Possible Lives

The third annual Austin Jewish Film Festival

Now in its third year, the Austin Jewish Film Festival unspools an ambitious lineup of documentaries, narrative features, and shorts. Though none of this year's entries quite captures the flavor of red-state Judaica as well as Brian Bain's Shalom, Y'all (which screened in 2002), the films provide a global glimpse at the Diaspora, with settings from rural Uganda to rural Tennessee. They depict lives complicated by faith, by persecution, and by immigration, but also by racism, by sexuality, by poverty, by family ties, by aging, and by the vagaries of friendship and love. For a regional festival, AJFF spreads the net wide.

The star of the lineup is 2004's Paper Clips, which screened at last year's South by Southwest and opens the festival with two showings on Saturday, Jan. 29. An accomplished but simple documentary underwritten by Miramax, Paper Clips follows the teachers and students of Whitwell, Tenn. – a coal-mining town and the birthplace of the Ku Klux Klan – during a classroom experiment. After learning that the paper clip was a symbol of Nazi resistance, the kids pledge to collect 6 million of them: Paper clips that spill out of the campus mail room and eventually occupy a boxcar once used for human transport during the Holocaust are now transformed into a memorial for its passengers.

Sunday's lineup includes Wondrous Oblivion, a coming-of-age drama set in a working-class, 1960s neighborhood. Little-seen outside of its native United Kingdom but heralded at the 2003 Cannes Film Festival as the next Bend It Like Beckham, Paul Morrison's film introduces 11-year-old David Wiseman (Sam Smith), a passionate cricket devotee relegated to team scorer at his elite crosstown prep school. When a Jamaican family moves in next door, the racial tensions in the neighborhood escalate, and Paul's parents – assimilationist Polish Jews struggling for respect from the local xenophobes – must take sides. The film's issues are grave, but Morrison steps lightly by emphasizing the burgeoning friendship between David and the girl next door. Morrison also treats with great sensitivity the attraction between David's mother (Emily Woof of Velvet Goldmine) and Dennis (the excellent Delroy Lindo), the Jamaican paterfamilias who coaches David on life and cricket. The film's rich sense of atmosphere – there's a magnificent scene featuring a ska group called the Jiving Lindy Hoppers – captures the seismic shift between paranoid postwar Britain and the nascent counterculture.

Less successful but no less ambitious is Walk on Water, an intrigue drama from Israeli émigré Eytan Fox. An international production co-financed by Samuel Goldwyn Films and the Israel Film Fund, the film follows a cynical Mossad assassin (Lior Ashkenazi) reconnoitering in disguise as a tour guide for the twentysomething grandson (Knut Berger) of an escaped Nazi war criminal. The film is too loosely structured to recommend itself as the thriller it aspires to be, but like Fox's previous feature (Yossi & Jagger), it explores the complex relationship between masculinity and the possibilities of friendship, between Israeli machismo and homosexuality.

Screenings take place at the Arbor Cinema at Great Hills (9828 Great Hills Trail). For tickets – individual admission: $7.50; $5, student/senior; Flexpasses (10 admissions): $60 – call 735-8426 or purchase at the venue prior to screening.

For more information, log onto www.austinjff.org.

Saturday, Jan. 29

Paper Clips, 7 & 9:15pm

Sunday, Jan. 30

Wondrous Oblivion (plus the short film "Personal Goals"), 1:30pm

Bonjour Monsieur Shlomi (plus the short film "Sea Horses"), 7pm

Monday, Jan. 31

Bonjour Monsieur Shlomi (plus "Sea Horses"), Noon

"Moving Heaven & Earth" and One of the Lamed Vav, 7 & 9:15pm (films shown back to back)

Tuesday, Feb. 1

Walk on Water, noon

Main Suspect and Behind Enemy Lines, 7pm (films shown back to back)

Wednesday, Feb. 2

Main Suspect and Behind Enemy Lines, noon

Walk on Water, 7pm

Six Short Films, 9:15pm

Thursday, Feb. 3

Simon Magus, noon

Watermarks, 7 & 9:15pm

Friday, Feb. 4

Original Shorts Competition, noon

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Austin Jewish Film Festival, Paper Clips, Wondrous Oblivion, Walk on Water, Moving Heaven & Earth, Regal Arbor Cinema at Great Hills

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