Six Jewish-themed short films played to a full house at the 18th Annual Palm Springs International ShortFest June 20 at the Camelot Theatre. This year’s ShortFest, which took place June 19-25, screened 323 short films from 52 countries, selected from more than 3,000 entries. Selections are structured into 53 themed programs covering such diverse topics as War and Remembrance to Dreams and Desires. This year, six shorts exploring the world of Judaism, ranging from six to 22 minutes in length, brought laughter, sorrow, delight and tears to the audience.
The popularity of these Jewish-inspired shorts resulted in a long line of ticketholders waiting to take their seats. Many stayed after the screenings to ask questions of the filmmakers. Appearing at the ShortFest were filmmakers Shachar Langlev of “Folkswagon,” Khen Shalem of “The Other Side” and Max Heckman, Roan Bibby and Michael Feinstein, all of “Shlomo Pussycat.”
Another of the Jewish-themed shorts screened was “Ensemble,” written and directed by Mohamed Fekrane out of France. Set in occupied Paris in 1942, the film tells the remarkable story of a Muslim mosque under the guidance of an imam who saved between 500 and 1,600 Jewish children from the Nazis during World War II.
Tears turned to laughter when “Shlomo Pussycat,” an American film, had its time on screen. The film explores what happens when a restless rabbi, tired of the monotony in his life, seeks to find meaning. His chance encounter on a subway with a loud, colorful black woman leads him on a quest to fund God and himself in a world that is alien to him.
Plunging into the depression and oppression of anti-Semitism, “Seven Minutes in the Warsaw Ghetto,” directed by Johan Oettinger of Denmark, represents a giant leap forward in animation, using puppets and the eyes of real actors. “Seven Minutes” tells the disturbing story of a starving 8-year-old boy in the Warsaw Ghetto in 1942. Sheer artistry, but a horrifying commentary on the brutality of the dark era, were etched into our collective memories.
Bridging the chasm that divides Israeli Jews from Palestinians is “The Other Side,” a film out of Israel and directed by Khen Shalem.
The story takes place on a kibbutz located on the Israeli side of the massive wall that separates it from the West Bank. A young Israeli boy on the kibbutz is the last player picked for soccer teams, though he owns the ball. It’s only when he “meets” a Palestinian who lives on the other side of the wall that he finds an unusual friendship, devoid of words or gazes.
Next in the lineup was “My Kosher Shifts,” directed and produced by Iris Zaki of the United Kingdom. “Shifts” has a glimmer of “Candid Camera” humor about it. The film, shot with a hidden camera, reveals the fascinating, informal conversataions between the receptionist (a young woman and athiest) and myriad guests at a London hotel that caters to Orthodox Jews.
Finally, “Folkswagon,” an American film directed and produced by Shachar Langlev, is a study of contradiction and collective memory. Gil, just discharged from the IDF and anxious to be far removed from his grandmother’s recent death, leaves Israel for New York City. He accepts an invitation to live with an elderly Holocaust survivor, whose odd quirks might just be what Gil needs.
Harold Matzner, chairman of the ShortFest, remarked that the event is “the largest showcase of short films in North America celebrating all aspects of the cinematic short form.” Once again, Jewish short films have enjoyed a long success as part of this event. For more information on the next ShortFest, visit www.psfilmfest.org.