AJFF Announces First Wave of Films for the 2018 AJFF

12/11/2017

Pictured above: The Cakemaker, the story of a gay Berlin baker and an Israeli widow united in grief over the man they both loved.

As AJFF heads into its 18th year, we're excited to unveil 8 films that represent the tone and feel of this year's annual festival. Once again the festival will feature over 70 narratives and documentaries, as the cinematic celebration brings an assortment of films together representing more than 25 countries. 

The full lineup and official schedule will be announced on Friday, January 5 and tickets will go on sale via AJFF.org, beginning Wednesday, January 17.

“These are not your typical Hollywood films, where many times you have a predictable ending or know the director. While we do show all genres that moviegoers come to love through commercial films, part of the delight of AJFF is the unexpected, the surprise elements, and buying into an experience and enduring this journey not knowing exactly where it will take you,” expresses Kenny Blank, executive director of Atlanta Jewish Film Festival.

Blank adds, “This experience is so different from the conventional festivals; we are diving into the subject matter of these films because, for our audience, the subject matter is just as important as the film artistry. We get into many important topics, timely issues, and current and historical events that need some unpacking and exploration, and perhaps further expertise and context. Just as often as we have filmmakers engaged in the Q&As, we also have academics and authors that have written on the subject, who bring further perspective.” 

Unconvential Love Stories

This year's lineup is has several love stories in the mix, which aren't your average romance. 

The Cakemaker
Narrative • Germany, Israel • 105 minutes
Unwittingly united in grief by a closet affair, a gay German baker and a weary Israeli widow seek mutual catharsis, in The Cakemaker, a complex, compassionate meditation on the human urge for connection. The emotionally distant Tomas (Tim Kalkhof) leads a lonely life as a Berlin coffee shop pastry chef, until a passionate tryst with Oren (Roy Miller), a married Israeli businessman. When his lover is killed, Tomas seeks solace in Oren's hometown, Jerusalem, taking a job at a struggling café run by his dead lover's unwary wife Anat (Sarah Adler). As business flourishes with Tomas' talents in the kitchen, the bereaved pair forges a bond that blurs lines of nationality, religion and sexuality. Winner of the Lia Van Leer Award for Jewish heritage at the Jerusalem Film Festival and Ecumenical Jury prize at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival.

Untold Stories

AJFF is once again proud to feature faces you may know with the stories you don't, in unflinching detail. 

Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story
Documentary • USA • 90 minutes
Full of eye-opening surprises, Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story goes behind the public persona of a deeply misunderstood Hollywood starlet to reveal the thwarted ambitions of a brilliant inventor. Known for her glamour and sex appeal, Hedy Lamarr rose to fame in the 1930s and '40s. But her iconic career was largely tainted by both her own lurid offscreen exploits and screen roles that objectified her. What history had overlooked was Lamarr's uncredited achievements in mechanics and technology. An Austrian Jewish émigré who fled her Nazi sympathizer husband, she pursued a future in show business while patenting a secret WWII communications system that is the foundation of today's wireless technology. Hedy Lamarr narrates her trailblazing story through never-before-heard audio recordings, augmented by interviews with surviving family, friends and luminaries.

Bye Bye Germany
Narrative • Germany, Luxembourg, Belgium • 102 minutes 
German star Moritz Bleibtreu is a defiant Holocaust survivor looking to strike it rich in postwar Frankfurt in Bye Bye Germany, a brisk, polished drama inflected with bittersweet humor. Though haunted by his family's murder at Auschwitz, hustler David Bermann (Bleibtreu) is determined to eke out a living in his battle-scarred homeland. He recruits Jewish traveling salesmen to a shady scheme, selling overpriced linens door-to-door to guilt-ridden Germans. Meantime, he faces interrogation by a comely American military intelligence officer about his past as an alleged Nazi collaborator, her impassivity no match for the charismatic jokester. With a jaunty klezmer-style score and Yiddish-inflected dialogue, this fresh historical perspective is an utterly engaging salute to European Jews who chose to tough out painful memories to reclaim their lives. 

Topical Stories (It is December afterall.)

'Tis the seaon and it seems more than fitting to celebrate the Jewish artists who helped create the magic of Christmas and why they did so.

