From pastrami to politics: Best Bets for the 2015 Atlanta Jewish Film Festival

Associate Director Brad Pilcher breaks down the highlights for this year's event

For next three weeks the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival (AJFF), the second largest of its kind, will screen 65 films from 26 countries, at seven different venues across the metro area.

"Atlanta is a very diverse city, with groups from around the world, from all religious faiths, from all ethnic backgrounds," says Brad Pilcher, AJFF's associate director. "There are plenty of film festivals that deal with these different subsets, but we try to reach them all and include them in the experience. ... We want to reflect our community's diversity at the same time we spotlight the Jewish experience."

It's easy to get lost in the list of films to be screened at this year's AJFF. Moving from A to Z is a veritable trek — luckily, Pilcher helped fill Creative Loafing in on some of the anticipated highlights — that aren't already sold out.

With Super Bowl XLIX encroaching, Steve Leibowitz is sure to catch the attention of a number of festival visitors. Leibowitz, who will speak before screenings of Touchdown Israel, is President of American Football in Israel. The league, which includes 11 teams and over 600 participants, is comprised of a shocking assimilation of religious and political backgrounds. "American football is a sport that isn't immediately thought of as an international sport, but you have this league in Israel and it's allowing people who have very serious conflicts off the field to come together around the game of football," Pilcher says. "It's a lot of fun and it's heartening." The documentary highlights the global way that sports can act as a unifier for so many larger issues — and in this particular instance, a metaphor for a much larger ideal.

Speaking of politics, Denis Barbet, Consul General of France, will make an appearance before screenings of An Untold Diplomatic History: France and Israel since 1948.  Though the real turning point for political rapport between the two nations was the Six Day War in June of 1967, the film attempts to convey a general understanding of the history of the relationship.

Deli Man, a documentary featuring Ziggy Gruber, of the famous Kenny and Ziggy's delicatessen in Houston, leads viewers across the United States from deli to deli, searching for answers about the future of the traditional delicatessen in changing times. If the story isn't enough to sell tickets, the food options should be: the General Muir will host a pre-film tasting and reception in the spirit of the film's subject matter. "It just made sense to try and bring them in to help program a special deli tasting around the Deli Man film, and they have really come up and hit it out of the park," Pilcher says. Chef Todd Ginsberg and co-owner Jennifer Johnson will appear as guest speakers, in addition to John Kessler, restaurant critic from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Comedian Joe Kashnow will speak before screenings of Comedy Warriors: Healing Through Humor, which tells the story of five severely wounded veterans diving into the world of comedy. Professionals such as, Zach Galifianakis, Lewis Black, and B.J. Novak mentored Kashnow, along with four others. Whereas wartime experience is probably not the most traditional of comedic content, these veterans use comedy instead of being the butt of their own jokes.

Laughs extend to the second annual Creative Loafing + AJFF Art Party at Mammal Gallery on Sat., Feb. 7, which celebrates Jewish comedic all-stars Jerry Seinfeld, Adam Sandler, Sarah Silverman, and Gilda Radner. Local artists Catlanta, Blockhead ATL, Crazy Monkey Trucker, and Clunky Robot joined the team to create the experience — which will include collectible pieces, film-themed photo booths, and art drops by Sad Stove, Flounder, Wesley Moose, and ZATL. "The Art Party is the kind of programming that goes beyond just screening films, and helps bring people from all over, in terms of their interests, to celebrate film through other artistic mediums," Pilcher says. "That's part of film culture, and so it should be part of the festival."

There are dozens of other titles worth mentioning, including The Farewell Party, for which actress Levana Finkelstein will be speaking. "It deals with the very weighty subject of euthanasia and death-with-dignity, but it does so in such a heartwarming way, that you don't come out of the theater feeling down," Pilcher says. "You really feel like you've wrestled with the substance of the issue, but also seen some of Israel's finest actors get into the heart, and the humanity of the issue. That's what so many of the films at AJFF are about." Other notable titles include Self Made, The Outrageous Sophie Tucker, and Night Will Fall. Dancing Arabs director Eran Riklis will also speak about his experience working on the Arab-Israeli journalist Sayed Kashua's semi-autobiographical screenplay. "What we do a great deal of is audience education," Pilcher says. "We try to cultivate that culture of movie-going, and a deep appreciation across different segments of Atlanta, for the world of foreign and independent film."