With a new artistic director, Amy Geller, at the helm, the Boston Jewish Film Festival kicks off its 24th year on Wednesday. The lineup puts a particular emphasis on young Israeli filmmakers, many presenting debut films at this year’s event.
“Israeli cinema is like the indie film scene of the 1990s,” says Geller. “First-time directors working with low budgets are turning out provocative and amazing films.”
One such director is Tamar Tal, who will be in attendance on opening night (7:30 p.m., Coolidge Corner Theatre) with the documentary “Life in Stills.” The film weaves past and present as the legacy and work of the late photographer Rudi Weissenstein is kept alive by his feisty 96-year-old wife, Miriam, and their grandson, Ben Peter, who will also attend the opening screening. Miriam Weissenstein still runs the Photo House in Tel Aviv, where 1 million negatives depicting Israel’s history are housed. Besides the fascinating images, “Life in Stills” offers a moving portrait of two generations bound by love, tragedy, respect for the past, and determination to preserve it for the future, despite the efforts of real estate developers who covet the Photo House site.
The BJFF screens 45 films from Israel, the United States, Germany, France, Argentina, Canada, and Nigeria at 10 locations in the Greater Boston area.
Geller says she’s particularly excited by the East Coast premiere of “We Are Not Alone” (Nov. 17, 9:15 p.m., Theatre 1 at the Revere Hotel), the debut feature from Israeli director Lior Har-Lev. Set in a shopping mall, it’s a quirky romantic comedy that’s been compared with “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.”
Another young Israeli filmmaker, Sharon Bar-Ziv, will be at the festival with the thriller “Room 514” (Thursday, 7 p.m., Coolidge Corner). The psychological drama, which has been compared to “A Few Good Men,” is about a young female soldier (Asia Naifeld, nominated for an “Israeli Oscar” as this year’s best actress) who interrogates an officer accused of brutality against a Palestinian.
Established filmmakers will also be returning to the BJFF, providing continuity for them and for audiences. Roberta Grossman, director of “Blessed” (2008), returns with the festival’s final feature, “Hava Nagila” (Nov. 18, 6:30 p.m., MFA). The lively documentary takes a playful, poignant, and illuminating look at the ubiquitous song, a hit for performers as diverse as Connie Francis and Harry Belafonte. There will also be a musical performance on closing night (Nov. 19) by violinist Joe Kessler and accordionist Michael McLaughlin from Klezwoods.
Daniel Berman, whose past festival films include “Lost Embrace” (2004) and “Family Law” (2006), directs “All In” (Thursday, 9:30 p.m., Coolidge Corner), a romantic comedy from Argentina about a Jewish, poker-loving divorced father. It stars Jorge Drexler and the great Norma Aleandro (“Anita”).
Geller this year developed several specialty programs within the BJFF, such as Favorite Films From the Famous. Robert Brustein, founding director of the American Repertory Theatre, will present a new 35mm print of Mel Brooks’s 1968 comedy “The Producers” on Nov. 15 (7 p.m., Coolidge Corner). Also new this year is a series called Not a Doctor, Not a Lawyer, with films about alternative career paths. These include “The Art of Spiegelman” (Thursday, 7 p.m., West Newton Cinema), about the creator of the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Maus,” the graphic novel about the Holocaust; “Dressing America: Tales From the Garment Center” (Nov. 11, 4 p.m., West Newton), a timely look at the era when a small section of Manhattan was the heart of a booming textile and manufacturing industry; and “Pretty Old,” a bittersweet documentary about the annual Ms. Senior Sweetheart Pageant in Fall River, produced and hosted by ageless local icon Lenny “Low Price” Kaplan. Kaplan and director Walter Matteson will attend the Nov. 11 screening (6 p.m., West Newton Cinema).
Geller, a producer whose credits include “For the Love of Movies” and “Love and Other Anxieties,” says her new post with the BJFF is a coming home of sorts. Her first job after graduating from Bates College in 1997 was as BJFF associate. “It was meaningful to me and connected me to a community,” recalls Geller, who watched some 200 films before culling the list to 45 for this year’s program. “Seeing good films was the easy part. It was hard to eliminate some that I liked,” she says. “Film is the primary piece but other components make the festival an event. It’s why people come back year after year; for music, discussions, and presenters. All of it adds to the experience of the festival. It’s about an environment and I was glad to be able to create that.”
For a complete schedule go to www.bjff.org.
Birthday bash in Belmont
It’s a big birthday this year for Belmont World Film’s annual Family Film Festival. Boston’s first multi-day film festival for children and families celebrates its 10th anniversary over two weekends of Magic and Movies, this Friday and Saturday at the Museum of Fine Arts and Nov. 16-18 at the Studio Cinema, Belmont. The event features 15 programs of live performances and 55 live-action and animated films from around the world. The opening night program includes “The Magic Piano” (Friday, 7 p.m.), a dazzling stop-motion short film made by a group of artists and animators from around the globe, and “The Chopin Shorts,” a group of wordless animated short films connected by a soundtrack featuring Chopin’s magical “Etudes” performed by celebrated pianist Lang Lang. Other highlights include “Eric Carle, Picture Writer” (Saturday, 10:30 a.m.), an intimate portrait of Carle at 83, demonstrating how he creates a picture book from inception to the final work, and a look at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst. It screens with short adaptations of Carle’s famous books including “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” and “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?” Also noteworthy is the US premiere of “Fidgety Bram” (Saturday, noon), a new feature from the Netherlands about an antsy 6-year-old who begins to enjoy school when a substitute teacher arrives on the scene. “The Blue Tiger” (Saturday, 3:30 p.m.), a feature from the Czech Republic, combines live-action and animation in a fable about the environment — two fearless friends protect a magical tiger when its habitat is threatened.
