Since the mid-2000s, the Spokane Jewish Cultural Film Festival has brought international films to Spokane that share Jewish life and culture with the community. They continue this year with three films that offer fascinating glimpses into the diversity of Jewish experiences in Israel and around the world, chosen to appeal to a wide audience.
THE LAST LAUGH
(Thursday, Jan. 25, 7 p.m.)
Are we allowed to make jokes about the Holocaust? In this outrageously funny and thought-provoking documentary, director Ferne Pearlstein puts the question about comedy’s ultimate taboo to legends including Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, Sarah Silverman, Gilbert Gottfried, Alan Zweibel, Harry Shearer, Jeff Ross, Judy Gold, Susie Essman, Larry Charles, Jake Ehrenreich, and many other critical thinkers, as well as Holocaust survivors themselves. The result is a film with heart and controversy that adeptly interweaves a profile of one survivor, Renee Firestone, with a fascinating range of perspectives on Holocaust humor in popular culture. Post-film discussion will be led by Wendy Levy, executive director of the Alliance for Media Arts + Culture.
PAST LIFE (Saturday, Jan. 27, 7 p.m.) The festival continues with a riveting drama based on a true story. Past Life tracks the daring 1977 trans-European odyssey of two sisters—one an introverted, ambitious classical music composer, and the other a combative, liberal magazine editor. As they try to unravel a disturbing wartime mystery that has cast a foreboding shadow on their entire lives, they realize that freedom from the shackles of the past requires painful sacrifices, as does the struggle to discover one’s unique voice. This film’s period setting offers an unusual perspective on the Holocaust: several decades out, characters are able to reflect on their experiences to some degree, but survivor guilt and other powerful feelings remain buried deep within them.
A QUIET HEART (Sunday, Jan. 28, 2 p.m.) The festival ends with a meditative, nuanced story from one of Jerusalem’s most religious neighborhoods. Naomi, a secular young woman, seeks refuge from the pressure of her life as a concert pianist. Despite her intentions to stay alone, she quickly makes two unexpected connections: one with a musically gifted ultra-Orthodox boy, and the other with Fabrizio, a charismatic Italian monk and organist. While these relationships allow Naomi to reconnect with her love of music and sense of meaning, they also make her a target in her new community. Faced with escalating isolation and violence, Naomi must learn to use music as a bridge to overcome towering religious barriers. This haunting film sets one woman’s struggle to assert her identity against the backdrop of a Jerusalem increasingly rife with tension between secularism and Orthodox Judaism.
Ticket prices: $10 General Admission; $7 Students and Seniors. Festival passes: $28/$18. All films will be shown in the auditorium at the Hemmingson Center (702 E. Desmet Ave.) on the campus of Gonzaga University. To purchase tickets, or for more information, contact Spokane Area Jewish Family Services at (509) 747-7394 or visit the festival online at sajfs.org.