The next seven days find our fair city playing host to two distinctly different annual film festivals. The first to occur, Telluride's Mountainfilm Fest, is a touring outgrowth of that fabled, picturesque Colorado town's longstanding and internationally acclaimed cinema event. (For more on Mountainfilm 2014, click here.)
The second event is somewhat smaller in scale, and much less known, although equally as challenging and worthwhile.
The Joan and Murray Gefen Memorial Savannah Jewish Film Festival has been around in one form or another since 2003, and offers the opportunity to view a wide range of internationally produced films (both documentary and narrative) which celebrate the diversity of Judaism: its history, mystery, philosophies and cultures.
This seven-day showcase is presented by the Savannah Jewish Federation and the Jewish Educational Alliance, and takes place in the comfortable environment of the JEA's auditorium at 5111 Abercorn St. This eclectic happening flies far too low under the radar of many local film enthusiasts, which is a real shame, if somewhat understandable.
The local Jewish community is, after all, fairly sizable, and thus it's relatively easy for this event (which is open to the public) to reflexively rely on that built-in base for a strong turnout.
However, one of the stated goals of this yearly event is to "expose the widest possible audience to a low-cost, low-barrier entry to the Jewish culture." So, with that in mind, I heartily encourage anyone and everyone to consider attending one or more screenings at this year's Savannah Jewish Film Festival.
The lineup provides a convenient and unfettered window into many facets of the worldwide Judaic experience and a multitude of perspectives on everything from marriage to musicals, and from Middle Eastern tensions to anti-Semitic discrimination as disappointingly nearby as Atlanta. It includes both critically praised and award-winning films - many of which have already been shown at some of the world's most prestigious film festivals, and none of which had any chance whatsoever of playing here otherwise.
This year's schedule includes a dozen titles hailing from the Netherlands (family-oriented adventure "Nono, The Zigzag Kid"), France (drama "The Attack" and short musical drama "Aya"), Israel (documentary "Life In Stills," short "Wherever you Go," documentary "Dove's Cry" and drama "Fill The Void") and the U.S. (romantic comedy "Putzel," documentary short "From Silence to Recognition: Confronting Discrimination in Emory's Dental School History," documentary "Women Unchained," documentary "Broadway Musicals: A Jewish Legacy" and music documentary "A.K.A. Doc Pomus").
My specific recommendations would include: "Fill The Void" (7 p.m. Jan. 30), the tale of an 18-year-old ultra-Orthodox Israeli Jewish girl who's pressured under religious law to marry her late sister's husband. By all accounts a stunningly great movie, it was nominated for a whopping 13 Israeli Academy Awards, and wound up taking home seven, including Best Film, Best Director and Best Actress; "Putzel" (8 p.m. Jan. 25), a big-hearted but low-budgeted indie about an underachieving young man whose plans to take over his family's New York City smoked fish emporium are thrown into disarray by the arrival of a new love interest in his uncle's life. Described as a "gem of a film," it's said to transcend its budgetary limitations by giving experienced character actors a chance to shine in leading roles they'd usually never score; and "A.K.A. Doc Pomus" (8 p.m. Feb. 1), which profiles the amazing life and career of the chart-topping American songwriter responsible for such old-school rock 'n' roll and rhythm and blues hits as "Save the Last Dance for Me," "This Magic Moment," "A Teenager in Love," "Viva Las Vegas" and hundreds more. Filled with candid interviews from those who knew him best (such as musicians Joan Osborne, Dion, B.B. King and the late Lou Reed), it's considered one of the better rock docs of the past decade.
Tickets to individual screenings (some of which are double-features which pair two short films) vary in price, and some feature lunch or dinner beforehand. There are also a few visiting filmmakers who will be on hand for Q&A sessions with the audience.
Full details can be found at www.savannajea.org, but if you want a pass for all 12 films, those can be charged online in advance. Tell 'em Film Scene sent you.
And, on a somewhat related note, on Jan. 22 at The Sentient Bean, the Psychotronic Film Society pays tribute to one of the most famous Jewish actors of all time, William Shatner, with an incredibly rare public screening of one of his least-known (yet most ridiculed) performances: that of host for the live TV broadcast of the "1978 Science Fiction Film Awards." Shot in Coconut Grove, Fla., (of course it was) and aired just before Shatner's career made lift-off again after a rather disastrous and lengthy slump (within a year of this taping, he'd be back on board the bridge of the U.S.S. Enterprise in the first full-length "Star Trek" movie), this hokey, stilted awards show finds The Shat in full-on tuxedoed cheeseball mode, co-hosting with the voluptuous horror that was the late, great method actress Karen Black.
Think of this as the Oscars, but for sci-fi movies. It's the mysterious source for the much-maligned viral video clip of a hammy Shatner "singing" Elton John's hit "Rocket Man" for no apparent reason.
The PFS has diligently tracked down a vintage VHS recording of that fateful broadcast and will show it in its gloriously kitschy complete form, like a low-res time machine. Showtime is 8 p.m. and admission is only $5.
See you at the movies, and don't forget to turn off that cell phone. We all know what that can lead to.
Jim Reed directs the Psychotronic Film Society of Savannah. Read more at www.filmsavannah.com.