Unlike many smaller film festivals held in the local area (smaller meaning: not the sprawling Seattle International Film Festival), the Seattle Jewish Film Festival does not represent a single country or even a single theme.
Obviously, the festival’s films are linked by some measure of Jewishness. But the international range of the annual programming gives the feeling of many different voices and angles.
The 2007 SJFF appears to be no exception. Beginning on Saturday and winding up with a full day of screenings on March 25, the festival covers a few familiar subjects (the ongoing Middle East conflict and World War II) as well as unexpected topics.
The official opening night movie is “Brother’s Shadow,” a Brooklyn-set tale of a father’s prickly relationship with his prodigal son. The stars of the film, Judd Hirsch and Scott Cohen, are scheduled to attend the screening.
One strong entry is “Steel Toes,” a Canadian picture that gives an excellent role to David Strathairn (Oscar nominee for “Good Night, and Good Luck.”). He plays a state defense lawyer assigned to the case of a neo-Nazi skinhead accused of a hate crime. Even when the film betrays its roots as a stage play, Strathairn’s calm, modulated performance keeps it engrossing.
Less sure-footed but admittedly riskier is “Frozen Days,” a black-and-white Israeli puzzle film of the “Memento” school. The fetching Anat Klausner plays a Tel Aviv drug dealer who begins to lose her identity to the twilight zone.
Somewhere in an uneven place between fiction film and documentary is “The Darien Dilemma,” an Israeli production that tells the extraordinary story of more than 1,000 Viennese Jews who tried to flee to Palestine, only to have their escape on a Danube riverboat blocked, first by a harsh winter and then by tricky political maneuverings.
The documentary slate in general is strong, as it usually is. One standout is “The Rape of Europa,” an account of the Third Reich’s looting of Europe’s art treasures. This riveting film has the makings of at least a dozen feature screenplays in it, with fascinating stories of plunder and restitution (including the recent returns of paintings to rightful owners by museums realizing the nature of the illegally acquired items).
Among the film’s stories is that of Deane Keller and other “Monuments Men” (U.S. officers assigned to track down and rescue great works of art and architecture in the waning days of the war), who admirably helped maintain other cultures’ masterpieces, even those belonging to a defeated people.
The closing night film is a documentary, “More Than 1000 Words,” which follows the gonzo Israeli photojournalist – he’s almost a rock star – Ziv Koren on his dangerous missions into the war zones of the Middle East. It’s an arresting portrait, and Koren is scheduled to attend.
Most of the screenings are at the Museum of History and Industry, although the first two days and the closing day will be at the roomier Cinerama.
The fest has a Web site for fuller details, at www.seattlejewishfilmfestival.org.