Heading into its third annual event, March 10-31, the Judy Levis Markhoff Boca Raton Jewish Film Festival has already proven popular with south county movie mavens.
“We’ve grown tremendously,” reports Wendy Honig, the festival’s artistic director. This year’s festival will screen 44 films from 20 countries, including U.S. and Southeast premieres, and three submissions to the Academy Awards. And the fledgling event is probably not finished expanding. “We will fill the needs of whatever our community wants. If that is to grow, we will grow.”
Already the Boca Jewish festival has been able to attract films from around the globe. In addition to selections from the United States and Israel, this year’s movie crop comes from Canada, Ukraine, Georgia, France, Belgium, Russia, Germany, Lithuania, Poland, Norway, England, Denmark, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Austria, Switzerland, Egypt and Mexico.
Honig is adamant that Palm Beach County can support two Jewish film festivals, a reference to the Donald M. Ephraim Palm Beach Jewish Film Festival, which has been an area fixture for 29 years. “We have our area and our fans and they have theirs,” says Honig. “It would be inconvenient for their people to come to us or our people to go to them.”
Asked if the two audiences have different tastes in films, Honig readily agrees. “I would say that Boca has a more sophisticated taste. We have a very demanding screening committee. We are quick to reject anything that is fluff.” And the same goes for the festival attendees. “If you put anything fluffy in, you will never hear the end of it.”
Even when the Boca festival selects a comedy to kick off its three weeks of screenings, it chooses a dark comedy, To Dust, on the subject of death. “There’s a lot of humor to it, but it also deals with a very heavy subject — what happens to the body once the body dies?” The film leads off two weeks of screenings at the Cinemark Palace, and stars Matthew Broderick and Geza Rohrig, of the 2015 Oscar-winning Son of Saul. Rohrig and the film’s director Shawn Snyder will be present to introduce the film and hold a post-screening discussion on Sunday, March 10.
The final film at the Cinemark, on Saturday, March 23, will be The Bird Catcher, a Norwegian thriller about a 14-year old girl’s efforts to survive on a remote snow bound farm in Nazi-occupied Norway. The film will be attended by its director, Ross Clarke, and producer Lisa Black.
From the 24th to the 30th, the festival action moves to the Movies of Delray. The closing film there will be Leona, a cross-cultural romance between a young Jewish woman and a Mexican man, with all the expected family resistance to the match.
The Boca fest concludes with a handful of screenings on the Levis JCC campus. Honig is particularly enthusiastic about the closing event at Zinman Hall, the film The Mamboniks (March 31), a documentary that explores the connection between the Jewish people and the mambo.
“We’ve really pulled out all the stops for this one,” says Honig. “We not only have the filmmaker but five of the original Mamboniks,” a popular dance group with roots in the 1950s, accompanied by the Grammy-nominated Cuban band, Palo. “The whole audience is going to get a dance lesson. And then the Mamboniks will give a demonstration. These people are better than ‘Dancing with the Stars.’”
Other highlights of the festival include:
* Golda’s Balcony – a film of the original Broadway play about Israeli prime minster Golda Meier, starring Tovah Feldshuh
* The Unorthodox – one of Israel’s biggest box office hits of the year
* The Other Story – directed by Avi Nesher, one of Israel’s most renowned filmmakers
* King Bibi – a documentary on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
* Three official entries to the Academy Awards for best foreign language film, Slovakia’s The Interpreter, Austria’s The Waldheim Waltz, and Russia’s Sobibor.
“We have not only amazing films, but films that educate you on subjects you probably know little about,” Honig claims. “You will learn a lot, but it is more than educating and entertaining people. There’s a feeling of community, when you are all there in the same room, things happen, friendships form. It’s sort of the same thing of Jews that pray in a synagogue together.”
The festival’s complete schedule is available at bocajff.org. For tickets or information, call 561-558-2514 or visit the Levis JCC Sandler Center Box Office located at 21050 95th Avenue S., Boca Raton.