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Far and Wide

Jewish Film Festival brings the world to Sonoma County's doorstep

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COMMON GROUND  The film ‘East Jerusalem/West Jerusalem’ explores artistic community within the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
  • COMMON GROUND The film ‘East Jerusalem/West Jerusalem’ explores artistic community within the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

An intense police thriller, an inspiring inner-city drama, a darkly comic mystery, a gastronomical expedition: the 21st annual Jewish Film Festival has a little bit of everything.

Hosted by the Jewish Community Center of Sonoma County (JCC), this seasonal series of films, running on select Wednesdays through November at Rialto Cinemas, presents an enlightening lineup of recent films from Israel, France, Hungary, the Netherlands and the United States.

Inspired by the San Francisco Jewish Festival, the oldest fest of its kind in the world, Sonoma County's own festival is part of a movement that JCC executive director Ellen Blustein says has spread around the globe.

"We're a relatively small JCC, but we have a lot of cultural programs for anyone in or interested in the Jewish community," says Blustein. Like the center's other offerings, the festival was formed, and is still run by, a grassroots group of people.

Blustein says the JCC selects films each year that appeal to the local community. "We watch about 80 movies a year to pick the seven or eight films we end up showing," she says. Keeping up with film festivals the world over, the JCC's films are not yet in distribution, meaning all the films screened are making their North Bay premiere.

Wounded Land, the 2015 Israeli drama that opens the fest on Wednesday, Oct. 5, chronicles an intense chain of events following a suicide bombing in which the bomber survives. The film, nominated for nine Ophir Awards (the Israeli equivalent of the Oscars), comments on the unsettling effects such violence wreaks upon culture.

For audiences seeking something more light-hearted, the JFF screens the uplifting Once in a Lifetime, about a French teacher sparking inspiration in her inner-city students, on Oct. 19. Following that, on Nov. 2, the powerful East Jerusalem/West Jerusalem features a cast of American, Israeli and Palestinian artists finding common musical ground amid old tensions.

One of Blustein's favorite selections this year is Fire Birds, screening Nov. 9, in which three octogenarian widows investigate a mysterious murder with dark humor and inventive craft.

Nov. 16's presentation of Fever at Dawn offers an unlikely love story between two Hungarian Holocaust survivors, and on Nov. 30 the festival screens its quirkiest selection, Moos, a Dutch coming-of-age film that follows a wallflower who dreams of becoming an actress.

Wrapping the festival on Sunday, Dec. 4, is celebrity chef Michael Solomonov's delicious documentary, In Search of Israeli Cuisine, that goes deep into the country's current foodie revolution and presents a microcosm of diverse cultures co-existing in a compact region.

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