A scene from “Run Boy Run,” which plays at SIFF Uptown on Wednesday, March 18. Photo courtesy of A Bittersuess Pictures
A scene from “Run Boy Run,” which plays at SIFF Uptown on Wednesday, March 18. Photo courtesy of A Bittersuess Pictures

The Seattle Jewish Film Festival (SJFF) is celebrating 20 years of being one of the biggest and most anticipated annual Jewish events in the Pacific Northwest. Over the years, SJFF has not only become the platform to showcase Jewish cinema from all over the world but has also become a valuable part of the Seattle community.

From the well-known Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF) to local coffee shops here on Queen Anne and to finally opening its own Dolby Digital 350-seat theater on Mercer Island last year, SJFF has spread its roots all across the Greater Seattle area.

“We built community and collaborations, and we have so many partners,” said SJFF director Pamela Lavitt. “We have the SIFF, the treasure to this community; Glazer’s Camera was one of the first sponsors back in 1995; and the Hotel Max. I could go on about all these amazing partnerships that have created huge numbers of relationship between both Jewish and non-Jewish businesses.”


A ‘complex, mixed’ heritage

Originally founded by the American Jewish Community of Seattle (AJC) in 1995, SJFF’s mission was to teach tolerance and educate the community about Jewish ethnicity, as well as fight anti-Semitism. Since then, the Stroum Jewish Community Center (SJCC) took the festival under its wing. Now, it aims to get more people to connect to the Jewish journey and to help people understand the complexity and diversity of the Jewish identity.

While SJFF has evolved internally and locally, so has the Jewish and Israeli cinema that the festival brings to its fans, who come from all over the Pacific Northwest year after year. What started out as an imitation cinema, deriving its material from the greats such as Quentin Tarantino, the Israeli market has recently begun to experiment with new genres like noir and horror. Comedy has also become a big part of Jewish cinema all around the world.

A niche market that has mostly been associated with the Holocaust and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Jewish cinema has grown to produce films that offer a much deeper understanding of the intricate issue of Jewish identity that goes far beyond the walls of Israel. And some of these films now proudly hold the title of Academy Award and Golden Globe nominees.

“Most people here don’t think of Jews as being complex or mixed,” Lavitt said. “Most people don’t know that Jewish people come from Iraq or that you can be both black and Jewish at the same time.”

This 20th birthday carries an even greater significance for the Seattle area as the newly released study conducted by the Brandeis University revealed a 70-percent increase in the Jewish population since 2001. JSFF offers its community and those interested in learning more about it a 10-day immersion into the Jewish culture and its identity.


Festival highlights

This year’s theme is “Here, There and Everywhere,” celebrating international and local Jewish cinema that has come across the festival’s doorstep over all these years. This year, the festival will feature 32 films from 10 countries around the globe.

SJFF opens on Saturday, March 14, at the AMC Pacific Place 11 in Downtown Seattle with “Hanna’s Journey.” The story’s about a romance that sparks between a German student in Israel and her charismatic Israeli colleague, which touches upon today’s generation’s struggle of dealing with the memory of the Holocaust and how these young people learn to communicate in the wake of history. The film was chosen to honor the celebration of 50 years of diplomatic relationship between Germany and Israel.

The opening night will also feature a special exhibit, “Jewish Life in Germany,” which tells stories of Jewish people who live in Germany today.

The night will commence with a dessert party hosted by Tom Douglas.

On Monday, March 16, the festival is returning to Queen Anne’s own SIFF Uptown (511 Queen Ave. N.). A French-German “Run Boy Run” screening on Wednesday, March 18, is a must-see of the festival. It is a Holocaust story that’s told through the eyes of an 8-year-old who struggles to keep true to his Jewish identity while trying to survive and avoid being caught by the Nazis.

“Little White Lie,” showing on March 19, is a documentary about Lacey Schwartz, whose parents divorce and she begins to dig deep into her family secret that forces her to redefine her identity. Queen Anne resident Erik Dugger, the editor of the documentary, will be in attendance for a post-film Q&A.

The festival will conclude at SJCC on Mercer Island. On March 21, don’t miss the Golden Globe nominee “GETT: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem.” The film is about an Israeli woman who tries to file for divorce from her cruel and unloving husband but is, instead, put on trial by Israel’s religiously based marriage laws.

The closing night on March 22 features Uruguay’s “Mr. Kaplan,” a witty comedy about Mr. Kaplan’s investigation of a local bar owner whom he suspects of being a Nazi. Together with his friend, a good-hearted former policeman, they embark on a journey for justice.


‘Mission accomplished’

Don’t be quick to disregard the festival if you are not Jewish. The SJFF is the third-largest and second-longest independent film festival in Seattle, with 200 volunteers and community members working on it annually.

“We do it for [the] passion in bringing our community together, not money,” Lavitt said. “The mission has truly been accomplished. We have volunteers and community members that make this happen. Jewish films will continue to flow, and Jewish film festivals are a great place to see them. You don’t have to be Jewish to like our great films.”

For ticket information and the full schedule, visit www.seattlejewishfilmfestival.org.

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