Jewish film fest explores diversity within unity

The Jewish Film Festival kicks off Nov. 18 to 21 at The Roxy Theatre

By Kyle Wells

Diversity within unity is something of an unofficial theme for this year’s Victoria International Jewish Film Festival, which features a slate of movies set to explore the myriad opinions, experiences and identities existing within the context of a larger community.

This is the third year for the festival, which was founded by the Jewish Community Centre of Victoria in 2015, and has grown each subsequent year. This year, under the direction of Lincoln Shlensky, the festival has expanded again, now featuring 12 movies.

The focus of all the films is at least one aspect of Jewish identity, culture or history. They come from many different countries and perspectives, and offer a wide variety of interpretations of the Jewish experience.

“The sense that we’re trying to convey to our audience, whether they’re Jewish or not, is that our community is very diverse and complex,” Shlensky said. “Film offers a tremendous way of exploring different aspects of a culture, through representations by artists who see that community from various different vantage points.”

The festival’s opening night presentation is Harmonia, an Israeli drama from director Ori Sivan focused on a family of musicians, whose interpersonal relationships operate as a modern retelling of the story of Abraham, Sarah and Hagar from the Book of Genesis. Nominated for five Israeli Academy Awards, Shlensky describes the film as a “beautiful drama with musical elements,” that explores family dynamics and the role of music in our lives.

The Canadian doc Hinda and Her Sisterrrz focuses on Vancouver artist Hinda Avery, who paints portraits of women in her family killed in the Holocaust. The film, directed by Michael Kissinger, explores how Avery journeyed from painting fairly straightforward portraits, to using the images of this lost generation in radical and surprising ways, in an effort to do justice to her subjects and to encourage a rethinking of the victims of the Holocaust.

“She wants to give them a certain kind of retrospective agency, so she’s painted them in very different ways than one would expect paintings of victims might look,” Shlensky said.

For the first time, the festival is presenting a Sunday afternoon family film in the form of Abulele, which Shlensky describes as the Israeli answer to E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. The adventure film focuses on a young boy dealing with the loss of a brother, but who can see things others can’t, including a friendly monster living in his apartment building’s bomb shelter.

Although the films are focused on Jewish experiences, no single movie is meant to represent THE Jewish experience, and Shlensky said all of the films, from documentaries to shorts to family fare, have meaning beyond one specific community.

“Questions about identity in terms of other cultures, identity in terms of your own culture … these are universal questions,” said Shlensky. “So we see this as a Jewish film festival that’s about a specific culture, but it’s a festival for, and appealing to, everybody.” The Victoria International Jewish Film Festival takes place from November 18-21 at the Roxy Theatre. For a full list of films and to purchase tickets and passes visit vijff.ca.

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