EMAV Film: Las Vegas Jewish Film Festival is a welcome showcase of Jewish culture

Updated: Mar 8, 2019

Still from 'Working Woman'

As the longest-running film festival in Nevada, the Las Vegas Jewish Film Festival has years of history and a vibrant, supportive community to draw on, which allowed festival founder and director Joshua Abbey to make every screening at this year’s festival free to attend. Although the festival program has slimmed down in recent years (this year’s schedule had only eight feature films, spread out over nearly three weeks), Abbey still has impeccable taste, and he’s developed an impressive ability to program challenging and innovative films that also cater to the interests of the festival’s sponsors.

At LVJFF, that means there will always be movies about the Holocaust, and this year was no exception. But documentary “Who Will Write Our History,” which has been collecting accolades at multiple film festivals over the last few months, has more to offer than some of the drily educational documentaries that LVJFF has programmed in the past. Not that it isn’t educational, but it’s more than just a collection of talking heads and archival footage, and it focuses on an aspect of Holocaust history that hasn’t already been picked over in dozens of other movies.

Namely, that’s the preservation project led by Emanuel Ringelblum in the Warsaw Ghetto, documenting everyday lives of Polish Jews during the Nazi occupation. Director Roberta Grossman mingles the traditional scholar interviews with narration taken directly from eyewitness accounts and re-enactments of the events they describe. Those re-enactments can be a little stiff, but they give the story greater urgency, and enlisting a couple of talented, well-known actors (Adrien Brody and Joan Allen) as the main narrators lends a bit of sophistication to the presentation.

Of the eight features in this year’s festival, seven were documentaries, and providing a bit of information about a lesser-known part of Jewish culture or history is a reliable way for the festival to entice patrons. That was the function of the amusing (but frustratingly superficial) documentary “Shalom Bollywood,” about Jewish performers in the early days of India’s film industry, but I preferred the more oblique approach of opening-night film “The Museum,” an impressionistic portrait of the Israel Museum directed by Ran Tal. Tal strings together vignettes about various exhibits and employees at the massive history and art museum in Jerusalem, turning what could have been a bland promotional video