Come one, come all: San Diego Jewish Film festival kicks off

Headlined by cinematic giants Liam Neeson (“”Schindler’s List””), Audrey Tautou (“”Amelie””) and Isabella Rosselini (“”Rodger Dodger””), the 13th Annual San Diego Jewish Film Festival kicks off right here in La Jolla. From Feb. 6 to Feb. 9, features, documentaries and short subject films can be seen at five different locations in San Diego County, including Hazard Center Madstone theater, Cinema in Poway and La Costa, and Garfield Theater at the Jewish Comunity Center in La Jolla. The majority of the films will be showing at the AMC La Jolla 12 — not more than two miles from even the furthest reaches of UCSD’s campus.

The film festival, sponsored by the Mitzel Foundation and put on by the Lawrence Family Jewish Community Center, presents films that deal with the Jewish experience and Jewish culture through the perspectives of both established and emerging filmmakers from all over the world.

The festival opens tonight at AMC La Jolla 12 Theatres with “”God is Great, I’m Not,”” a French picture starring Tautou as Mechele, a Parisian fashion model. Mechele searches for meaning in her life through different religious lifestyles until she meets Francois (Edouard Baer), a vaguely religious Jewish veterinarian with whom she immediately falls in love. Tautou uses the same charm and energy we saw in “”Amelie”” to relentlessly overcome the protests of her non-observant boyfriend and not only convert to Judaism, but teach him about his own religion as well. While the film focuses on a specifically Jewish scenario, the universal themes of seeking self and searching for true love are wonderfully played with in this cinematic treat.

Many of the films featured in this festival deal directly with the current Israel/Palestinian conflict and its effect on life in the surrounding area. One film that promises to be among the most engaging is “”Between the Lines,”” a documentary in which we meet Amira Hess, the only Israeli journalist living and reporting from the Palestinian territories. Having moved from Gaza, where she was beaten, Hess writes about West Bank happenings for Ha’aretz, the respected Israeli daily newspaper. Her personal hardships are highlighted when her water is cut off, and the Israeli army tries to restrict her movement. By telling the truth as she sees it, is she a traitor or a saint? You decide. This film is coupled with “”The Settlers”” — a documentary that deals with the Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza — in a double feature on Feb. 13 at AMC La Jolla 12 Theatres at 4 p.m.

The many great documentaries of the festival include “”Inherit the Earth,”” a work narrated by Liam Neeson. This film is about an Israeli construction company racing against the clock to prepare for the Pope’s historic 2000 visit. The seemingly impossible task of building a huge, covered stage and an amphitheater in just six weeks for the Pope’s mass before 100,000 young people from around the globe serves as a unifying ordeal and an inspirational triumph. This film shows only one day — Feb. 12 at AMC La Jolla 12 Theatres at 5 p.m.

For an afternoon of comedy, check out the listings for Feb. 9. This day’s events feature the San Diego premiere of “”A Home on the Range: The Jewish Chicken Ranchers of Petaluma.”” Audiences at last summer’s San Francisco Jewish Film Festival came away raving about this fascinating documentary by veteran Bay Area filmmakers Bonnie Burt and Judith Montell. It’s the little-known story of Yiddish-speaking refugees escaping from persecution in 19th century Eastern Europe, who travel halfway around the world only to end up raising chickens in Petaluma. This feature film is accompanied by “”Songs of a Jewish Cowboy,”” a short film about a Jewish single father in his early 40s who also works as a cowboy and sings Yiddish folk songs. Scott Gerber, the star of the film, will be on hand afterward for a question-and-answer session. These two films, along with “”The Wax and The Wicks,”” are showing Feb. 9 at the UltraStar Poway at 1 p.m. and at AMC La Jolla 12 Theatres at 4 p.m.

In addition to movies fashioned by acclaimed directors Constantin Costa-Garvas (“”Amen”” — Feb. 12, AMC La Jolla 12 Theatres at 8 p.m.) and Amos Giatai (“”Kedma”” — Feb. 16, AMC La Jolla 12 Theatres at 1 p.m. and 4 p.m.), a special segment of the film festival is dedicated to the winners of the Joyce Award for Student Films. Short films by filmmakers from UCLA, the University of Southern California, Loyola University, New York University and other premiere film schools will showcase their talents on Feb. 10 at 7:30 p.m. at the AMC La Jolla 12 Theatres. All of the student directors will be present at their showings to discuss “”being a filmmaker on campus, in Hollywood and in today’s society.”” Tickets for this venue are only $5.

These are only a taste of the dozens of comedies, documentaries, political, spiritual and social films on display during this two-week exhibition. For complete festival details, go to and click on the “”13th Annual San Diego Jewish Film Festival”” link. For ticket information and availability, call the Jacobs Family Box Office at either (858) 362-1348 or (858) 362-1365.

Almost all shows are $8.50 to $10. There are special bargain matinees, double features and group discounts (see for details)