The Miami Jewish Film Festival (MJFF) presents the 24th edition, which will be a hybrid of virtual and live programming events with a record-breaking 145 films in selection, and all screenings accessible for free. Running from April 14-29, three months later than their annual dates in January, the festival will screen 100 feature films, including eight world premieres and over 20 North American Premieres, and 45 short films, representing 25 countries, 39 first-time feature filmmakers, and an unprecedented 47 films directed by women (32% of the total program).
The Miami Jewish Film Festival is the largest Jewish film festival in the world and has endeavored to make its film slate as widely available as possible by providing its entire virtual program and live event experiences, featuring drive-in and outdoor screenings, all available for free. Drive-in locations will all take place in the heart of the Wynwood Arts District, the arts hub of South Florida, while virtual screenings will be geo-locked to either the state of Florida or the US.
All the films presented in the Festival’s virtual program will also for the first time ever have state-wide access, with certain films opting for national availability, giving storytellers and audiences alike the opportunity to come together, experience artists new work, connect with one another, and participate in more than 70 conversations with filmmakers, stars, and scholars from around the world.
MJFF will present six unique LGBT Jewish films, which are: Sublet, Summer of ’85, Tahara, Kiss Me Kosher, Marry ME However, and In the Image of God. I was lucky enough to preview three of those movies and they are:
In the Image of God (North American Premiere – Short Film – Documentary)
The fourth generation in his family to be born intersex, Rabbi Levi was assigned a female gender at birth and grew up thinking he was sick and defective. In the Image of God tells the story of his struggles and transition, culminating today in a life as a religious leader and an LGBTQ+ activist living happily in Los Angeles with his wife.
To be honest, even though I have heard the word I wasn’t exactly sure what Intersex was, but according to Wikipedia: “Intersex people are individuals born with any of several variations in sex characteristics including chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones or genitals that, according to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, “do not fit the typical definitions for male or female bodies.”
According to Rabbi Levi if your Intersex and your penis is less than an inch long, you are assigned female at birth. This gender is decided at birth without ever seeing or experiencing what each person identifies as. This under 15-minute short documentary film is so powerful, because you can see the pain that Rabbi Levi has had his entire life.
Marry Me However (South Florida Premiere)
Even today, many LGBTQ+ people have a hard time admitting who they are and coming out to their family and loved ones. Imagine how hard it is for community members who are brought up in strict religious families and communities. This is the story that is told in the documentary Marry Me However, which explores the lives of Orthodox-Jewish LGBTQ Israelis who choose (some of them feel they are forced) to marry heterosexuals to create a family and comply with their Family and communities’ expectations. After their divorces, they confront the conflicts they repressed: love for their faith and the Orthodox way of life as well as love for their own gender; wanting children, family and community and wanting to be true to their identity; love and respect for their spouse and their inability to continue in the relationship. Marry Me However mostly focuses on men who are gay, but thankfully the movie also focusses on the women who they married and how it destroys them as well. The film’s subjects reveal how they come to terms with their journeys from shame and regret for the pain they have caused their ex’s to, for some, self-acceptance, and social activism. Many still live Orthodox lives and consider themselves to be people of faith.
The film also shows light on well-known Israeli Orthodox rabbis and psychologists who seek a solution to what appears to be an unsolvable conflict. The rabbi’s quote the bible a lot, but what they are not seeing is that this behavior is destroying many innocent lives. It’s time to resolve this conflict!
Sublet (South Florida Premiere)
Before watching this movie, I had only seen actor John Benjamin Hickey in his appearances on Watch What Happens Live and some guest appearances in popular TV shows but did not know the depth of his acting. After watching Sublet it is no surprise that Hickey has won a Tony Award, and I would certainly not be surprised if there were many more awards to come. His experience as an actor certainly shows in Sublet, and there are many times that words are not spoken, and you are still moved by his performance. Equally as good is newcomer Niv Nissim who amazingly holds his own against the experienced Hickey. Whomever did the casting, Kudos!
By pulling earnest, first-rate performances from John Benjamin Hickey and Niv Nissim, director Eytan Fox (Yossi & Jagger, The Bubble) presents two sympathetic characters that audiences will fall in love with. Michael (Hickey) is a New York City travel writer visiting Tel Aviv to research his latest assignment. Rather than explore Tel Aviv like a tourist, he wants to see the region through a local’s eyes. When he arrives at the apartment of Tomer (Nissim), Michael not only learns that he will be residing in one of Tel Aviv’s most coveted neighborhoods, but also that his temporary home is nowhere near ready for his occupancy. It soon becomes apparent to Michael that the handsome, scrappy young filmmaker who rented out his apartment to him has nowhere else to go. It is easy for Michael to empathize. After leaving behind an estranged relationship with his husband in New York City, Michael feels a certain kinship with Tomer. As they get to know one another, they find the age gap between them presents less of a hindrance and more of an advantage. Slowly, Michael and Tomer begin to let their guard down and allow for new possibilities to take root in their lives. Funny, touching, and perfectly understated, Sublet is both heartbreaking and brilliant.
All Festival films will be available to stream for free starting Thursday, April 15 until Thursday, April 29. More information is available at Miamijewishfilmfestival.org or by calling 305-573-7304.