The Atlanta Jewish Film Festival will open Jan. 24 with Sammy Davis Jr. and close Feb. 15 with the story of an elderly Holocaust survivor searching for the person who saved his life, both at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre.
The festival announced the films for its opening, closing and young professionals nights Thursday, Dec. 28, raising to 11 the number of feature films revealed for the 18th annual festival. The full lineup of more than 50 features and more than 20 shorts will be announced Friday, Jan. 5.
The festival will begin with the documentary “Sammy Davis Jr.: I’ve Gotta Be Me,” a tribute to the Jewish entertainer in all his complexities and contradictions. The film uses performance clips, rare photographs, and interviews with such celebrities as Billy Crystal, Whoopi Goldberg, Norman Lear, Jerry Lewis and Kim Novak.
Filmmaker Sam Pollard will participate in a discussion after the 7:30 p.m. screening Jan. 24. Admission to the screening, including parking, costs $36.
The festival will close with a screening of “The Last Suit” at 7 p.m. Feb. 15. An 88-year-old Jewish tailor leaves his home in Argentina to visit Poland in the hope of finding the man who saved him during the Holocaust.
The $36 ticket to closing night includes a discussion with writer-director Pablo Solarz and a dessert reception after the film.
Midway through the 23-day festival, American Jewish Committee’s ACCESS presents young professionals night at the Woodruff Arts Center on Feb. 3 with a screening of “The Boy Downstairs,” a romantic comedy in which a young woman unknowingly moves into an ex-boyfriend’s building in Brooklyn. The $36 ticket includes a 7 p.m. party before the 8:30 screening.
Aside from the three special nights, tickets for the festival are $12 for matinees, $15 for general admission, and $13 for seniors, students and children. Tickets go on sale at ajff.org Wednesday, Jan. 17.
The world’s second-largest Jewish film festival has announced eight of the other movies for the 2018 lineup: documentaries “Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story,” “Dreaming of a Jewish Christmas,” “Heading Home: The Tale of Team Israel” and “Itzhak”; new features “The Cakemaker,” “Bye Bye Germany” and “Act of Defiance”; and a 25th anniversary presentation of “Schindler’s List.”
“These are not your typical Hollywood films, where many times you have a predictable ending or know the director,” AJFF Executive Director Kenny Blank said. “While we do show all genres that moviegoers come to love through commercial films, part of the delight of AJFF is the unexpected, the surprise elements, and buying into an experience and enduring this journey not knowing exactly where it will take you.”
Full descriptions from the festival of the first 11 films announced for the 2018 lineup are below:
- “Sammy Davis Jr.: I’ve Gotta Be Me” (documentary, United States, 100 minutes). A rousing tribute to the iconic song-and-dance man in all his complexities and contradictions, “Sammy Davis Jr.: I’ve Gotta Be Me” remembers the chameleon entertainer who blazed a trail across 20th century America. Dazzling audiences since he was a child, Harlem-born Davis was a dancer, singer, vaudevillian, impressionist and actor of jaw-dropping artistry and unparalleled charisma. He found himself caught in controversy even while breaking barriers amid the bigotry of 1950s and ’60s white America and ambivalence about his black identity. He performed alongside Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra as part of the Rat Pack and was the first African-American guest to sleep at the White House, invited by President Richard Nixon, but was labeled a sellout by some. He converted to Judaism in 1954 after a serious car accident. Emmy- and Peabody-winning filmmaker Sam Pollard captures the talent and tension of the performer’s life.
- “The Boy Downstairs” (narrative, United States, 90 minutes). Zosia Mamet (“Girls”) stars as a conflicted millennial who revisits a failed romance when she unknowingly moves into her ex-boyfriend’s Brooklyn brownstone. Returning to New York after an extended stint in London, artistically unfulfilled writer Diana (Mamet) moves into the perfect apartment while working at a bridal shop. Advising her are free-spirited, widowed landlady Amy and kooky best friend Gabby. But her downstairs neighbor is her teddy-bear-like old flame, Ben (Matthew Shear), whose heart she broke. Like a true New Yorker, she keeps the apartment despite the awkward arrangement. First-time writer-director Sophie Brooks flashes back to the early bloom of their courtship, with the question of what went wrong hanging over every scene. “The Boy Downstairs” offers a touching and lightly comic contemplation of modern relationships, life choices and the price of independence and freedom.
- “The Last Suit” (narrative, Argentina and Spain, 92 minutes). At 88, Holocaust survivor Abraham Bursztein (Miguel Ángel Solá) is about to be put out to pasture by his children, who have sold his house in the suburbs of Buenos Aires and booked him into a retirement home. Refusing to bow to family pressure, he sets off on an adventure from which he doesn’t expect to return. Fueled by a sense of duty and a quest for closure and fulfillment, Abraham decides to fulfill a promise and seek out an old friend. The sharply dressed suit maker travels by train from Spain to Poland in search of the man who saved him at Auschwitz. Writer-director Pablo Solarz imbues the tale with nostalgic, sepia-tinted colors, a klezmer-infused score, and delicate humor.
