Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Yet another edition of Mexico's Jewish Film Festival

This was long overdue. But then again, spare time has become quite the luxury since I moved to Mexico City, so I do what I can. Anyhow, thanks to Toronto, now I'm always on the lookout for film festivals. Including Jewish ones. So of course we didn't miss this year's edition of the Festival Internacional de Cine Judío de México. And - surprise! NOT - we greatly enjoyed it.

There was French drama with L'Antiquaire. There was riveting British documenting of the making of a holocaust documentary with Night will fall. There was Moroccan-Israeli comedy with Orange People. There was enlightening Israeli-Palestinian narrative about intersex people. So many genres! So international! Amazing, eh?

Of course, when mentioning I was going to this festival, someone asked what makes a Jewish film festival, well, Jewish. And that's a brilliant question. On one hand, Jewish identity until very recently was linked to Judaism. In Arab lands, Jews were mostly culturally Arab, with the difference that they practiced Judaism and not Islam. It was in Europe that Yiddish allowed for a certain secular Jewish culture. But that's Europe. If we take secular Jews from Mexico, Morocco, Israel, Russia, France and the US, we'd soon find ourselves in the tough situation of having to admit that there's very little to define what a secular Jew is, beyond their self-identifying as Jews. Maybe the odd religious trapping (Yom Kippur?). Perhaps some Hebrew lessons. Or some link to some Jewish community. But all in all, take religion away (along with experiences derived from religious trappings), and you get the strange phenomenon of a very diverse mosaic of peoples with rather little in common except their common experience of self-identification as Jews. 

Why all that rambling? Because that's what makes a Jewish film festival so great. There may be religious themes. But you'll also find themes about identity. About food. You'll see horror. And comedy. The films will be set in Delhi. In Shanghai. In Ramallah. With mostly just one common theme, and probably the most Jewish theme of all: pondering and embracing the question of who one is, what one's history means, how it all fits or doesn't fit together, until one has better answers.

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