- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 25, 2000

The Washington Jewish Film Festival returns Thursday for 11 days of programming — a number that coincides with the 11th year of the screenings.

Once something of a novelty, Jewish film festivals have proliferated nationally since the Washington event was inaugurated. Now a national circuit features about 50 festivals.

Conceivably, the festivals could avoid duplication. The 45 selections in the upcoming Washington festival derive from a pool of about 500 titles. The finalists reflect the filmmaking cultures of 13 countries, most frequently Israel, the United States and Germany.

The only stellar attraction is the opening-night selection, an Italian-made feature titled "The Sky Falls," which co-stars Isabella Rossellini and Jeroen Krabbe. The two play a sophisticated German couple living in Tuscany during World War II who become the adoptive parents of orphaned Italian nieces.

Mr. Krabbe's character, an esteemed German-Jewish intellectual who never felt particularly threatened by the rise of Adolf Hitler, has cause for apprehension as Benito Mussolini's regime collapses and the retreating German army clashes with partisan forces.

The festival's closing-night feature, a Czech film titled "Divided We Fall," also is set during World War II. It concerns a childless couple who conceal a Jewish neighbor in their home. In an attempt to avoid having to board a German collaborator, they fake a pregnancy. That pregnancy, however, becomes authentic.

Many of the documentaries, a consistent source of strength in the festival's history, also deal with the subject of world war or its aftermath. An engaging set of memoirs, "We Were in It Too: American-Jewish Women Veterans Remember World War II," focuses on several women who served in the military.

These recollections diverge in directions you don't expect. For example, one participant recalls that during postwar duty in Berlin, she evicted German residents from homes deemed essential for American military personnel. Another recalls walking away from an after-hours interview with a female officer who took it for granted that sexual favors would be a small price to pay for a war-zone posting.

Moviegoers who recall the absorbing Constantin Costa-Gavras movie of the early 1970s, "The Confession," which starred Yves Montand, should appreciate "A Trial in Prague." This documentary feature gives an illuminating account of Communist Party purges in Czechoslovakia in the early 1950s. The targets for the most part were Jewish members of the party bureaucracy made particularly vulnerable by contacts in the West and the decision of Josef Stalin to adopt an anti-Israeli policy. One of the more authoritative witnesses is Eduard Goldstucker, who was the first Czech ambassador to Israel in 1948, which made him ripe for the eventual purge.

A semidocumentary feature titled "The Specialist" concerns Adolf Eichmann, and Josef Mengele is the subject of the dramatized German polemic "After the Truth." The film imagines him finally captured and facing trial in contemporary Berlin.

A free program at the Goethe-Institut will recall the show-business careers of a Polish-Jewish jazz musician, Eddie Rosner, who ended up as an exile in Siberia, and a German jazz orchestra of the 1920s called Weinbtraubs Syncopators. Mr. Rosner is the subject of "Jazzman From the Gulag." The second film borrows the name of the orchestra for its title.

Two Israeli features deal with the Yom Kippur war, and a Russian documentary filmmaker has restored a 1913 record of European immigrants to the Middle East, "The Life of the Jews in Palestine," discovered in a French archive.

Two other documentaries focus on the Scottsboro case, which involved nine black youths who were accused of raping two white women in Alabama in the 1930s and were defended by a Jewish New York attorney, and the career of Beatles manager Brian Epstein.

The Polish director Agnieszka Holland, known best for "Europa Europa" and the remake of "The Secret Garden," will introduce a recent television production, a revival of the vintage theatrical thriller "The Dybbuk." Miss Holland will be introduced at programs Dec. 2 and 3 by Aviva Kempner, a festival founder whose own production "The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg" enjoyed a festival premiere last year.

Though a noncompetitive event, the Washington Jewish Film Festival invites its audience to choose the best dramatic film and the best documentary feature.

EVENT: Washington Jewish Film FestivalWHEN: Thursday through Dec. 10WHERE: Opening and closing programs at the Lincoln Theatre, 1215 U St. NW; most intervening programs at the Cecile Goldman Theater of the District of Columbia Jewish Community Center, 16th and Q streets NW; the Cineplex Odeon Foundry in Georgetown, 1055 Thomas Jefferson St. NW; and the Visions Cinema/Bistro/Lounge, 1927 Florida Ave. NW. Special free programs will be held at the National Gallery of Art, Fourth Street and Constitution Avenue NW, and the Goethe-Institut, 814 Seventh St. NW.TICKETS: Opening-night program and reception, $20; closing-night program and reception, $15; other programs $8, or $5.50 for weekday programs that start before 6 p.m.; $1 discounts for students and seniors. Tickets available at the box office of participating theaters an hour before show times. Call 800/494-8497 for advance tickets.PHONE: General information, 202/777-3248 or www.wiff.org.

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