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‘Common bond’: Film festival focuses ‘through lens of Jewish culture’

Five – this is the number of films that will be screened as part of the fourth annual Jewish Film Festival in Albuquerque, beginning Thursday, July 20.

And each one of the films will have a universal theme.

“Since we’re featuring cinema from around the world and so forth, we want to create an in-depth cultural experience,” says Phyllis Wolf, director of arts, culture, education at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Albuquerque. “It’s more than just a film. We are bringing people together and giving them an experience that they won’t forget. We are trying to bring in filmmakers for a question and answer period. I think that is the trend that we are going to set.”

This year’s festival is branching out from screenings at the JCC and will screen two films at Regal High Ridge 8.

“This is definitely an upgrade for our foreign films that are subtitled,” Wolf says of the partnership with Regal. “We have digital equipment, but when you get subtitles in the films, it’s very difficult to follow. We’re pleased about being able to present the films at High Ridge.”

Wolf says the Israeli film “Women’s Balcony” and Italy’s “Let Yourself Go!” are both subtitled and will be presented at High Ridge.

A scene from the Israeli film “The Women’s Balcony,” which will open the Jewish Film Festival in Albuquerque. (Courtesy of Menemsha Films)

“Women’s Balcony” tells the story of when the women’s balcony in an Orthodox synagogue collapses, leaving the rabbi’s wife in a coma and the rabbi in shock, the congregation falls into crisis. Charismatic young Rabbi David appears to be a savior after the accident, but slowly starts pushing his fundamentalist ways and tries to take control.

Toni Servillo stars in the film “Let Yourself Go!” (Courtesy of Menemsha Films)

Meanwhile, “Let Yourself Go!” tells the story of Elia, a middle-aged Jewish psychoanalyst who lives next door to – and is still secretly in love with – his ex-wife, Paola. When his physician tells him to “get up off the couch” and start exercising, he reluctantly agrees. His life changes after he encounters Claudia, a personal trainer whose upbeat attitude and offbeat lifestyle brings Elia out of his funk and awakens him to the joys of life.

Kutsher’s indoor-pool postcard. (Courtesy of Mark Kutsher)

Wolf is also looking forward to the screening of “Welcome to Kutsher’s.”

The documentary tells the story of Kutsher’s – one of the legendary Borscht Belt hotels. The property has been family-owned and family-operated for over 100 years, and it explores the full “Dirty Dancing”-era Catskills experience and how it changed American pop culture in the comedy, sports and vacation industries.

Before the film, there is New York deli nosh catered by Ruth Rosenstein’s Rhubarb & Elliot for an extra charge.

“There are a lot of residents in New Mexico who are familiar with Kutsher’s,” Wolf says. “It’s a time to reminisce.”

The documentary “Body and Soul: An American Bridge” focuses on the early performance history of the jazz standard “Body and Soul.” (Courtesy of Shoga Films)

Another documentary, “Body and Soul: An American Bridge” celebrates the cross-cultural relationships between African-Americans and American Jews. The film aims to tease out the strands of this cultural knot by focusing on the early performance history of the jazz standard. There will also be a live jazz quintet, wine and snacks after the screening.

And the final film, “Carvalho’s Journey,” is being presented in partnership with the Santa Fe Jewish Film Festival and the New Mexico Jewish Historical Society.

The film tells the extraordinary story of Solomon Nunes Carvalho, an observant Sephardic Jew born in Charleston, S.C., and his life as a groundbreaking photographer, artist and pioneer in American history.

“There’s a focus through the lens of the Jewish culture,” Wolf says. “The stories that we’ve picked have universal appeal. The quality of the film is a common bond. Anybody who enjoys good filmmaking will find value. With each event, we’re enhancing the film element.”

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