In a city like Houston, there are so many festivals and events that we can enjoy. We are lucky that Houston offers the diversity it does to learn about so many different cultures and offers so many activities that show what a melting pot we have become, but it is up to us to fully enjoy what the city offers. The Houston Jewish Film Festival needs to be on your calendar this year, because not only does it dive into Jewish and Israeli culture, each film offers something that can speak to everyone on a personal level, no matter what your background is.
Houston Jewish Film Festival History
In its 12th year, the Houston Jewish Film Festival will have a little bit of everything, from big films to independent films and shorts, be prepared to spend two weeks immersed in influential films. This year, the Houston Jewish Film Festival will be showing award-winning dramas and documentaries to demonstrate the depth of films that are coming out of the Jewish community and Israel, and it is astounding.
Film screenings have always been part of the JCC’s arts and culture program, and they have always been presented yearly at the J’s Jewish Book & Arts Fair. But, Doreen Joffe saw that other cities around the country had large film festivals and wondered why a city like Houston didn’t have a Jewish cultural film festival, so she set out to create one.
In 2005, she and Sharon Kagan worked alongside JCC staff and with the help of a partnership with Marian Luntz at the Museum of Fine Arts, brought the first festival to Houston, which was 12 days long and offered about 13 films. On the 10th Anniversary, the Houston Jewish Film Festival began to run for two weeks and provide about 25 films.
Houston Jewish Film Festival Filmology
The Houston Jewish Film Festival has a different chair each year to keep a new and fresh perspective on the films that are chosen each year. But, before choosing the films that get seen, there is a very distinct process that takes place.
First, the film chair and Amy Rahmani, the Arts & Culture Program Coordinator at the Jewish Community Center, discuss various films that have been made that are either or both Jewish and Israeli. They also do extensive research at other film festivals across the country to see which films they are showing to choose the initial batch of films. Also, many film distributors send films over for the pair to look through, and from all this research they gather a huge list.
Then, members of the film committee start to watch the movies at home and with a specific rating process, the film committee rates the films and the list is whittled down to about 40 to 50 films. That list is then taken to the full group, and they meet once a week starting in the fall, where a portion of each film is watched and discussed, and then these films are rated.
The final selections are made by Amy and Film Chair, who take everything into account, from the feedback they have received. When the final schedule is made, the films are spread out so they can be seen at the Jewish Community Center, Museum of Fine Arts, and Holocaust Museum Houston, which are the main venues for the Houston Jewish Film Festival.
Houston Jewish Film Festival Films Not To Be Missed
Although every film picked is outstanding, and if you would like to see them all, you can buy a festival pass for $110, if you don’t have the time for that, we have done our culling through the list and picked our top picks that we thinks are must sees.
The Man in the Wall is playing opening night, March 5 at 8 pm and March 15 at 5 pm at the JCC. The Man in the Wall is an Israeli film and is a thriller about a woman whose husband disappears in the middle of the night leaving all his belongings behind, including his phone and wallet. This film is in Hebrew with English subtitles and is sure to leave you breathless by the end, and shows how the Israeli film industry is growing and getting edgier and grittier in their filmmaking.
Very Semi-Serious: A Partially Thorough Portrait of New Yorker Cartoonists is a fascinating look at how the cartoons are chosen in New Yorker magazine and follows the cartoon editor as he reviews submissions from aspiring hopefuls and magazine icons. If you love the cartoons in New Yorker magazine, you will love this documentary, shown March 13 at 6 pm at the MFA.
Phoenix was shown initially in The River Oaks Theater, and if you missed it, you could see it again at the Houston Jewish Film Festival. This film was ranked the 2nd best film of 2015 by Time Magazine and The A.V. Club and it is showing on March 7 at 5 pm and the JCC.
The theme of family is prevalent through many of the films this year, and Apples from the Desert is no different. Hebrew with English subtitles, this drama explores themes of love and reconciliation between a daughter and father. This film is shown at the JCC on March 7 at 7:30 pm.
John Dreyfus, who is the Houston Jewish Film Festival Chair, selected Everything is Illuminated as the Chairs Choice for 2015. This film, which stars Elijah Wood and is directed by Liev Schreiber, was originally released in 2005 and is a drama based on the novel by Jonathan Safran Foer and can be seen on March 9 at 7:30 pm at the JCC.
Baba Joon was the winner of the 2015 Ophir Award for Best Picture, which is Israel’s Academy Awards. This is the story of a traditional Iranian family living on a turkey farm in southern Israel, and the film is in Farsi with subtitles. This movie is playing on March 15 at 7:30 pm at the JCC.
The movie Dough is a must see. This is a film that is about a Jewish baker and his relationship with a Muslim boy, who becomes more like a son to him than his own children. This movie, starring Jonathan Pryce is warmhearted and humorous and speaks to how even an old dog can learn new tricks and overcome his prejudice. Dough is being shown at the JCC on March 20 at 7:30 pm and also in Galveston on March 6 at 2 pm at Congregation Beth Jacob.
No matter which movies you choose, you won’t go wrong this year as you delve into this cultural experience and enjoy the movies at the Houston Jewish Film Festival.
*This post was generously sponsored by the JCC. All editorial and opinions are that of J-Vibe.