Rich Copley: Film festival features movies about Jewish life around the world

In Father's Footsteps, Gad Elmaleh plays a father who turns to crime when he meets a Jewish gangster.
In Father's Footsteps, Gad Elmaleh plays a father who turns to crime when he meets a Jewish gangster.

No, a Jewish film series does not mean you are in for showings of Exodus or The Ten Commandments.

While there is affection for those movies in the Jewish community, Tamara Ohayon, director of marketing, outreach and engagement for the Jewish Federation of the Bluegrass, says there was a more ambitious goal for the 3-year-old Lexington Jewish Film Series.

"We wanted to highlight the diversity of Jewish life in country, language and culture," Ohayon says. "It's a really wonderful opportunity for people interested in the Jewish community to see a great film and learn more about Jewish life."

So the festival, which will be presented again this fall at the University of Kentucky Student Center's Center Theater, aims to bring the latest films reflecting Jewish life from around the world, particularly Israel.

"With all of the great films coming out of Israel, we feel like we need to show at least one of those every year," Ohayon says.

That is how this year's festival will start Sept. 23, with a screening of the 2011 hit Restoration. Translated from Hebrew, its original title was Good Morning Mr. Fidelman. The story centers on an old man struggling to hold on to his antiques restoration business after his partner dies and a competition emerges between his son and an apprentice.

Ohayon also points to area's strong Russian-Jewish community in choosing the Oct. 28 offering, My Dad Is Baryshnikov, a Russian film set in the 1980s about a boy in the Bolshoi Ballet who claims to be the son of ballet great Mikhail Baryshnikov.

"It's adorable," Ohayon says of the film.

Rounding out the schedule is the French film Father's Footsteps on Oct. 14, a coming-of-age story about the son of a gangster, and Gruber's Journey on Nov. 11, a Romanian film about a journalist in 1941 who unwittingly discovers the Nazis' plans for the Jews.

"We try to not only show depressing dramas," Ohayon says, noting the plethora of Holocaust films that could be shown. "This film got great reviews, and it's a very interesting story."

She notes that the World War II drama will be shown on Veterans Day and says veterans with valid IDs will be admitted free.

The challenge, Ohayon says, is for the smaller festival to keep up with major Jewish film series in cities such as New York and San Francisco.

"Obviously, they get the newer films first because they've got the bigger budgets," she says, adding, "We're always looking for sponsors."

A collaboration that she says has worked out very well is with the UK Jewish Studies Department and UK Hillel/Jewish Student Organization. That has allowed the series to tap into the campus Jewish community and hold the event at the UK Student Center.

"The first year, we sort of bounced between congregations, so this works better," Ohayon says.

Ultimately, she hopes the festival will grow.

"We aren't focused on politics or religion," she says. "It's really a chance to see some great movies."