JR reviews two ★★★★ picks from Edinburgh's International Shalom Festival: rap opera The City and documentary Disturbing the Peace

The City ★★★★ – Israel's Incubator Theatre makes its Edinburgh debut at Shalom - just three years after protests prevented it from being part of the Festival Fringe

One highlight of the International Shalom Festival is the return to Edinburgh of Jerusalem's Incubator Theatre with their hip-hop opera The City, a clever homage to all those private dicks who walk the mean streets of the city trying to solve crime. The City is entirely written in rhyme, combining rap, hip-hop and spoken word to tell a tale of vanity, lust and murder. This is the company targeted by pro-Palestinian demonstrators in 2014, which meant they were unable to perform at the Fringe. So it's all the more exciting and gratifying that they are at last making their proper Edinburgh debut. When JR's Arts Editor Judi Herman saw The City at JW3, London, where it played three sold-out performances in the aftermath of the Edinburgh protests, she was inspired to write the following four-star review in rhyme.

I’m telling you, friends, get down to The City,

A fast-moving show that’s mighty witty.

Israelis rap in English rhyme,

A dark twisted story of a web of crime.

A private dick, just an ordinary Joe,

Meets a mystery blonde and goes with the flow.

If you can get a ticket, you will too,

It’s a sparky performance from a versatile crew.

A band and beatbox, shared imagination,

The City never gets lost in translation…

The City runs Tuesday 8 – Thursday 10 August. 11.30am, 4pm, 8pm (Tue & Wed only). £12.50, £9.50 concs, £8 NUS. Drummond Community High School, Edinburgh, EH7 4BS.


Disturbing the Peace ★★★★ – Searing testimony from fighters for co-existence in Israel/Palestine

Some fine thought-provoking feature and documentary films are part of the entertainment and dialogue at the Shalom Festival, with filmmakers and activists involved in that discussion between Israelis and Palestinians taking part in post-show discussions and Q&As.

One in particular is the documentary Disturbing the Peace, from directors Stephen Apkon and Andrew Young. The film follows an activist group called Combatants for Peace and tells the story of these former enemies – Israeli soldiers and Palestinian fighters, many of whom served years in prison – who have decided to join forces in order to work towards a peaceful resolution and to stand up for what they believe in. The two screenings of Disturbing the Peace will be followed by a panel discussion and Q&A session.

Disturbing the Peace runs Wednesday 9 & Thursday 10 August. 3.30pm (Wed), 1.30pm (Thu). Free. Drummond Community High School, Edinburgh, EH7 4BS.

Judi Herman saw Disturbing the Peace at the 2016 UK Jewish Film Festival and you can read her four-star review below:

Click here to find out what else is going on at Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Review: TAU film students’ shorts are long on talent and originality at the 10th anniversary showcase

Roads by Lior Geller This was the 10th anniversary of the Tel Aviv University (TAU) Trust’s gala UK showcase for students of The Steve Tisch School of Film & Television. Almost every Israeli film produced in the last 10 years has been made by alumni of the school and the evening gives an opportunity for four aspiring filmmakers to show their developing talent in a series of shorts.

This year the chosen films represent not only life in contemporary Israel for both Arabs and Jews, but also a documentary and a surrealist feature. There’s no doubting the creativity and originality of the work and it’s not surprising that previous entries and their directors have gone on to be recognised internationally.

Lior Geller’s Roads holds the Guinness World Record as the most highly-decorated student film of all time, and earned Lior an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Student Film. The story follows 13-year-old Ismayil, who is searching for a new life for himself and his younger brother outside the Arab slums of the city of Lod. When a traumatised Israeli ex-soldier comes to the neighbourhood looking for drugs to escape his own reality, an unusual opportunity arises. Geller spares no one in this bleak look at life in the underbelly of Israel.

Maya Sarfaty received a gold medal at the US Academy Awards for her documentary The Most Beautiful Woman. Beneath the appealing title lies the story of a love affair between an SS guard and a young Jewish woman at Auschwitz death camp. It's based on the true story of Franz Wunsch, a guard who fell in love with Helena Citronova, a prisoner from Slovakia. In return for Helena’s affection, Wunsch saved the young woman and her sister Rosa from certain death, though he could not save Rosinka’s two children. Sarfaty  documents with tact and empathy the heart-breaking choices faced by the sisters and the effects on them over the decades; and with equal tact and great tenderness the surprising relationship between Wunsch’s daughter and the children of Helena and Rosa as she shares their meeting in Israel. She captures beautifully and poignantly the bravery of these women as they look into their joined past.

