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Dennis Perkins

Dennis Perkins is a freelance writer who lives on the West End with his lovely wife Emily, where they watch all the movies ever made. When not digging up stories about the Maine film scene, he can be found writing for the AV Club and elsewhere. The rest of the time, he's worrying about the Red Sox.

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Posted: March 9, 2016

24 films round out the 2016 Maine Jewish Film Festival

Written by: Dennis Perkins
Maine Jewish Film Festival

“Jeruzalem” Image courtesy of the Maine Jewish Film Festival

A film festival is a lot of things, but, for area film fans, it’s a gift. “Having a curator, like a good librarian, is to have a guide when it comes to film-watching. Somebody you think is there to share some guidance with you in an environment of overwhelming choices.”

That’s Louise Rosen, executive and artistic director of the Maine Jewish Film Festival, which kicks off on Saturday with its annual gift to Portland film fans of a roster of challenging, thought-provoking and eclectic films from around the world.

Running through March 19, this year’s MJFF offers 24 feature films and a program of shorts, all hand-selected by Rosen and her dedicated board. There are dramas, comedies, documentaries, shorts and even a horror film, all inspired by and centered on different aspects of the Jewish experience. There’s truly something for everyone, a goal, says Rosen, that’s become one of MJFF’s driving principles.

The Maine Jewish Film Festival

“Censored Voices” Image courtesy of The Maine Jewish Film Festival

“Our screening committee is a robust one,” says Rosen, now in her fourth year at the head of the festival. “There are 12 to 15 people involved, with Melinda Morin chairing. She’s taken the lead, screening, working through the landscape, filtering the films – it takes quite a bit of work. We’re a small festival on the bigger landscape, so we have to be active in finding new work. You can’t wait for them to come to you.”

Looking over this year’s slate of films, I’d have to agree, so I asked Rosen for some advice.

Asked to pick some of her own favorites was difficult for Rosen, who laughed, “It’s like trying to pick a favorite of your children,” but she’s especially high on the Slovakian film “In Silence.” An unconventional period drama about a disparate group of that region’s artistic community right before the coming of the Nazis, the film, according to Rosen, “unfolds in a series of interior monologues, vignettes of people’s lives as though watching them contemporaneously. It establishes with great depth the lives of these individuals and their importance in terms of their cultural environment. It’s not only about the value of a life, but about the idea of a cultural legacy being wiped out.”

Rosen further notes that both the film’s producer and USM history professor and Holocaust scholar Abraham Peck will be in attendance at the film’s screening.

Rosen, who spent much of the 1990s in England, is also enthusiastic about a number of this year’s British entries, including the brutal but human ultimate fighting drama “Orthodox” (starring Stephen Graham of “Boardwalk Empire”) and the unlikely friendship comedy “Dough,” which sees Jewish baker Jonathan Pryce (“Game Of Thrones,” “Brazil”) forming a bond with the young Muslim man (Malachi Kirby) whose errant marijuana stash brings the bakery’s clients a new appreciation for baked goods. Says Rosen, “In some way, the British are unhesitating in directness and honesty in certain portrayals, which keeps these stories fresh and authentic.”

Maine Jewish Film Festival

“In Silence” Image Courtesy of the Maine Jewish Film Festival

In addition, Rosen has high praise for films as different as the documentaries “Rosenwald” (about the Jewish executive who set up numerous schools and scholarships for black students in the Jim Crow south), “The Good Son” (about the touching journey of a transgender Jewish teen) and “Censored Voices” (examining the conflicted feelings of soldiers in the Six Day War, taken from formerly banned recordings).

But, as Rosen said, there’s simply too much to cover, so check out the festival website  for all the details.

Certainly horror films aren’t usually associated with MJFF, but this year, they’ve brought in the found footage flick “Jeruzalem,” where a tourist to the titular city captures the apparent coming of the very demon-heavy biblical apocalypse courtesy of his Google Glass.

“Horror’s not usually my genre,” admits Rosen, “But this is where we made a very definite decision to recognize that horror is of great interest to a segment of the audience. Look at ‘Damnationland’ (the Maine-made horror anthology series), which is selling out the State Theatre every year.”

Filmed on location in Israel, “Jeruzalem,” says Rosen, is also representative of MJFF’s desire to “connect with another film community in Maine we’d like to meet.”

Watch the “Jeruzalem” trailer

Going forward, Rosen sees MJFF’s mission as one of continuing to bring the festival’s films – and adventurous, thoughtful spirit – to film lovers all over the state. To that end, the festival boasts expanded screenings in addition to the Portland events (look for MJFF to come to you, people of Rockland, Waterville, Lewiston, and Brunswick).

As Rosen puts it, “When I started, it was very much a goal to emphasize the ‘Maine’ in the Maine Jewish Film Festival, and make sure it lives up to its name.”

We here in Maine know, that, like MJFF, we can’t wait for the most challenging films to come to us – we have to actively seek them out. As ever, we owe MJFF thanks for making that a little bit easier.

The Maine Jewish Film Festival takes place mostly in Portland from March 12-19. Tickets for individual screenings are $10, $8 for students and people over 65. Six-ticket passes are available for $50, with an all-festival pass running a very reasonable $200.

For the full schedule, including special events, check out mjff.org.

The festival starts on Saturday with a screening of “Touchdown Israel: Tackle Football in the Holy Land”.

 


COMING TO LOCAL SCREENS

PMA Movies, Portland Museum of Art

Friday: “Embrace Of The Serpent.” Mysterious, beautiful, and Oscar-nominated film about a pair of European scientists who strike out into the Amazonian rainforest in search of its secrets only to be befriended over four decades by a shaman who’s the last survivor of his people.

SPACE Gallery

Sunday: “Hangs Upon Nothing.” Escape the winter (seriously, get lost, winter) with this visually striking surf documentary about various surfer types head to picturesque locales like Hawaii, Indonesia, and Bali in search of the perfect wave.


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