The Jewish Film Festival returns with zombies and the Jewish David Brent

This year’s festival includes a Hebrew version of The Office, a zombie film and Sean Penn as an aging goth rocker

�Less a festival, more a way of life – the Jewish Film Festival, now in its 15th year, has become so successful that Jewish Film UK is now a year-round endeavour with screenings, talks and events plus a video-on-demand service due to be introduced soon. For now, though, you have a choice of 77 films – from short to feature – screening at 15 different locations across the capital.

The festival starts in earnest this Saturday (November 5) and runs until the 20th. The Tricycle Cinema on the Kilburn High Road hosts the bulk of the screenings but the Odeon Swiss Cottage and Everyman Hampstead are also kept pretty busy.

It kicks off with This Must Be The Place, for the opening gala on Tuesday, a road movie starring Sean Penn as an aging goth rock star and directed by the Italian Paolo Sorrentino, most famous for Il Divo, about former Italian prime minister Guilio Andreotti. This will be reviewed here on its release in March.

There are a few novelties in this year’s line-up, including Rabies, which arrives with the bold claim that it is the first Israeli horror film. Audiences will also get the chance to check out episodes from the Hebrew version of The Office. On Saturday November 19, the Tricycle will be screening three early episodes of this Israeli take on David Brent. Some of these early episodes are remakes from the original BBC version. But one is an entirely original story, set against the background of the military incursion into Gaza. If that doesn’t raise any laughs, there will be a stand-up set afterwards from Bennett Arron.

Among the programme’s highlights must be the documentary Crime After Crime, (at the Tricycle on Wednesday November 9), a chilling indictment of Los Angeles’ law enforcement, which doesn’t seem to have improved since the era of LA Confidential. Yoav Potash’s film documents a struggle which lasted almost a decade to release a woman serving a life sentence for murdering her abusive boyfriend.

Deborah Peagler’s existence was one of almost absurd misfortune. A bright student in her teens, she falls for the dashing young Oliver Wilson. Initially, the relationship flourishes until he dramatically reveals his pimp aspirations and her life becomes one of daily humiliation and beatings. The question outsiders always pose, when they hear about such cases, is if the abuse was so bad, why didn’t they get out? Well, in this case, when Deborah did manage to get out and go back to her mother’s, Oliver turned up outside with a friend, armed and threatening to kill everyone inside.

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At the start, the documentary seems to be a relatively dry tract about the number of abused and battered women who end up in jail because the legal system doesn’t take this into account. But, slowly, it grows into a frightening account of the petty vindictiveness and utter corruption of the LA police force – of how criminal justice is often about officers picking an interpretation of events, forcing reality to fit into that framework and then sticking with it no matter what.

You have to hope that Potash’s film will prove popular and powerful enough to head off any Hollywood dramatisation. The main roles are all potential catnip for desperate Oscar pleaders. The two underdog lawyers, handling the case for free and in their spare time, are an orthodox Jew and a marathon runner who usually work in property law, aided by a grizzled, hardboiled private investigator. Deborah herself is a study in fortitude and quiet dignity.


One year I’d like to do a preview for the festival without mentioning the Second World War or Nazis. But there in the package of screeners sent to me by publicists was Habermann, a Czech variation on the good German story. It opens with familiar scenes of people enduring a torrent of hatred and violent abuse as they are hustled out of the village towards waiting trains. The switch is that the victims are Germans being tormented by angry, jubilant Czechs at the end of the war.

The film then flicks back to 1937 where the German August Habermann is a successful industrialist running a mill in Sudetenland. He is also getting married to a local beauty, without realising that, although she is baptised and raised by nuns, she is, in fact, Jewish. He has a young brother who you know instantly will turn out to be a Nazi because he is played by an actor with the kind of piggy face which will set him in good stall for a career in jackbooted roles.

The film follows Habermann’s attempts to steer a moral and fair path through immoral times. It gets a bit melodramatic at times and, although the story may seem over-familiar, it sucks you in and is, ultimately, quite powerful.

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