The program continues Nov. 16 in Belmont with the New England premiere of “The Magicians” at 5 p.m. This charming film from the Netherlands is about a young magician who has to find out what is real and what isn’t. It’s followed at 7 p.m. by “Make Believe,” a documentary that tags along with six of the world’s best young magicians as they compete for the title of Teen World Champion. Two different programs of animated shorts based on favorite children’s books by award-winning Weston Woods Studios, a longtime sponsor of the Family Film Festival, screen Nov. 17 and 18 at 10:30 a.m. The festival closes with the US premiere of “One Life” (Nov. 18, 3:30 p.m.), a BBC Earth Films documentary on animal behavior, narrated by Daniel Craig.
For a complete schedule go to www.BelmontWorldFilm.org or call 617-484-3980.
The fifth annual Cape Ann Film Festival at the Cape Ann Community Cinema in Gloucester runs through Nov. 18 with a host of new releases and live events.
The CAFF’s guest of honor is character actor Stephen Tobolowsky, who may not be a household name but who has appeared in more than 200 movies and TV shows, including “Groundhog Day,” “Memento,” and TV’s “Deadwood,” “Glee,” and “Californication.” He will attend the festival on Nov. 12 at 6:30 p.m.
Meanwhile, a quartet of local filmmakers will screen films on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. These include “Boo,” “Citgo Dance,” and “The Builder” by Elizabeth Cornaro; “Princess” and “Icarus” by Christy Park; “No More Gloomy Sundays” by Robert Newton and Kristen Miller; and “Où est Fleuri Rose?” by Mark Warhol.
Ipswich filmmaker Brendan Fay screens his debut feature, “Weekend in Summer,” on Friday at 7:30 p.m.
For a complete schedule go to www.CapeAnnFilmFest.com.
Filmmaker Tony Buba, who has chronicled his hometown of Braddock, Pa., for 40 years, makes his first-ever appearance in the Boston area on Nov. 12 at 7 p.m. at the Brattle Theatre. Buba will screen “Lightning Over Braddock: A Rustbowl Fantasy,” his first feature from 1988 and the film that established him as a documentary innovator, fusing social documentary, autobiography, and whimsical fiction. The event also features two shorts from “The Braddock Chronicles,” a series spanning 15 years and made up of portraits and vignettes describing the life and death of a blue-collar town. Buba will discuss the films following the screening. . . . Also this month: The Brattle Theatre is the exclusive Boston-area stop for the 54-film series “Universal Pictures: Celebrating 100 Years,” the UCLA-organized tour that fills the Brattle calendar now through Dec. 2. The series offers many new 35mm prints of films spanning Universal’s history, from silents to recent favorites and genre films. This special program features brand new restorations of “All Quiet on the Western Front,” “Dracula,” “Jaws,” “To Kill a Mockingbird,” and other classic titles. . . . And finally, Jeremy Jed Hammel, who teaches video production at Boston University and produces the annual Filmshift Festival (www.filmshift.org) at the Somerville Theatre, presents several of his films at the Brattle on Saturday, noon to 2 p.m. Hammel wrote, directed, and edited the short “A Little Push” starring Boston musician Skinny Cavallo and he executive produced “Once Again,” starring Dennis Hurley from Improv Boston. The event is free, though donations will be accepted at the door for the Rich Cronin Hope Foundation for Leukemia.
For more information go to www.brattlefilm.org.
Handing it to Harry
You can’t call yourself a Boston sports fan if you don’t know the name Harry Agganis. A multi-sport legend in these parts, Agganis was star quarterback of the Boston University football team and turned down a promising career in football to play first base for his hometown Boston Red Sox. He died unexpectedly in the summer of 1955 at the tender age of 26. Now there’s a documentary about the beloved athlete, written and narrated by Boston sports journalist Clark Booth, who is something of a legend himself. The film, “Agganis: Golden Greek, Excellence to the End,” is directed by Jim Jermanok and Yale Strom, and produced by Harry’s grand-nephew, Greg Agganis. Its world premiere screening takes place at the AMC Loews Boston Common on Nov. 13. The red carpet begins at 5:15 p.m. and the screening is at 6 p.m., followed by an after-party at Gypsy Bar.
For more information and to purchase tickets, go to www.agganismovie.org.
McElwee marches on
“Photographic Memory” is the newest installment in Ross McElwee’s personal-documentary saga that includes “Sherman’s March” (1986) and “Time Indefinite” (1993). All three films examine family life, personal history, memory, and photographic representation. In his 2011 film, McElwee, a graduate of MIT’s film program and a visiting filmmaker at Harvard University, longs to reconnect with his 20-something son Adrian during the director’s return to the tiny town of St. Quay on the Brittany coast. It was there, during the summer of 1972, that McElwee lived, made photographs, and had a love affair. Both the filmmaker and his son will be on hand to introduce “Photographic Memory” Nov. 16 at 7 p.m. at the Harvard Film Archive in Cambridge.
For more information go to hcl.harvard.edu/hfa.
Loren King can be reached at