Keys is the modern-life comedy offering by Hadar Reichman. Aziz and his sister live in the mixed Jewish-Arab city Lod, where Aziz tries to teach his sister not to be afraid of Jews. On Saturday two Jewish neighbours ask Aziz to act as their Shabbas Goy (a non Jew who performs an action forbidden to a Jew on the Sabbath) and move their blocked car. Aziz wants to teach his sister not to be afraid of Jews, but the Jewish wife is afraid to give the keys to an Arab. Neither side comes out well from the exchange.

The Egg by Nadav Direktor

Finally, Nadav Direktor's The Egg explores the surreal experience that Noa undergoes to become a mother. When her husband leaves on a business trip, she thinks she is having a miscarriage. Too afraid to tell her husband the bad news, Noa nurses a strange egg into a beastly hatchling. Is it all in her mind or is there something more sinister going on? You may have to look away even as you choke back horrified laughter, but the originality of this rich little short, which includes a brilliantly designed and manipulated puppet in its cast, proves that Direktor lives up to the nominative determinism of his name.

"Pursuing the unknown" is TAU Trust's tag line and this 10th anniversary showcase certainly lives up to that aspiration.

By Judi Herman

Click here to read more film reviews.

Review: Denial ★★★★ - Fine performances prove attack is the best form of defence to demolish Holocaust denial

Hitler apologist David Irving would have loved to have his day – or days – in court face to face with Deborah Lipstadt, the historian he sued for libel for labelling him “one of the most dangerous spokesmen of Holocaust denial”. It is more a strength than a weakness of the film charting Irving’s high-profile defeat by Lipstadt's team of lawyers that Lipstadt herself maintains a dignified ‘silence in court’.

Mick Jackson’s film (script David Edgar) is elegantly structured, giving a taste early on of what might happen if Rachel Weisz’s passionate, intelligent Lipstadt does not keep her own counsel. Timothy Spall’s Irving is chilling from the first glimpse of his eyes, narrowed balefully with Lipstadt in his sights, preparing to hijack her keynote lecture at UCLA by interrupting, shouting her down, and publicising his latest pro-Hitler book.

Once Irving has sued her, in the British legal system where she must prove her innocence, the action moves to London, and the imposing Inns of Court. The exteriors are shot on location. The wood-panelled interiors, crammed with clubbable members of the huge defence team meeting over wine and cheese, conjure up fusty, yet reassuringly British legal traditions. It’s heartening to see the older, experienced legal eagles bringing on the bright youngsters who research the case.

Less heartening is the reaction of British Jewry’s great and good. They advise Lipstadt to fundraise and settle out of court rather than risk defeat and affording Irving the oxygen of publicity. But really the spotlight here is on the twin stars of the legal firmament, Jewish celebrity solicitor Anthony Julius, and non-Jewish, avowedly philosemitic chain-smoking barrister Richard Rampton QC. Andrew Scott (Julius) and Tom Wilkinson (Rampton) give extraordinarily detailed portraits of a pair with incisive brilliant minds used to working seamlessly together.

There’s no such meeting of minds with the spiky Lipstadt. The Kafkaesque legalities make her frustrated and suspicious. Even a trip to Auschwitz does little to endear Rampton to her (she does not see what we do – that he’s visibly moved by his painstaking onsite research) and only when they share a nightcap in her London hotel does she thaw. Thus they establish the trust that enables her in turn to reassure the anxious Holocaust survivors whom Rampton and Julius know would be easy meat for Irving if called as witnesses. During our interview with Rampton in the January 2017 issue of JR, he confided that this moment in the hotel didn’t happen, though he appreciates the poetic licence.

So despite his displays of virulently antisemitic histrionics conducting his own case in gripping court scenes, Irving simply doesn’t get the chance to tempt Lipstadt into the ring and the rest, as they say, is (genuine) history.

By Judi Herman

Denial will be available on DVD from Monday 5 June.

Read Judi's interview with Richard Rampton QC in the January 2017 issue of Jewish Renaissance, or find it on this site by following the link on the home page.

