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Jewish Film Festival finds the women

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Amanda Keats
Guest Editor

After the landmark Oscar win for director Kathryn Bigelow in 2010, for her war film ‘The Hurt Locker’, it seemed the way had finally been paved for other female filmmakers to step forward in an industry dominated largely by male directors. It was a disappointment then to see that not one of the films in competition for the Palme D’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival was directed by a woman.

A few months on from Cannes, though, The UK Jewish Film Festival 2012, is set to turn things around once more with a line-up that boasts a selection of female greats behind the camera.

“We are absolutely delighted to be showing such a strong range of films and documentaries by female filmmakers,” says Judy Ironside, the festival’s founder.

Ironside went on to say that, “there was so much impressive work on offer highlighting the strength and creativity of women in film,” that it was very tough to choose this year’s programme.

So what can film fans expect from this year’s line-up?

First to show off her work was French writer and director Sophie Lellouche, who had the honour of opening this year’s festival. Last Thursday, fans flocked to the BFI Southbank in London to see Lellouche introduce ‘Paris-Manhattan,’ a witty rom-com based on one young woman’s love of Woody Allen. This feel good film is an impressive feature début from Lellouche.

Lellouche is not the only female director in the spotlight this year, however, with films from multi-award winning screenwriter and director Ela Thier, Swedish director Lisa Ohlin, actress-turned-director Maya Kenig and Australian director Cate Shortland, to name but a few.

There are also documentaries from German-Canadian director Alexa Karolinski and Helen Benigson and the screening of the Pears Short Film winner, ‘That Woman,’ written by playwright Amy Rosenthal.

What these women are bringing to this year’s festival is anything but straightforward.

While Lellouche’s ‘Paris-Manhattan’ was a heart-warming rom-com to please romance and comedy fans alike, others have taken a different approach, looking at the innocence of youth, the aftermath of war, religious conflict and family secrets.

Shortland’s ‘Lore’ looks at Germany’s transition from conqueror nation to occupied state and a young girl’s transition from naïve, indoctrinated Nazi to political activist.

Ohlin’s adaptation of Marianne Fredriksson’s novel ‘Simon and the Oakes’ has already received a record thirteen nominations and two awards at Sweden’s Guldbagge Awards. The film follows a young man who sets off on a life-changing journey after he uncovers a family secret that shatters everything he thought he knew.

Kenig’s ‘Off White Lies’ focuses on a relationship between a young girl and her estranged father, while Thier’s ‘Foreign Letters’ is a sweet tale about the precariousness of teenage friendships.

Potentially the most shocking story of all is that of ‘The Other Son’, from writer-director Lorraine Levy. The story looks at two baby boys accidentally switched at birth – one an Israeli, the other a Palestinian – and what happens when, aged eighteen, they discover the truth behind their heritage.

It is not just female filmmakers taking centre stage this year as 1925 silent film ‘His People’ gets a screening at the Barbican. The film will be accompanied by live music from critically acclaimed klezmer violinist Sophie Solomon, together with three of London’s finest musicians.

That so many women are being represented at the UKJFF this year may seem a remarkable step in the right direction for female filmmakers. However, Lellouche was not all that surprised. When I asked her why she thought female directors were so absent from the film industry, she told me:

“Not in France. We get a lot of women directors. I think there is no difference. No difference. Last year, the best movies we got were women directors. They won prizes….”

Perhaps then, the rest of the world need to start paying more attention to French cinema.

The UK Jewish Film Festival 2012 runs across the UK from November 1st to 18th.

For more information, check out their website at ukjewishfilm.org.

Amanda Keats began writing stories back in primary school, but now spends her time writing largely about books and films as well as working on her own novels. She blogs at Film vs. Book.

She believes education is the key to tolerance and understanding and that every person on the planet should be made to read To Kill a Mockingbird, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas.

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