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13th Annual Kansas City Jewish Film Festival March 5-13 2011
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Reviewed on 2011-03-11
The Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City presents the 13th annual Kansas City Jewish Film Festival March 5-13 at the 500-seat White Theatre on the JCC campus, 5801 W. 115th St., Overland Park.

A festival pass, which covers admission to all seven films including opening night, is $54. Individual tickets are $15 for opening night which includes a dessert reception and $9 for all other films. Tickets are available at the White Theatre box office, by calling 327-8054, online at or at the door one hour before show time. This year’s lineup includes contemporary comedy, drama, independent films, documentaries and family selections – each a recent winner or audience favorite at Jewish film festivals around the globe.

"Anita" opens the festival at 7:30 on Saturday night, March 5. This subtitled feature film from Argentina is the story of a young woman with Down syndrome who gets lost in Buenos Aires after the 1994 bomb attack on the Israelite Mutual Association Jewish Community Center. The title character depends on the kindness of strangers to survive. It is a touching and uplifting human interest story. Norma Aleandro, the "Meryl Streep of Argentina," stars as the mother of the developmentally disabled child. My rating: 3 stars.

"The Yankles" is the 1 p.m. matinee on Sunday, March 6. A washed-up major league ballplayer gets a second chance as the coach of a yeshiva baseball team. While the ball club strives for success on the diamond, their coach works to rebuild his reputation and relationships with those he wronged in the past. This family feature is in English with a running time of 115 minutes.

"The Little Traitor" is a charming coming-of-age tale set in 1947 Jerusalem just months before Israel becomes a state. The screenplay, written and directed by Lynn Roth, is based on the novel "Panther in the Basement" by world-renowned author Amos Oz. The film screens at 6:30 p.m. on Sunday, March 6. Proffy Liebowitz (Ido Port), a militant, precocious and sensitive 11-year-old Sabra, wants nothing more than for the occupying British to leave the Promised Land. Proffy (short for professor) and his two friends form a secret club and spend their summer holiday plotting ways to terrorize the unwanted British troops. One night Sergeant Dunlop (Alfred Molina from "An Education"), a kind-hearted British officer longing for home and the girlfriend he left behind, picks up Proffy for breaking the curfew law imposed to curb the violence instigated by resistance movements. Rather than arresting him, he takes Proffy home with a stern warning. Proffy decides to meet regularly with Dunlop in hopes of gaining vital information on the British plans for Palestine. An unlikely friendship develops between these two foes. The plot thickens when Proffy’s two pals get suspicious of their friend’s allegiance. Proffy is accused of traitorous acts and brought to "trial" before his Holocaust-surviving parents and a contingent of neighbors. The interrogator is played by the famous Theodore Bikel. Besides a wonderful story and great acting, the movie is a visual treat with breathtaking panoramic views of Jerusalem. Other strengths include the Middle Eastern musical score and the costume designs. The dialogue is partially in Hebrew with easy-to-read English subtitles. It is suitable viewing for the whole family with a running time of 89 minutes. This is my choice as the best film of the festival. My rating: 3½ stars.

The dark comedy "Nora’s Will" from Mexico is showing at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, March 7. The story begins when Jose finds out that Nora, the woman he was married to for 30 years and then divorced, has committed suicide. The Orthodox rabbi explains to Jose that due to the celebration of Passover followed directly by observing the Sabbath, if Nora is not interred that same day, they will have to wait almost five days for the funeral and burial. It turns out Nora devised a manipulative plan to annoy her ex-husband. A mysterious photograph left under her bed will lead to an unexpected outcome. Jose is forced to re-examine his relationship and rediscovers their undying love for each other. The movie reminds us that sometimes the greatest love stories are hidden in the smallest places. The dialogue is in Spanish and Hebrew with English subtitles. My rating: 2½ stars.

"The Klezmatics: On Holy Ground" captures the energy, infectious performances and on-camera candor of the band that has been redefining Jewish music for more than 20 years. This documentary unspools at 9:30 p.m. on Saturday, March 12.

The powerful documentary "Against the Tide," narrated by Dustin Hoffman, will be shown at 1 p.m. Sunday, March 13. It is a compelling examination of American inaction during the Holocaust to save the Jews of Europe. It offers never-before-seen footage of the doomed Jews trying to escape the vice of Hitler’s Final Solution and interviews with activists who tried to mobilize the U.S. government and American Jewish organizations into formulating heroic rescue attempts. The movie was nominated by the Writers Guild of America in 2010 for the Documentary Screenplay Award.

The closing night film "A Matter of Size" will be screened at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, March 13. This endearing romantic comedy puts a humorous spin on being overweight.

Herzl (Itzik Cohen), age 35, suffers from low self-esteem mainly attributable to his obese girth. He lives with his seamstress mother, Mona (Levana Finkelstein), in the central Israel city of Ramla (ironically, a sister city of Kansas City). His latest efforts to drop kilos have been deemed a waste of time by weight loss counselor Geula (Evelin Hagoel). Herzl gets a new job washing dishes at a Japanese restaurant. He sees on television Sumo wrestling for the first time. This revelation opens his eyes to the possibility of an athletic endeavor where his hefty bulk is advantageous. He decides to start a Sumo wrestling club and persuades his three friends, Aharon (Divir Benedek), Gidi (Alon Dahan) and Sammy (Shmulik Cohen), to quit the dieting program and join him. They convince Kitano (Togo Igawa), the owner of the restaurant and a former Sumo referee in Japan, into serving as their coach. Their goal is to wrestle in a locally held competition with the winner representing Israel in a Japanese tournament.

The delightful screenplay triggers an inspirational spark of self-acceptance, especially for fat people who can come out of their closets with pride. The acting is natural and convincing. The movie debuted at the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival. "A Matter of Size" received 13 Ophir nominations (the equivalent of our Academy Awards), which was the most of any Israeli film in 2009. It won awards for best costume design, best actress and best supporting actress. Harvey and Bob Weinstein were so impressed with this cinematic gem they have bought the rights for an American remake. This feel-good romantic comedy has a running time of 90 minutes and contains sexually suggestive material. The dialogue is in Hebrew and Japanese with English subtitles. It gets my vote as the second best film of this year’s festival. My rating: 3 stars.

Review By:
Keith Cohen "The Movie Guy"

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