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It could be said without much debate that there is a significant number of Jews in Hollywood. However, a festival focusing on the theatrical depiction of the Jewish experience is relatively new to the area.
The third annual Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival took place May 8-15 with the mission to build community awareness, appreciation and pride in the diversity of the population.
As festival director Hilary Helstein quipped to the opening night audience at the Writers Guild Theatre in Beverly Hills, “Our films are not just selected, they are chosen.”
This year’s chosen films poignantly included the subjects of Israel, comedians, and the bar mitzvah ritual through the opening gala, mid-week award ceremony and screening and closing night, respectively.
Like many of its fellow Jewish institutions, the festival commemorated Israel’s 60th birthday by kicking off May 8 on Yom Ha’Atzmaut, Israel Independence Day. The evening was comprised of an award presentation to veteran performer Theodore Bikel and his latest film “The Little Traitor“—set in 1947 Palestine under British occupation months before Israel’s birth.

Bikel, who experienced Israeli independence first-hand, was honored for his contributions in the depiction of Jewish culture through film, music, theater and television.
“Traitor” writer-director-producer Lynn Roth summed up Bikel’s influence. “He loves it, lives it and shares it generously with all of us and all of the world,” Roth said.
Bikel added later, “I am not a curator of a museum…to me [attributes of the Jewish culture] are living, breathing expressions of a people.”
Clearly, “Traitor” is one of those expressions. The film based on Amos Oz’s novel “Panther in the Basement,” centers around the formation of an unlikely friendship between an 11-year-old Jewish boy (Ido Port) and a British officer (Alfred Molina).
During a Q&A session, Roth spoke about an idea from the story that struck her. “You just have to meet one enemy, befriend the enemy and it will change your life,” she said.
A spotlight on the lives of Jewish female comedians took place May 13 at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles with an award presentation to Joan Rivers and the Jewish Women’s Archive documentary “Making Trouble: Three Generations of Funny Jewish Women.
The MorningStar Commission, which advocates more diversity in the portrayal of Jewish women in media, presented Rivers with the Marlene Adler Marks Woman of Inspiration Award.
The humble multi-hyphenate was opposed to high praise interrupting a glowing introduction and saying later that there never was a point where she realized she was an inspiration to others. The comedian added, “I’m here because you couldn’t get someone else.”
The jokester did hope the audience realized the importance of laughter. “Think of how lucky we are to have laughter…and thank God as Jews we have it,” Rivers remarked.
Rivers’ modesty was probably rooted in wanting to share the evening with co-stars Molly Picon, Fanny Brice, Sophie Tucker, Gilda Radner, and Wendy Wasserstein. All six women are the focus of “Making Trouble” about what it was like to be a woman, funny and Jewish in the last century.
The last but not least screening of the LAJFF was Universal’s release “Sixty Six
about a British 13-year-old (Gregg Sulkin) and the series of events leading up to his bar mitzvah in 1966. The dramatic comedy—which was shown on May 15 at the ArcLight Cinemas in Sherman Oaks, Calif.—also features talent Helena Bonham Carter and Stephen Rea.
Ultimately, this festival could be considered a take on the Jewish ideal of “l’dor v’dor” (from generation to generation.) The current generation of filmmakers and performers are taking their stories, and those of the past, and making them available for the future.
The impetus to do so could be summed up in a statement Bikel made on opening night. He said, “To me yesterday is important because yesterday pointed to today, and today will point to tomorrow.”
–written by Sara Shereen Bakhshian

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