Boundaries fall at the 2017 Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival

Shady Srour stars in 'Holy Air,' screening on November 5. (Image courtesy of PJFF.)

In modern-day Nazareth, Adam, a Christian Arab living in one of Israel’s holiest cities, can’t cope when his wife is pregnant, his father is sick, and his job is the worst. But in a city whose mantra is “if it’s holy, they will buy it,” he concocts a plan to climb Mount Precipice every morning, bottle the air, and sell it to tourists.

Holy Air, an Israeli comedy screening in Ambler on November 5, is part of the 37th annual Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival. PJFF is packed with intriguing Philly premieres, with 35 films running November 4 through 19 at venues like the Gershman Y, Ritz East, the Kimmel, and the National Museum of American Jewish History.

PJFF17

The fest opens with the Philadelphia premiere of director Ofir Raul Gaizer’s 2017 The Cakemaker, which follows Tomas, a Berlin pastry chef who begins a passionate affair with Oren, one of his customers, a married Israeli businessman. When Oren dies in an accident, Tomas holds onto him by insinuating himself into the life of Oren’s family business in Israel, with surprising results. It’s screening on Saturday, November 4, at 7:30pm at the Gershman Y.

This year’s festival boasts a total of 32 Philadelphia premieres (15 narratives, 11 documentary features, and 9 shorts). The roster represents 20 countries, with stories set in the U.S., Greece, France, Germany, Denmark, the Himalayas, and more. There’s an impressive scope of stories to be told, with romances, comedies, harrowing historical and contemporary dramas, and documentaries unearthing little-known narratives and interviews exploring figures like Hedy Lamarr, David Ben-Gurion, and Sigmund Freud.

Films spotlight the experience of children and young people, LGBT stories, the adventures of people with disabilities, interfaith families, personal histories, women’s rights, and lots more. New this year are two categories: “Young & Independent” and “Tikkun Olam.” “Young & Independent” targets selections for festival-goers ages 45 and younger (with an associated discount pass); “Tikkun Olam,” meaning “repair the world,” spotlights films not just for artistic excellence but “for their role in bringing awareness to human rights issues that go beyond the Jewish community.”

‘Bombshell’ and ‘Body and Soul’

Robert Philipson’s hourlong 2016 documentary, Body and Soul: An American Bridge, is an interesting cross-cultural encounter, paired with a live jazz performance and soul-food brunch on Thursday, November 9, at 11am. Another Philly premiere, the film explores how the song Body and Soul, written by the Jewish composer Johnny Green and immortalized in performance by Louis Armstrong, “may well be the definitive musical bridge linking African American and American Jewish music together in perpetuity.” The film won the Best Music Documentary award at the San Francisco Black Film Festival, and features Penn Annenberg professor Josh Kun.

The festival’s Centerpiece Film is the Philly premiere of Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story (directed by Alexandra Dean), screening on Saturday, November 11, at 7:30pm at the Gershman Y. In this documentary, drawing on four rarely heard 1990 interviews with the famously gorgeous 1930s film star, we learn about Lamarr’s “refined and ingenious brain” and many groundbreaking inventions, with commentary from family, friends, scholars, scientists, and famed directors to round out Lamarr’s extraordinary and little-known story.

For more information, tickets, and the full lineup, visit PJFF online.

At right: Hedy Lamarr was a lot more than a beautiful face. (Image courtesy of PJFF.)