Published: April 19,2018
By Bob Strauss
“2018 marks the Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival’s 13th year.
“So we’re celebrating our Bar Mitzvah year,” cracked Hilary Helstein, a documentary filmmaker and the event’s executive director and co-founder. “We joke around, but it is. So we’re trying to show some things that are a little bit lighter and different and engaging. But this year we have a lot of films about activists and women’s rights and the #MeToo movement and Never Again and all that kind of stuff. We also have films that are celebrating Israel at 70.”
Helstein had also worked with Steven Spielberg’s Shoah Foundation. She found it odd that a city with such a strong Jewish tradition and presence as L.A. didn’t have a film festival for that demographic, and decided to do something about it.
“I’d been working with a local organization and we came up with an idea to start a Jewish film festival in L.A.,” she said. “There had not been one that was sustainable, and there are 70 Jewish film festivals around the world. It seemed preposterous that L.A. did not have one. So we started this out of the West Valley, but I said this was something that had to be citywide. There are 600,000 Jews in the city, and we had to make a program available to engage them in whatever neighborhood they live in.
“We’ve also expanded our scope of what’s considered Jewish,” Helstein added. “So there’s Jewish and then there’s Jew-ish.”
The opening night film, “Sammy Davis Jr.: I’ve Gotta Be Me,” documents the life of one of show business’ most celebrated Jewish converts. Closing night’s “If You’re Not in the Obit, Eat Breakfast” looks at such nonagenarian funnymen as Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner. In between there’s everything from a film about American baseball players on the Israeli national team (“Heading Home”) to “Rising Sons,” a film about combating rape in Africa.”