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Film preview: The Rochester International Jewish Film Festival 2016


The JCC Ames Amzalak Rochester International Jewish Film Festival turns sweet 16 this year, and will celebrate the Jewish culture with a fantastic lineup of 26 contemporary films from around the world. Things get started on a high note this Sunday with the Opening Night selection "Rock in the Red Zone" — followed by a Q&A and musical performance by Avi Vaknin — and things don't wind down until next Monday with the food documentary "In Search of Israeli Cuisine," appropriate for "the only film festival that worries about when people eat," Festival Director Lori Michlin Harter says jokingly.

The festival will continue to hold regular film screenings throughout the year, including the Israeli television series "Fauda," scheduled for Sunday, September 11, and the drama "The Law" on Sunday, October 30.

Venues that will be screening this year's films include The Little Theatre (240 East Avenue), the George Eastman Museum's Dryden Theatre (900 East Avenue), and the JCC Hart Theatre (1200 Edgewood Avenue).

Visit for the full schedule and ticket information — options include discounts for JCC members and students, weekday matinee tickets, and festival passes. Film tickets can be purchased online or over the phone by calling 461-2000.

In "Baba Joon," proud father Yitzhak (Navid Negahban) has expectations his 13-year-old son, Moti (Asher Avrahami), to take over the family's turkey farm, but Moti would much rather spend his time fixing up old cars. The film may preach a familiar message about allowing children to find their own path through life, but it's told exceedingly well, with wonderful performances from Negahban and Avrahami. (Sunday, June 10, 3:30 p.m., at the Dryden)

A young lawyer's obsession with crime novels gets the best of him in the witty noir caper "How to Win Enemies." After a one night stand, Lucas (an appealing Martin Slipak) becomes convinced that the beautiful woman who stole his heart, then robbed him blind, is simply a pawn in a much larger conspiracy, leading him on an entertainingly twisty quest to uncover the truth. (Tuesday, July 12, 6 p.m., at The Little)

A trio of great biographical documentaries also screen throughout the week. "Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You," focuses on the life of the television producer and writer behind beloved series "All in the Family," "The Jeffersons," "Maude," and "Good Times," among others. With his uncanny ability to explore controversial, real-world issues through the lens of comedy, the producer shaped an entire generation's view of the world and of entertainment. (Wednesday, July 13, 6 p.m., at The Little)

"Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict" examines the life of the socialite and collector, pinpointing exactly what made her such a significant figure in the world of 20th-century art. (Sunday, July 17, 11:30 a.m., at the Dryden) And "Compared to What: The Improbable Journey of Barney Frank" follows the life of the former congressman and the ways his identity as both a Jew and a gay man shaped his political career. Director Sheila Canavan will be in attendance for a Q&A after the screening. (Sunday, July 17, 5 p.m., at the Dryden)

In a special preview screening, the stirring sports documentary "On the Map" will play Rochester well ahead of its official US premiere. The film chronicles the story of the Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball team's unprecedented run during the 1977 European Championship Tournament. Led by captain Tal Brody, the team's success came at a time when the sport was dominated by Italy, Spain, and the Soviet Union. Director Dani Menkin will be on hand for a talkback after the film. (Thursday, July 14, 6 p.m., at The Little)

Written and sensitively directed by Natalie Portman, "A Tale of Love and Darkness" is a somber tale based on the memoir by acclaimed Israeli author Amos Oz. Set in 1945, the film charts the early days of the founding of Israel, filtered through Oz's relationship with his emotionally troubled mother (played by Portman), who also served as his greatest inspiration. (Monday, July 18, 5 p.m., at the Dryden)

James Beard Award-winning chef Michael Solomonov goes "In Search of Israeli Cuisine" in the festival's Closing Night film. Traveling across Israel, Solomonov consults a host of experts and chefs to pinpoint what characterizes "Israeli cuisine," or considering the country's relative youth, if there even is one. What he finds is an intermingling of cultures and foods that's reflective of the country itself, and as one Palestinian chef notes, "Food makes peace." That hopeful outlook resonates throughout the tour, bringing with it an unexpected sense of empathy and insight. (Monday, July 18, 7:30 p.m., at the Dryden)

Visit on Thursday for additional film coverage, including a review of the new documentary "Unlocking the Cage."