The Atlanta Jewish Film Festival, Atlanta’s biggest movie marathon, unveils the lineup for the 2016 edition Thursday night, showing that the biggest has grown even bigger.
There are 77 films in the 23-day festival, not including short features. The festival, which begins Jan. 26 and ends Feb. 17, takes place in seven theaters throughout the metro area, including the opening night screening of “Remember” at the 2,700-seat Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre.
An exclusive peek at the lineup granted The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reveals a diverse catalog of movies on tap, including a supernatural thriller, a rom-com set in Hong Kong, a straight-up horror flick (in English, Polish and Yiddish) and a thoughtful documentary on cinematic genius Sidney Lumet.
Executive director Kenny Blank — son of businessman Arthur Blank — said the festival focuses on movies that look at the world through a Jewish lens, but said that this gaze travels far and wide. “We have a high tolerance for unconventional movies,” he said. “This is a great showcase for the great international and independent films that are out there.”
So, what makes a Jewish film festival Jewish? Look at the documentary “Children of ‘Giant,’” one of the offerings at the upcoming festival, to see the rationale and mission of the organizers.
“Giant” was the 1956 blockbuster that cast James Dean, Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson in a story about a powerful Texas ranching family and the prejudices of the time. It was based on the novel by Edna Ferber, the crusading journalist and daughter of an immigrant Hungarian Jewish shopkeeper, who had experienced prejudice in her own life.
“Children of ‘Giant’” goes behind the scenes in Marfa, Texas, where the movie was filmed, and shows how real-life discrimination against Mexican-Americans was part of life at the time — including life on the set. The movie touches on important themes in not just the Jewish experience, but the immigrant experience.
The 2016 festival will include four U.S. premieres, nine North American premieres and many Southeastern premieres. Organizers say it is likely to attract 40,000 moviegoers, a crowd that will eclipse attendance at all other Jewish film festivals around the globe, and there are 200 of them.
During a meeting at the festival’s Buckhead headquarters (in the old Macquarium office once occupied by film group Fathom Studios), Blank pointed out a few highlights of the festival.
- “Je Suis Charlie” is a tribute to the satirists killed during the Jan. 7 terrorist attacks on the magazine Charlie Hebdo, a movie made all the more relevant by the Paris attacks 10 months later.
- “The Midnight Orchestra” is a feature film about the estranged son of a once-famous Moroccan musician who is transformed after returning to his homeland.
- “The Front” from 1976 was a surprise appearance by Woody Allen in a noncomedic role, in which he served as the beard for writers blacklisted during the McCarthy era. (This year is the 40th anniversary of this gem, and the 40th anniversary of another throwback movie to be screened, the Dustin Hoffman vehicle “Marathon Man.”)
- “Atomic Falafel,” a farce skewering the current Israel-Iran showdown, has some of the dark humor of an Israeli “Dr. Strangelove.”
- “Censored Voices” is a documentary revealing recordings of Israeli soldiers who were interviewed immediately after the Six-Day War in 1967. Those tapes were either suppressed or redacted by Israeli authorities, as the testimony from those soldiers revealed ambivalent feelings — “not only sorrow for fallen comrades, but regret over civilian casualties and the uprooting of Palestinian villages,” according to the festival program. The filmmakers found some of those soldiers 50 years later, and their contemporary reactions are part of the film.
The festival gives documentaries such as “Censored Voices” and “By Sidney Lumet” prominent exposure, but associate director Brad Pilcher points out that “even the narrative films speak to substantive issues.”
Not every film is serious. The romantic comedy “Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong,” starring real-life couple Bryan Greenberg and Jamie Chung, is meant to delight, and the horror movie “Demon,” a modern retelling of the dybbuk legend, is intended to simply scare your pants off.
The festival will begin with the Atlanta premiere of the Atom Egoyan-directed film, “Remember,” in which an aging and ailing survivor of Auschwitz (Christopher Plummer) seeks revenge. That film will be screened at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre, the biggest theater that the festival will use.
Tickets to the festival will go on sale Jan. 10, and festival planners say that up to 60 percent of tickets will be sold that day.
To get the full lineup of films in the festival, go to ajff.org/.
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