‘Something familiar’ at every screening of NoVa film festival

In “The Last Laugh,” Mel Brooks raises the question, can the Holocaust be funny?

When Sarah Berry attended the Northern Virginia Jewish Film Festival last year as a guest, she realized “how much our [Jewish] culture is embraced outside of the tribe.”

This year she is one of the festival’s organizers, and hopes others will appreciate the full spectrum of movies, documentaries and shorts that are a part of Jewish film.

“We want to have people understand in much broader terms what [is] Jewish film,” says Berry, cultural arts director at the Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia.

The 17th annual festival, which runs through April 2, will feature Jewish films ranging from “A Portrait of Israel,” a series of shorts about the culture of the Jewish state, “The Last Laugh,” a documentary that asks if the Holocaust should be the subject of jokes.


The festival is organized by the Northern Virginia Jewish Community Center, and films will be shown at Angelika Film Center and Café in Fairfax.

Berry says she hopes to show that Jewish film can go beyond Israel and the Holocaust as subjects. Jewish film is “film that is somehow grounded in Jewish culture,” she says.

But the Jewish content of some films is less obvious than others.

“The Midnight Orchestra,” which will be shown on opening night, March 23, tells the story of a Moroccan man returning to Casablanca to see his estranged and ailing father, who is a famous Jewish musician. The film “gives a glimpse into a Jewish culture that is not well known to many,” says Berry.

One of the festival’s goals is “to highlight the scope of global Jewish identity,” says Anton Merbaum, the festival’s director.

Take “Breakfast at Ina’s” and “Etoile,” both of which will be screened at the festival.

The former is a documentary about Ina Pinkney, a Chicago restaurateur whose cuisine led her to become the “breakfast queen.” The latter is an animated short showcasing Moroccan Jewish history through the perspective a young girl and her family who are forced to leave their home in Casablanca due to tensions spurred by the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

“From a cultural standpoint, there are many differences between a Moroccan Jew and an [American] Jew. But at the end of the day, there is something familiar,” in both films, says Merbaum. “At the end of the day we all identify as being Jewish, and that is what we find magical about this film festival. It brings that to life on the big screen.

The festival’s 15 offerings were selected from more than 100 films by a committee of 21 Northern Virginians, and the films run the gamut of genres.

For those seeking a film recommendation, Merbaum says “The People vs. Fritz Bauer” was one of the committee’s highest rated films.

The documentary recounts the capture of Nazi leader Adolf Eichmann. After the screening, there will be a discussion with Eli Rosenbaum, a veteran Department of Justice prosecutor who has played a crucial role in the prosecution and deportation of Nazi war criminals.


Film showing times

All films are screened at Angelika Film Center & Café at Mosaic in Fairfax. For information, call Sarah Berry, 703-537-3075. For tickets, go to jccnv.org/film-festival/northern-virginia-jewish-film-festival.

“Etoile,” March 23, 7:30 p.m.

“The Midnight Orchestra,” March 23, 7:30 p.m.

“Breakfast at Ina’s,” March 24, 10:30 a.m.

“The People Vs. Fritz Bauer,” March 26, 3:30 p.m.

“The Last Laugh,” March 28, 7:30 p.m.

“A Portrait of Israel,” April 2, 4 p.m.

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