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Arts & Culture: British Jewish Film Festival Features Old, New Subjects

Britain’s largest Jewish film festival opened with a sell-out screening of a Czech film about shtetl life in the early 20th century.

“Hanele,” which some are criticizing for reinforcing stereotypes, centers around the disruptions on family life when a Jewish father forbids his daughter from marrying a non-Jew.

But the director of the Brighton Jewish Film Festival, Judy Ironside, said “Hanele” is a worthy film.

“It’s a controversial subject,” she admitted.

“It’s not the easy option, but people felt it was an important issue,” she added.

She also said it was a universal one. She said a Turkish woman had approached her after the screening and said, “This is exactly what’s happening in Turkey today.” A lighthearted launch party followed the depressing film.

Party guests included local member of Parliament Ivor Caplin, who is Jewish, and Janet Anderson, the British minister for tourism, film and broadcasting, who traveled 300 miles to be present for the opening.

Anderson described the festival as a “celebration of the vitality and richness of Jewish culture.”

She said that the very existence of a Jewish film festival was proof that Judaism “has sustained its identity while embracing change.”

Festival director Ironside pointed out that “Hanele” is only one of more than 25 films from nine different countries being shown during the two-week festival, which ends Nov. 25.

“Every film brings an image which is equally powerful,” she said.

And while the festival is a celebration of Jewish images, it does not shy away from movies that criticize Israel or Jews.

Israeli director Eran Ryklis, the festival’s featured filmmaker, presented the British premiere of his new documentary “Borders” on the festival’s second day.

The 60-minute documentary looks at the difficult lives of Arabs who live near Israel’s borders.

More upbeat events include a documentary about the popular British Rabbi Lionel Blue, a frequent commentator on the BBC, and a silent 1920 German film, “The Golem,” with live piano accompaniment.

Film star Chaim Topol flew in from Israel to do a public interview with Sir Sydney Samuelson, a former British film commissioner and honorary president of the festival.

Although many of the films on the program are unlikely to see wide release in Britain, the festival includes items such as the new Cate Blanchett-Johnny Depp-Christina Ricci picture “The Man Who Cried” and the Oscar-winning documentary “One Day in September.”

The festival, which is in its fourth year, concludes Nov. 25, the day before a smaller Jewish film festival opens in London.

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