Click here to read more film reviews

Review: The Writer ★★★★ - A guide for the perplexed from the writer of hit Israeli TV series Arab Labour

film-the-writer More reviews from the 20th UK International Jewish Film Festival. This time looking at two films from Israel giving insights into Arab/Israeli relations, featuring this mockumentary written by Sayed Kashua and directed by Shay Capon.

If you loved Arab-Israeli writer Sayed Kashua’s Arab Labour and you’re into Larry Davidson, this meta-reality TV series, which has its first three episodes screened at the Festival, is for you. But don’t expect to get the belly laughs or even the cynical giggles you got from Larry and Arab Labour’s genial, narcissistic anti-hero Amjad (who finds celebrity when he wins a TV reality show). Kashua’s writer Kateb (wonderfully perplexed Yousef Sweid) is his fictional alter ego, an Arab-Israeli TV writer who has achieved celebrity status with his hit TV series called – yes you’ve guessed it – Arab Labour.

But Kaleb is uneasy about his celebrity – is he merely the acceptable face of Arab-Israeli culture – the creative who makes Israelis feel liberal when they laugh with him at his clever take on life on the other side of the cultural divide? And despite – or perhaps partly because of his success, he’s having a mid-life crisis. Is he really living the dream or is he increasingly alienated from his admittedly demanding wife and teenage daughter as he ineffectually juggles the life/work balance with increasingly chaotic results? And then there’s his insecure pre-teen son, terrified by his father’s altercation with a black-garbed, Orthodox Jew complete with sidecurls as the pair go head to head over a parking space. Will their overreaction lead to violent repercussions or will an apology go some way towards rapprochement between these members of two communities living uneasily side by side?

His attempt to answer these questions leads him to announce a sabbatical from making a new series of Arab Labour – instead he proposes a series based on a character much like himself, going through just the sort of life experiences he is experiencing. See what I mean about meta-reality? This one really does have as many layers as an onion. So the laughs are subtle and the questions posed about Israeli society promise to continue to be telling in the rest of the series of ten episodes. With Fauda – the hit action series about an Israeli undercover unit operating in Palestinian territory that has proved a runaway success with both Palestinians and Israelis – about to come to Netflix, I’m optimistic that I’ll find out – I just hope I don’t have to wait too long!

By Judi Herman

The Writer screens on Sunday 20 November,  4pm, at JW3, NW3 6ET.


Review: Disturbing the Peace ★★★★ - Searing testimony from fighters for co-existence in Israel/Palestine

film_disturbing-the-peace More reviews from the 20th UK International Jewish Film Festival. This time looking at two films from Israel giving insights into Arab/Israeli relations, starting with Stephen Apkon and Andrew Young's documentary, Disturbing the Peace.

For a searing insight into the wounds inflicted on both sides by the situation and into a group that has earned the right to work towards trying to heal them, I urge you to see this hard-hitting documentary. Even-handed filmmakers Stephen Apkon and Andrew Young take no prisoners and no sides. They give equal screen-time to the bravely candid members of Combatants for Peace from both the Israeli and Palestinian communities who speak directly to camera to tell their stories, backed up by documentary footage and reconstructions, as well as tense actuality of unfolding events.

These men and women really have earned the right to fight for peace and co-existence over the ten years since they were established. There’s the Palestinian woman who kissed her little daughter goodbye, explaining that she would not see her again as she intended to blow herself up. Apprehended and in an Israeli prison, it’s the humanity of her female jailers that helps her to listen to the narrative of the other. Another Palestinian activist, a man this time, learns to understand the other literally as well, as he learns Hebrew in prison. And equally, it’s impossible not to hear the narrative of both ‘sides’ as the film reveals the sort of punitive action that makes men and women come to the conclusion that taking such desperate action is the only way – houses demolished leaving weeping families on the street, a younger pre-teen brother gunned down for trying to go 50 yards down the street to a cousin’s house during a punishingly early curfew. I am reminded of the coming together of bereaved family members from both communities in the Bereaved Families Forum, who also speak of listening to the narrative of the other.

For every bit of footage showing desperate Jews trying to get to Palestine or emaciated bodies in the camps, there’s equally shocking footage of the bodies left behind after the massacres in Sabra and Shatila. As one of the combatants (and tellingly I cannot remember from which community) says “Blood is blood – it doesn’t have two colours” – and another “Every act of violence causes pain”. The plangent beauty of oud music on the soundtrack makes these scenes and statements all the more poignant.

