Feast of films

Feast of films

Hava Nagila and other highlights of the Jewish Film Festival

By Tim Pompey 02/28/2013

The Ventura County Jewish Film Festival is returning this year with a brand-new selection of movies that highlight Jewish culture, history and music. For instance, the film Hava Nagila, scheduled to be shown March 9, 7 p.m at the Regency Buenaventura, is a documentary about 150 years of Jewish life with the famous Canter’s Deli in Los Angeles as its backdrop.

The song is often a part of Jewish parties, bar mitzvahs and even of a local deli famous for its singing waiters and waitresses. But it also has deep historical roots and sums up the culture that has developed into what we know today as Jewish life.

And that, in a sense, is what the Ventura County Jewish Festival hopes to bring to its local audience. “The film is fun. It’s full of wonderful music. It has an extraordinary story, and people are going to love it,” said festival chair Bobbi Swerdlin.

Swerdlin, a retired elementary school teacher, helped found the festival 10 years ago after she and her husband attended the Yiddish Film Festival in Ojai with their friends Ivor and Sally Davis. As she recalled, “Afterwards, the four of us were talking in the parking lot and I said, ‘If Ojai can do this, why can’t we put on our own film festival?’ ”

Ivor became the initial chair. Sally and Bobbi served on the festival’s first committee. It took them a year of hard work, but they succeeded in launching their film series at Temple Beth Torah in March 2003.

Since then, the festival has expanded to local theaters around the county:  the Roxy in Camarillo, the Plaza Cinema in Oxnard and the Regency Buenaventura in Ventura.

This year’s theme is Celebrating 10 Years! The festival will be showing 10 films in honor of the past decade. Sally Davis, who recently passed away, will be honored. Swerdlin credits her as one of the festival’s guiding lights. “She was bright and witty and always had something interesting to say,” she noted.

Swerdlin and her committee have high expectations for the films they select. They try to get the best films available that include Jewish content. The films must also be new and not yet released to theaters. “We try to have their premieres here,” she said, “and the film must have a compelling story, something we can all learn from.”

Swerdlin believes the Jewish community, as well as film lovers from across the county, are hungry for films about Jewish life and culture. “We want to see films with Jewish content, movies that are historical and teach,” she said. “We want to help people learn about Jewish culture, history, politics and spirituality.”

Festival organizers also hope to break old stereotypes about what might be defined as a Jewish film. “When people think of Jewish movies, they usually think of sad movies, so this film festival shows that Jewish films can also be fun and interesting,” she said.

For example, there is the premiere of a documentary called Shalom Ireland, which highlights the vibrant Jewish community that still exists on the big Emerald Isle, or the animated film 55 Socks, based on a poem by Marie Jacobs.

Swerdlin and her committee believe the Jewish Film Festival helps everyone who attends to better understand the diversity of Jewish life. “It’s a cultural event,” she said, “that brings the Jewish community at large together, and it’s also a positive way to let people know who we are.”

Jewish Film Festival, through March 17. Tickets are $11 each or $62.50 for a season pass. They are available for purchase online at www.vcjff.org or at the offices of Temple Beth Torah, 7620 Foothill Road, in Ventura. For more information, call 647-4181.


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