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Time To Pop the Corn

Annual Jewish Film Festival is back with some new features this year.

The Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia is taking its 7th Annual International Jewish Film Festival to France this year, and it's even providing the transportation.

The opening film at this year’s festival is "You’re so Pretty," a French film with English subtitles. The film is described as "Desperate Housewives" meets "Sex and the City," dealing with traditional Jewish values, family, relationships, love and business. The screening and opening reception will take place at the French Embassy, Wednesday, April 18, at 7 p.m., in Washington, D.C.

"We’re very excited about that," said Naomi Sweet, the JCC’s volunteer film festival chairperson. "There’s a theater, an auditorium and a great hall there; it’s magnificent. We are very fortunate they agreed to cosponsor with us."

Roz Engels, director of special events at the JCC, said this is the first year the festival will take place in so many different venues. Since its inception, the Cinema Arts Theatre in Fairfax’s Fair City Mall has typically hosted most or all of the screenings. Cinema Arts is still the major venue this year, but the JCC is also bringing part of the festival back to the Reston Town Center Multiplex, and adding the AMC Loews Fairfax Square in Tysons Corner.

"It has just kind of developed a pretty cool following,"; said Mark O’Meara, owner of the Cinema Arts Theater. "There really isn’t anything like it anywhere in Northern Virginia."

O’Meara is fond of bringing diversity into his theater. He sponsored the Spooky Movie Film Festival last year, and said he enjoys showing films that people cannot see at the average chain movie theater. His customers are film-lovers, he said, and they inquire about the Jewish Film Festival throughout the year.

"Some years are better than others; that’s the movie business," he said.

AFTER SEVEN YEARS of films, all dealing with a common subject matter, Sweet said the committee strives to keep things interesting.

"Each year we try to do something that’s just a little bit different," said Sweet.

Something new and exciting this year, said Sweet, is that part of the festival is geared toward children. Two children’s films will shown at the JCC on Sunday, April 22, and Sunday, April 29. The popular children’s movie "Curious George" is one of the films. While it’s not technically a Jewish film, said Sweet, the creators escaped from Nazi Germany during the Holocaust. They brought the manuscript for the first Curious George story with them, she said.

The other children’s film, "Little Heroes," is an Israeli film about four children who go on an adventure in the Israeli wilderness. The film is in Hebrew and has English subtitles, so it’s suited for children who are old enough to read along with the subtitles, said Sweet.

"It’s about a group of misfit kids who become heroes and save some people," she said. "It’s really the first Israeli film that we’ve come across that’s geared toward the kids."

THE FESTIVAL IS HOLDING onto some of its past success by keeping a few things the same. The committee who plans it knows what tends to work, including which films are the most popular, said Sweet. The committee previews hundreds of films each year. Engels and Sweet then take recommendations and make some final decisions as to which films, and how many, they should show. They look at what other festivals are doing, and take the films’ successes into consideration when they pick the lineup.

The festival committee always tries to attract the filmmakers to some of the screenings. From directors and producers, to actors and writers, a few usually show up and lead discussions about a film. This year, Mark DeAngelis, the producer of "Out of Faith," will appear at the Monday, April 30 showing of that film at the Cinema Arts Theatre. He’ll lead a discussion about interfaith marriage and hopefully raise some questions and encourage an open dialogue, he said.

"This film doesn’t preach to its audience; it really opens a dialogue," said DeAngelis.

The film is a documentary dealing with that very subject and the conflicts that occur as a result. Family members in the movie struggle with the idea that interfaith marriage could result in a loss of those who identify as Jews, thus causing an indirect victory for Hitler, according to the movie description. Some of their other family members just say interfaith marriage is just a part of modern society.

"There are pretty clear statistics that interfaith families don’t raise families that identify as Jews," he said.

Of the 16 films at this year’s show, at least four of them are returning films. The oldest of all the films is a 1999 film called "Gloomy Sunday," about a bittersweet love triangle that’s all tied together by the 1930s song of the same name. The song reportedly drove people to suicide, said Sweet. The festival committee couldn’t resist bringing it back, since it’s the festival’s all-time biggest seller, she said.

"It sold out every single show," said Sweet. "It’s a phenomenal film. I’ve seen it probably 10 times already, and I’ll see it again."