Preview: UK Jewish Film Festival

Published

Credit: Fugitive Films

Naomi Gessesse
Writer
Itzhak, Humor Me and The Testament will form the Glasgow strand of the UK Jewish Film Festival 2018

Returning for its 22nd year, the UK Jewish Film Festival has programmed a range of films that explore the nuances of Jewish heritage on screen. As well as their annual film festival, UK Jewish Film also exhibit year-round screenings of shorts, features and documentaries that reflect the breadth of Jewish life and culture. Beyond this, the organisation also run acclaimed education schemes, notably their resource for teachers called Speak Out, which is designed to support teachers using film to educate their students about the Holocaust. UK Jewish Film are committed to encouraging a knowledge and understanding of Jewish people and their culture. Their upcoming festival will take place this November, with a few select screenings happening in Glasgow as well as other locations around the UK. Hosted by the CCA and GFT, screenings of Itzhak, Humor Me and The Testament are not to be missed.

Itzhak follows world-renowned violinist Itzhak Perlman in this celebratory documentary of his life. Watching Perlman play on screen is breathtaking; Israeli born and raised, his style of playing channels traditional Jewish folk music with the classical technique of a master in a way that explodes with feeling. When not playing, Perlman’s presence in the film prickles with warmth and curiosity as he visits people influential in his life, from the Israeli violin restorer to his friends and students in New York. The film is as much a love letter to his wife Toby, as it is a celebration of Itzhak and his music. She rightfully shares a lot of screen time with him, sharing intimate and considered commentary on her husband’s life, as well as their marriage. Her unwavering support yet critical eye offers comedic relief and frees the film from potential preciousness. Itzhak will screen at the GFT on 21 November.

Sam Hoffman’s Humor Me is a comedic look at love, family, divorce and mortality. Hoffman, the creator of Old Jews Telling Jokes, directs Jemaine Clement as Nate, a struggling playwright whose wife leaves him, and who is forced to live with his father in retirement housing community called Cranberry Bog. Seeing Clement, known for comedic roles in Flight of the Conchords and What We Do In The Shadows, playing subdued, depressed Nate is a testament to his range as an actor. Elliot Gould plays Nate’s well-meaning, bad-joke telling dad, which his self-described “deep Jewish identity” shines through. Their relationship is strained, with each of them reaching out to each other in misguided ways as they deal with change.

Humour Me perhaps best illuminates the nuances of father and son relationships in modern Jewish-American families, in dealing with pain, grief and disappointment. The film does, however have its weak points. While trying to find his feet, Nate gets roped into directing the community theatre group’s production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Mikado, which debuts at the film’s climax. The film glosses over the white actresses donning geisha costumes without comment, and the blatant cultural appropriation leaves the viewer perplexed. Humor Me will screen at the CCA on 15 November.

A meditation on intergenerational trauma and the legacy of the Holocaust, The Testament follows Yoel as he attempts to uncover a mass Jewish grave from the second world war, and becomes consumed by the search for his lost mother. A leading Holocaust scholar and the child of holocaust survivors, Yoel must battle against Austrian bureaucrats to allow access to precious resources, who wish to build over the mass grave. Yoel is exhausted by both his personal investment and the weight of history on his shoulders. Fiercely passionate, Yoel is cold but committed to tying the threads of his identity together, despite oppressive policy and unsympathetic ears. As Yoel himself says, when questioned on his own personal investment in his research: “Man’s tendency is to forget. My role as an observant Jew, is to remember.” This line feels emblematic of the spirit of the film – preserving Jewish culture and history is often a fight against various gatekeepers who wish to bury the past. Director Amichai Greenberg explores the complexity of Jewish intergenerational trauma and and the legacy of the Holocaust on survivors and their families, as well as the society that wishes to silence them. The Testament will screen at the GFT on 18 November.

Festivals such as the UK Jewish Film Festival work to showcase the scope and scale of Jewish identity, culture and heritage, in the wake of rising anti-semitism across the world. As well as culturally enriching, the Jewish Film Festival asks its attendees to consider the legacy of Jewish people and the breadth of their experience. Chief Executive of UK Jewish Film, Michael Etherton has said of the festival that “with antisemitism on the rise in the UK and across Europe there has never been a more important time to share through film, stories and experiences about Jewish life. We remain determined and committed to using film as a means of combating antisemitism and creating better understanding and awareness of Jewish life. I am deeply proud of the variety, quality and diversity of this year’s festival programme, with 85 films from 16 countries, including 51 UK premieres, at 21 cinemas in London, Brighton, Glasgow, Leeds, Manchester and Nottingham.”

The 22nd UK International Jewish Film Festival takes place between 8-22 November 2018 at cinemas across London, Manchester, Leeds and Glasgow. Find out more at: http://ukjewishfilm.org/