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Indie Film: Travel the world from your living room during the Maine Jewish Film Festival

The 23rd yearly Maine Jewish Movie Festival kicks off Saturday. As ever, this annually cinematic celebration requires on the meaning and evolution of Jewishness, all by programming a weeklong roster of movies that see unique facets of globally Jewish daily life, in all its complexity.

That is ordinarily fantastic news for us in this article in Portland, due to the fact MJFF has turn out to be a highlight of the moviegoing year. A significant attraction for film enthusiasts, whatsoever their religion or absence thereof, MJFF, with its at any time-hard and entertaining film lineup and the prospect to interact with the two fellow film followers and illustrious filmmakers, is a must-show up at. Even when, as so a lot of movie festivals have discovered in the earlier two decades, the definition of “attend” has experienced to evolve a little bit. 

“This is our second all-virtual competition,” stated Maine Jewish Movie Competition Government Director Barbara Merson, detailing, “We’d listened to a large amount from our audience about their considerations about going again to sit in theaters with massive teams of folks and ended up just thinking about the options for this year’s pageant when the Delta variant started off sweeping Maine.” Like quite much each film festival because the commencing of this pandemic (which is still not about, so get vaccinated, currently), MJFF has had to alter. And, like all those other competition organizers, Merson has figured out to uncover the silver linings exactly where she can. 

“Last year’s competition went truly perfectly,” Merson claimed, “We experienced quite superior box office environment and attendance on the net. As well as, we identified that filmmakers were even additional eager to go to virtually by Zoom discussions with us and our viewers. Portland’s excellent, but convincing a filmmaker to choose a 7 days out of their really active lives to come to town is a major inquire.”

Truthful more than enough, specially because, as at any time, this year’s MJFF includes films and filmmakers from as considerably afield as Israel and Palestine, Morocco, Argentina and Russia. “There was a steep understanding curve last yr, each for us and our viewers, in arranging and attending a virtual movie competition,” mentioned Merson. “Now, when we miss out on the in-individual practical experience, we’ve uncovered that, all in all, there are a lot of positives in executing matters practically.”

For one thing, Merson states that the 17 movies that make up this year’s festival symbolize an even a lot more selective screening process than usual.

“We have a a bit larger quantity of films than previous year’s festival, but even now lessen than when we have performed it in human being,” she said. “What that suggests is that our range committee genuinely experienced to select and pick. When you do a dwell pageant, you presume that not everybody will be equipped to go to just about every screening, so you tend to program unique types of films for distinctive audiences in the very same time slots. This year, given that everyone can enjoy each movie from their very own properties (and a digital ticket can be employed about multiple days), we could be truly selective and just select the finest of more than 100 submissions.”

I questioned Merson to select out a number of of her favorites from this year’s previously meticulously curated roster, a procedure she laughingly described as obtaining to “choose which is my favored boy or girl.” Nevertheless, she favored us with several picks of the films she’s particularly energized for audiences to test out. 

“Persian Lessons,” from Ukrainian director Vadim Perelman, is amongst the highlights of the Maine Jewish Movie Festival, which starts Saturday. Photograph courtesy of One Two Movies

Persian Classes,” from Ukrainian director Vadim Perelman, is, in accordance to an enthusiastic Merson, “an remarkable movie. It’s about Environment War II, but it’s not a typical WWII movie. It genuinely is about the connection of language and human connection, all although staying a incredibly suspenseful drama – truthfully, I never want to say as well significantly.” (In deference to Merson’s advice to know as tiny as probable likely in, I’ll only include that the “Persian Lessons” of the title variety a pivotal and stunning central conceit, and go away it at that.)

In Your Eyes I See My Nation” is a entirely distinctive film, a documentary about two musicians who travel from their Jerusalem dwelling to their ancestral Morocco in buy to reconnect with their cultural, and musical, heritage.

“The movie (from director Kamal Hachkar) focuses on the songs of Morocco as played and performed by two musicians whose dad and mom came from there. I like tunes, and this motion picture has a good deal to say about the process of immigration, about what you get and what you shed as a result of generations,” Merson explained.

The interconnectedness of marginalized people all will come collectively in the stirring documentary “A Criminal offense on the Bayou,” a uniquely and regrettably American tale of bigotry and injustice. The authentic-daily life tale of a younger Black man’s 1966 arrest (for touching a white man on the arm) and the Jewish lawyer who battled a white supremacist Louisiana Jim Crow lawful procedure on his behalf, the film, reported Merson, “is about the intersection of the Black story and the Jewish tale in Louisiana. It is extremely significantly about the background of what went on, and what’s going on.”

Merson says that Mainers in unique will come across a lot to relate to in director Isaac Artenstein’s documentary, “Challah Increasing in the Desert,” a stunningly shot and insightful assessment of the smaller but vibrant Jewish group in New Mexico. “There’s a braided challah bread produced with eco-friendly chiles in the movie,” claimed Merson, “and if that does not say it all, I never know what does. There are quite a few similarities in the Maine and New Mexico Jewish experience, in how communities appear to a put and soak up, but also add to the tradition. This is an exceptionally partaking movie that I experience men and women in Maine will relate to.”

That’s just the suggestion of the iceberg, of course, with this year’s pageant presenting up a typically eclectic and intriguing roster. The drama “200 Meters” examines the hardships of a Palestinian pair compelled to reside on possibly aspect of Israel’s separation wall. “Hollywood and WWII” documents the attempts of immigrant Jewish filmmakers William Wyler, Billy Wilder and Anatole Litvak to carry their cameras to war. And the gripping documentary “Appreciate It Was Not” tells the story of a Jewish woman’s tale of focus camp survival thanks to the attentions of a German officer – and her choice to testify at the officer’s war crimes demo.

“Number a single, we’re always on the lookout for excellent flicks,” Merson explained of the annual assortment procedure. “There’s often a equilibrium of dramas and documentaries, and our range committee always seems for a stability, because our viewers is pretty assorted.” This yr, suggests Merson, that approach observed MJFF gravitating towards that range, in both of those topic matter and level of origin. “With persons not so at ease about touring at this point, we sought to provide people today to areas wherever they are not essentially heading to go, with a lot of different nations and languages all represented.”

For Merson, Maine Jewish Film Festival’s mission continues to be regular, regardless of what any external considerations (like a world pandemic) say. “We want to enrich, educate and entertain. The Jewish group in Maine is tiny, and I hope folks who are not as conscious of it, and who don’t interact with it frequently, will find out something about us, and about the world wide Jewish experience. These are crucial and common themes – relatives relationships, the encounter of staying an outsider – and it’s our mission to give folks a frequent, immersive knowledge.” 

The 23rd Maine Jewish Film Festival operates by means of Nov. 14. For comprehensive specifics about MJFF and this year’s films and guest speakers, and to invest in personal tickets or the ever-affordable festival go, go to 

Dennis Perkins is a freelance writer who life in Auburn with his spouse and cat.

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