Main Feature or Main Drag?

havaThe Washington DC Jewish Film Festival entered it’s 23rd year with a wealth of programming and variation.  Despite this depth, two of the main headlining films fell flat.

The festival emphasized three films.  The opening film was Paris Manhattan, a Woody Allen work (please note this film will not be reviewed in this article).  The centerpiece film was Dorfman which was shown on the centerpiece evening in conjunction with a moderated chat with the film’s biggest star, Elliott Gould, of M*A*S*H, Ocean’s Eleven, and Friends fame.  The closing film, Hava Nagila, is a documentary that traces the history of its namesake.

Dorfman, the centerpiece film was shown at the Avalon Theatre in Chevy Chase.  The line to get in was nearly peeking around the block, and the standby line was similarly comparable.  Prior to the show, Len Hill moderated a half hour conversation with Elliot Gould as best as he possibly could.  The looks in the audience were Instagram-worthy, as Gould would not answer, but respond to Hill’s questions with winding tangents.  The tangents all eventually wound to three places: a) Gould acknowledging others acknowledging his greatness, b) a wise statement Gould probably memorized from a fortune cookie, and c) the eventual nod back to a confused Hill to continue.  The audience, whose initial excitement for the actor was palpable, was visibly ready for the film to begin.

The film, similar to Gould’s answers, winded and rambled, though eventually led somewhere (even if you were not sure where).  Sara Rue, of Popular fame, is the frazzled, late-bloomer daughter of the recent widower, Burt.  While Rue finds herself caught in a predictable love triangle, Gould shines as the talent of the film.  His disgruntled, “woe is me” kvetching stands out among the other forced performances.  The film falls into the “cute” romantic comedy category, but barely- the writing acts as a somewhat disturbing vocal advocate for Jewish stereotypes.  The blatant “Jew-ish-ness” of the film makes it clear why it was chosen, but there are certainly better films among the other 55 films shown at the festival.   After the film, Gould reappeared to answer more questions.  The mass exodus that occurred at the film’s conclusion exemplified the lack of interest in further rambling.

The closing film, shown on the January 13th at the JCC in Dupont Circle, was Hava Nagila (The Movie).  The documentary, put together by a Los Angeles based team, starts off humorous and intriguing.  The picture begins as a collaboration of archival footage accompanied by witty dialogue, mixed with interviews of Jewish celebrities (among the likes of Leornard Nimoy and Regina Spektor).  The middle of the film eases into a presentation of historical data that bores more than it fascinates.  Hava Nagila eventually wraps back around to the charming film it began as.  The film ends achieves its intended goal: to make the audience realize the special bond the Jewish people have with the iconic song- and accompanying hora dance.

The Jewish Film Festival chose two films to highlight its existence by encouraging stereotypes and indulging popular knowledge.  At least two of the three highlights were mediocre, at best.  Despite this, the festival has been very well attended and appears diverse on paper.  Fourteen individual venues will host over 50 films representing fifteen different countries including Argentina, Australia, Austria, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Israel, Nigeria, Luxembourg, Poland, Russia, Serbia, the UK and the US.  More than 30 filmmaker guests attended throughout the course of the festival, and the lineup is sprinkled with variety from documentaries to dramas.  It is a festival worth attending and supporting, though some of the premiere features may be better off unseen.

More information on the festival can be found here. The festival concluded on January 13.