Jackson Jewish Film Festival
Terrorism explored in several contemporary productions

By LaReeca Rucker

The Jackson Jewish Film Festival returns to the area for the ninth time, bringing four films that will be shown Jan. 22-25 at the Millsaps College Recital Hall and the Historic Fairview Inn.

The four contemporary Israeli and Jewish films include stories about the collision of different worlds, the life of newspaperman and Las Vegas icon Hank Greenspun, a nontraditional love story, and a man caught in a life-and-death situation.

"Several of the films deal with terrorism," said Marcy Nessel, who co-chairs the film festival committee. "It really forces you to take a look and see what life is like in other countries."

The festival comes as Jackson's Beth Israel Congregation celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2011. It is the 10th anniversary of Jewish Cinema South: A Network of Jewish Film Festivals - a Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life program.

Here are the films:

Ajami - This Israeli film was nominated for a 2009 Oscar for Best
Foreign Film. Set on the streets of the Ajami neighborhood in Jaffa, Israel, that is inhabited by many cultures with conflicting religious views, the film introduces viewers to several characters.

They include a young Israeli fighting a criminal vendetta against his family, a Palestinian refugee working illegally to finance a life-saving surgery, a Jewish police detective obsessed with finding his missing brother and an affluent Palestinian dreaming of a future with his Jewish girlfriend.

Described as a "dramatic collision of different worlds and the tragic consequences of enemies living as neighbors," the film intersects the characters' lives and the narrative shifts in time. Filmmakers Yaron Shani and Scandar Copti chose actors who had never studied acting or appeared in film. Many came from tough backgrounds and were selected for the roles based on
their similarity to the character's personality and history.

"We wanted to widen the boundaries of dramatic expression in a fiction film - to bring it closer to a pure and truthful expression of the real world," Copti said, in a news release. "The words that came out of their mouths were generated from their hearts and not by a scriptwriter. . . Sometimes it became so real and personal we had to physically stop the scene so that no one would be injured."

Where I Stand: The Hank Greenspun Story - The film explores Greenspun's associations with mobster "Bugsy" Siegel, his role as founder of the Las Vegas Sun newspaper and how he became a prominent figure in Israeli politics. High profile businessmen, gangsters, movie stars and politicians are secondary characters.

Combining archival photos, interviews and diary entries read by Anthony Hopkins, director Scott Goldstein discusses Greenspun's legendary escapades. Goldstein, a two-time Emmy Award/Golden Gobe-winning producer, writer and
director, will be present at the screening to discuss the film. His main credits include producing L.A. Law, Doogie Houser, MD, and the Today show, among other accomplishments.

The Secrets - The film tells the story of Naomi, a brilliant and pious daughter of an ultra-Orthodox rabbi. When her mother dies and she is expected to marry her father's protégé, she begs her father to let her spend a year studying at a women's religious seminary in Safed, the birthplace of the Kabbalah.

He agrees, and Naomi befriends a girl named Michelle. They meet a mysterious older woman called Anouk, who may have committed a crime of passion. To purge Anouk of her sins, Naomi devises secret rituals that stretch the boundaries of Jewish law. The journey eventually leads to a growing attraction between Naomi and Michelle. Avi Nesher co-wrote and directed the film.

"I didn't want to make a love story in the traditional sense of the term," he said in a news release. "The love story is part of everything else that takes place, such as Naomi's great love of learning and freedom and Michelle's immediate connection with Anouk."

For My Father - It tells the story of Terek, a Palestinian forced into a suicide bombing mission to redeem his father's honor. When his explosive vest fails to detonate, he is stuck over the weekend with explosives strapped to him as the fuse is repaired. Caught between terrorists who can remotely detonate his bomb and the Israeli police patrolling the streets, he befriends Keren, an Israeli estranged from her Orthodox family and upbringing.

Love blooms, and Tarek has 48 hours to make a life changing decision. Director Dror Zahavi said the film was influenced by a suicide bombing that took place in November of 2005 in Tel Aviv's Carmel Market, killing four Israelis.

"I believe that when hatred threatens to switch off sanity, it is as important as can be to make a film that shows the human beings on both sides," Zahavi said in a news release. "No monsters, just human beings with families and friends, joy and distress, people who dream to end the circle of pain and could very well live peacefully side by side."