- The Washington Times - Friday, November 26, 2004

The Washington Jewish Film Festival, a thriving pacesetter in its area of specialization at the age of 15, returns for 10 days of programming at half-a-dozen participating venues starting Thursday.

The opening night selection, which will be shown at home base for the festival, the Goldman Theater at the Washington D.C. Jewish Community Center, is the official Brazilian entry for best foreign language film in the 2004 Academy Awards, “Lost Embrace.” Directed by Daniel Burman, it deals with a young man contemplating emigrating from Buenos Aires to Poland.

A second feature will be shown later in the evening, also at the Goldman Theater: “Tomorrow We Move,” from the French filmmaker Chantal Akerman, a cult favorite in some quarters. In it, an elderly widow and Holocaust survivor moves in with her middle-aged daughter, a novelist stalled on her latest book.

The subjects of the Holocaust, the diaspora, family conflict and left-wing heritages, artistic struggle and biography tend to recur during the festival, which concludes on Dec. 12 with “Modigliani.” An account of the Italian modernist painter in Paris during the 1920s, the film stars Andy Garcia in the title role. The dialogue mixes English with subtitled Italian. The Embassy of France will host this program, expected to be attended by the director, Mick Davis.

The volume and range of films echo previous years: three dozen titles from 14 countries. Personal appearances will enhance many of the programs.

Cartoonist and playwright Jules Feiffer will appear at the American Film Institute Silver Theatre on Dec. 11 to discuss a revival bill of the cartoon short “Munro” and the 1971 feature “Carnal Knowledge.” He returns the following day to host a free program at the community center called “Feiffer and Kids Make a Children’s Book.”

Aviva Kempner, the director of the admirable “Life and Times of Hank Greenberg,” a festival selection in 1999, will preview scenes from her current project, “Gertrude Berg: America’s Molly Goldberg,” at a free program on Dec. 5, at noon in the Goldman Theater.

She’ll also introduce, onDec. 4, “Heir to an Execution,” a digital video memoir by Ivy Meeropol, a granddaughter of condemned atomic spies Ethel and Julius Rosenberg. Miss Meeropol and other members of her family will attend the screening.

Documentaries are often the strongest suit at the festival. Moviegoers with art-house memories that date back two generations may find the hourlong memoir “Film as a Subversive Art: Amos Vogel and Cinema 16” irresistible. A fond portrait of a unique exhibitor, the movie derives its title from a book published by Mr. Vogel years ago.

A transplant from Vienna, Austria, he took the initiative of organizing a private film club in New York City after World War II in order to view — and rally audiences to — the kind of abstract, obscure or specialized work he had heard about.

The initial Cinema 16 manifesto vowed “dedication to documentary and experimental films.” Mr. Vogel created a showcase for movies that had little or no commercial promise — but occasionally a fair amount of censurable potential.

Most of the appeal in this profile derives from Mr. Vogel’s grandfatherly charm as he reminisces, escorting a camera crew around his apartment, also a cluttered Cinema 16 archive.

The society spawned a 16mm distribution arm that spread the Vogel gospel and inventory to other parts of the country. He abandoned exhibition in the late 1960s; similar ventures, many directly influenced by Cinema 16, became a countercultural staple.

Rather than buck the proliferation, Mr. Vogel retired the club and became a founding director of the New York Film Festival.

The film will be shown on the festival’s final day at 4 p.m. in the auditorium of the National Gallery of Art’s East Building. Admission is free.

The venerable Mr. Vogel and his wife Marcia, partners for more than 60 years and close collaborators in Cinema 16 during its Manhattan heyday (1948 to 1966), will attend the showing.

This year’s Washington festival coincides with Hanukkah. A candlelighting ceremony is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on Dec. 7, at the community center. Later that evening the festival will host the first of two showings of “Red Diaper Baby,” a one-man autobiographical romp by actor Josh Kornbluth, who will be present for the Goldman Theater screening at 9 p.m.

First staged in 2000, “Red Diaper Baby” could prove the most entertaining selection in this year’s festival. The feature preserves a performance (or probably highlights of two performances) in San Francisco, recorded on digital video and transferred to film.

The coordination between theater timing and lighting and movie equivalents is rather makeshift, and the actor’s skits falter in the middle half-hour, but Mr. Kornbluth starts like a house afire and ends triumphantly.

The title derives from his bewildered status as the son of a divorced communist couple in New York City; his father was a schoolteacher with a knack for serial insubordination and dismissal; his mother was a librarian.

A serene stepmother from the Midwest enters the picture at a later date. The jokes that hinge on ideology are overshadowed by impressions of childhood and adolescence that remain far more primal than political, especially for males.

I had not been impressed with Mr. Kornbluth as a dumpy, effusive comic actor in scattered independent movies. As a memoirist, however, he seems to discover a distinctive voice.

EVENT: 15th annual Washington Jewish Film Festival

WHEN: Thursday through Dec. 12

WHERE: Aaron and Cecile Goldman Theater at the Washington D.C. Jewish Community Center, 1529 16th St. NW; La Maison Francaise, The Embassy of France, 4101 Reservoir Road NW: Avalon, 5612 Connecticut Ave. NW; National Gallery of Art, 4th Street & Constitution Avenue NW: American Film Institute Silver Theatre, 8633 Colesville Road in Silver Spring; Goethe-Institut Washington, 814 Seventh St. NW

TICKETS: $20 for opening and closing nights, fund-raising events that also include a reception; $9 for most evening performances and $6 for matinees (before 6 p.m.); seniors and students qualify for $1 discounts; no admission charge for selected programs

PHONE: 202/777-3248

WEB SITE: www.wjff.org

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