The Sephardic Jewish Film Festival opened on November 9th with an extravagant evening event held at Paramount Film Studios. Subsequent screenings followed at Laemmle’s Music Hall Theater on Wilshire. Rabbi Daniel Bouskila is the Festival Director and he put together a successful presentation of a small selection of movies; some short form, several in subtitles, a few documentaries, but all with a decidedly Sephardic storyline. Given that the Sephardic community makes up approximately 25% of world Jewry, perhaps 5 million, it is not surprising that there are stories to tell.
The New York Sephardic Film Festival, held each year in March, explained the reason for these kind of festivals. They fill a need, “to illuminate the scope of the Sephardic experience; to raise the consciousness of the American Jewish, and non-Jewish, community to a better understanding of Sephardic Jewry; and to present, through the medium of film, the history, literature, poetry, music, dance, customs and traditions of the Sephardic world.”
The LA festival lasted just a week but offered a small window to Jewish stories. At the same time, the delicate subjects that were presented portray earnest representations of the diverse cultures that make up the Sephardic community. The film makers who produced the presented movies have successfully created a legacy of identity that is now awaiting future generations and is captured for posterity in the art of the movie.
The Dove Flier tells the story of the Iraqi Jews who were forced out of Iraq in 1950. The narrative depicts how, prior to the years before emigration, family life had been strong and quietly ambivalent to the ways of the Arabic neighbors. The family who are central to the movie, are symptomatic of Jewish Iraqi families who lived a value-filled life, despite the complications of being Jewish in Iraq.
Two Legacies tells the story of a theological conflict that existed among the Yemenite community before the 50,000 community were brought to Israel in 1950. The movie offers a fascinating look at the issues and conflicts of this community who had traditions very different from the other Sephardic societies.
Orange People is the story of an aging Moroccan grandmother who is looking for someone to take over her community role as the reader of dreams. In dreaming of the past, she has an uncanny ability to guide families in their current decisions.
24 days is the true story of Ilan Halimi, a 26 year old Parisian cell phone salesman. He was kidnapped and tortured in 2006. Finally released, he was raced to hospital but died on the way. The audacity of the crime incited a march through the streets of Paris with more than 1,000 participants.
It Never Rained on Rhodes and The Final Journey are two movies that present the wretched story of the Rhodes Jewish community. Once a community of several thousand, more than 90% were sent from Greece to Auschwitz in 1944. Of the 151 who survived the war, none returned to the island of Rhodes.
Preserving the Sephardic culture and identity, languages and history, is an important goal and the LA festival contributed to that end.