Most film festivals exist to showcase outstanding works of cinematic art, frequently with a specific theme or to highlight a region or national cinema. The Brooklyn Israel Film Festival would, at first glance, appear to be more of the same. But Hedda Kafka, who has been curating the program for all 10 years of its existence, has something else in mind, a mission that goes beyond the festival’s programming focus.
“Our mission on the [festival’s organizing] committee has always been to build a community and a community synagogue,” Kafka says. “Of course, we want to expand awareness of the many aspects of life in Israel, too.”
This week, the festival celebrates its 10th year at the Kane Street Synagogue (236 Kane St., Brooklyn), with film showings on Jan. 23, 25 and 26. The opening night festivities will include a reception with wine and light refreshments. For information, go to http://kanestreet.org/iff2014.
As a community-building exercise, the festival seems to be a success.
“It felt very relevant at the time we started,” Kafka recalls. “We started small and it just picked up. People loved coming together in an informal atmosphere to discuss sometimes difficult subjects with the film’s director and with one another.”
She is well aware of the enormous film competition in the city and even in people’s own homes, but the pull of community, she says, is a key element in the festival’s continued success.
“We’re very much aware that people are watching films at home alone,” Kafka says. “But when they go out, they want something more than just going to a theater and then walking away. We are bringing people together in a communal way, so the festival format is very attractive to us and to our audience members.”
One suspects that the relatively modest scale of the festival — they program only three evenings of film for each annual event — contributes to the program’s survival. It certainly enables them to pick and choose the best Israeli movies available and, if this year’s choices are any indication, they have made excellent use of that selectivity.
This year’s festival opens with “Life in Stills,” a lovely and lively documentary by Tamar Tal, that recounts the daily battles of Miriam Weissenstein and her grandson Ben to preserve and promote the legacy of her late husband, the photographer Rudi Weissenstein, who documented life in the pre-state Yishuv and in the nascent State of Israel. The director will be present for a Q&A.
The Saturday night film, “Out in the Dark,” is an edgy thriller directed by Michael Mayer, about the relationship between a gay Israeli lawyer and his Palestinian lover, and the politically charged circumstances in which their romance plays out. Producer Lihu Roter will attend the screening.
The closing night film is one that has featured prominently in these pages in the past year, Rama Burshtein’s brilliant debut “Fill the Void,” an austere, beautiful family drama set in the haredi community of Tel Aviv.
“Israeli films have become very successful in the past decade,” Hedda Kafka concludes. “The subject matter has become much more difficult, there is more risk-taking, but the films look at the nation in a sensitive way. And that just is increasing.”