For its 18th year, the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival returns to local cinemas with a robust lineup of movies that showcase such themes as Jewish-American life, the Holocaust, Israeli cinema and, particularly this year, the realm of arts and entertainment.
The festival screens more than 70 narrative and documentary shorts and feature films from 27 countries at almost 200 screenings across the city. The following highlights include the opening and closing night features.
“Sammy Davis, Jr.: I’ve Gotta Be Me.” The Atlanta Film Festival opens with a portrait of one of the 20th century’s most beloved entertainers, Sammy Davis Jr., aka “the Candy Man.” A Harlem-born vaudevillian who converted to Judaism after a 1954 car accident, Davis performed with Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin as part of the Rat Pack and became a global celebrity. Interviewees include Whoopi Goldberg, Billy Crystal and Jerry Lewis (who died last year).
7:30 p.m. Jan. 24, Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre
“Shelter.” This low-budget but effective espionage movie casts Neta Riskin as an Israeli agent assigned to protect Mona (Golshifteh Farahani), a fugitive Lebanese defector. Much of the film takes place in and around a German safe house and focuses on the bond that develops between two women, each recovering from physical and emotional wounds (Mona has a heavily bandaged face following plastic surgery). Director Eran Riklis frequently heightens the women’s paranoia over the building’s sinister neighbors — and the untrustworthy political figures pulling the strings — which builds to sequences of high tension.
1 p.m. Jan. 27, Regal Atlantic Station; 5:55 p.m. Feb. 3, Regal Atlantic Station; 3:45 p.m. Feb. 9, UA Tara Cinemas 4; 8:20 p.m. Feb. 11, the Springs Cinema & Taphouse (previously known as Lefont Sandy Springs); noon Feb. 15, the Springs Cinema & Taphouse
“Almost Famous.” Not to be confused with the Cameron Crowe film of the same name, this Israeli teen dramedy depicts a high school teenager who becomes a contestant on an “American Idol”-type show, bringing newfound popularity to his bookish sister. Director Marco Carmel explores the complicated dynamics of high school, social media and celebrity.
1:10 p.m. Jan. 27, Regal Perimeter Pointe; 1:20 p.m. Feb. 4, the Springs Cinema & Taphouse; 1:15 p.m. Feb. 11, the Springs Cinema & Taphouse
“Good Thoughts, Good Words, Good Deeds: The Conductor Zubin Mehta.” The term “citizen of the world” has never seemed more apt than in describing Zubin Mehta. Born and raised in Mumbai, Mehta had his musical education in Vienna and keeps homes in Los Angeles and Florence, Italy, while serving as a globe-trotting conductor with lifelong roles at the Israel Philharmonic and other groups. Mehta eloquently describes his sense of moral responsibility to, for instance, conduct the Israeli Philharmonic’s first performance in Berlin. The ungainly titled documentary offers a graceful depiction of Mehta’s approach to leading musicians, and you don’t have to be a classical music expert to enjoy the concert clips.
5:35 p.m. Jan. 28, Regal Perimeter Pointe; 3:35 p.m. Feb. 3, Regal Atlantic Station; 3:10 p.m. Feb, 10, the Springs Cinema & Taphouse; 3:50 p.m. Feb. 13, UA Tara Cinemas 4
“A Bag of Marbles.” Young actors Dorian Le Clech and Batyste Fleurial give powerful performances as two brothers adrift in Nazi-occupied France during World War II. Based on Joseph Joffo’s autobiographical novel, “A Bag of Marbles” depicts the Holocaust from a child’s perspective as the brothers go from Parisian schoolboys to refugees in the French countryside to students passing as Catholic in a rural military school. While lacking a subtle touch, “A Bag of Marbles” delivers emotionally devastating moments against a backdrop of deceptively lovely towns and landscapes.
