Exchanging Cultures: Jewish Film Fest Opens Thursday | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Exchanging Cultures: Jewish Film Fest Opens Thursday

See details on the festival and a video trailer for "The Rape of Europa," which opens the festival Thursday night at the Mississippi Museum of Art, on the JFP's events calendar.

Jack Baxter, freelance filmmaker, stepped inside Mike's Place in Tel Aviv for a drink after his planned documentary about Palestinian Marwan Borghouti fell through. His intentions were to call his wife and tell her he was coming home to New York.

Instead, Baxter discovered new inspiration for his documentary inside the popular Tel Aviv blues bar: The main character would be Mike's Place itself, and the plot would be the real life of the Israelis inside the beachfront bar. Baxter cancelled his travel plans for home and hired a new camera crew, whom he also met inside the bar.

Baxter' film documented the lives and laughing faces of the bar's employees and regulars; it even captured the life-size cardboard cutout of Mississippi blues legend B.B. King that flanked the bandstand behind performing musicians.

One evening, suicide bombers detonated a bomb outside the bar's entrance when Baxter and his camera crew were inside. The cameras kept rolling amid the destruction. Later, they captured the altered lives, memorials for the dead, and most importantly, the endurance of the survivors who kept getting up, showing up, and continuing to live, feel, comfort each other and cope.

The award-winning documentary "Blues By The Beach" was the result. It is one of the films showing Jan. 17-21 in the Jackson Jewish Film Festival in collaboration with Millsaps College Jewish Culture Organization/Millsaps Hillel and Jewish Cinema South. Jack Baxter will speak in Jackson when his film screens at Millsaps College Recital Hall on Monday, Jan. 21, at 7 p.m. His Web site for survivors of terrorism is mikesplacebars.com/lifeafterterror.

Festival chairwoman Marcy Nessel, and Beth Kander, director of programming for the Goldring Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life, helped select the festival's films, with the help of Mindy Humphrey, Lynda Yule, James Bowley, family and friends. All the films have a Jewish element, but universal themes.

"The goals of the Jewish Cinema South are to enhance Jewish life, strengthen Jewish identity, promote multi-cultural and prints by multi-ethnic dialogue, and encourage tolerance and understanding, all while providing entertaining ... film festivals in Baton Rouge, Jackson, Macon, Ga., and Mobile," Kander says.

She credits Macy Hart and other founders with the vision for the Institute, a non-profit organization that has brought Jewish Cinema South to southeastern cities for the last seven years and helped preserve and sustain Jewish communities in the South since 2000. The Institute's seed bed was the Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience, which opened in 1986 in Utica, as a repository of precious objects from southern Jewish communities.

"The Jewish culture and history ... is all intertwined with communities and world history, and ... affects all of us." Nessel says. "The Festival is not only for the Jewish community, but is for the entire community; it is another link in the Jackson arts community."

Although the festival is not officially linked to the Crossroads Film Society, Kander says the two groups support each other, and she hopes Crossroads film lovers will support the festival, which she views as a cultural exchange that can "raise the level of diversity and awareness in the South."

"The Rape of Europa" screens Thursday, Jan. 17 at 7 p.m. in the new Mississippi Museum of Art, and depicts an epic about "the systematic theft, deliberate destruction and miraculous survival of Europe's art treasures during the tyranny of the Third Reich," according to the film's logline.

"Olga," billed as "a sweeping history of the harrowing true-life story of German-Jewish communist activist and political prisoner Olga Benario Prestes" shows Saturday, Jan. 19, at 7 p.m., at the Millsaps venue; "Souvenirs," a captivating, witty account of a father/son journey, screens at the Millsaps venue on Sunday, Jan. 20 at 2 p.m.

For ticket information, call 601-956-6215. Tickets are $10 for adults $10, $5 for students (with I.D.). Purchase festival passes for all four screenings for $35, adults, and $20, students. For more information, visit http://www.isjl.org.

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