It’s heartening and moving to see Israeli members of Combatants for Peace, who present at first as 'hardened' soldiers from elite units, taking blankets to Palestinian families whose houses have been demolished. Equally though, it is worrying to see the military presence (and the tension that engenders) that accompanies their peaceful rallies, almost reminiscent of 1960s hippies or the Greenham Common women, though these Combatants for Peace have experienced pain and violence at first hand. One of the most telling images in the film is a mock tomb with the message “We don’t want you here” carved on it. For me that says it all.

By Judi Herman

Disturbing the Peace screens on Tuesday 15 November, 6.30pm, at Odeon Swiss Cottage, NW3 5EL.

Review: Mr Predictable ★★★★ - Israeli romcom complete with canine and human stars to set your tail wagging

film-mr-predictable As the 20th UK International Jewish Film Festival gets underway (5-20 November), we take our first look at the selection of films on offer. Roee Florentin’s Mr Predictable will have you cheering as  its eponymous hero finally refuses to sit up and beg…

As a dog lover and owner myself, I was especially delighted to be asked to introduce the UKJFF screening of Roee Florentin’s real doggie treat of a romcom. Meet Adi Levi – a man who is simply too nice for his own good – until he literally bumps into Natalya , or one of the dogs she walks. Natalya is what you might call naughty but nice – just the girl to take our hero in hand and retrain him, while the dogs she walks give him a good licking too. It’s one of those marvellous Israeli films that give you insights into ordinary life in Israel, with the situation there in the background, informing it rather than being at the heart of the story.

Ever since Adi's soldier father left for Lebanon saying he’d be back soon, only to be killed in action, Adi has been careful and cautious to the point of timidity and so very aware of others that he has become a pushover, walked all over not just by his boss, his wife and his mother, but even his spoilt brat of a pre-teen son. A mix-up at a hospital appointment that leads him to believe he has mere weeks to live proves a life changer, but only because it’s compounded by the one careless act of his life – narrowly avoiding killing one of Natalya’s charges when he runs it over.

From this unpromising beginning, a new relationship and a new man are born. If you’re anything like me, you’ll find yourself cheering Adi on as he finds not just his mojo, but his inner hard man. Much of this is down to the winning performances of a beautifully matched pair of actors, Amos Tamam and Meytal Gal Suisa as Adi and Natalya (and not forgetting the canine supporting cast), directed with equal parts of sensitivity and panache by Roee Florentin against a great backdrop of Tel Aviv’s parks and suburbs. I guarantee Mr Predictable will make tails wag and I predict dog-friendly screenings very soon!

By Judi Herman

Mr Predictable has the following UKIJFF screenings:

Sunday 6 November, 3pm, at Odeon Swiss Cottage, NW3 5EL.

Sunday 20 November, 6pm, Phoenix Cinema, N2 9PJ.

Review: Moos ★★★★ - A charming, contemporary comedy set in Amsterdam’s Jewish community

film-moos As the 20th UK International Jewish Film Festival gets underway (5-20 November), we take our first look at the selection of films on offer on offer. Job Gosschalk's  beguiling comedy Moos gives an insight into life in Jewish communities in Amsterdam.

This entirely charming and absorbing comedy set in Amsterdam’s Jewish community wears its ‘kosher’ credentials lightly but convincingly from the opening frames. Twenty-something Moos and her widowed father are preparing for a Chanukah party with the relatives. She is his right-hand woman, both in his draper’s shop and as homemaker, though now he is dating a likely single mother whose son is coming up for bar mitzvah, Moos realises her life’s been on hold too long.

The main storyline revolves around Moos’ unsuccessful efforts to get into drama school and her settling for a job in the school’s canteen; and the visit of her long-time childhood friend Sam, now living in Israel and how that chimes with her attraction to sexy singing teacher Chris, who offers (very) private coaching. Meanwhile life in the community – which embraces Moos and her father, family and friends, including Sam – continues to be a vital part of the film’s fabric. The Chanukah latkes, the preparations for the bar mitzvah and the celebration of a ceremonial circumcision in the family all play their part in Moos’ story.

As played by Jip Smit, Moos is an engaging, kind-hearted young woman, unselfconscious and natural, attractive rather than beautiful, and you can’t help warming to her. Frederik Brom is touching as her father Maup; and from the moment he appears at the door, we can see, even if Moos can’t, that Daniel Cornelissen’s open, sincere Sam is made for her.