4:20 p.m. Jan. 28, Regal Hollywood 24; 3:50 p.m. Feb. 2, Regal Hollywood 24; 3:25 p.m. Feb. 3, UA Tara Cinemas 4; 3:55 p.m. Feb. 3, the Springs Cinema & Taphouse; 4:25 p.m. Feb. 4, Regal Atlantic Station
“Shalom Bollywood: The Untold Story of Indian Cinema.” With a title that echoes the acclaimed Hindi drama “Salaam Bombay,” this documentary explores an obscure but intriguing subject. In the early days of India’s film industry, cultural taboos discouraged Hindu and Muslim women from being actresses, so some of Bollywood’s first superstars drew from India’s tiny Jewish population. Director Danny Ben-Moshe recounts how actresses such as Pramila (real name Esther Abraham) became matinee idols. “Shalom Bollywood” feels like it stretches to extend to feature length, but lively archival footage tracks changes in Bollywood’s signature musical styles, while some of the late actors’ relatives provide spirited interviews.
3:25 p.m. Jan. 28, Regal Perimeter Pointe; 6:05 p.m. Feb. 3, UA Tara Cinemas 4; 7 p.m. Feb. 6, the Springs Cinema & Taphouse
“Spielberg.” With his newspaper drama “The Post” a likely Oscar contender and his cyberthriller “Ready Player One” coming to theaters in March, Steven Spielberg remains one of the world’s most commanding filmmakers. At nearly two and a half hours, Susan Lacy’s documentary “Spielberg” offers a thorough retrospective of Hollywood’s most successful director, who provides candid commentary on his films from “Jaws” to “Schindler’s List” to “Lincoln” and more.
7 p.m. Jan. 29, Regal Perimeter Pointe; 3:20 p.m. Jan. 30, Regal Atlantic Station; 7 p.m. Feb. 12, the Springs Cinema & Taphouse; 3:10 p.m. Feb. 14, UA Tara Cinemas 4
“Funny Girl.” Turner Classic Movies co-sponsors this 50th anniversary of the beloved musical biopic. Barbra Streisand made one of Hollywood’s most auspicious screen debuts as singer/comedienne Fanny Brice, parlaying her acclaimed Broadway role to a best actress Oscar (shared in a tie with Katharine Hepburn) at her first time out of the gate. Co-starring Omar Sharif as Brice’s unreliable husband, “Funny Girl” features two of Streisand’s signature songs, “People” and “Don’t Rain on My Parade.”
3:15 p.m. Feb. 1, Regal Perimeter Pointe; 7 p.m. Feb. 13, the Springs Cinema & Taphouse
“Foxtrot.” Winner of the grand jury prize at the Venice International Film Festival and Israel’s entry for this year’s Academy Awards, “Foxtrot” takes a hard look at the consequences of military conflict. Writer/director Samuel Maoz crosscuts between a young man’s military service at a remote checkpoint and his parents, an affluent Tel Aviv couple, learning that he died in the line of duty.
7:15 p.m. Feb. 6, UA Tara Cinemas 4; 7:10 p.m. Feb. 13, UA Tara Cinemas 4
“The Last Suit.” A complex, deeply felt performance by Miguel Ángel Solá anchors the festival’s closing night production. Octogenarian Holocaust survivor Abraham Bursztein, rather than go to a nursing home, flees from Buenos Aires on an enigmatic errand to Poland. Initially the film finds considerable comedy in Abraham’s con-man antics. The closer he gets to Germany and Poland, however, the more his grim memories assert themselves, and at times, the film struggles with the tonal switches. But even when the plot feels excessively contrived, Solá’s performance is never less than engaging.
7 p.m. Feb. 15, Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre
Atlanta Jewish Film Festival
Jan. 24-Feb. 15. Venues include the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre (2800 Cobb Galleria Parkway, Atlanta), the Springs Cinema & Taphouse (Parkside Shopping Center, 5920 Roswell Road NE, Atlanta), Regal Atlantic Station (261 19th St. NW, Atlanta), UA Tara Cinemas 4 (2345 Cheshire Bridge Road, Atlanta), Regal Perimeter Pointe 10 (1155 Mount Vernon Highway, Atlanta), Regal Hollywood 24 (3265 Northeast Expressway, Chamblee) and Woodruff Arts Center, Rich Auditorium (1280 Peachtree St. NE, Atlanta). $12-$15 for individual tickets; $36 for opening night film (which includes parking); $36 for closing night film (which includes parking and post-screening dessert reception). Tickets go on sale Jan. 17. 1-866-214-2072, www.ajff.org.