In a plethora of Yiddish thespians, Orthodox lesbians, French princesses and Hassidic reggae superstars, the Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival prepares to launch its 25th season.
Offering a wide array of cultural feature films and documentaries from around the world, the festival begins Nov. 5 and lasts through May 8. The event will take place at the Gershman Y, a branch of the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Philadelphia located at 401 S. Broad St., on the Avenue of the Arts.
The festival’s Silver Anniversary will bring forth many new innovations according to artistic director Ruth Perlmutter. She claimed that this season features several provocative films, including some that may ruffle conservative feathers. “I have been thinking of doing something rather controversial,” Perlmutter said.
Among these films are Purity and Keep Not Silent, both of which address Orthodox Jewish married life and sexuality. Rabbi Rebecca Alpert, chair of the department of religion and associate professor of religion and women’s studies, is scheduled to speak at the festival about this topic.
Keep Not Silent, winner of an Israeli Oscar for best documentary, particularly focuses on the secret struggle of Orthodox lesbian women in Jerusalem. “They call themselves ‘Ortho-dykes’ and they’re married so it’s very difficult for them,” Perlmutter said.
Festival chair Ruth Golden described another confrontational film, The Protocols of Zion. This documentary explores the resurgence of anti-Semitism in the wake of Sept. 11, Golden said. Dr. Jonathan Steinberg, acclaimed professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania, will speak at this screening.
The festival’s gala opening weekend is a tribute to Archie Perlmutter, co-founder and artistic director, who passed away last year. “Homage to Archie” will be a mini-festival including four films.
Checking Out, the opening night comedy feature, stars eminent actor Peter Faulk. Faulk had originally planned to appear at the festival but later declined. “We were very disappointed, but that’s what happens when you’re dealing with movie stars,” said Golden. Producer Mark Lane, screenwriter Richard Marcus, and director Jeff Hare will still be attending.
Golden noted that one of the chief goals of the festival is to promote diversity within the entire Philadelphia community. She claimed that the festival committee strove to achieve this by choosing a wide variety of films, many of which are Philadelphia premieres from international locations.
“We bring films from all over the world that really try to demonstrate the breadth and the variety of the Jewish experience worldwide,” Golden said. “They’ve all gotten great reviews where they’ve been shown in this country and abroad.”
The foreign films include Princess Marie from France, Lost Embrace from Argentina, Fateless from Hungary, Only Human from Spain and Go for Zucker! from Germany.
Golden expressed the committee’s desire to attract a more multiethnic audience to the film festival. Awake Zion, is a film detailing the story of Monica Haim, who goes to Jamaica to explore the connections between reggae culture and Judaism. It features Hassidic reggae performer Matisyahu.
“We’re showing that program on … Martin Luther King Day hoping to encourage members of the black community to come,” Golden said. “It will be very lively and very interesting to show them the connection between these two communities.”
Film Programs Coordinator Bob Arrow encouraged people of all races and religions to attend. “You don’t have to be Jewish to enjoy these films,” he said. “Anybody who likes movies, period, could come to this festival.”
Golden emphasized the committee’s desire to increase youth attendance. She invited the student population of Philadelphia to share in the activities and noted the availability of student discounts. Regular ticket prices range from $10 to $12.
Sophomore broadcasting, telecommunications and mass media major Jordan Strauss is enthusiastic about the idea. “Philadelphia does have a substantial Jewish population but it’s also a very eclectic town so it has a lot of other religions that should know what the Hebrew nation is all about,” Strauss said.
Golden claimed the festival’s underlying theme is to promote awareness of cultural multiplicity. “Our basic purpose is always to show the variety and the breadth of the Jewish experience worldwide,” she said. “Film of course is a wonderful medium for doing that.”
Venuri Siriwardane can be reached at Venuri.Siriwardane@temple.edu.