The annual event began with just eight movies, notes Susan Barocas, the festival’s director for the past four years. Barocas, who is a documentary filmmaker, started as a volunteer in 1994. This year, the festival will use nine venues, including the Washington D.C. Jewish Community Center, the Avalon and AFI Silver theaters, the Goethe-Institut and the Swiss and Italian embassies. (For a complete schedule, visit www.wjff.org.)
“A good film really does open people’s eyes and hearts,” Barocas says. “And I love bringing audiences and filmmakers together. We’re presenting guests with about half our films this year, which is quite a high percentage.”
The 2011 selection, she notes, features several on the theme of “Jews at Work” and more movies by women than ever before. “We have 16 women filmmakers out of 47 films. That’s 40 percent. ”
The festival opens with “Mabul,” a warm Israeli drama about a prickly family whose second son is about to celebrate his bar mitzvah. The boy’s tangled life is further complicated by the unexpected arrival of his autistic older brother, who has been living in an institution that shut down for lack of funds.
The closing-night film is the powerful “Remembrance,” a fictional drama inspired by an improbable but true event: A Polish resistance fighter nabs a German uniform and marches his Jewish girlfriend out of Auschwitz. They’re separated during their escape, and for decades each assumes the other is dead.
Another wrenching tale is “Kaddish for a Friend,” which plays out the Jewish-Arab conflict at a Berlin housing complex. A teenager who was born in a Palestinian refugee camp helps vandalize an elderly Jewish man’s apartment. When the teen is forced to undo the damage, he and his former victim become pals.
“We have films that make the political personal,” Barocas says. “When you get down to the personal, sometimes stereotypes get broken down.”
Among the comic entries is “Reuniting the Rubins,” a British movie that mingles drama with farce. It’s the tale of a man’s attempt to reconcile his four feuding adult children long enough for Passover dinner with their ailing grandmother. People of a certain age will be startled to learn that Granny is played by “Goldfinger” sexpot Honor Blackman, one of the most iconic Bond girls.