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Arts & Culture Jewish Film Fest Brings Controversial Topics to Screen for U.k. Audiences

November 16, 2001
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Homosexuality among fervently Orthodox Jews.


The Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

These are some are some of the issues tackled by the fifth Brighton Jewish Film Festival.

The festival, which runs Nov. 10-25, was launched at Brighton’s Duke of York Cinema last weekend with the star-studded Hollywood film “One of the Hollywood Ten,” directed by Karl Francis.

Starring Jeff Goldblum, Greta Scacchi and Angela Molina, the film deals with one of America’s darkest periods — the era of Cold War, anti-Communist McCarthyism — and with the true story of Jewish director Herbert Biberman and his wife Gale Sondergaard, who were among those blacklisted.

The floor and balcony of the high-ceilinged, old-fashioned cinema were packed and people were turned away at the ticket booth at the opening night of the largest Jewish film festival in Britain.

The festival’s founder and artistic director, Judy Ironside, welcomed the audience and apologized that Greta Scacchi was unable to attend, despite rumors that she had planned to come to the seaside resort in southern England.

The audience was given a special treat before the opening film began — the screening of a 23-minute film, “Mandela, A Righteous Man.”

The moving film pays tribute to South Africa’s former president, Nelson Mandela, from the point of view of the Jews who knew him, helped him and his cause and remained Mandela’s friends over the decades.

“One of the Hollywood Ten” was not quite as captivating, mainly because it was too long and its slow-paced.

But it was clearly a timely film — with the war in Afghanistan and Hollywood executives meeting with White House officials to discuss ways the industry might spread the message of patriotism, and amid pressure on the media to support the Western cause.

For a festival’s opening night, it must have helped to have a movie with so many internationally acclaimed stars.

But the Brighton festival is not all Hollywood glitz. Ironside has selected about 20 films, including documentaries, short films and features. There is a balance of mainstream and fringe, comic and serious issues, and this year the festival will include also other events.

There will be interviews with directors, and a Jewish music event was held on Sunday, the festival’s second day.

This is the first year that the festival is touring the rest of England, too, with selected highlights to be shown in London, Aberdeen, Cambridge, Oxford and York.

The films selected for the festival include some controversial topics.

Ironside makes it clear: The festival is aimed to educate, enlighten and entertain.

“We don’t shy away from difficult and painful issues. I very much believe we shouldn’t just be celebrating Jewish cultures,” she says. “We show films about difficult, sometime painful issues, too.”

Gill Mendel, the media and film education officer of the Jerusalem Cinematheque, is going to present an Israeli-Palestinian project titled “I Mm, You Are.”

The project brings together 30 Arab and Jewish teen-agers from various Jerusalem neighborhoods who create short films that reflect the way they define their identities, experiences, hopes and fears.

“I Am, You Are” will be screened at five different venues during the festival, and Mendel will lead a discussion with the audience on the project.

Ironside finds three of the festival’s films especially worthy.

One is “Yellow Asphalt — A Trilogy of Desert Stories,” a film about Bedouin in the Judean Desert and encounters between west and east.

Also warmly recommended is “Time of Favor,” a psychological thriller about the commander of a religious soldiers’ unit in the Israeli army, directed by Joseph Cedar.

And another must is “Trembling Before G-d,” a feature documentary about the personal stories of gay and lesbian Orthodox Jews, which will have its U.K. premiere at the Curzon Soho theater in London on Nov. 18 and will be shown in Brighton the following week.

Ironside, who was born and raised in Brighton, says that nearly half of the festival’s audience is not Jewish.

The city has about 5,000 affiliated Jews.

For many who are not active members of the community, Ironside says, the festival is almost like the High Holidays — a chance to get together and schmooze.

For more details about the festival, visit its website, at

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