This year's festival offers a similar mix of comedies, documentaries and compelling shorts, such as "The Worst Jewish Football Team in the World." Sharing the bill with those peewee soccer players is Max Wallace's documentary Schmelvis, inspired by a Wall Street Journal article that explored (or perhaps invented) Elvis Presley's Jewish roots. For Schmelvis, producer Evan Beloff traveled from Canada to the Deep South to Israel with a Hasidic Elvis impersonator in tow. (Beloff gives a talk after the March 23 screening.)
Also scheduled are Rosenzweig's Freedom, a drama from Germany about the trial of a neo-Nazi's killer; The Optimists, a documentary about how Bulgarians, Christians and Muslims helped save 50,000 Bulgarian Jews during World War II; and Sandi DuBowski's acclaimed documentary Trembling Before G-D, an exploration of how gay and lesbian Hasidic and Orthodox Jews reconcile their faith and tradition.
Director Monique Schwartz, meanwhile, takes tips from other filmmakers who have examined how the cinema treats minorities and subcultures. In the entertaining Mamadrama, screening March 23, her subject is the stereotypical Jewish mother. Schwartz says she was inspired by the fact that her mother was nothing like the Jewish mothers she saw in the American movies of her youth.
As Schwartz shows, Jewish mothers were often depicted as demanding, shrill and emasculating -- monstrous figures from whom Jewish heroes had to separate. Though Schwartz goes all the way back to silents and early Yiddish talkies to make her argument, movies like Where's Poppa? and Portnoy's Complaint from the '60s and '70s really bear it out. It's almost suffocating to see, in short order, such actresses as Lee Grant, Shelley Winters and Anne Bancroft wielding their shrewish ways. Directors (including Paul Mazursky) also provide funny stories about how closely their own mothers paralleled those they put on the screen.
There's bound to be a lemon in any festival, and this year's may be Desperado Square (March 29), a 2000 effort directed by Benny Torati. In Hebrew with English subtitles, it's obviously modeled after Cinema Paradiso, yet it's so bland and blasé that it can't begin to make good on its moral.