Recap: 23rd Seattle Jewish Film Fest-REEL “Chai” Life!

In 2018 (“20 chai”) the Seattle Jewish Film Festival (SJFF) celebrates Israel’s 70th Birthday and inspires the unique kaleidoscope of Jewish and Israeli life! This 11-day event brings 30 films from 12 countries, 21 guest artists, 7 special events and of course, plenty of yummy food! Whether you are Jewish or not, there is something for everyone at this event. I attended screenings at three venues during the first half of this event and will head over to a fourth venue April 14-15 with the SJFF’s new Eastside expansion. Follow-up next month for my review of those films!

The opening night film and dessert party, sponsored by Tom Douglas Restaurants, was held at the AMC Pacific Place 11 in the heart of Seattle.  AMC offered a variety of traditional movie snacks like popcorn and candy, but there was also a nice selection of teas from Sholom Tea, and coffee from Batdorf & Bronson Coffee Roasters, both sponsors of the SJFF. Red carpet and event photos taken by Dani Weiss Photography can be viewed on the SJFF event Facebook page. She got a great pic of my husband and I looking extremely serious. Little did we know how much we would be laughing at the opening Israeli Film Maktub.

(Photo Credit: Dani Weiss Photography)

Maktub takes you on the hilarious, yet sweet adventure of two organized crime “tough guys” Steve and Chuma. After surviving a terrorist bombing in a café, they take the money they were supposed to give to their crime boss and decide to grant wishes to people who write notes and put them in the cracks of the sacred Wailing Wall. The obvious friendship, and great comedic timing between Steve and Chuma give this movie the right amount of laughter and sincerity it needs to keep you wanting more of their antics throughout the film. Both characters taking turns to cross dress to go on the Women’s only side of the Wailing Wall will have even the most serious person laughing out loud!

(Photo Credit: Seattle Jewish Film Festival)

Opening weekend events included the Matzoh Momma Brunch, because what kind of Jewish event would it be without food!! Homemade Jewish comfort food by Matzoh Momma Catering and music provided by the Klezmer band Klez Katz set the tone for the day to be filled with new connections and perspectives that the festival hoped to inspire.  Following the brunch, attendees were treated to a stand-up comedy routine by Dwight Slade who appears in the documentary film Land of Milk and Funny.

The SJFF partnered with TEEN TIX throughout the festival to offer $5 tickets for all of the films. If you are between the ages of 13-19, TEEN TIX is your best friend in getting in on the action at the price that stays in most teenagers budgets! Check them out at www.TEENTIX.org to browse the other events and partner organizations.  The Teen Screen film, Keep the Change, a romantic comedy was one of my favorites. Featured at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, it told story of adults with autism navigating the world of relationships and dating. The lead actors and many of the supporting roles are played by actors with autism. The genuine and true sentiment of this film is a romcom unlike any other. It touches your heart and leaves you with the true feeling that love is meant for everyone.

(Photo Credit: Seattle Jewish Film Festival)

Off to a great start, I headed to the next venue, the SIFF Cinema Uptown Choosing from the variety of films was pretty tough. While going up to Seattle from 40 miles south during the work week was tricky, I found myself looking forward to each trip because the films had been great so far. The SIFF Uptown offered limited free parking passes after 6 pm and one of my favorite things about this theater is the fact that they stock FROZEN Junior Mint candy! I’m pretty sure I had more Junior Mints that week than I have had in my entire life.

Kicking the week off I viewed Mandala Beats, a documentary of musician Yossi Fine. Known as the Jimi Hendrix of Israel, Yossi goes on a trip to India after he learns that his Grandfather was Indian. While in India, he plays a music festival with traditional Indian musicians and then runs into some other musicians and friends which leads to an amazing collaboration on the Ganges River. The music is so natural and the setting in which it is filmed really shows the beauty of music bridging cultures, leading you on a journey of rediscovery many of us can only dream of. Director Rebekah Reiko was on hand for a Q&A after the film and gave insights to how it came together. On her way to India to film, the original musician the movie was supposed to be about fell ill, and she met Yossi on the plane and decided to do the film with him! You could say it was meant to be. Rebekah said there is a possibility of a Mandala Beats 2!

(Photo Credit: Seattle Jewish Film Festival)

I am a huge documentary film fan and I was really excited to see Sammy Davis Jr.: I Gotta Be Me. It was 100 minutes of pure entertainment. He was considered the jack of all trades in the entertainment world during his time. He was so much more than that. This film touches on the bad, the good and the great things he was able to accomplish in his short 64 years of life. Many know him for his singing and dancing, his time in Vegas with the Rat Pack and for his ability to entertain even the toughest crowds. He was part of the civil rights movement with MLK, visited troops in Vietnam and shared the first ever interracial kiss on the Broadway stage in The Golden Boy.  Even after his early death from cancer his memory lives on.

(Photo Credit: Seattle Jewish Film Festival)

As much as I’d like to view and review all of the films, here are a few honorable mentions from the list:

  • The Testament – A story of a historian leading a debate against Holocaust deniers.
  • Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story – Known mostly for her acting, she was a scientist and inventor who invented the transmitter for the precursor to Wi-Fi.
  • The Cakemaker – featured LGBTQ Film about a shy baker from Berlin who is devastated by the death of his Israeli boyfriend.

The Seattle Closing Centerpiece culminated in the REEL Difference Award ceremony and Reception at the Stroum Jewish Community Center (SJCC) on Mercer Island. Each year, the SJFF gives out an award and this years recipient was Tiffany Shlain. Tiffany was on hand to walk us through a selection of her short films and closed the evening with her interactive documentary style she calls “Spoken Cinema.” Just getting a taste of this Emmy-nominated filmmaker and her unique style that incorporates animation, technology, history, and social initiatives leaves you with a profound question of who are you and what are you doing to make the world a better place. Her global initiatives like 50/50 DAY and Character Day are continuing to grow each year in connecting hundreds of thousands of people around the world. Following the films she did a brief Q&A and attended the reception sponsored by Madison Park Café Catering and Rusty’s Famous Cheesecake. It was a sweet ending to a very sweet week.

(Photo Credit: Seattle Jewish Film Festival)

The kaleidoscope theme of this year’s Festival is shown in the variety of the films that were displayed and the unifying factor of Jewish culture. If you are looking for a way to explore film and different cultures, check out the Eastside Opening for the SJFF at the Regal Cinebarre Issaquah 8, April 14-15, 2018.

(Photo Credit: Seattle Jewish Film Festival)

If you’d like to find out more about the rest of the SJFF Films and ticket information checkout SeattleJewishFilm Festival.org.

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