This week the Portland Jewish Film Festival will celebrate its 10th year by spotlighting a hero of...Christianity?
In The Mystery of Paul, French filmmaker Abraham Segal speaks to scholars, theologians and everyday people about Saul of Tarsus, a fanatical Pharisee who was shockingly reborn on the road to Damascus as the apostle Paul. As Segal discovers, Jews who once labeled Paul a traitor are now beginning to embrace him as a transitional figure, an enduring symbol of kinship between the religions.
This is but one example of the surprisingly diverse and challenging films offered at the festival. "There's a whole kind of intellectual curiosity here you're not going to find in many films," says co-founder Howard Aaron. "I think it galvanizes the community, brings them together--and it's not solely for people that are Jewish. It touches on so many human issues."
A documentary filmmaker by trade, Aaron started the festival as an annual weekend event on the Oregon coast. Later it migrated to the Northwest Film Center before landing at the Hollywood Theater, its current home. Through its first decade, the festival has slowly made strides in both ticket sales and quality, even as organizers confront what Aaron calls "Holocaust fatigue."
"People sometimes think if they've seen one Holocaust film, they've seen them all," says Aaron. "But in my mind there are so many unique stories that are remarkable. You couldn't make them up if you tried." Take last week's festival opener, Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport. The latest in a long line of Holocaust survivor tales, it indeed tells an extraordinary, if vaguely familiar, tale of perseverance and sacrifice. For the second year in a row, however, the program also features a discussion with an actual Holocaust survivor afterward. "It isn't solely seeing the film," says Aaron. "You find amazing things here."
Later this week comes After the Truth, a clever fable about an ambitious lawyer who is kidnapped, flown to Argentina and blackmailed as a primer for defending Josef Mengele, the Nazi doctor responsible for horrific experiments on Auschwitz prisoners during World War II. Directed by Germany's Roland Suso, the film raises fascinating questions about the sometimes-forbidding choice one makes between truth and justice. Also screening is Walter Hart's Molly: The Goldbergs, which remembers impresario Gertrude Berg, whose 1930s-'50s radio-cum-television series was decades ahead of its time in depicting middle-class Jewish American family life.
In a city with a relatively small Jewish population, this festival is indeed a testament to survival and transcendence. And just as importantly, it's full of surprises. "I look at it as an umbrella," says Aaron. "It's about Jews' relationship to the world."
Rose Schnitzer Manor Auditorium, 6140 SW Boundary,
226-8831, ext. 12
7 pm Wednesday, Jan. 24. $6.50.