TOP: A scene from the award-winning drama “Fig Tree,” about a Jewish teenager in Ethiopia, her Christian boyfriend and an escape to Israel.
THE ATLANTA JEWISH FILM FESTIVAL, one of the largest such events in the country, has announced its partner venues for 2019 and the first eight of the more than 70 narratives, documentaries and short films expected to screen.
The 21-day fest, running Feb. 6-28, will use the new Sandy Springs Performing Arts Center as its anchor venue, with closing-night events in its Byers Theatre. For opening night, the fest returns to Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre. Other venues: Regal Atlantic Station, Regal Perimeter Pointe, UA Tara Cinemas and the Woodruff Arts Center.
The full film lineup and schedule come out Jan. 10. Tickets go on sale via AJFF.org on Jan. 28. Here’s a quick look at the first eight titles released (in alphabetical order):
ALT-RIGHT: AGE OF RAGE (USA, 112 mins). The 2018 documentary tracks and examines the rise and changing face of white nationalism during the first year of the Trump presidency and the counter-protests it inspired. It culminates with first-person accounts of the August 2017 events in Charlottesville, Va., and is described as a “hard-hitting exposé, investigating major players in the battle for America’s conscience.”
FAMILY IN TRANSITION (Israel, 60 mins). A 2018 documentary that looks at a traditional Israeli family forever changed when their father, after 20 years of marriage, shares his desire to live his life as a woman. Described as a “candid portrait that reveals in unflinching detail the family’s struggles against social stigma and other difficulties.” Named best Israeli film at the Tel Aviv International Documentary Film Festival.
FIG TREE (Israel, 93 mins). A 2018 narrative featuring a Jewish teenager who’s trying to navigate her emotional final days in warring Ethiopia before fleeing to Israel. Mina is 16 and involved with her Christian boyfriend, who hides in a nearby fig tree to elude conscription. Fig Tree is the directorial debut of Ethiopian-Israeli writer-director Aäläm-Wärqe Davidian, and is based on her experiences growing up in Ethiopia and being airlifted to Israel as part of Operation Solomon. Nominated for five Ophir awards (Israel’s version of the Oscars), including best film. It won for best cinematography and was honored at the Haifa and Toronto international film festivals.
HOLY LANDS (France, 2019). James Caan, Rosanna Arquette and Jonathan Rhys Meyers star in this family drama about a Jewish-American cardiologist who leaves everything behind to become a pig farmer in Israel. Though the good doctor tries to leave his former life behind, his terminally ill wife brings the family back to the forefront, along with his estranged son, a gay playwright, and his daughter, a professional student. Writer-director Amanda Sthers’ script is based on her novel of the same name.
IT MUST SCHWING! THE BLUE NOTE STORY (Germany, 115 mins). This 2018 documentary tells the story of two German-Jewish refugees who used their passion for music and belief in equality to launch the careers of many African-American jazz musicians, from Miles Davis and John Coltrane, to Herbie Hancock, Sonny Rollins, Wayne Shorter, Thelonious Monk and Quincy Jones. The story, set in New York City in 1939, employs animated re-creations. The Blue Note founders were Alfred Lion (1908-1987) and Francis Wolff (1907-1971).
REDEMPTION (Israel, 100 mins). A 2018 drama in which a devout father fights to save his 6-year-old daughter, who’s ill with cancer, and his own musical dreams. It’s a balancing act in which his secular past and his Orthodox present clash. Will the band get back together? Won best actor and Ecumenical Jury awards at the Czech Republic’s Karlovy Vary International Film Festival and the Audience Award at the Jerusalem Film Festival.
WHO WILL WRITE OUR HISTORY (USA, 90 mins). A 2018 documentary about a secret society of intellectuals that carries out an extraordinary form of resistance amid the squalor of the Warsaw Ghetto. In November 1940, days after the Nazis sealed 450,000 Jews in Warsaw, a clandestine band of journalists, scholars and community leaders fought back, determined to create a record that would survive the war even if they did not. The underground group vowed to defeat Nazi lies and propaganda with pen and paper. After the war, an extraordinary archive of letters, confessionals, last testaments, poems and questionnaires was retrieved from the rubble, buried in milk cans and metal boxes. Adrien Brody and Joan Allen narrate. The film won the Audience Award winner for best documentary at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival.
WORKING WOMAN (Israel, 93 mins). A 2018 narrative about a married young mother who faces sexual harassment and financial strain as she starts a career in the high-end real estate business. Described as a nuanced portrayal of gray workplace scenarios in the #MeToo era. The film is the work of award-winning feminist, activist, writer-director Michal Aviad.