Festival Preview

When filmmaker Tiffany Shlain lived in Seattle briefly during the early ’90s, she had an apartment in Pioneer Square that she was very excited about.

“I remember [saying], ‘Dad, I have a view of the water from my loft,’ and then he came, and I had a huge freeway in front of my window. If you stood on your tippy-toes from the middle of the staircase, you could kind of see the water between all the zipping cars.

“He said, ‘You’re such an optimist, Tiffany, that you would tell me you have a view of the water when you only have that view, like, every other car.’”

Now, the Bay Area-based filmmaker is headed back to Seattle, optimism no doubt in tow, to receive the Seattle Jewish Film Festival’s REEL Difference Award, which recognizes contributions to Jewish cinema. The festival begins March 10.

Shlain will present six of her short films about the intersection of Jewish identity and technology, including a “spoken cinema” version of “30,000 Days,” with her live narration accompanying the film’s exploration of how to live a life with purpose.

Among her other films she’ll screen: “The Whole Cinemagillah,” which retells the American Jewish experience through iconic film and television moments, and “Technology Shabbats,” about her family’s quest for balance by unplugging from the digital world one day a week.

“It’s the best thing we’ve ever done as a family,” Shlain said. “It gives me this perspective every week to step away from all the screens and be able to have bigger-picture thoughts.”

Shlain’s creativity and motivational speaking abilities made her an ideal award recipient, said festival director Pamela Lavitt. Her interactive style of presenting her films brings an extra element to the typical film-festival experience.

“She’s going to add a very live and connected touch to something that would normally be digital and on-screen,” Lavitt said.

That kind of interactivity is important for the festival, which will feature visits from more than 20 guest artists, a key component of presenting a “kaleidoscopic look” at Jewish and Israeli filmmaking, Lavitt said.

More than 30 films will be screened, including several at an additional weekend in Issaquah April 14-15.
Some of the highlights:

 

“Vitch”: Seattle-based filmmaker Sigal Bujman directs a documentary about a Mercer Island family who digs into the past of their uncle, Eddie Vitch, a famous mime and caricature artist, who “hid in plain sight” during the Holocaust.

“The family grappled for years with how he survived the war, and the suspicions were he was a favorite performer of Hitler and the SS,” Lavitt said.

“The Testament”: Israeli actor Ori Pfeffer stars as a historian who discovers an uncomfortable truth about his mother.

“We’re finding a lot of films are using Holocaust narratives [and] taking it into a thriller [mode],” Lavitt said. “The person that you thought you knew your whole life turns out to be someone other than who you think.”

In celebrating the 70th anniversary of Israel, the festival has programmed many films with thematic ties, with an eye toward pointing out the country’s complex history, Lavitt said.

“[Ben-Gurion had] a very different perspective of Israel than maybe what Israel is today,” she said.

“Shalom Bollywood”: This documentary about Indian Jewish women in the film industry focuses on a demographic that isn’t widely recognized in either the Indian or Jewish communities, Lavitt said.

“For 500 years, there have been Jews, known as the Bene Israel Jews, and they have been living in India,” she said. “They are a unique and beautiful part of the complexity of Jewish life in the diaspora. This is not a monolithic culture.”

Seattle Jewish Film Festival, March 10-18 and April 14-15 at Stroum Jewish Community Center (Mercer Island), Pacific Place, SIFF Cinema Uptown, Cinebarre 8 (Issaquah); full festival pass is $225, individual tickets $5-$15 (seattlejewishfilmfestival.org).

Dusty Somers[email protected]on Twitter: @dustysomers. Dusty Somers is a lifelong Seattle native whose love of the arts has resulted in a distressingly large physical media collection. Right about now, he’s probably watching a movie, seeing a play or listening to a record.