A salesman in a shiny suit raps at the door of a desert hut. This is God. He sits down at the table of the lavishly bearded homeowner. This is Abraham. Opening his briefcase, God tells Abraham that if he'll sign up for monotheism, He can provide protection against all manner of plagues and smiters and such. Abraham asks if there's a membership fee. No, God says, but you'll have to kill your kid. "OK," says Abraham. "But there's no membership fee?"
OK, I laughed. So did a lot of other people — in Israel, where the 2010 comedy This Is Sodom became the biggest native box-office hit in 25 years. The work of Eretz Nehederet, the satirical TV comedy troupe described as "the Israeli Saturday Night Live," it's a series of irreverent skits closer in tone to Mel Brooks' History of the World Part I than the show's pointed topicality. Despite its blockbuster success abroad, it probably wouldn't have found a U.S. audience, if not for the many Jewish film festivals showing it across the country.
One of those is our own Nashville Jewish Film Festival, celebrating its 12th year at The Belcourt through Nov. 15. Film-festival sites and other online sources estimate the number of Jewish film festivals here and overseas at between 80 and 200; websites spotlight fests in New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Washington, all the way down to Baton Rouge and Buffalo, N.Y. The circuit has evolved into an alternate distribution route that has tapped a tailor-made niche for films from Israel, Europe and the U.S. — including This Is Sodom, showing at The Belcourt in a late-night berth 9:30 p.m. Saturday.
According to Fran Brumlik, now in her first year as managing director of the Nashville Jewish Film Festival, the festivals have proliferated as production costs have taken a toll on the once-thriving Jewish theater circuit. "The films show a plethora of Jewish experiences that are celebratory," says Brumlik, a former manager of Chicago's National Jewish Theatre. "It's a way to connect with a shared culture and cement those ties."
But this year's NJFF, a program of the Gordon Jewish Community Center, represents a conscious break with some of the themes of the past. Brumlik says she rejected many of the Holocaust-themed films that once glutted the Jewish festival circuit in favor of movies that are "uplifting and celebratory of Jewish life." She points to films such as Gei Oni, a romantic epic screening 7 p.m. Thursday night at The Belcourt, as precisely the kind of fare she believes will connect with audiences: "a romance, a little sexy, based on a novel by a well-known author [Shulamit Lapid], filled with beautiful people."
Others in that vein include the French comedy-drama The Day I Saw Your Heart, starring Inglourious Basterds lead Melanie Laurent (7 p.m. Nov. 10); the Berlin Olympics docudrama Berlin 36 (4:30 p.m. Nov. 11); and the sexually explicit Polish espionage tale Little Rose (7 p.m. Nov. 14), which screens simultaneously at The Belcourt and the Franklin Theatre. Documentaries on Tony Curtis (12:30 p.m. Nov. 8), "Cake Lady" Fay Tenenbaum (a box-lunch matinee noon Nov. 12), and the great songwriter Doc Pomus (7 p.m. Nov. 15, hosted by Marshall Chapman and BMI's David Preston) are among the attractions rounding out the week.
Tickets are $10, and a full schedule can be found at nashvillejff.net. In addition, the Scene's arts blog Country Life will post daily updates online with trailers at .