- “The Cakemaker” (narrative, Germany and Israel, 105 minutes). The emotionally distant Tomas (Tim Kalkhof) leads a lonely life as a pastry chef in a Berlin coffee shop until he has a passionate affair with Oren (Roy Miller), a married Israeli businessman. When his lover is killed, Tomas seeks solace in Jerusalem, taking a job at a struggling cafe run by his Oren’s unwitting widow, Anat (Sarah Adler). As business flourishes with Tomas’ kitchen talents, the two mourners forge a bond that blurs lines of nationality, religion and sexuality. “The Cakemaker” won the Lia Van Leer Award for Jewish heritage at the Jerusalem Film Festival and the Ecumenical Jury Prize at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival.
- “Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story” (documentary, United States, 90 minutes). “Bombshell” goes behind the public persona of a deeply misunderstood Hollywood starlet to reveal the thwarted ambitions of a brilliant inventor. Known for her glamour and sex appeal, Hedy Lamarr rose to fame in the 1930s and ’40s. But her career was tainted by her lurid off-screen exploits and screen roles that objectified her. What history overlooked was Lamarr’s uncredited achievements in mechanics and technology. An Austrian Jew who fled her Nazi sympathizer husband, she pursued show business while patenting a secret World War II communications system that is the foundation of today’s wireless technology. Lamarr narrates her story through never-before-heard audio recordings, augmented by interviews with surviving family, friends and luminaries.
- “Dreaming of a Jewish Christmas” (documentary, Canada, 52 minutes). “Dreaming of a Jewish Christmas” is a playful celebration of the Jewish songwriters who composed the soundtrack to the holiday season. Jewish immigrant such as Irving Berlin and Mel Tormé redefined Christmas as secular and inclusive cultural phenomenon. Penning such classics as “White Christmas,” “Let It Snow” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” they amplified the spirit of the holidays through musical merriment. Performers delivers signature renditions of the beloved melodies in a Chinese restaurant, and musicologists, religious leaders, comedians and others add insights into the relationship American Jews have with “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” (also written by a Jew).
- “Schindler’s List” (narrative, United States, 195 minutes). Ranked among the greatest films since its 1993 release, “Schindler’s List” is a moving epic that continues to inspire with lessons of moral courage. Steven Spielberg’s masterpiece is a rigorous, sobering, accessible and artistically stunning Holocaust drama based on the true story of an unlikely humanitarian, industrialist Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson), who saved over 1,000 Jews by sheltering them as factory workers, aided by accountant Itzhak Stern (Ben Kingsley). The film won seven Academy Awards, including best picture.
- “Heading Home: The Tale of Team Israel” (documentary, Israel, Japan, the United States and South Korea, 91 minutes). This world premiere is a story of sports, patriotism and personal growth, charting the underdog journey of Israel’s national baseball team in the 2017 World Baseball Classic. A lineup of former and wannabe Jewish American major-leaguers, including ex-Met Ike Davis, Vanderbilt product Josh Zeid, and ex-Braves Ryan Lavarnway and Jason Marquis, leads Israel into the 16-team tournament for the first time. Most of the players have a tenuous relationship to Judaism and have never set foot in Israel. Their odyssey takes them from Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, where they are greeted as heroes, to Seoul, where they must debunk their reputation as the Team USA JV. As their Mensch on a Bench mascot tags along, the team does much soul-searching and discovers the pride of representing Israel on the world stage.
- “Bye Bye Germany” (narrative, Germany, Luxembourg, Belgium, 98 minutes). German star Moritz Bleibtreu is a defiant Holocaust survivor looking to strike it rich in postwar Frankfurt in this brisk, polished drama tempered with bittersweet humor. Though haunted by his family’s murder at Auschwitz, hustler David Bermann (Bleibtreu) is determined to eke out a living in his battle-scarred homeland. He recruits Jewish traveling salesmen into a shady scheme, selling overpriced linens to guilt-ridden Germans. Meanwhile, he faces interrogation by a female American military intelligence officer about his past as an alleged Nazi collaborator.
- “Itzhak” (documentary, United States and Israel, 83 minutes). This impressionist, fly-on-the-wall film examines the life and music of Israeli-born Itzhak Perlman, widely considered the greatest living violinist. For over a year, filmmaker Alison Chernick follows the virtuoso around the world. Wheelchair-bound from childhood polio, Perlman recounts overcoming obstacles with humor and talent, while the devotion of wife Toby always shines through. Archival materials and performance clips, including a breakthrough appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show” at age 13, combine with behind-the-scenes moments at rehearsals, classes, awards shows and collaborations with colleagues.
- “An Act of Defiance” (narrative, South Africa and the Netherlands, 124 minutes). A gutsy lawyer risks career and family to defend Nelson Mandela and his inner circle in this historical thriller set in South Africa’s incendiary segregation era. Mandela and nine other defendants, including Jewish anti-apartheid fighters, faced the death sentence after their arrest in 1963. Sympathetic lawyer Bram Fischer (Peter Paul Muller) defends the activists against charges of conspiracy to commit sabotage and treason. As he fights to expose South Africa’s corrupt system, Fischer attempts to hide his own ties to the resistance.