The opening-night selection at the Jewish Film Festival is Israeli writer-director Dror Shaul's worldwide prizewinner, Sweet Mud. It views 1974 kibbutz life from a 12-year-old's perspective, but don't expect rosy childhood nostalgia. Though it doesn't lack humor or adventure, it takes on backstabbing and conservatism in kibbutzim.
On a lighter note, the closing-night film Making Trouble: Three Generations of Jewish Funny Women is a TV-style documentary enjoyable simply for its episodic homage to six famous funny ladies, including Ziegfeld Follies star Fanny Brice, brassy belter Sophie Tucker, and Saturday Night Live's Gilda Radner. Though the career of still-breathing subject Joan Rivers has skewed toward tacky celebrity-culture exploitation, she's sharp and candid discussing an uphill climb from being the most-hated female sassmouth on the Catskills circuit.
There are several culture-clash comedies at this year's JFF, and one sure bet is French actor Roschdy Zem's charming directorial debut, Bad Faith. He and Cécile de France play Parisians of wholly secular Muslim and Jewish backgrounds, respectively. Their romance goes swimmingly until she becomes pregnant, sparking all kinds of familial strife. The fest's sidebars include a miniretrospective for Berlin-based Jewish director Dani Levi, who made a splash with 2005's farcical Go for Zucker. Levi is the winner of the fest's Freedom of Expression award; alas, his latest, My Fuehrer: The Truly Truth about Hitler, strains mightily and uselessly to burlesque the Third Reich's waning days.
Among the JFF's Israeli documentaries, one delight is Shlomo Hazan's hour-long Film Fanatic. It follows entrepreneur Yehuda Grovais' attempts to create a commercial ultra-Orthodox cinema even though his constituency is explicitly banned from watching theatrical films. Among US documentaries, one winner is Ilana Trachtman's world-premiere feature Praying with Lior, a family portrait that illuminates issues of faith, disability, and self-sacrifice.