Using movies to increase exposure, knowledge

You don't have to be a mensch to enjoy a good film, but a willingness to read subtitles may help.

The Orange County Jewish Film Festival has announced a lineup of 10 international films to begin screening Jan. 15 to March 28 at Regal Entertainment Group's Westpark 8 Theatre at Culver and Alton Parkway in Irvine.

"Our movies are primarily Jewish-themed," said Gene Alterman, executive director of OCJFF. "But, the films really are for everybody. Each year, we show some fabulous films that can fit any age, culture, race or ethnicity."

For the festival's 22nd year, the lineup will include documentaries and features and broach a wide range of topics, including personal and family relationships, trauma of war and adolescence. Controversial issues, such as post-war anti-Semitism and neo-Nazism, will also be included.

"Everything comes down to exposure," Alterman said of festival's longstanding mission to choose a diverse range of films. "The more you're exposed to, the more you become knowledgeable. Film is a wonderful form of education in that way, not just entertainment."

Each screening will be followed by a discussion led by screenwriter and playwright Michael Berlin.

"What I love about when you watch a film with group, is when the film is over, it's time to talk about it," Berlin said. "You can have a real dialogue about the issues."

Jewish-themed films have come a long way in the past two decades since the festival's inception. While traditional topics, such as Israeli liberation and the Holocaust, remain important film motifs, filmmakers have branched out to include stories about love, revenge, murder, mystery and humor.

"These days, Jewish-themed films are so incredibly interesting and universal," he said.

And, because the topics can swing from light and merry to controversial and heavy, the post-discussion is an opportunity to let the movie's influence geminate, he said.

"Movies, especially good movies, play like a dream," Berlin said. "They blow through your head and sit in your consciousness after the screen goes dark. A movie needs a moment to settle."

Films will screen on Wednesday evenings and after a complimentary bagel and coffee breakfast Sunday mornings.

The first screening, "Barney's Version," based on Mordecai Richler's award-winning novel of the same name, is Jan. 15, followed by "The Concert," a French film by Radu Mihailean on Jan. 18 and "My Australia," a Polish-Israeli film by Ami Drozd, on Jan. 22.

A complete list of films and screening dates is available on the website for the University Synagogue, the festival's sponsor.

About 4,000 people of many faiths attend the festival every year, Alterman said.

"Film is a such great leveler," Alterman said. "It opens the windows of the world. Film allows us to come together in a greater understanding and respect for one another."

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