A love affair between two Israeli high school girls and the career of former U.S. Rep. Barney Frank are among the gay stories explored on screen this month at the Washington Jewish Film Festival.
Running Feb. 24 to March 6, the festival will offer 69 films around the Washington area, including at the Washington, D.C. Jewish Community Center, the festival’s home base.
“Rated LGBTQ” is the name of the festival’s series of narrative and documentary films on gay lives. The films “focus on Jewish identity through a LGBTQ lens,” said Ilya Tovbis, the festival’s director. “Collectively, they point to the range of LGBTQ experience.”
In Barash (Israel, 2015), director Michal Vinik tells the story of 17-year-old Naama Barash, who falls for the “wild girl” in school. Their affair plays out as Naama’s rebellious older sister goes AWOL from the army. The film underlines family dynamics in Israel, Tovbis said.
The irascible former member of Congress from Massachusetts is the subject of Compared to What? The Improbable Life of Barney Frank (USA, 2014). Directors Sheila Canavan and Michael Chandler tell the story of Barney Frank, openly Jewish — but a closeted gay man for most of the Democrat’s political life, until he became one of the House’s first openly gay members. Frank, who the festival publicity material describes as “refreshingly honest,” will take part in a discussion following two showings of the documentary, with his husband, Jim Ready, and the filmmakers.
The hour-long documentary Third Person (Israel, 2015) spotlights the intersex population. At 35, the protagonist, Suzan, who was raised as a girl, learns that she was born with both male and female sex organs. In the film, “there are two story lines that are a mirror of one another,” Tovbis said.
The festival also will focus on creativity in the series “Reframing the Artist.”
Yona (Israel-Germany, 2014) is director Nir Bergman’s narrative film of the turbulent life of Hebrew poet Yona Wallach in the early 1960s.
Washington-area artist Miriam Beerman is at the center of the documentary Miriam Beerman: Expressing the Chaos (USA, 2015), directed by Jonathan Gruber.
The age of Eastern Europe’s wooden synagogues ended with the Holocaust. In the documentary Raise the Roof (USA-Poland, 2014), artists Rick and Laura Brown attempt to reconstruct the mural-covered Gwozdziec synagogue.
Opening night features Baba Joon, Israel’s submission for the best foreign film Oscar. The film, largely in Farsi, tells of three generations of turkey farmers living on a Negev moshav.
On closing night, Natalie Portman will make her debut as director and screenwriter in A Tale of Love and Darkness, adapted from the Amos Oz novel.
German-born actor Armin Mueller-Stahl will receive the festival’s Visionary Award. He will participate in a question-and-answer session after a screening of Barry Levinson’s Avalon (1990), in which the actor starred.
This is the festival’s 26th annual run. Four years ago, the festival drew 5,500 filmgoers, Tovbis said, and he is planning for attendance this year to reach 15,000, plus another 5,000 for the festival’s year-round screenings.
Corrected on Feb. 4, 2016:
Tovbis said that to expand its reach, the festival is targeting young professionals and film lovers outside the Jewish community. The audience has gotten “considerably younger,” he said. A few years ago, 7 percent of festival goers are under age 40. Now 25 percent are under 40, he said.
This year the festival is partnering with Landmark Theaters. Films will be shown at Landmark’s Bethesda Row Cinema, E Street Cinema and West End Cinema, as well as at the DCJCC. Other venues include the Avalon Theatre, AFI Silver Theatre and the Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington in Rockville.
For information and a full list of films and activities, go to wjff.org.