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The 11th annual Jewish Film Festival moves (back) to a bigger house

Photo: Courtesy photo, License: N/A

Courtesy photo

Sara Forestier in The Names of Love.

The Jewish Film Festival is home again.

In 2002, the festival organized by the Barshop Jewish Community Center of San Antonio held its first edition at Santikos Embassy 14 with only four films. Since then, it has consistently grown in screenings and attendance. Now, after stints at SAMA (2007-08) and the Bijou (2009-11), it returns to its original home with 10 features, including one documentary.

"This is our first big 318-seater for the whole duration of the festival so that our audience always is sharing the same experience," festival director Betsy Cowan told the Current. "At Bijou we had the big theater for the opening weekend, then moved to a 197-seater but had to link two theaters for overflow."

Overflow? At a local film festival? These guys must have a lot of money, I imagine other organizers whining. It ain't fair.

But most of JFF's budget still comes from internal fundraising and ticket sales, Cowan said. And they make it work. The screenings are regularly packed. Its success doesn't come from money so much as timely promotion and, most importantly, the quality of the films. Besides the expected Holocaust-related flicks (each one a powerful and often award-winning piece of filmmaking), the festival never shies from exploring Jewish-Arab relations, as is the case in this year's French The Names of Love (in previous editions, the festival screened the similarly themed musical parody West Bank Story and Oscar-nominated director Joseph Cedar's Beaufort).

This year's edition has its usual share of award-winning films: The Names of Love won Best Actress (Sara Forestier) and Best Original Writing at France's César Awards; the charming The Matchmaker won Best Actor and Actress (Adir Miller and Maya Dagan) from the Israeli Film Academy and the Silver Plaque at the Chicago International Film Festival; and Little Rose won Best Director (Jan Kidawa-Blonski) at the Moscow Film Festival.

But even those without major awards are appealing, including one that didn't satisfy me totally: Eichmann's End: Love, Betrayal, Death. The story of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann's capture in Argentina mixes revealing, real interviews with overacted dramatizations, but remains gripping for the fact it is based on actual statements by Eichmann. The sole pure documentary, Sholem Aleichem: Laughing in the Darkness, is a fascinating portrait of the Yiddish writer whose stories inspired the Broadway musical Fiddler on the Roof.

You can't do wrong with this festival, the product of a year-long selection from a pool of more than 60 movies.

"We are committed to selecting what the committee regards are the best choices [among] new releases that are available to us but are not in stores or online," Cowan said. "It is a very thoughtful, careful, and time consuming project — a huge labor of love." •

11th annual Jewish Film Festival

February 11-15
$8 per film, $70 festival pack
8pm Sat
2pm, 5pm, and 7:30pm Sun
5pm and 7:30pm Mon-Wed
Santikos Embassy 14
13707 Embassy Row

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