Technically, the annual Jewish FilmFest, put on by the Mandel Jewish Community Center of Cleveland, marks a full decade in 2016. With the asterisk that this week-plus of Israeli and international Judaica cinema is somewhat of a successor to the old Cleveland-Israeli Film Festival of about two decades ago, which brought to the area the rarely-screens films from the Tel Aviv movie industry.
After that had lain fallow into the early 2000s, the Mandel JCC Cleveland Jewish Film Fest began, and broadened that mission to include fiction and nonfiction, shorts and features, live-action and animation, from all over the world.
Screening venues are primarily at the Cedar Lee, but with additional showings at Shaker Square, University Circle, the Parma-Snow Public Library and the Mandel JCC itself.
Besides the imports from Israel, the 2016 milestone has entries from France, Poland, the Czech Republic and even the United States. But, yes, it is from France that we are receiving the definitive documentary on the American screen (and underrated filmmaking innovator) JERRY LEWIS: THE MAN BEHIND THE CLOWN, presumably in English, showing on Sept. 11 at the Cedar Lee.
Other standout entries: The opening-night drama FEVER AT DAWN, at Shaker Square on Sept. 8, a fact-based story of Jewish Hungarian Holocaust survivors who filled hospitals in Sweden after WWII, recovering from (or succumbing to) lung disorders; it derives from the director’s own parents’ experiences.
IN SEARCH OF ISRAELI CUISINE, at the Cedar Lee on Sept. 11, is a nonfiction feature that will probably see a rise in business afterwards at east-side restaurants. Also that day MIDNIGHT ORCHESTRA is a Moroccan movie that attempts to use comedy as a bridge-building exercise (yes, good luck with that), as a long-exiled Moroccan Jew visiting his childhood Casablanca reunites with his father’s old band with the help of an accommodating Muslim taxi driver.
A 2004 revival, TO TAKE A WIFE (Sept. 13, Cedar Lee), pays tribute to recent cancer casualty, model-actress-director Ronit Elkabetz, also known as the Israeli Meryl Streep, for her portrayal of a Jewish Moroccan woman seeking a divorce and emancipation despite her brothers’ disapproval.
Produced by Steven Spielberg’s actress-sister Nancy, ON THE MAP (Sept. 18, Cedar Lee) is a documentary about a Tel Aviv basketball team’s winning a European cup for Israel for the first time in 1977 (so Israel’s sports “curse” was still of a shorter duration than Cleveland’s). The closing-night film is actress Natalie Portman acting-writing-direction debut, the Hebrew-language A TALE OF LOVE & DARKNESS, based on the early life of iconic Israeli writer Amos Oz as a refugee with his mother in 1948. It screens Sept. 18 at the Cedar Lee.
Regular theatrical rates ($11 for evenings, $9 for matinees) apply to most screenings, with a premium price for opening night and some discount specials. For a complete schedule of the Cleveland Jewish FilmFest, check out www.mandeljcc.org/filmfest.