Writer/director Job Gosschalk and co-writer Judit Goudsmit take their audience to drama school and give us time out in the café with its quirky characters. And they are equally adept at creating an attractive and subtle picture of Moos’ network of family and other relationships. There are delightful flashbacks to Moos and Sam as children and touching glimpses of Moos caring for her father.

Then at the bar mitzvah in synagogue, in a scene reminiscent of Jack Rosenthal’s Bar Mitzvah Boy, it is Moos who is there for the bar mitzvah when he gets stage fright. Meanwhile the story of her efforts to face up to her own diffidence has its own delightful set-piece climax where she gets to duet with real-life Israeli singing star Asaf Hertz. There are some marvellously evocative settings too – the Amsterdam street with folk cycling past the draper’s shop, the lush bales of cloth piled inside and of course that grand synagogue, the men in prayer shawls gathered on the central bimah (platform) around the Torah scroll. Moos is a delight from start to finish.

By Judi Herman

Moos has the following UKIJFF screenings:

Sunday 6 November, 6pm, at Odeon South Woodford, E18 2QL.

Thursday 10 November, 7.30pm, at Odeon Swiss Cottage, NW3 5EL.

Sunday 13 November, 4pm, at HOME Manchester, M15 4FN.

Review: The Midnight Orchestra ★★★★ - A poignant, magical story about regret and relationships set in Morocco

film-midnight-orchestra As the 20th UK International Jewish Film Festival gets underway (5-20 November), we take our first look at the selection of films on offer. Jérôme Cohen-Olivar's poignant The Midnight Orchestra gives an insight into life in Jewish communities in Morocco.

Wall Street whizz kid Michael Abitbol returns to his childhood home in Casablanca to be reunited with his elderly father: legendary band leader and local hero Marcel Botbol, from whom he is estranged. Botbol is returning there himself for the first time since leaving his native city and adoring fans for Israel in 1973, when the Yom Kippur War caused an antisemitic backlash in Morocco. But no sooner do they meet again than tragedy strikes and the son must engage with officials of the local Jewish community to bury his father. But first Michael must fulfil his father’s last wish – to reunite the band and this becomes an overwhelming desire to do so for one last, transcendent gig.

It's Michael's dogged pursuit of these eccentric and impossible, even dangerous old men that drives the narrative. A  pimp and gangster, complete with moll, an eccentric millionaire who prefers life as a beggar and the harmonica player confined in an asylum since he jumped into the nighttime harbour swearing he heard the midnight orchestra playing out at sea.

Perhaps just as important is what actually proves to be the film's central relationship, between Michael and an eccentric Arab taxi driver and ardent fan of Botbol. He becomes Sancho Panza to Michael’s Don Quixote, local guide and lifesaver. It's almost a bromance, but given the age gap it's perhaps more a consolation for the father and son relationship he has just lost. Their quest to find the band members is both comical and suspenseful and for Michael a bittersweet nostalgia trip too. His childhood around the band and its members is beautifully evoked by sepia tinted footage of the musicians in their prime. Michael sees the little ghost of his younger self too, haunting the places where he played as a boy.

For the audience the film is an insight into the past and present of a Jewish community little known outside Morocco and into the now cordial relationship it has with the country's Muslim majority. There are stand-out performances from Jewish Moroccan actor Avishay Benazra as Michael and Aziz Dadas as his taxi driver helpmeet. And there's another effective comic cameo double act from two actors, whose names I have searched for in vain, as a pair of officious and oleaginous representatives of the local Jewish burial society. This is a poignant, magical story set in Casablanca now, about regret and relationships, memory and getting old. My one regret is that we had only a brief, tantalising taste of how the fabled orchestra might have sounded. I would have loved to hear the whole of the tribute played at the graveside of their leader.

By Judi Herman

The Midnight Orchestra has the following UKIJFF screenings:

Sunday 6 November, 8.30pm, at Odeon Swiss Cottage, NW3 5EL.

Tuesday 15 November, 7.30pm, at Seven Arts Leeds, LS7 3PD.

Saturday 19 November, 7.30pm, at CCA Glasgow, G2 3JD.

From The Producers to Borat: the best Jewish films of all time

jr-best-jewish-films-ever This autumn the UK International Jewish Film Festival marks its 20th anniversary. To help celebrate the rich smorgasbord of films it has offered over the years, as well as giving us a chance to revel in the world of film, JR asked you to vote for your favourite Jewish film. We can now announce the results! And below our panel of filmmakers and critics have chosen their own favourites.

