By Michael Jacobs

The Atlanta Jewish Film Festival opens Jan. 28. Here we offer brief reviews of the first films on the schedule. Visit ajff.org for tickets.

Above and Beyond Opens Jan. 28 (Photo credit: ajff.org)

Down-to-Earth Heroes

“Above and Beyond” deserves its spot as the opening film of the festival; it’s hard to imagine a more uplifting or higher-quality documentary (you’ll notice a Spielberg — Nancy — as a producer, which probably helped bring George Lucas’ Industrial Light & Magic on board to re-create dogfights from nearly 70 years ago).

The film tells the story of the birth of the Israeli air force. Veterans of World War II, most of them Americans, risked their lives and their citizenship to sneak a crazy mix of decommissioned and reconstructed Allied and German aircraft into newborn Israel to fight off Arab air power.

These men were true heroes, many of whom didn’t discover their inner Zionists until they had the Jewish state’s fate in their sights. But what makes the movie work, given that we know the outcome of the war and the survival of the elderly men on screen, is that “Above and Beyond” doesn’t paint the fliers as angels. They’re real people who enjoyed the ladies and the liquor when not in the sky, and that accessibility makes their accomplishments rise so much higher.