Questions of identity and its connection to past and present resonate through many of the films in the 28th annual Boston Jewish Film Festival, which runs Nov. 9-21 at venues including the Museum of Fine Arts and Brattle, Somerville, and Coolidge Corner theaters
One of the more compelling films that explores cultural identity and women’s roles is “Sand Storm” (Nov.12, MFA) from writer-director Elite Zexer. It’s set in a Bedouin village in southern Israel, a place stuck in patriarchal and tribal customs, where women have cellphones but are still forced into arranged marriages. Jalila (Ruba Blal-Asfour) seethes while she attends the wedding of her husband, Suliman (Haitham Omari), the father of her four daughters, to a younger woman. Their eldest daughter, the feisty Layla (Lamis Ammar), raised with modern advantages, assumes that her more permissive father, rather than her mother, will allow Layla to break from tradition and marry a boy from another tribe. Subtle forms of rebellion lead to a heartbreaking aftermath.
Among this year’s special guests is Tova Ascher, a renowned film editor whose directing debut, “A.K.A. Nadia,” opens the festival on Nov. 9, at the Coolidge. This film also takes on women’s roles and conventions as it follows Nadia’s journey from her relationship with a Palestinian activist in her youth. She assumes a new identity as an Israeli Jew, but many years later, married to an Israeli official of the Ministry of Justice, the past threatens to catch up with her.
The diverse slate of films includes the dark comedy “One Week and a Day” (Nov. 15, Coolidge), the debut feature from American-born, Israeli-raised writer-director Asaph Polansky. Israeli comedian Shai Avivi stars as a father who copes with his grief after losing his son to cancer by smoking the son’s medical marijuana with the help of a young neighbor (Tomer Kapon).
The festival boasts two programs of short films, including the six that make up “FreshFlix: Short Film Competition” at the Somerville, Nov. 10, and the three in “Pushing Boundaries,” at the Brattle, Nov. 17.
BJFF Jr. offers family-friendly films (ages 10 and up) on Nov. 13 at Jewish Community Centers of Greater Boston Riemer-Goldstein Theater. These include the 10-minute animated silent “Curpigeon,” about a sextet of pigeons that wait for a morning feast of tossed seeds, directed by Emerson College grad Dmitry Milkin. Also on the bill is Jonathan Geva’s “Abulele,” a live-action short about a lonely boy who befriends a giant monster with a taste for sugary soda, and helps him elude government forces hunting down monsters in Jerusalem.
Although Guatemala produces very few films, one is already a huge hit there after generating much buzz on the international festival circuit. The title of Jayro Bustamante’s “Ixcanul” translates roughly to “volcano” in the Mayan dialect of Kaqchikel. “Ixcanul,” Guatemala’s first-ever submission to the Academy Awards’ best foreign language film category, is a mother-daughter coming-of-age tale about an indigenous family living on a coffee plantation at the base of an active volcano. Belmont World Film screens the New England premiere on Nov. 10, at the Studio Cinema, Belmont.