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Jewish Film Festival offers 30 films from 10 countries
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Jewish Film Festival offers 30 films from 10 countries

by Scott Rice - SGN Contributing Writer

Seattle Jewish Film Festival
March 11-21
Opening ceremony at Palace Ballroom, screenings at various venues


We all have a story. Perhaps the most elemental aspect of being human is the act of telling that story, of creating that narrative. Losing control of your narrative can be devastating.

That's why it's important to tell, and to hear, stories - especially stories that have been commandeered, stolen, or marginalized. Specialized film festivals are an excellent way to tell stories that might otherwise get lost (or be misunderstood) in the chaotic din of the contemporary 140-character media storm.

The 15th annual AJC Seattle Jewish Film Festival (SJFF) returns March 11-21. SJFF, the premiere local public program of the American Jewish Committee (AJC), is well known for offering the best in critically acclaimed, independent Jewish-themed films, Israeli films, special events, and educational programming. Many special guests and filmmakers will also be on hand for the festival.

"At a time when Israel and Israeli cinema finds itself relentlessly under the lens of international scrutiny and criticism, SJFF, as a program of the American Jewish Committee, finds it refreshing and inspiring to see courageous, self-reflective, often critical and at times transcendent films coming out of Israel that capture the complexities of daily life," says SJFF director Pamela Lavitt.

The festival kicks off at the Palace Ballroom on March 11 at 7 p.m. with the Tom Douglas Pre-Opening Party. Along with the requisite feast of food and wine at any Douglas event, there will also be music and an exclusive screening of selected short films.

The SJFF officially opens with a screening of the critically acclaimed film Ajami. Ajami was co-written, directed and edited over eight years by Jewish Israeli, Yaron Shani, and Christian Palestinian Scandar Copti. Winner of the Israeli Academy Award for Best Film and nominated for an Oscar in the Best Foreign Language category, Ajami makes its Pacific Northwest debut at SJFF.

While few of us find the Israel/Palestine situation uncomplicated, fewer still truly understand the complex web of identities and historical events that have led to the present circumstances. Ajami, seemingly aimed at an audience outside of Israel, attempts to enlarge our understanding of the complex relationships between the Arab Muslim, Arab Christian, and Jewish communities by telling individual stories. These stories overlap in fascinating and unpredictable ways. The intersection of these narratives is almost always in moments of incomprehensible violence.

Ajami is an urban tale that captures the devastation and oppression wrought by a world that solves its problems officially and unofficially through violence. The looping narrative can be confusing but is an apt reflection of the landscape it lives within.

As a Gay man, I understand what it's like to have my personal narrative hijacked by the broader culture. I also know that my Queer siblings (male, female, and other) endured the dehumanizing Nazi concentration camps alongside the Jewish people. However, this feeling of kinship with the Jewish community isn't the only reason to see these films. These stories help us understand other communities and the people within those communities whose stories we may only think we know.

"You don't have to be Jewish, or Israeli for that matter, to enjoy these great films," Lavitt asserts. "Besides, at SJFF, there is something for everyone and in order for us to accomplish AJC Seattle's mission of building bridges of mutual understanding in our region, we invite audiences to view and discuss 'the world through a vibrant lens' that teaches us something about each other and universal human values."

Not all the films at this year's SJFF are heavy-handed portraits of abject violence. While the diverse slate of 30 films from 10 countries does include films like Ajami, there is also a documentary about a self-aggrandizing gun-running American with ties to the mob and a comedy about an overweight Israeli chef who lives with his mother and learns sumo wrestling from a Japanese Zionist.

For more information, you can visit the SJFF website at www.seattlejewishfilmfestival.org. The festival runs March 11-21 at seven venues around Seattle including SIFF Cinema, Cinerama, The Washington State History Museum, and the Stroum Jewish Community Center.

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