Fast Five: Top Picks for the 2014 Toronto Jewish Film Festival

Jewish Film Festival 2014

It seems like only yesterday there was a major festival happening in the city of Toronto. Come to think of it, that’s because there wasn’t one, but two major festivals going on in Toronto last week. In addition to the Hot Docs juggernaut that took up almost every waking moment of our lives (and potentially our sanity, albeit while learning a heck of a lot in the process), we didn’t have time to mention that the Toronto Jewish Film Festival kicked off this past Thursday.

Now in its 22nd year in bringing the best in Jewish cinema to the city from all over the world, this year’s festival runs all through this week to next Sunday (May 11th) running through 116 films from 23 different countries. It’s a comprehensive effort that the festival doesn’t regulate to just this time of year, often bringing films to the city that will get major theatrical releases in the near future and often sponsoring special community events outside of the proper early spring festivities.

We might be a little late to the game this year, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of awesome things yet to come at this year’s festival! For a full list of films, showtimes, locations, and ticketing information, head to the festival website, but for now, here are five can’t miss events that have yet to arrive.

 Goldberg and Eisenberg

Goldberg and Eisenberg

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Screens: Saturday, May 10th, 11:30pm, ROM Theatre

Ostensibly part of the festival’s sidebar focus on horror, this Israeli crime thriller made a huge splash at Slamdance earlier this year with its low-fi blending of Quentin Tarantino, John McNaughton, Abel Ferrara, and the Coens. The tale of a nerdy computer programmer being terrorized by a crazy psychopath is unpredictable, appropriately unnerving, and occasionally sleazy in good measure. It’s certainly an interesting genre effort unlike anything else around, and it certainly marks the arrival of debuting director Oren Carmi as someone to keep an eye on.

The Pin

The Pin

Screens: Sunday, May 11th, 6:00pm, Bloor Hot Docs Cinema

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A powerful and emotionally draining look at young Jews on the run during World War II, Naomi Jaye’s The Pin has become not only buzzworthy around the world where it has been garnering raves, but also here at home for being the only Canadian produced Yiddish film. Filled with gorgeous cinematography and excellent performances, this patient and nuanced character study exemplifies the festival’s cultural and artistic aims perfectly.

Natan

Natan

Screens: Thursday, May 8th, 8:00pm, Canada Square 2 and Saturday, May 10th, 9:15pm, Koffler House (U of T)

Film buffs and historians should get a kick and get appropriately enraged at the Irish documentary import Natan, which tells the story of long forgotten cinematic icon Bernard Natan. Although he was dragged through the mud because of his Eastern European Jewish heritage and he was later defamed and slandered as a pornographer, Natan still founded one of the most culturally influential companies that’s still around today: French powerhouse studio, Pathé. David Cairns and Paul Duane look at Natan’s life and times and do a fine job reclaiming a bit of respect for one of cinema’s most overlooked figureheads.

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Birthplace

Birthplace

Screens: Tuesday, May 6th, 7:30pm, Canada Square and Thursday, May 8th, 1:00pm, Koffler House (U of T)

Returning to the festival it once played over 20 years ago, Pawel Lozinski’s look at heritage and the personal tracing of his own family tree is one of the most underrated documentaries of the 1990s. A sometimes painful but constantly poignant look at a Polish village where time has seemingly stopped over the past century, it’s a rare film in both tone and availability and a screening that quite likely won’t ever be replicated again (especially with Lozinski in attendance).

Kaddish

Kaddish/Zeitgeist

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Screens: Saturday, May 10th, 4:00pm, Koffler House

An intriguing and offbeat double bill that also resides in the festival’s horror themed section, this pairing consists of an episode of one of television’s most influential shows and an early short from someone quickly becoming one of the hottest and most buzzed about directing talents in the world. Kaddish was the fifteenth episode of the fourth season of The X-Files, meaning it aired just as the sci-fi phenomenon was starting to hit its stride creatively during its break into the pop culture mainstream. One of the more unsung episodes of the series, Kaddish finds Mulder (David Duchovny) and Scully (Gillian Anderson) looking into a Brooklyn murder that seems to be the work of the golem. It’s a great example of how the series at the height of its popularity was able to blend tangible fears (loss of self and identity), classic mythology, and old school spookiness into an intoxicating blend that kept fans continually coming back for more.

ZEITGEIST

As for Zeitgeist, it’s a far more grounded, but even more haunting short that comes from Navot Papushado, who made huge waves earlier this year with the widely beloved and talked about Big Bad Wolves (which he co-directed with Aharon Keshales). This short from 2007 takes the approach of an old school black and white psychological thriller to look at how the Holocaust has adversely affected modern Israeli life. It’s a great addition to Papushado’s always socially conscious, often genre based filmography.

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