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Heather Steeves

Heather Steeves tries to do things that are fun -- and only things that are fun. So far that's included stilt walking, roller derby and cross-country road trips in her Saturn.

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Posted: March 19, 2014

6 must see movies at this year’s Maine Jewish Film Festival (March 22-29)

Written by: Heather Steeves

Film lovers: Clear your calendar March 22-29.

The Maine Jewish Film Festival will bring thrillers, love stories and documentaries — about 22 films in all — to Portland, Rockland, Brunswick, Bangor and Waterville. Movies are $8.

Because we can’t all make it to every show, I asked the festival’s director, Louise Rosen, to tell me what we absolutely have to go see.

And in case you were going to ask: No, you don’t have to be Jewish to enjoy these movies. “We’re using the power of film to entertain people to educate people, to inform people. We’re sharing with them something about the Jewish experience, but it’s very much a universal experience,” Louise said.

Here are Louise’s top picks, in her words:

Dysfunctional family comedy (target audience: college-age to 30s, good date movie)

“Sleeping With The Fishes”
We made a late discovery of “Sleeping With The Fishes.” It’s the first Jewish-Latina story I’ve come across. I fell in love with it because it’s from the indie film sensibility. The director, Nicole Gomez Fisher — the film is very autobiographical — she grew up in a mixed household, a Jewish-Latino household.

It’s funny and well done and a universal story. It’s about a 20-something gal who is struggling to make her way in the world after the loss of her husband, who she found out was cheating on her. She goes back to the family fold and realizes why she ran away in the first place — because they make her crazy. But she comes to a new understanding of family. It’s very modern. It’s very smartly done. That was one I thought, “there is an audience for it. We will try to connect with them.” The young woman who plays the lead was an “it girl” in her last Sundance film, “Filly Brown.” This is a good one for college to early 30s, it’s a good date movie.


Three LGBT films

“Edie and Thea: A Very Long Engagement”
“Edie and Thea” is about two women who married in Canada decades before it was allowed here. One passes away, the other is left without a recognized marriage. She is faced with paying very high inheritance taxes — that became the center of repealing DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act), which was successful. It is a film that speaks to a very universal sense of love and commitment in long-term relationships.

“Out in the Dark
We have one about a relationship between two men, one Palestinian and one an Israeli Jew. An interesting point in the film is that it’s easier to come out in Israel as a gay man than it is for him to come out as a Palestinian. He’s in a relationship with an Israeli Jew and goes back across the border with anxiety and concern about their relationship, but in the Palestinian territory homosexuality is frowned upon and he runs the terrible risk in his own village and in his family when … well, I don’t want to spoil it. He’s at risk politically and socially. It’s very powerful.

“Melting Away”
This is the first transgender fiction film to come out of Israel. It’s a very moving story about a young man who is discovered to be cross dressing. His father throws him out of the house. Sometime later the father is very ill and with the end of his life approaching, the mother hires a private detective to track down the son.

The detective discovers he is a woman singing in a cabaret. She lets her know her father is unwell. One day at the hospital a young woman nurse shows up by his side and its actually the daughter of the family. The question is, are they able to make peace with each other? It’s a very beautifully done film. It’s won audience award at all kinds of film festivals. It touches people. We feel in Maine there has been quite a bit of publicity around transgender issues and this film is a very humanizing story, a wonderful story.


Jewish Reggae

“Awake Zion”
I’m delighted we found a film about Jewish reggae. We will show that in Portland and in Waterville and we’re excited to have that film for our audience. We know we have an audience that responds to music and it’s about music and spirit.


Powerful then-and-now

“Harbour of Hope”
This is an amazing film that documents the arrival in Sweden of ferry boats carrying survivors of concentration camps. Their arrival in Sweden is the first moment of the rest of their lives. They’ve just been released from this horrifying experience. Now they’re stepping into a new world, a new chapter in their lives.

The film identifies three of the survivors and shows where they are now. They were children then and in a sense they discover their childhood beginning, their first taste of life after the concentration camp. It’s about the holocaust, but it’s about their lives after the holocaust.

Other notable mentions:

“Bethlehem,” a political thriller.

“Do You Believe In Love,” a documentary about a paralyzed matchmaker. Free showing Tuesday, March 25 at Portland Museum of Art.

For a full line up, visit the Maine Jewish Film Festival website.

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