Beginning this week, the JCC Ames Amzalak Rochester Jewish Film Festival celebrates its 18th year of shining a spotlight on Jewish culture and heritage, with film screenings, live performances, visiting directors, and post-film discussions. Featuring 29 films from 14 countries, the RJFF starts Sunday, July 8, and continues through Monday, July 16.
This year's lineup includes a number of wonderful documentary biopics paying tribute to great artists like Rat Pack crooner Sammy Davis Jr., with Opening Night film "Sammy Davis Jr.: I've Gotta Be Me"; renowned violinist Itzhak Perlman in "Itzhak," with a screening preceded by a short concert featuring students from the Eastman School of Music; and "Love, Gilda," a touching documentary about the life of the late, great comedy legend Gilda Radner.
Other highlights include next Thursday's "dive in" screening of the underrated animated epic "The Prince of Egypt" held at the JCC Bobry Family Pool, as well as the new addition of a shorts program on the first day of the festival. For more information and a full schedule of films and events, visit rjff.org. Tickets can also be purchased by calling 461-2000 or in person at the JCC.
Read on for CITY's take on some of the bright spots from this year's lineup, providing just a hint of what to expect over the course of the 9-day festival.
RJFF kicks off on Sunday with "The Twinning Reaction," which -- like another recently released documentary, "Three Identical Strangers" -- focuses on a secret study by psychiatrists Peter Neubauer and Viola Bernard conducted through the 1960s and 70s in which identical twins and triplets were split up and sent off to be raised by separate families. Intended to study the effect of nature vs. nurture, the study was done without the knowledge of the families, who were told that the psychiatrists were simply observing the adopted children's general development. The families were never made aware that their children's sibling's even existed. Whereas "Strangers" unfurls as a mystery, narrowing its focus to the story of one set of triplets involved in the study, Lori Shinseki's gripping film is more expansive, interviewing several other subjects and those who helped conduct the study. The implications of the study and its effects are ripe for exploration, easily supporting two films. Heck, I'd be happy with a third doc on the subject.
A post-film Q&A with director Lori Shinseki and moderated by One-Take Film Festival director Linda Moroney will follow the screening. (Sunday, July 8, 1 p.m., Dryden Theatre)
The fleet-footed and lively doc "Shalom Bollywood: The Untold Story of Indian Cinema" explores how several Jewish performers became the rising stars of Indian film in the early days of the industry. Chronicling the careers of several pioneering performers: Sulochana, Miss Rose, Pramila, and Nadira, in addition to actor David Abraham, Australian filmmaker Danny Ben-Moshe weaves a fascinating story and delivering a peak into a little-known chapter of film history. (Tuesday, July 10, 1:30 p.m., JCC Hart Theatre)
The title tells you exactly what you're going to get with "Budapest Noir," a hard-boiled story of political corruption, prostitution, and murder told in the style of a classic film noir. Set in 1930 Hungary, just as the country began to succumb to fascism, the story follows hard-drinking reporter Zsigmond Gordon (KrisztiánKolovratnik) as he investigates the murder of a young woman and stumbles into a case that authorities seem suspiciously uninterested in solving. The film doesn't reinvent the wheel when it comes to noir storytelling, indulging in every trope the genre has to offer (complete with world-weary voiceover from the film's protagonist). But director ÉvaGárdos maintains a strong handle on the seedy material, making for an entertaining trip into the narrative's heart of darkness. (Saturday, July 14, 7:30 p.m., Dryden Theatre)
In the intensely moving "The Cakemaker," German baker Thomas (Tim Kalkhof) embarks on a passionate love affair with Oren (Roy Miller), an Israeli businessman with a wife and child back at home. But when Oren dies in a tragic accident, Thomas travels to Jerusalem to find his deceased lover's wife, Anat (Sarah Adler), taking a job in the cafe she operates and striking up a personal relationship without revealing his true connection to her husband. Sensitively directed by Ofir Raul Graizer, the film refrains from passing judgment on its characters. While offering a subtle excavation of German-Israeli relations, the story becomes a touching exploration of grief and loneliness (plus plenty of delicious looking baked goods), and the lengths we'll go to in order to hold on to what we've lost. (Sunday, July 15, 9 p.m., Dryden Theatre)
Visit rochestercitynewspaper.com on Friday for additional film coverage, including an interview with Amy Adrion, director of the documentary "Half the Picture."