by Luke Baumgarten & r & In the last half-decade or so, Spokane has been inching toward becoming a film festival kind of town, which we wholeheartedly applaud and endorse. SpIFF will turn 8 in February, the Gay/Lesbian Film Fest is 7 this year and Flicker will be confusing and astounding people for the third year in a row. And yet another festival, one that many people don't even know about, is also heading into its third year.
The Spokane Jewish Film Festival isn't like many niche festivals of its kind. Rather than celebrating the community's uniqueness -- though there certainly is that -- the films at this year's festival focus, according to Deborah Taylor, incoming director of Spokane Jewish Family Services, on "the universality of human experience." Broken Wings, for example, is about an Israeli family in Haifa who falls on hard times. "It shows what happens to a mother and her children, and their struggle to remain a family. That," says Taylor, "could take place anywhere."
Promises, a documentary about Israeli and Palestinian children learning to forego prejudice, is the most topically Jewish film on the slate. The spirit of unity and understanding that the film fosters is an interesting contrast to the current pullout in Gaza and the security wall being erected. Taylor believes it's important to remember that "walls are not permanent. They can be torn down." If it will be torn down, it seems, the generation of children Promises chronicles may well be the one to do it.
The films, though, aren't even necessarily Jewish and Israeli productions. The Ninth Day, for example, is about the Holocaust, but it centers on a Catholic priest and his crisis of faith when forced to help a Gestapo commandant. "While the devastation of the Holocaust was disproportionate," says Jason Smartt, current director of SJFS, "it wasn't only a Jewish event. It affected Catholics, homosexuals, Gypsies, political dissidents, Poles."
In that spirit of inclusiveness, the Festival is using the Interfaith Council to get the word out to non-Jewish congregations around Spokane, using local educators as well.
"Several Gonzaga professors, for example, will be offering extra credit to students who attend our screenings," says Smartt.
The Spokane Jewish Film Festival spent two years at the Met before moving to the GU Law School this year. "We'd like to thank Mike Smith at the Met," says Smartt. "It's hard to [overestimate] what he's accomplished. He's a true believer in independent film. Our friends at Gonzaga, though, have given us a wonderful opportunity and a beautiful venue."
The SJFF will be held Sept. 18-20 at the Gonzaga School of Law. Tickets are $5 in advance and $6 at the door. Proceeds benefit Spokane Jewish Family Services.