museum of Science; a compilation of “Your Show of Shows” hosted by poet Robert Pinsky; and a special dinner celebrating the festival’s 25th anniversary with a presentation by film critic Ty Burr. Here's a pdf of the schedule by day and a listing by film.
There are far more films and show times, and you can browse more of season’s largest area film festival on the website (

Monica Castillo is a freelance film critic and writer based in Boston. You can usually find her outside any of the area’s movie theaters excitedly talking about the film she just saw or on Twitter @mcastimovies.

This program aired on November 6, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.

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