.Israeli Film Festival Breaks the Mold with Virtual Screenings

Five films comprising dramas, comedies and a documentary are all coming to home audiences this month in the sixth annual Israeli Film Festival, running online and on demand for three weeks beginning Friday, March 12.

Presented by the Jewish Community Center, Sonoma County, the annual springtime festival normally screens at the Rialto Cinemas in Sebastopol, though this year’s festival is entirely online due to the ongoing pandemic that nearly canceled last year’s Israeli Film Festival.

“The second film (of the 2020 Israeli Film Festival) was screening the day we went into lockdown,” says Irène Hodes, Director of Film Festivals and Cultural Events at the JCC, Sonoma County. “That was a test. We decided to postpone and not cancel. We decided to figure out how to present these films online at home. We decided to persevere.”

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That first, partially online Israeli Film Festival became the test case for the JCC, which went totally virtual for last fall’s Sonoma County Jewish Film Festival. That festival ran online on a dedicated server, giving at-home audiences a reliable, on-demand way to watch the films along with access to live filmmaker talks and other programming.

“The film festivals and all sorts of culture and arts programming surrounding that has been a proven lifeline, and people love having access to the films at home,” Hodes says.

This year’s virtual Israeli Film festival opens with a new, on-demand slate of acclaimed films.

The intimate and heartbreaking story of an immigrant single mother, Asia swept the cinematic awards in its home country and is now the Israeli entry for the “Best International Feature Film” at the upcoming Academy Awards.

The buddy comedy Forgiveness, created by popular Israeli television stars Hanan Savyon and Guy Amir, finds two friends at odds over a botched robbery and newfound religion.

Touching on topics like autism, the family drama Here We Are follows a father and son who hit the road rather than become separated by an institution.

The romantic comedy Kiss Me Kosher features an Israeli lesbian who becomes engaged to a German woman, which leads to clashes of opinions in her traditional Jewish Israeli family.

Finally, the charming and inspiring documentary Mrs. G is an account of the life and revolutionary work of Mrs. Lea Gottlieb, the legendary designer, founder and owner of the Gottex swimwear empire.

These five films will screen online March 12 to April 2, and several live filmmaker talks are currently scheduled to take place during the run. Passes are available on the JCC’s website, which also boasts several other online offerings, including virtual daily emails featuring news in the Jewish world, links to free movies, recipes and other mostly uplifting content.

“It’s become so popular it’s practically another mainstay program right now,” Hodes says. “It continues to be a labor of love, but we’ve seen a lot of the fruits of our labor come around, and we see how resilient people have been and how together we all are.”

The virtual Israeli Film Festival runs Friday, March 12, through April 2. Season passes, $60–$80; single film tickets, $14–$24. jccsoco.org.
Charlie Swanson
Charlie Swanson is a North Bay native and an arts and music writer and editor who has covered the local scene since 2014.
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