The best Jewish films of all time; here's how you voted…

1 FIDDLER ON THE ROOF (1971) dir Norman Jewison 2 SCHINDLER’S LIST (1993) dir Steven Spielberg 3 ANNIE HALL (1977) dir Woody Allen 4 THE PIANIST (2002) dir Roman Polanski 5 AU REVOIR, LES ENFANTS (1987) dir Louis Malle 6 A SERIOUS MAN (2009) dir Ethan Coen, Joel Coen 7 SHOAH (1985) dir Claude Lanzmann 8 EXODUS (1960) dir Otto Preminger 9 CROSSING DELANCEY (1988) dir Joan Micklin Silver 10 YENTL (1983) dir Barbara Streisand 11 BLAZING SADDLES (1974) dir Mel Brooks 12 THE GREAT DICTATOR (1940) dir Charlie Chaplin 13 THE PRODUCERS (1967) dir Mel Brooks 14 THE PAWNBROKER (1964) dir Sidney Lumet 15 USHPIZIN (2004) dir Gidi Dar 16 SON OF SAUL (2015) dir Laszlo Nemes 17 WALTZ WITH BASHIR (2008) dir Ari Folman 18 CHARIOTS OF FIRE (1981) dir Hugh Hudson 19 THE FRISCO KID (1979) dir Robert Aldrich 20 THE BAND’S VISIT (2007) dir Eran Kolirin

And an honourable mention to other films you noted which weren’t on our list: Wish I Was Here (2014), Once Upon A Time In America (1984), A Kid For Two Farthings (1955).


Jason Solomons JR film editor; BBC film critic; author Woody Allen Film by Film

Au Revoir Les Enfants (1987) dir Louis Malle Louis Malle’s tale of three Jewish boys secretly enrolled at a Catholic boarding school in rural France during Nazi occupation is as heartbreaking as it is beautifully observed. Themes of identity, chilling snobbery and institutional betrayal unfold under a school regime that mirrors the turbulence outside as well as sheltering the boys from it. This film is nevertheless imbued with fondness and tenderness, told with a childlike innocence that is rudely shattered in the final devastating moments.

The Producers (1968) dir Mel Brooks Mel Brooks’ epochal, taboo-smashing comedy features Broadway charlatan (Zero Mostel) and nervous accountant (the late Gene Wilder) as they try to put on the worst play ever, only to see the bad-taste musical Springtime for Hitler become a camp smash hit. Barely 20 years after the event, only Jews could have got away with playing the Holocaust for laughs.

Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989) dir Woody Allen Woody Allen’s most mature and most Jewish work, balances comedy, tragedy, family and guilt with masterly skill. Martin Landau is outstanding as the paterfamilias troubled by a mistress who threatens his reputation; Allen plays a documentary maker having to film a flattering portrait of his odious TV producer brother-in-law.


Judi Herman JR arts editor, BBC broadcaster

Young Frankenstein (1974) dir Mel Brooks Which Mel Brooks film to chose: Blazing Saddles or Young Frankenstein? Gene Wilder, Madeleine Kahn and Marty Feldman, making a trio of much-missed Jewish performers, swing it for me. Evocative monochrome, clever, self- referential plotting, running jokes (‘Fronkensteen’ and ‘Eyegor’), fun with beloved standard musical numbers: “Pardon me boy is this the Transylvania station?” – and not forgetting that monster Schwanzstück . . .

Ushpizin (2004) dir Gidi Dar Dateline Jerusalem, the Festival of Succot. Devout couple Moshe and Mali face impoverishment – and her infertility. Miraculously an unexpected gift and a Succah (the booth they need to celebrate the festival) appear. Another miracle: acquaintances from Moshe’s past arrive, gratefully accepted as ‘ushpizin’ (holy guests). But these boorish men are prison escapees . . . I choose Ushpizin for its honest insight into Orthodox life as well as its humanity and light comic touch.

Salomea’s Nose (2014) dir Susan Korda This gemlike tragicomedy twists and turns to delicately navigate the experience of 20th-century European Jewry – in just 23 minutes. The lush period-feel palate, Jasmin Reuter’s witty, plangent score, clever and unexpected camera angles all result in perfection!


