The Washington DC Jewish Community Center’s Washington Jewish Film Festival is celebrating its 25th anniversary by looking back at the best of Jewish cinema, including films curated by the fest’s four previous directors.
“We are really taking a look at the history of Jewish cinema for repertory film. A lot of them are restored prints or really rare cinematic gems,” said WJFF’s current director, Ilya Tovbis. “All four former directors are still involved and very much in the community, so it is great to have each of them curate either a favorite from past festivals they’ve programmed or just in general films that they enjoyed.”
In 1990, film festivals didn’t have to compete with Netflix, VOD and other home entertainment options. But in his three years as director, Tovbis said he has actually seen a growth in young engagement that he attributes to the fact that many of the screenings never make it to broader platforms like Netflix and also to the social and community aspect of the event that cannot be replicated – this year’s fest includes a youth critics’ forum and youth film competition.
“It is a social venture, and so the notion of sitting in a theater in a group environment and being able to share in this is really a form of community building and building Jewish community and building artistic community, and I think that’s something that hasn’t really waivered in the past 25 years,” said Tovbis.
For this year’s festival, the Beyond the Films section has been significantly expanded. The program aims to engage audiences beyond the traditional festival screening and post-screening Q&A by inviting audiences to events such as a dinner discussion at DGS Delicatessen following the screening of documentary Deli Man and the fifth annual community education day on the Arab citizens of Israel that will include a keynote address by Dr. Dalia Fadila, president of Al-Qasemi College of Engineering and Science followed by the D.C. premiere of Dancing Arabs with Israeli filmmaker Eran Riklis.
WJFF kicks off 11 days of more than 80 films on Feb. 19 with the opening night screening of Magic Men from Israeli writer-directors Guy Nattiv and Erez Tadmor about a road trip through Greece. Nattiv will be at the opening night party at the Silver Spring Civic Building at Veterans Plaza.
Other highlights include a centerpiece screening of the documentary Theodore Bikel: In the Shoes of Sholom Aleichem followed by a Q&A with Bikel. The event takes place on Feb. 21 at the AFI Silver Theatre. On Feb. 24 at AFI, actress Carol Kane and director Joan Micklin Silver will be presented with WJFF’s annual Visionary Award preceded by a screening of the 1975 film Hester Street, starring Kane and directed by Silver. Israel’s submission to the Oscars for best foreign language film, Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem, will have its D.C. premiere on Feb. 25 at the Avalon Theatre. Uruguay’s official Academy Awards entry, Mr. Kaplan, will close the festival on March 1 at the DCJCC (the center hosts the fest although screenings also take place at other venues in the District and Maryland).
Said Tovbis: “Audiences are responding to what we do well, which is presenting the best of contemporary Jewish cinema. And that’s really what we’ve done is curated a tremendous selection.”
Tickets will be available in late January. For more information call 1-888-718-4253, or log on to www.wjff.org.