Gay films play significant roles during Atlanta Jewish Film Fest

As the largest film festival in the city and second-largest Jewish film fest in the country, the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival always includes an impressive line-up of LGBT features. Opening Jan. 28, this year’s fest is much more than three weeks of films dedicated to Jewish culture.

“The Atlanta Jewish Film Festival is both a Jewish film festival and a broader cultural experience,” says Kenny Blank, fest executive director.

“The LGBT community is certainly among the most important facets of our city’s diversity,” he says. “The film festival demonstrates our shared humanity and love of great storytelling. We’re excited that several of this year’s AJFF films bridge the Jewish and LGBT communities.”

The festival opens with the drama “Above and Beyond” Jan. 28 at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre and closes with the musical biography “Theodore Bikel: In the Shoes of Sholom Aleichem” at the Woodruff Arts Center on Feb. 19. In between are a slew of offerings.

Among the LGBT-themed films is “The Farewell Party,” nominated for 14 Israeli Academy Awards. At a Jerusalem nursing home, residents must deal with friends who are close to death. An amateur inventor comes with a machine that lets patients willingly take an overdose and eliminate their suffering—and the group has to weigh the ethical elements of this. It sounds morose but has a healthy, black sense of humor, and one of the elderly male residents turns out to have a male lover. (Tickets still on sale for Sunday, Feb. 1 at Regal Atlantic Station; Tuesday, Feb. 3, at GTC Merchants Walk; and Monday and Tuesday, Feb. 16-17, at UA Tara Cinemas).

In director Nancy Kates’ “Regarding Susan Sontag”—narrated by actress Patricia Clarkson, who reads from many of the late Sontag’s essays—the life of the bisexual, feminist icon and author comes to vivid life. Sontag’s lovers included famed photographer Annie Leibovitz. “I love being alive,” Sontag says at the beginning, and the film certainly charts her full life—writing 17 books, loving both men and women and never being afraid to speak her mind. If you’re not a Sontag follower, this probably isn’t going to sway you. But if you are a fan, this is a must-see. (Film is sold out).

Another documentary is “Soft Vengeance: Albie Sachs and the New South Africa,” narrated by actress Alfre Woodard. The titular Sachs, who moved to South Africa with his parents, became a human rights, anti-apartheid advocate and defender of freedom fighters hoping to overturn some of the country’s laws. A legal scholar, he was jailed, tortured and exiled and lost an arm and some of his eyesight. He eventually returns, and in 2005, the issue of same-sex marriage comes before him, with South Africa looking to be the first country in African to rule in favor. It’s often riveting, with interviews from the likes of Desmond Tutu and Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. (Sunday and Monday, Feb. 15-16, at Lefont Sandy Springs).

The most enjoyable of the lot, “You Must Be Joking,”  is much lighter fare. It’s a comic romp about Barb Schwarz, played by comedienne Sas Goldberg, who went to law school but now is working as a senior paralegal. Her firm takes on the case of a sex scandal between a congressman and a younger man. The younger man in question–Billy (Jake Wilson)—is a childhood friend. In between their reconnecting, Barb has to deal with meddlesome parents and a snarky sister. “Joking” has some names in its cast, including Margaret Colin and Katherine Waterston, but the film is about Barb and Billy. They make a believable set of BFFs and the film can be quite funny. Wilson directs and he and Goldberg wrote the script. (Sold out).

Though not gay-themed, the biography “The Outrageous Sophie Tucker” should be of interest to LGBT patrons. It charts the trail-blazing, 60-year career of the entertainer, dubbed “The Last of the Red Hot Mammas,” with celebs such as Carol Channing, Barbara Walters and more talking about the performer. (Tickets on sale for Monday, Feb. 2 at GTC Merchants Walk; Friday, Feb. 6, GTC Merchants Walk; Thursday, Feb. 12, Lefont Sandy Springs; Sunday, Feb. 15, UA Tara; Wednesday, Feb. 18, Lefont Sandy Springs).

Among the numerous short films is “Facing Fear,” Oscar-nominated last season and Out On Film’s jury award winner for Best Men’s Short last fall. In it, a former neo-Nazi has an encounter with the gay victim of a hate crime he was part of many years ago. How the two men reconcile and move on makes for a beautiful tale of redemption and forgiveness.

The complete schedule is available on the festival’s website.

Atlanta Jewish Film Festival
Various locations
Jan. 28 – Feb. 19