Arts and Culture | Local

Issues of identity at forefront in Tucson Jewish film festival

The Tucson International Jewish Film Festival, featuring several international award-winning films, Arizona premieres, and special guests, will run Jan. 15-24, 2015.

Lacey Schwart'z film "Little White Lie" tells of her discovery in adulthood that her father was black. (JTA)
Lacey Schwart’z film “Little White Lie” tells of her discovery in adulthood that her father was black. (JTA)

Now in its 24th year, the TIJFF is one of the longest running Jewish film festivals in the country. This year, it will include 19 films over nine days.

“People often ask if there’s a theme to the festival,” says Lynn Davis, director of arts and culture for the Tucson Jewish Community Center. “We don’t start out with one in mind, but it’s fascinating to see what emerges organically over the course of our selection season. This year I would have to say it’s ‘identity.’ We have several films, both narrative and documentary, whose protagonists are seeking their authentic selves. We really get a sense of how many disparate elements — religious, racial, cultural — are tied up in how we define ourselves and how we see the world around us.”

Opening night will be held at the Loft Cinema with filmmaker Lacey Schwartz on hand for the screening of her deeply personal documentary, “Little White Lie.” The film is both an intimate family portrait about secrets and denial, and a larger examination of race, religion and identity. The show starts at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 15. Tickets are $10.

Schwartz has been appearing at various kinds of film festivals, she told the AJP, because “it’s really important to show that this is not just a Jewish story or not just a black story.” She initially thought different niche audiences might have divergent reactions to the film, but found that  “fundamentally the story is about family and everybody can connect to that. Everybody has family secrets; everybody is dealing with all sorts of different identity issues.” (See related article)

An image from "Raquel: A Marked Woman"
An image from “Raquel: A Marked Woman”

Another special guest will be Argentinian-born filmmaker Gabriela Bohm, returning with her latest film, “Raquel: A Marked Woman,” about a woman lured from Eastern Europe and forced into prostitution. The evening (Sunday, Jan. 18, 7 p.m. at the JCC) is co-presented by Women’s Philanthropy of the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona as part of its current initiative to raise awareness of sex trafficking.

Bohm, who last brought “The Longing” to the TIJFF in 2008, told the AJP, “My films give a more complete picture of what the Jewish Diaspora means on a personal level.” She was drawn to Raquel Liberman’s story because it  “has been hidden or forgotten for so many years,”  and because of its elements of strength and survival. “Raquel’s ability to withstand adversity and to fight for what is hers, all resonate within me. As a survivor of agression against my body (as a rape victim), against my family (as the daughter of a father who committed suicide) and against my community (as the child of Holocaust survivors), I too, have had to find the  couage to speak up,” says Bohm.

A pre-festival kickoff will be held in Saddlebrooke on Sunday, Jan. 11 at 3 p.m. with a screening of last year’s fan favorite, “The Other Son.”  The film (in French and Hebrew, with subtitles) tells the story of two teenaged men — one Israeli and one Palestinian — whose families face complex repercussions after discovering that their babies were switched at birth. Co-presented by the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona Northwest Division, it will be shown at the Desert View Performing Arts Center, 39900 S. Clubhouse Drive. Tickets are $5.

Unless otherwise noted, all other films will be shown at the JCC. Other highlights of the 2015 festival include a specially curated series of Sephardic-themed films, exploring the journeys of the Jews expelled from Spain in 1492; and Tucson’s Lucinda Holliday (recently named Comedian of the Year by the Tucson Weekly) hosting the brand-new biopic, “The Outrageous Sophie Tucker,” on Saturday, Jan. 17. Filmmakers Susan and Lloyd Ecker will be on hand for a Q & A following the film, which is co-presented by the JFSA LGBT Jewish Inclusion Project.

Free popcorn is provided at every screening. Tickets, starting at $9 with discounts for students and seniors, can be purchased  at or by calling the JCC at 299-3000, ext. 106. Season passes are $125. Sponsorship opportunities are available.