Hong Kong Jewish Film Festival 2014 has something for everyone

Festival expands on all fronts

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 25 November, 2014, 10:27am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 25 November, 2014, 10:27am

Changes have come to the Hong Kong Jewish Film Festival (HKJFF), whose 15th edition kicks off this Saturday, on the 67th anniversary of the adoption of the UN resolution on the creation of a Jewish state.

This year's programme of 27 films, selected by a new selection committee, is the fest's largest yet, and among the most balanced and diverse in years. In addition, the HKJFF has a new co-presenter in the Asia Society and, consequently, a new screening venue in the Asia Society Hong Kong Centre.

HKJFF Society chairwoman Debby Amias, who took over the reins from festival founder Howard Elias last year, is thrilled that the Asia Society has opened its doors to the festival.

"The Asia Society has around 10,000 members in Hong Kong, so that's a lot of potential for us," she says.

Amias estimates that about 70 per cent of attendees at the film festival since its founding in 1999 have been members of the local Jewish community. While this approximately 3,000 strong group remains the festival's primary target audience, both Amias and Michael Every, the first year head of the film selection committee, are keen to grow its non-Jewish audience.

To that end, the HKJFF's film selection committee made a point of including films with Asian content such as Noodle, a drama revolving around a flight attendant who takes custody of a six-year-old Chinese boy who has been inadvertently separated from his mother, and Transit, the Philippines' Oscar entry for this year's best foreign language film, about the plight of a Filipino migrant family living in constant fear of deportation from Israel.

Rather than place the responsibility on one person, this year a committee of six people - with Every as the head - selected the films.

She says that the committee features a diverse group, with people from Israel, France, South Africa, and the UK.

"We also had help from the UK Jewish Film Festival, a much bigger festival than ours - they screen 100 films - we saw the films they showed, then decided which would work here," she says.

Among the standout selections this year are Besa: The Promise, a documentary recounting the little known history of a group of mostly Muslim Albanians risking their lives to shelter Jews from the Nazis during the second world war, and In Silence, a docudrama that pays tribute to Jewish musicians in Czechoslovakia and Germany who were persecuted during the Holocaust.

Both Amias and Every also particularly recommend the opening film, 24 Days, about the kidnapping and torture of a young Jewish man.

"It's sadly based on real-life shocking events in Paris that people need to know more about," says Every.

After last year's opener, Aftermath, was deemed too depressing by some viewers, the committee wanted to select a happier film to kick off this year's festival, says Amias, but the power and importance of Alexandre Arcady's 24 Days left them with no choice.

"We felt it was our duty to show it", she says.

Amias promises, however, that "there will be a feel-good opening film next year!"

In the meantime, says Every, "we have great comedies in Anywhere Else, Kidon and Cupcakes, as laughter is always a huge part of Jewish culture. With such a rich cultural history, and so much always going in Israel, it's not hard to find great stories to tell cinematically," he says.

Amias is hopeful that the programme will attract many viewers, and if that proves to be the case the organisers will be ready. They will hold their first morning screenings, she says, adding that "if they are overbooked, we have the possibility of putting on extra screenings".

HK Jewish Film Festival, Nov 29 to Dec 7, Asia Society HK Centre. For more details, go to hkjff.org or asiasociety.org/hong-kong