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By Patty Fantasia

The Las Vegas Jewish Film Festival Celebrates its 11th Year

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The Las Vegas Jewish Film Festival, which is the longest running event of its kind in the city, opened on January 14th for a 16 day run that will end on Sunday, January 29th.   Most of the films this year are being screened at The Adelson Educational Campus in Summerlin with just a few movies being shown at Cinemark Century Theaters inside the South Point Hotel and Casino.

Founder Joshua Abbey grew up in Las Vegas before relocating to New York and LA for several years.  He earned a degree in film producing from the AFI then left Los Angeles to return to Las Vegas where he worked for the Library Department before becoming one of the original founders of CineVegas in 1998.  While at the Library Department he launched the Literary Film Festival where he set up programs and demonstrated how the performance art centers could be used to support library services.  During that festival he selected films that were adapted from literature to the screen.  Josh also served as Chairman of the Arts Commission and was on the Nevada Arts Council.  Upon leaving CineVegas he started the Las Vegas Jewish Film Festival with Betsy Cowan, who has now moved on to festivals in Tucson and San Antonio.

It has been Josh’s goal to create a substantial cultural event not just for the Jewish community, but for everyone who loves cinema although he admits it’s been a challenge generating audiences in southern Nevada where leisure time is limited and many people are busy engaging in some aspect of the gaming industry.  His approach to running the festival has been to create a unique sponsorship system marrying the arts and social service.  In the beginning directors came and presented their films, but Jewish organizations came to replace that concept.  Groups pay a nominal sponsorship fee and then keep the box office receipts.  This has led to a good profit margins and audience attendance.  Josh would prefer to screen fewer films and have fuller theatres than to show many movies and have lots of empty seats.  He visits the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival and others and then cherry picks films that he believes will be of interest here.  The sponsors are then offered between four to five movies to choose from. These entries run the gamut from comedies, dramas, documentaries and features and are globally represented from cities like London and Singapore.  Bent on broadening the types of people who attend he has also invited non Jewish non profits to be a part of the festival explaining, “You don’t have to be Jewish to love great cinema.”

Films screening this week include:

“Jewish Soldiers in Blue & Gray” – Brother against brother, Jew against Jew, 10,000 Jewish soldiers fought in the nation’s deadliest war.  This film explores the little known history of the Civil War Jews who fought on both sides of the battlefield and the allegiances during the “War Between the States” that split the Jewish Community as deeply as it did the country.

“Dolphin Boy": – After being bullied and beaten by his classmates, Morad does not speak or respond so he is sent to Eilat, Israel to a special treatment program with Dolphins. While undergoing this unique therapy he develops an exceptional relationship with Dolphins and achieves a miraculous recovery. This true story shows the devastating trauma that violence can cause upon the human soul and how the healing power of family, nature and love can produce hope and renewal.

“Tango, A Story with Jews” – This captivating documentary tells the story of how Jewish musicians, who fled Russia for Buenos Aires at the end of the nineteenth century and have  since contributed to the romance of tango music through their festive and deeply lyrical klezmer music.  Family memories and seductive historic recordings bring the figures in this little known story of cultural and artistic fusion to life.  The film also illuminates Tango’s revival among young Argentineans today.

“Intimate Grammar” – Nir Bergman’s film adaptation of David Grossman’s novel, “The Book of Intimate Grammar”, which won the award for Best Israeli Feature at the 2010 Jerusalem Film Festival.  Thirteen-year-old Aharon is a sensitive, lonely boy whose ideals are at odds with everyone and everything around him.  With his bar mitzvah on the horizon, he is dreading being initiated into an adult world.  The film captures the atmosphere of Israel in the 1960’s, as the country was itself coming of age.

“Love, Etc.” – A witty, poignant and humorous exploration about the universal stages of love, depicted through five real stories over the course of one year in New York City.  Everyone has experienced love and the joy and the frustration it can create.  From teen romance to a decades-long marriage; newlyweds to a recent divorcee and even a bachelor so frustrated in his search that he chooses to have children without a partner.  The film documents the intimate journeys of engaging characters and takes an honest look at life’s most challenging pursuit.

“Jews in Nevada” – A production of KNPB Channel 5 Public Broadcasting in Reno the film was adapted from John Marshall’s acclaimed book of the same title.  The documentary begins with the supportive role of Jewish merchants and entrepreneurs during Virginia City’s gold and silver bonanza, and the invention of copper riveted jeans in Reno.  It marks the Jewish contributions to the advancement of a statewide tourism-based economy, and the development of a Jewish support infrastructure in Las Vegas.  A reoccurring theme is the importance of tikun olam or “repairing the world” in the lives of young people and adults alike.

Tickets for most films are $10.00 each.  For more information regarding the dates, times and locations of screenings look up the Las Vegas Jewish Film Festival on Google.

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