Films' appeal beyond religion Festival: Jewish film series opens with "The Truce," with John Turturro.

March 13, 1998|By Ann Hornaday | Ann Hornaday,SUN FILM CRITIC

Don't let the name fool you. The Baltimore Jewish Film Festival, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, will appeal to filmgoers of any religious affiliation.

"It's the most wonderful 20th-century art form you can use," says Claudine Davison, assistant director for cultural arts at the Jewish Community Center, which sponsors the festival with the Senator Theatre. "There's nothing easier than a movie to bring people together."

Indeed, this year's opening film, "The Truce," bears witness to how the Jewish experience cuts across a number of cultural lines: The film, an adaptation of Primo Levi's memoir "The Reawakening," tells the story of Levi's liberation from Auschwitz and his subsequent journey through Poland, Russia and Germany to his home in Italy. On the way he befriends a Greek and eventually travels with a group of Poles, Germans, Czechs ** and Frenchmen -- some Jewish, some not. "The Truce," which stars John Turturro as Levi, is a poetic, carefully rendered account of one man's re-emergence into the world of the living.

More generally, it evokes the nether-state between war and peace, when the world seems to take a collective breath before beginning to rebuild and heal.

"Historically Jews have been part of global history, whether they wanted to or not, and we share a lot with so many people," says Davison. "And that shows in the movies we bring."

"The Truce," which will be released by Miramax Films later this year, will be introduced by Dr. Annamaria Lelli, director of the Italian Cultural Institute. Each of the festival's other five films will be accompanied by some commentary, according to Davison. On Sunday, for example, "A Life Apart: Hasidism in America" will be preceded by a concert of klezmer music, and a post-screening discussion will be led by the film's director, Menachem Daum.

On March 24, after the screening of the Oscar-nominated "The Long Way Home," about the liberation of the camps at the end of World War II, a discussion will be led by Robert Novak, a film executive who helped develop the project.

"It's not just a festival of pictures," says Davison. "We want it to be a total experience that brings people together in an intellectual forum, where they can learn things and air things out. That's why we have a program attached to it as much as possible, to open up a discussion so people can really feel comfortable talking about these things."

Davison continues, "You know, there are some things you should not watch alone, just like there are books you shouldn't read and just put back up on the shelf without discussing."

In addition to bringing rarely seen foreign films to Baltimore, the Jewish Film Festival is sometimes the last chance local filmgoers will have to see some films -- forever. One such case is "Memoirs of a River," Judit Elek's 1992 film depicting a real-life incident during the 1880s in what is now Hungary, wherein a group of Jewish and non-Jewish loggers were falsely accused of murdering a woman to make Passover bread.

The film, which unfolds at a stately pace but manages to convey a gripping sense of escalating terror, is at the end of its circulating life, according to Davison. "This is the one print and it's going dead, and they don't have the money to repair it or make another one," she explains. "That's why it's so important that people see it. There may be the one chance and no more to see this film."

The Baltimore Jewish Film Festival continues April 4, when Shemi Zarhin's 1994 family drama "Passover Fever," starring Israeli star Gila Almagor, will be shown. On April 5, the festival will show the first Jewish animated musical, "Aaron's Village," based on Isaac Bashevis Singer's "Stories for Children," along with the short film "Ma Zeh -- What's This?"

Not every film will appeal to every filmgoer, but that's not the point; the spirit of the best festivals is one of discovery and shared experience. In many cases, Davison says, the festival brings in films that are not of commercial interest, so audiences haven't heard much about them.

"This is a chance for people to judge for themselves," Davison says. "It's good to develop a sense of criticism. [Whether] it ends up being negative or positive, it's up to the people."

Film festival

Where: Gordon Center for Performing Arts, 3506 Gwynnbrook Ave., Owings Mills

When: "The Truce," tomorrow, 8: 30 p.m.; "A Life Apart: Hasidism in America," Sunday, 3 p.m.; "Memoirs of a River," Wednesday, 7: 30 p.m.; "The Long Way Home," March 24, 7: 30 p.m.; "Passover Fever," April 4, 8: 30 p.m.; "Aaron's Magic Village," April 5, 3 p.m.

Tickets: Available individually for $6 (except "A Life Apart," which is $7.50) or in book of four for $20; buy in advance at the Jewish Community Center, 3506 Gwynnbrook Ave., or the Gordon box VTC office one hour before showtime

Call: 410-542-4900 Ext. 239

Pub Date: 3/13/98

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