Dreaming of a Jewish Christmas
Documentary • Canada • 52 minutes
Dreaming of a Jewish Christmas is an offbeat, playful celebration of the Jewish American songwriters who composed the soundtrack to the holiday season. In an irony of ironies, it was Jewish immigrant outsiders—Irving Berlin, Mel Tormé and many others—who redefined Christmas as a secular and inclusive cultural phenomenon. Penning such yuletide classics as “White Christmas,” “Let It Snow” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” these artists amplified the spirit of the holidays through musical merriment. A panoply of performers delivers signature renditions of these beloved melodies, amusingly set in a Chinese restaurant, while musicologists, religious leaders, comedians and others add insights into the strange, contradictory and poignant relationship American Jews have with “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” (also written by a Jew).

Classics

The full list of the classics screening this year will be revealed in January but AJFF is honored to show Schindler's List to a new generation, 25 years after its monumental debut. 

Schindler’s List
Narrative • USA • 195 minutes
Ranked among the greatest and most historically significant films, Schindler’s List is the unsparing, profoundly moving epic that continues to inspire with lessons of moral courage. Steven Spielberg's masterpiece achieves the seemingly impossible: a rigorous, sobering, accessible and artistically stunning Holocaust drama, told through the incredible true story of an unlikely humanitarian. Mercenary industrialist Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson) saved the lives of over a thousand Jews, sheltering them as factory workers, aided by his accountant Itzhak Stern (Ben Kingsley). Meantime, the Jews of Kraków face a Nazi forced labor camp overseen with casual cruelty by SS commandant Amon Goeth (a monstrous Ralph Fiennes). Winner of 7 Academy Awards including for Best Picture, its black-and-white cinematography, and John Williams' haunting score―this cinematic landmark cemented Spielberg's status as America's foremost filmmaker, and forever changed audience perceptions of the Holocaust. A 25th Anniversary Classic Film Series screening.

World Premieres

New portraits are among our lineup this year, including this heartfelt sports documentary. 

Heading Home: The Tale of Team Israel
Documentary • Israel, Japan, USA, South Korea • 85 minutes
A World Premiere screening and stirring story of sports, patriotism and personal growth, Heading Home charts the underdog journey of Israel's national baseball team competing for the first time in the World Baseball Classic. After years of defeat, Team Israel is finally ranked among the world's best in 2017, eligible to compete in the prestigious international tournament. Their line-up included several Jewish American Major League players―Ike Davis, Josh Zeid and ex-Braves catcher Ryan Lavarnway―most with a tenuous relationship to Judaism, let alone having ever set foot in Israel. Their odyssey takes them from Tel Aviv and Jerusalem where they are greeted as heroes, to Seoul where they must debunk their has-been, wannabe reputations. With their Mensch on a Bench mascot by their side, the team laughs, cries, and does much soul-searching, discovering the pride of representing Israel on the world stage.

Arts and Music

Profiles in artistry and living legends are told this year in a series of riveting films. 

Itzhak
Documentary • USA, Israel • 83 minutes
An impressionist, fly-on-the-wall portrait, Itzhak examines the life and glorious music of Israeli-born Itzhak Perlman, widely considered the world’s greatest living violinist. Over the span of a year, filmmaker Alison Chernick follows the virtuoso around the world, revealing his huge passion and spirit. Wheelchair-bound from childhood polio, Perlman recounts overcoming obstacles with humor and sheer talent, the devotion of wife Toby shining through. Archival materials and performance clips, including a breakthrough appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show at age 13, combine with behind-the-scenes moments of the venerated artist in rehearsal, teaching classes, attending award shows, and collaborating with colleagues. Perlman’s musical discipline is starkly contrasted with an intimate view of his home life, as a modern Jewish family embraces its heritage in a changing world. 

Human Rights

Finding the nuances of the Jewish experience intersecting with other communities is at the heart of the mission of AJFF. True accounts like the below are searing looks at the world at large.

An Act of Defiance
Narrative • South Africa, Netherlands • 123 minutes
A gutsy lawyer risks career and family to defend Nelson Mandela and his inner circle, in An Act of Defiance, a historical thriller set in South Africa's incendiary segregation era. Mandela and nine other defendants, including Jewish anti-Apartheid fighters, faced a possible death sentence after their arrest during a summer 1963 raid. Sympathetic white Afrikaner lawyer Bram Fischer (Peter Paul Muller), defends the activists against charges of conspiracy to commit sabotage and treason. As he fights to expose South Africa’s corrupt, unjust system, Fischer attempts to hide his own ties to the resistance. This riveting drama expertly combines nail-biting political and courtroom intrigue to explore South Africa's seminal struggle against racism, and the little-known Jewish figures who sought to end entrenched discrimination in their country. 

More details will be announced closer to the festival, including selected films for Opening Night, Young Professionals Night presented by ACCESS, and Closing Night. And stay connected via social media on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram and use #AJFF2018.