Celebrating Two Decades’ Worth of Jewish State-of-the-Art Filmmaking

IFF kicks off this year on March 12 with films written and directed by Ophir award-winner Shemi Zarhin, a festival favorite who has become something of a fixture at Israeli cultural events in Philadelphia. 

For its 20th anniversary, the Israeli Film Festival of Philadelphia is going back to the basics. 
IFF kicks off this year on March 12 with films written and directed by Ophir award-winner Shemi Zarhin, a festival favorite who has become something of a fixture at Israeli cultural events in Philadelphia. 
The monthlong celebration, which is cosponsored by the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia’s Center for Israel and Overseas, will screen eight films at theaters throughout the city, concluding with a Closing Night event April 3. 
Launching the 20th anniversary is Zarhin’s 2015 film, The Kind Words, screening on March 12 and 13 at International House, followed by one of his first films, Passover Fever, which also debuted 20 years ago.
 The Kind Words is about three siblings who discover a secret after the death of their mother, which takes them on a journey to find out who their real father is. Along the way, they discover things about their identities, love lives and family they did not know before.
It was nominated for 12 Ophir Awards — the Israeli Film Academy equivalent of the Oscars. 
Passover Fever is a dramatic comedy about a three-generational Israeli family who come together to celebrate the holiday, but the gathering becomes increasingly chaotic and tumultuous as they try to deal with their dysfunctional relationships. 
Nurit Yaron, IFF chairperson, said this 20th year is a landmark one for the IFF — but just the first of many more to come.
“We’re looking at the 20 years as a milestone, but feel that we’re still young — and we still have a lot to do,” she acknowledged.
Yaron said Zarhin’s films have complex stories and make the audience feel like they’re living through it with the characters. 
She actually saw The Kind Words in Israel shortly after she got off the plane. Even with jet lag, she was captivated by it. 
“Shemi has been here a few times, so it feels like home. I think the audience likes it,” she added. “Showing his first movie will be very special for everyone.”
Yaron said the IFF committee keeps up with the major Israeli films coming out each year. They screened about 25 of them before deciding on the eight in this year’s lineup.
“Since we move from location to location, we try to fit the movie to the audience. So it’s really a lot of thinking, a lot of moving from one venue to another,” she said. 
Zarhin’s wife, Einat Glazer Zarhin, who has also edited many of his films, will be joining him at the festival for the Q&A portion.
“She’s the master here,” Zarhin laughed about his wife. The two will stay in Philadelphia for about a week.
While The Kind Words is his most recent film, Passover Fever was his debut. 
He said it was very successful when it premiered, especially considering it was a time — the mid-1990s — when Israeli films were not popular. His friends described that time as a “black period of Israeli cinematic history.”
Contrast that with the current cinematic climate. “It’s very common today to find Israeli films in the biggest festivals,” he continued, “but in those days it was really rare. And Passover Fever was one of those films that was very successful inside and outside of Israel.”
Passover Fever was screened in more than 200 festivals all over the world. It won the Best Screenplay at the Montreal World Film Festival and the film’s Esti Zakheim won Best Supporting Actress at the Ophirs in 1995.
Now two decades later, it has become a classic, especially around Passover.
Zarhin is looking forward to returning to Philadelphia. He’s joined the IFF several times and also stopped through the city in 2013 while promoting his book, Some Day
“I feel at home there,” he said. “All of, if not most, of my films are screened there. In a way, it’s going back to a place that I like and have many friends there.”
Zarhin hopes audiences will understand the complex range of emotions shown through the characters in his films.
“Like most of my films and also novels, it’s a very touching, moving story, but it has a lot of humor,” he explained. 
Zarhin added that in order to understand who we truly are, we must go back to our past.
“I hope it will make people laugh and cry,” he said, “and maybe understand something about what is the meaning of being Israeli — what is the meaning of being a young Israeli searching or trying to understand his or her identity.” 
Contact: rkurland@jewishexponent.com; 215-832-0737


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here