For years, Karen Davis directed the Palm Beach Jewish Film Festival, building it into one of the nation’s strongest programs screening movies on Jewish themes from around the globe.
She and the PBJFF parted ways a few years ago and, soon afterwards, she was wooed to take over the artistic reins of the Palm Beach Israeli Film Series, which is about to kick off its eighth season.
As its name implies, the Israeli series has a narrower focus, concentrating on films made by and often about those from the state of Israel. Rather than being held over a short time period, the series spans seven months, with each of eight films screened twice — once at West Palm Beach’s Temple Beth El and once at the Weisman Delray Community Center.
Eight years ago, the series began as an Israeli dinner and movie date night, “sort of a café cinema kind of thing,” says Davis. The films were quickly popular, but the meal proved problematic, so that half of the formula was eliminated.
The Palm Beach Israeli Film Series was the brainchild of food-service businessman Ilan Kottler, who continues as its chief underwriter and producer. As Davis puts it, “He wanted to do the series as a way to connect Israelis living here in Palm Beach County to their Israeli background. And he wanted to introduce Israeli — as opposed to Jewish — cinema to Palm Beach County audiences.”
Discovering and acquiring films for the series is similar to what Davis had long done for the Jewish Festival. “I look for what I’ve always looked for — outstanding quality, depth of substance and also entertainment value. But I pride myself on not doing what I consider to be fluff film,” she says. “I still tend to go for the more thought-provoking films that lend themselves to discussions.”
Being out from under the scrutiny of a large-scale Jewish organization like the Palm Beach Jewish Federation, Davis feels free to take more risks with her film choices. “The laypeople involved in the federation were, in my opinion, fairly middle-of-the-road, maybe tending towards conservative with regards to Israel,” she notes. That translated into a more play-safe menu of movies, Davis claims, and occasional opposition to her selections. “Once or twice, it was overt, but I always knew that it was there.”
Asked if there were any films in this season’s series that might have been met with a federation veto, Davis says, “Yes. The documentary by Denae Elon, ‘P.S. Jerusalem,’ and the feature film ‘The Wounded Land.’ Those two come to mind immediately.”
Here is a brief look at the lineup for the 8th Palm Beach Israeli Film Series:
Baba Joon (Tues., Nov. 8, 1:30 p.m., at Weisman; Sun., Nov. 13, 4 p.m., at Temple Beth El) — A semi-autobiographical tale of three generations of Iranians who move to Israel to eke out a living as rural turkey farmers. “What made this film special to me was that it was the first Israeli feature film scripted entirely in Farsi,” says Davis.
Wounded Land (Tues., Dec. 13, 1:30 p.m., Weisman; Sun, Dec. 11, 4 p.m., Beth El) — A drama set in Haifa, where the police watch over a terrorist at a city hospital threatened by a city mob. “It deals with moral issues. One of the terrorists is brought to the hospital at the same time as the victims of the attack, and the relatives of the victims are outraged.”
P.S. Jerusalem (Tues., Jan. 10, 1:30 p.m., Weisman; Sun., Jan. 8, 4 p.m., Beth El) — An autobiographical documentary of director Danae Elon and her family, facing the challenge of moving from New York back to Jerusalem. “This is a very touching movie about her attempt to return to Israel and the effect that ‘the situation’ has on her family.” Elon will attend and speak at both screenings.
One Week and a Day (Tues., Feb. 14, 1:30 p.m., Weisman; Sun., Feb. 12, 4 p.m., Beth El) — The darkly comic experiences of a grieving family, struggling to get over the death of a 25-year-old son from cancer. “It deals with death, with the rituals of shiva, and at the same time it’s almost comedic in its approach.”
Kapo in Jerusalem (Tues., Mar. 14, 1:30 p.m., Weisman; Sun., March 12, 4 p.m., Beth El) — A true story of two Auschwitz survivors who come to Jerusalem in 1946, one of whom is rumored to have been a kapo, or guard, in the concentration camp. “One of the few Israeli-made films that feature a former kapo as the lead character. The film tells the story from two points of view — the kapo’s, but also his victims’.”
Atomic Falafel (Tues., April 4, 1:30 p.m., Weisman; Sun., April 9, 4 p.m., Beth El) — An Israeli boy and girl and an Iranian rap singer prevent a nuclear disaster between their two countries. “One of the rare straight-out comedies that we feature.”
Peter the 3rd (Tues., May 9, 1:30 p.m., Weisman; Sun., May 14, 4 p.m., Beth El) — A 65-year-old failed actor teams up with a 28-year-old waitress to form their own political party, get him elected to the Knesset and earn him a sizable pension.
The films sound promising, but Davis knows that many South Florida filmgoers have still never heard of the series, let alone attended.
“Our marketing resources are limited, so we can’t afford much advertising,” she says. “But certainly everyone is welcome to subscribe to the series and like they used to say about Levy’s rye bread, you don’t need to be Jewish — or Israeli — to enjoy this film series.”
PALM BEACH ISRAELI FILM SERIES, Temple Beth El, 2815 N. Flagler Drive, West Palm Beach; Weisman Delray Community Center, 7091 W. Atlantic Ave., Delray Beach. Twice monthly from Nov. 8 to May 14. Single tickets: $7-$10. Series passes: $48-$60. Call: 561-833-0339.