Joyce’s New Shorts: The First Jewish Short Film Festival in the World

by Leorah Gavidor August 27, 2018


a-still-from-the-film-shoesJoyce Axelrod has a long history with shorts. Now her 12-year-old custom of screening a day of short films, known as the Joyce Forum at the SDJFF, has taken over two calendar days and evolved into the first Jewish short film festival in the world—here in San Diego. With its own billing, the Joyce Forum Short Film Festival is a formalization of the popular tradition that’s been selling out seats for several years at La Jolla ArcLight Theatres.

Curators of this year’s new short film festival previewed 130 films from 17 countries to whittle down the selection to 25. The selections will show Oct. 6 and 7 at the Lawrence Family JCC Garfield Theatre.

Joyce has a special appreciation for short films and the filmmakers who pursue the medium.

“It calls for a tight script,” she explained. “And in a short film, the ending leaves you with a memory, a strong impression, that might not be retained with a longer film.”

She describes Russian trilogy “Witnesses,” by USSR-born San Diego filmmakers Irina and Konstantin Fam, with fondness and awe. The trilogy contains three shorts: “Shoes,” “Brutus” and “Violin.”

“[‘Shoes’]opens with a woman looking into a shop window at a beautiful pair of red shoes, in Warsaw, before World War II,” Joyce began. “The film follows the shoes, all the way to the common grave at Auschwitz. But you don’t see anyone’s face, and there’s no dialogue, for the whole film.”

The next film, “Brutus,” follows the journey of Brutus the German Shepherd, separated from his beloved master and trained to be a watchdog at a concentration camp. “Violin” traces the story of a 1900s violin that makes its way to a concert at the Wailing Wall. The trilogy has garnered international attention and “Shoes” has been incorporated by Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem, as part of an education program for teenagers.

Many Russian-Speaking Jews—Joyce said she’s heard the number is over 5,000—now call San Diego home. Konstantin, who was born in Pervomayskiy in 1972, is son of a Vietnamese father and a Russian Jewish mother. Joyce hopes that the premiere of “Witnesses,” in Russian with subtitles, will give Russian speakers a sense of community in their adopted home.

Joyce herself adopted San Diego as her home after growing up in New Mexico. Born in a small town near Santa Fe, Joyce was the only Jewish girl in her school. Her family later moved to Albuquerque, where they found other Jewish families. Fast-forward through a life of adventures that included a teaching stint in Japan, to the early 1990s when she and Lynette Allen founded the San Diego Jewish Film Festival.

Joyce’s new short festival features a collaboration with the Murray Galinson San Diego Israel Initiative to host two Israeli filmmakers for an artist-in-residence program. For two weeks, Moshe Rosenthal and Eli Rezik, both graduates of Tel Aviv University’s Cinema and Television program, will share their expertise and perspectives with San Diego students and community members through workshops, classes and panels at SDSU, UCSD and CSUSM.

Rezik, an Arab Israeli born in Nazareth, will show his film, “Ten Bell Tolls,” in the festival. He has worked on feature films, including Oscar-nominated “Omar,” “The Beautiful Fantastic,” and “Villa Touma.” Rosenthal, from Holon, won best director at the 2016 Jerusalem short film festival for his short “Shabaton” (Leave of Absence).

Local filmmaker and sketch artist Randall Christopher’s film, “The Driver is Red,” illustrated in pen and ink, will also premiere at the festival. Christopher, not Jewish himself, became interested in a story about the Holocaust when he read an article in the New York Times about a letter, released from archives, which Adolf Eichmann wrote to the president of Israel in 1962. In it, the Nazi collaborator begged for clemency. The film tells the story of the spy tactics the Mossad employed to track Eichmann down in Argentina. A small audience saw a live-acted preview, with violin accompaniment, last year at Verbatim Books.

With hundreds of underwriters and a panel of jurors who will award prizes for Best Director and other categories, Joyce is grateful for the support and feels “fortunate to have stumbled into this project.”


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