by Patheresa Wells
the Seattle Jewish Film Festival (SJFF) celebrates its 27th year this month by screening 18 films from nine countries, all related to the theme “Seeing + Being Seen”. The festival opened on March 24 and includes virtual and in-person screenings held across the city at AMC Pacific Place, Stroum Jewish Community Center and the University of Washington. The festival runs until April 10.
Launched in 1999 to celebrate the stories of Seattle’s small Jewish community (compared to other metropolitan areas), the SJFF has grown rapidly, garnering support from sponsors like Howard Schultz. Since 2012, the festival has been part of the Strum Jewish Community Centeran organization that supports the Jewish population while forging partnerships within communities in the Seattle area.
Festival director Pamela Lavitt says the festival is important because the film can be “a pathway to identify with other people and communities”.
Lavitt says this year’s theme, “See + Be Seen,” is, in part, a call to get people to come to events in person, but it’s also about representing the “mosaic of diversity” that reflects both Seattle and the Jewish community. “There’s something tremendously empowering about seeing your portrayal…on screen,” she said.
A documentary, 8000 paperclips, tells the story of a group of Hebrew-speaking South Sudanese children raised in Israel but eventually deported to Uganda. In the film, Israeli artist and TED Fellow Raffael Lomas travels to Uganda to speak with children.
Audiences in the film hear directly from the children about their journeys fleeing Sudan to arrive in Israel, having to settle in a new country and learn a new language before being deported after putting down roots. Lomas shares her story with depression and the value that artistic expression has had in her life as a way to add context to the story of how children deal with everything they have had to face.
8000 paperclips also examines how we connect – to place, to culture, to religion. During the film, the children are introduced to the Abayudaya Jewish Community, a group of Ugandans practicing Judaism established in 1919. This meeting established a connection between two groups living in Uganda who are part of the Jewish community. Lomas recounts the meeting: “Art can create a bridge or a connection with worlds that are not part of the art world.
The festival includes many other films that offer a nuanced look at facets of the Jewish community, such as comedy Greener pastures, which looks at cannabis use and legal issues. The film follows Dov, a widower forced to relocate against his will to a nursing home from which he is eager to escape. But unfortunately for him, the loss of his pension means he’s trapped until he comes up with a plan to fund his return to his old home.
Dov’s plan is to sell cannabis, not use it, although there is also a part of it. After researching online, Dov learns how the streets have been cleared of illegal weed – leaving a market that Dov hopes to fill by creating a cannabis cooperative of medical marijuana users who send in their excess prescriptions to meet Requirement.
Dov has thought of everything, including enlisting the help of his grandson’s lawyer girlfriend to help him get around the law and use the postal service he retired from to deliver the goods. But what seems like a well-thought-out plan quickly goes sour as Dov is forced to face cops, love, and a local mob boss as he decides what matters most.
Although humorous, the film touches on important topics. There’s cannabis use and other issues, like how society treats the elderly, and grief, as Dov struggles with the loss of his wife, his home, and moving on.
Ticket holders for Greener pastures will also have access to a Zoom conversation, “Jews and Cannabis: A Bible Story at the Chai Times,with Dr. Eddy Portnoy, Director of Exhibits at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research. Lavitt wants moviegoers to know that the Institute’s mission is to use film as a platform to create conversations like this that can be hard to have.
‘Apples and Oranges’
Apples and oranges is a documentary film that delves into the 1960s craze for volunteerism in the kibbutzim, communal agriculture-based settlements in Israel. Tourism developed around bringing European volunteers who wanted to experience a collective society to work on the kibbutz. Yet despite their altruistic intentions, the volunteers brought things like sex, drugs and rock’n’roll to these isolated communities. The film features several of these volunteers, many of whom came to help after the Six Day War, an armed conflict between Israel and a group of Arab states in 1967.
A decent number of volunteers stayed, got married and even started tourist organizations in their home countries, recruiting others to come. But many have also experienced more than they bargained for, and the film doesn’t shy away from tackling issues of terror attacks, classism, and how the war in Lebanon and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have helped help a kibbutz.
Lavitt hopes festival-goers will see films like Apples and oranges and 8000 paperclips, which she calls “little documentary cinematic marvels”. She said: “These are unique opportunities. These films may never see the light of day elsewhere. And the stories, the nuances, [and] the thought-provoking way they are is simply unparalleled at the festival, so come along for the little films.
In addition to the series of shorts and numerous documentaries and comedies, “See + Be Seen” also includes a bingeable TV series, a historical period drama and a silent film. With virtual and in-person viewing options, as well as guest events and Zoom conversations, the festival is a great opportunity to experience how the film provides a mirror through which to view the vast diversity of the human condition.
To get tickets to SJFF and find information about this year’s lineup and schedule, visit the SJFF website. Passes and discounts are available for seniors and teens.
Well Patheresa is a poet, writer and storyteller who lives in SeaTac, Washington. Born to a black mother and a Persian father, her experiences as a multicultural child shaped her desire to defend and amplify her community. She is currently attending Highline College in Des Moines. Follow her on Twitter @PatheresaWells.
📸 Featured Image: ‘8000 Paperclips’ is about a group of South Sudanese Hebrew-speaking children raised in Israel but eventually deported to Uganda. The film is currently showing at the Seattle Jewish Film Festival. (Photo: Question Everything Productions, courtesy of SJFF.)
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