Andrew Pulver Film editor, the Guardian

A Serious Man (2009) dir Ethan and Joel Cohen Until A Serious Man, the Coen brothers hinted only obliquely at their Jewishness (“I don’t roll on Shabbos!” as Walter Sobchak says in The Big Lebowski). However, A Serious Man, an unarguable masterpiece, not only draws copiously from their memories growing up in 1960s Minnesota, but also has all the dramatic heft and thematic brilliance of Saul Bellow or Philip Roth. A multilayered nest of stories (including a prologue that comes on like a Yiddish zombie flick), this film is as mysteriously elegant as it is moving.

Chariots of Fire (1981) dir Hugh Hudson Released in 1981, as Thatcherism got up its head of steam, Chariots of Fire has been somewhat unfairly been bracketed with that era’s resurgent British patriotism. However, the film is really about the forces that brought about the end of the empire. The Jewish half is devoted to sprinter Harold Abraham, who resented the Edwardian amateurism of British athletics and pushed for meritocracy. The film remains one of the few accounts of British Jewry’s attempt to assimilate and is a genuinely stirring story to boot.

Borat (2006) dir Larry Charles Borat is not ‘about’ Jews in the conventional sense, but Sacha Baron Cohen’s creation is so concerned with Jewishness it deserves a special Oscar for cultural self-mockery. From the epic ‘running of the Jew’ scenes in Borat’s home village, to the insults Borat whispers at his Jewish B&B hosts, to the garbled Hebrew that Baron Cohen passes off as Kazakh, the satire of intolerance has never been more deadly. Borat has wider concerns than simply Jewishness, but as one of the best films of the millennium so far, it deserves Jewish respect.


Judy Ironside Founder and President of UK Jewish Film

Watermarks (2004) dir Yaron Zilberman Champion women swimmers of the legendary Jewish sports club Hakoah Vienna in the 1930s stage a reunion with the help of director Yaron Zilberman. They travel from across the world and once again swim in the same pool in Vienna, 65 years after they last swam there together. When these elegant Austrian women enter the water there is a powerful and hugely poignant sense of their survival.

Lemon Tree (2008) dir Eran Ricklis A Palestinian widow (Hiam Abass) must defend her lemon tree field when it is threatened with being torn down by her new neighbour, Israel’s defence minister, who views the grove as a security threat. There are complex layers to the story as an alliance forms between the minister’s wife and the widow. Eran Ricklis brings his experience as one of Israel’s top directors to this highly effective story.

Fugitive Pieces (2007) dir Jeremy Podeswa This is a sensitive Canadian drama about a Greek archaeologist who rescues a Polish child, Jakob, from hiding after his family has been murdered during the war. The archaeologist returns with the child to bring him up at his home on a Greek island. Throughout his life Jakob obsessively returns to his memories and struggles to live his new life to the full.


Mike Leigh Film and theatre director

Hester Street (1974) dir Joan Micklin Silver Healthily free from sentimental Hollywood Jewish schmaltz, this beautiful, honest, low-budget, independent black-and-white film is a masterpiece. Set in 1896 in New York’s Yiddish-speaking Lower East Side, it is a warm-hearted, yet perceptive, study of the immigrant experience, and of the tensions between Orthodox tradition and assimilation. There is wonderful acting, especially from Carol Kane as the bewildered sheitl-wearing young wife, newly arrived from the Old World.

Radio Days (1987) dir Woody Allen Apart from being Woody Allen’s best film by far, ‘Radio Days’ gives us the most real, the warmest and the most accurate portrait of lower middle-class Jewish family life of any movie in the canon. Seen in parallel with the exotic world of the radio programmes they endlessly listen to, an impeccable ensemble of Jewish character actors takes us through the trials and tribulations of the 1930s and 40s. Funny, nostalgic and sometimes profoundly moving.

Kadosh (1999) dir by Amos Gitai This bleak, heightened and relentlessly oppressive Israeli film looks unflinchingly at the appalling misogyny of the charedi (ultra-Orthodox) Jewish community in Jerusalem’s Mea Shearim. Two adult sisters suffer mental, psychological, physical and sexual abuse at the hands of the unbending male religious culture. No praise is too high for the brave courage of Amos Gitai and his crew. Spectacular and essential viewing.


The UK International Jewish Film Festival runs from Saturday 5 - Sunday 20 November. See for info.