Because there just aren't enough Jews making movies, the NW Film Center's annual celebration of Yids in cinema returns for its 21st year. As the festival enters its second week, here's what to expect.
Hava Nagila: The Movie
Critic's Grade: B- Like most people with some Jewish blood, I have an ambivalent relationship with the ubiquitous Hebrew folk song "Hava Nagila" (when I was about 6, I kicked my shoe across the dance floor at a wedding and had to shamefacedly dart across the circle to retrieve it). I'm also ambivalent about Roberta Grossman's documentary, which traces the tune from its debated roots to its maligned present, along the way introducing us to some frankly ridiculous iterations: a death-metal take, a rendition by some Real Housewives bimbos, a burlesque version in Thailand. Those interpretations are good for a laugh, but the same can't be said of the strained voice-over narration, which strives for folksy jollity but just comes off cheesy. REBECCA JACOBSON. 7 pm Wednesday, June 19.
The Ballad of the Weeping Spring
Critic's Grade: B Guitar-stringer, gunslinger, it's all blended together ever since Robert Rodriguez's El Mariachi had an assassin travel around with his gun in a guitar case. Despite a title that might as well be a parody of every bad festival film, ever, The Ballad of the Weeping Spring is a weirdly engaging mix of insanely reverent paean to Sephardic (and Iranian) music and larky homage to the gunfighting classic The Magnificent Seven. Here, a pack of hard-boiled musicians travels through Israel to reunite the band for one last performance, from a chair-bound Sophia Loren-ish silver fox to a steely-eyed Hebrew-speaking Yul Brynner. The slow pace is livened by a terrific array of always-too-short musical performances. MATTHEW KORFHAGE. 7 pm Saturday, June 22.
A.K.A. Doc Pomus
Critic's Grade: B Chances are good you've heard a Doc Pomus song but never realized it. Peter Miller and Will Hechter's documentary gathers musicians, writers and producers to pay tribute to Jerome Felder, aka Doc Pomus, who wrote more than 1,000 songs in his lifetime. Felder contracted polio at age 6 and was something of an anomaly as a teen: a handicapped Jewish boy singing R&B songs in Greenwich Village. After a record deal flopped, he began writing songs for the likes of Ray Charles and Elvis Presley, including such standbys as "This Magic Moment" and "Save the Last Dance For Me." But Felder's life wasn't all about music, and the film fittingly includes emotional interviews with Felder's daughter and ex-wife. KAITIE TODD. 4:30 pm Sunday, June 23.
The World Is Funny
Critic's Grade: A Shemi Zarhin's quirky Israeli dramedy opens with Zafi, a student in a writing workshop, as she tells a story and is encouraged to note interesting secrets and moments about everyday people to use in her work. As a housecleaner, this is easy—especially with three of her clients, estranged siblings each dealing with their own unusual drama. Tied together by a thread not unlike that in Love, Actually, the film follows people who are bitter, angry, confused and dedicated as they try to figure out both themselves and each other. Supported by strong performances (especially Naama Shitrit as Zafi, who brings a bright charm to often serious subject matter), The World Is Funny artfully explores love and family in a way both funny and satisfying. KAITIE TODD. 7 pm Sunday, June 23.
SEE IT: The Jewish Film Festival is at NW Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium, 1219 SW Park Ave., nwfilm.org. Through June 30.