Toronto Jewish Film Festival

5 films to watch at the Toronto Jewish Film Festival 2012

The Toronto Jewish Film Festival is commemorating it's 20th anniversary with a fresh slew of films celebrating Jewish culture, politics, struggles, history and identity. Running May 3rd through the 13th, the festival will kick off just as Hot Docs comes to an end on the 5th, so your film fest spirit can stay alive a little longer. You can catch TJFF screenings at various venues across the city.

With nearly 100 films from 15 different countries, TJFF has something for everyone - Jewish or otherwise. The festival serves up a diversity of genres, content and styles from all over the world, including "The Prize" from Argentina, "Simon and the Oaks" from Sweden and "In Search of Yiddish" from Russia.

Here are my top 5 picks for films to watch out for at the TJFF.

Deaf Jam
Deaf Jam is American Sign Language with a beat. Through ASL slam poetry, a group of students at a deaf high school in New York City transform their form of communication into an art and creative expression. Possibly the funkiest and coolest girl in the school is the energetic and Israeli-born Aneta. The film focuses on the animated Aneta as she fights to be heard by all audiences, deaf and hearing. When she enters the US National Poetry Slam (the first deaf teen to do so) her life hits a curveball. Through a collaboration with a Palestinian hearing slam poet, Tahani, her work soars to the next level. It's a complete thrill to watch these girls slam the competition down.‬

How to Re-Establish a Vodka Empire
Follow British filmmaker Dan Edelstyn as he pays homage to his family legacy and re-establishes their old vodka distillery in rural Ukraine. Dan struggles with his identity as he faces many road blocks such as unwelcoming villagers in Ukraine, pessimistic alcohol distributers in London and the possible demise of his own marriage. Through playful reenactments and real photo archives, Dan tells the story of his grandparent's immigration from Ukraine to Northern Ireland during the Bolshevik Revolution. A super interesting look at how one man's personal feat turns into a battle to honour his past.

Cabaret-Berlin, the Wild Scene
During the Soviet decades, Berlin was split in two, east and west, and the culture of the city had not become what it is today: one of the hippest and most interesting art scenes in Europe. But go back pre WWII in the 20s and 30s and Berlin was just that, a city filled with artists, actors and musicians. Cabaret-Berlin is a documentary that explores this time in history and the impact and role Jews had on that scene.

A Bottle in the Gaza Sea
Tal is a seventeen year old Jewish girl who has just immigrated to Israel from France. After a traumatic experience, she sends a message in a bottle in a desperate attempt to answer her own conflicting questions about the war and hatred between Israel and Palestine. Along the Gaza shore, Naim, a Palestinian, finds the bottle and responds to Tal's plea. They begin a rapport of emails between each other, both trying to make sense of the crazy world they live in. The film is a juxtaposition between their lives and although it highlights the differences between them it's also a poignant portrayal of their similarities.

The Prize/El Primo
A historical narrative about a mother and daughter in Argentina trying to hide their Jewish identity during the country's Dirty War (1976-1983). The film is a cross cultural look at both the political crisis and Jewish identity within South America at the time. With strong performances and artistic cinematography, the film captures the idea that a young girls innocence can be maintained despite catastrophic times. With strong performances and artistic cinematography, the film represents the loving and peaceable relationship of a mother and daughter amid a tumultuous and senseless war.

Writing by Jasia Kiersnowski

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