We got the scoop on JIFF 2018 with Eddie Tamir

September 27, 2018
JIFF is back for 2018! We chatted with Festival & Artistic Director Eddie Tamir about this year's festival, now in its 27th year!

The Reports on Sarah and Saleem

How many films are in this year’s program?
64. It’s a mixture of feature documentaries, feature films and 2 short films.

Last year you had half of the films coming out of Israel, and half from the Diaspora. Can we expect the same this year?
Yeah it’s a similar thing. I guess quite we want to give as broad a picture of the Jewish experience as we can. I think the audience we’re delivering to is interested in the whole landscape of Jewish experience on earth at this moment. So even if you’re a born and bred Australian Jew, I think you’ll be interested in the diasporic Jewish story as well as Israeli storytelling. It’s really the whole kit and caboodle!

How many Australian film are there?
We have two shorts. It’s part of the JIFF short film fund. We take submissions by Australian filmmakers dealing with Jewish themes, and select two short films to finance. We’re in our second year now. This year we had over 40 submissions and we’re always excited to see what’s being produced by local talent.

Filmmakers and artists are often responsive to the political climate. How do you think big political movements like #MeToo have impacted the films this year?
There’s lots of films in our program that resonate with the #MeToo movement. We have an original, unique film called Seder Masochism. It’s a feminist take on the Seder and anything to do with Passover. It’s really provocative and pointed in relation to the patriarchy and the way that operates in the context of tradition/orthodox Judaism and Passover storytelling. Then there’s Narcissister Organ Player, based on an edgy cabaret performer. The film doesn’t shy away from exploring female sexuality. It’s about her connection to her identity, her femaleness and her relationship with her Moroccan Jewish mother, and she also has an African American father. The Red Cow just won the Best Film award at the Jerusalem Film Festival. It’s set in the 70s/80s in an extremist community that is into messianism and trying to get rid of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, into bringing the redemption by finding the red cow. It focuses on the 17-year-old daughter of a Rabbi in that community and her rebellion against her upbringing. There’s a really entertaining documentary called 93 Queen about the Jewish ambulance service (Hatzolah) in America. It turns out that women are excluded from being emergency services workers and the film tells the story of a Queens-based orthodox woman trying to make change by forming her own female Hatzolah service.

Other notable female-driven films are Love Gilda about the wonderful comedienne Gilda Radner, Madame Prime Minister about Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, and a short film called Thank G-d that relates to the prayer “Thank God I wasn’t made a woman”.

Love Gilda

And what about what some are calling a global swing to the Right in politics?
One of our highlight films (we’re really proud of our festival line-up in terms of big critically acclaimed films) is I don’t care if we go down in History as Barbarians”. It’s a  contemporary Romanian film which won the Karlovy Vary Best Film award this year, with a really pointed biting satirical perspective on Romanian attitudes to current anti-immigration and racist sentiments happening in Europe. Within the film there is a film being made about a massacre perpetrated by Romanians – a barn burning of Jews during the Second World War, and it’s about the contemporary Romanians’ responses to the making of the film. It’s got a wonderful energy to it – random brass bands playing in meadows and running through city squares, gypsy music combined with the comedic absurdity of a film being shot. It’s very special. There are a couple of Austrian films too which come to mind. There’s The Waldheim Waltz about Kurt Waldheim. He was the president of Austria, and when he was voted in there was an exposé of what had been a secret about his Nazi past. That was 25 years ago and the filmmaker, who is an Austrian Jewish filmmaker, is so concerned with what is happening in Austria today, that she is telling that story because of its contemporary significance and resonance. Another film is Murer – Anatomy of a Trial, and that is the story of the 1960s trial of Franz Murer who had been an Austrian member of the Nazi party, and it deals with the Austrians rallying to protect him. Even though this is a 1960s story and speaks to issues happening today as well.

“I don’t care if we go down in History as Barbarians.”

Another theme that’s interesting is Sephardi versus Ashkenazi tensions which emerges in two films. Just in the way Europe is still reckoning with the ramifications of the Second World War, the conflict between Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jews in Israel also dates back 70/80-odd years, and it’s only now that the stories are coming out in terms of the racism within Israeli society. One film is called Ancestral Sin about uncovered documents exposing the resettling of Jews from Arab countries making Aliyah in the 60s and how fundamentally racist the government and society was at the time. Our closing night film which opened the Jerusalem Film Festival is called Unorthodox. It’s fantastic. It’s almost thrilling in its energy and its comedy and its presentation. At the heart of it it’s about the story of one everyman who takes on the system of what he sees as an injustice to the Sephardi orthodox Jews in Israeli society in the 80s, and he ends up being instrumental in transforming Israeli politics with the creation of the Shas party, which still has seats in the Knesset 20 years later. This emerged from his outrage of his daughter being thrown out of an Ashkenazi orthodox Jewish school which he thinks has racism at its heart.


You’ve already mentioned some great films. Can you give us a few more of your personal highlights?
One that might be of interest to your JewMu visitors, is a film called The Museum (you can book tickets to a special screening with our Director & CEO Rebecca Forgasz here). It’s a beautiful film that gives an insight into the workings of the Israeli Museum from the perspective of customers and employees. The Interpreter is our opening night film and it’s a road movie, beautiful comedy drama in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. It’s about a road trip between a survivor and the son of a Nazi perpetrator, and they develop a moving beautiful relationship. Who Will Write Our History is a documentary produced by Nancy Spielberg (Steven’s sister) about Emanuel Ringelblum and the mission in the Warsaw Ghetto to document and diarise the Jewish experience for future generations. These documents were buried under the Warsaw Ghetto and have only been unearthed in the last few years. Redemption just won the audience award at the Jerusalem Film Festival, about a man who revolutionised Jewish Simcha music. The Reports on Sarah and Saleem which won the audience and special jury prize at Rotterdam Film Festival, is about a love affair about Saleem, a Palestinian in East Jerusalem and Sarah an Israeli in West Jerusalem, and the political consequences as she’s married to a high-ranking Israeli army officer. Promise at Dawn which is a French film epic starring Charlotte Gainsbourg, tells the story of Romain Gary and his mother.

Promise at Dawn

A couple more to mention – which to me are about Jewish creativity – are The Blue Note, about the record label that revolutionised and popularised African American jazz. The record label was started by a couple of Jewish German refugees who’d had a couple of Jazz albums in Berlin before that immigrated. And also the Studio 54 documentary about two Jewish guys who created the famous club in New York.

Studio 54

Thanks Eddie! It sounds like another great year of celebrating Jewish film. Head over to the JIFF website to grab your tickets today.

Also be sure to check out our joint event with JIFF, The Museum film with post-screening discussion
Tuesday 13 November, 6.30pm
Lifting the lid on curating and storytelling, enjoy the film followed by a post-screening discussion with Museum Director, Rebecca Forgasz.