Film festivals are among those events that seem, to the casual observer, to come together almost magically, like snowflakes settling softly on hard-packed earth to form a perfect tapestry. The Orange County International Jewish Film Festival (OCJFF), which next month will launch its 22nd season with an impressive array of big-name films and hidden gems, would seem to exemplify this process.
In actuality, festival organizers devote countless hours of the “off-season” to researching, procuring and previewing some 100 films from around the world, before painstakingly winnowing down the list to arrive at the final selections. They leave no stone unturned, hashing over the venue (Regal’s Westpark 8 Cinemas in Irvine), the format (intro and post-screening discussion with screenwriter and film buff Michael Berlin), the choicest days of the week (Sunday and Wednesday) and even the bagels (you’ll have to see for yourself).
Much forethought goes into the style of a film series as well. While some groups stick with one genre (documentary, drama, comedy), and others focus on a particular subject matter – the Holocaust, European Jewry, or the Middle East – the OCJFF has held fast to the belief that any film that touches on the Jewish experience is sure to resonate with someone.
“There are a lot of unaffiliated, and even under-affiliated, Jews in Orange County,” said Rabbi Arnold Rachlis of Irvine’s University Synagogue, which created and remains the principal sponsor of the festival. “For them, as well as for those of us already engaged with the Jewish community, these films offer an enjoyable and intimate way to reconnect with our heritage.”
Though the idea for a film festival was hatched when University Synagogue members numbered less than 100 households (they’re currently at 600 and counting), festival founders were, from the get-go, committed to creating an event of depth and quality. From the films, to the food, to the charismatic Dr. Michael Berlin, a psychologist, screenwriter and playwright who has been providing in-person commentary and analysis for each festival film showing since its inception, the OCJFF has cut no corners.
“Our audience members know that when they subscribe to an OCJFF series, they are going to receive the whole cinematic experience, the full effect of the theater venue,” said Gene Alterman, executive director of the festival. “We want them walking away spellbound.”
Indeed, the proof is in the pudding. This year’s repertoire showcases successful feature films Barney’s Version, Sarah’s Key and The Debt, as well as sleepers including Restoration, an Israeli prize winner at the Sundance Film Festival, and Sholem Aleichem: Laughing in the Darkness, a riveting portrait of the genius who created an entirely new literature and shaped modern Jewish identity. Those purchasing a series by December 10 receive a free ticket to The Rescuers, a special feature to be screened on December 14. This powerful docudrama, by Emmy Award-winning director Michael King, recreates the stories of 13 diplomats who risked everything to save tens of thousands of Jews during World War II. King will be on hand to discuss the film following the showing.
In launching this season of bringing often elusive, but powerful, films to cinephiles countywide, the OCJFF hopes to broaden the perspective of local filmgoers of all ages, religions and ethnicities, and to capture and share the Jewish experience. Having watched the festival evolve over the past two decades, Rabbi Rachlis sees the annual event as a natural metaphor for his congregation’s ultimate goal: to provide outward-facing leadership and inspiration to Orange County’s Jewish community. Alterman shares the rabbi’s point of view.
“Given the increasingly global nature of our day-to-day existence,” said Alterman, “we have a responsibility to be aware of, and sensitive to, those living lives that, at first glance, bear no resemblance to ours. They may live 10,000 miles away, but our borders are already touching.”
The Orange County International Jewish Film Festival season begins Sunday, January 15, 2012, and runs through March 28. Show times are Sundays at 9:30 a.m. (bagel breakfast from 8:30 a.m.) and Wednesdays at 7 p.m. Five films will be shown per series. For a full listing of this year’s selections and to order online, visit ocjff.org. Or, call University Synagogue, Temple Beth Tikvah or Temple Beth Sholom. Tickets also will be available at the door.
The OCJFF is sponsored by University Synagogue, Temple Beth Tikvah, Temple Beth Sholom and the Anti-Defamation League, Orange County/Long Beach Region.
Jewish Film Festival
Sunday Films @ 9:30 a.m.
January 15 – Barney’s Version
January 22 – My Australia
February 5 – Restoration
March 18 – Mabul
March 25 – Sholem Aleichem: Laughing in the Darkness
Wednesday Films @7 p.m.
January 18 – The Concert
February 1 – Nickey’s Family
February 22 – The Debt
March 14 – Sarah’s Key
March 28 – Mahler on the Couch
December 14 – The Rescuers
All films shown at Westpark 8 Cinemas, 3735 Alton Parkway, Irvine
For synopses and ordering info,
visit www.ocjff.org. A