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July 26-August 1, 2006

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'Forgiving Dr. Mengele'

Survivor: Eve Mozes Kor confronts memories of Auschwitz in the documentary 'Forgiving Dr. Mengele,' playing at the S.F. Jewish Film Festival in Mountain View.

Solomon and Sufi

Jewish and Muslim film fests go head to head in the valley

By Richard von Busack


IRONY of ironies, on the one hand Israel is a venue for films sympathetic to the Arab cause, such as The Syrian Bride and Paradise Now. On the other hand, reactionary fundamentalists smother the most sophisticated cinematic culture in the Islamic world, Iran. Into this lamentable vacuum of Muslim film comes something as repulsive as it is popular. At last: the most expensive movie ever made in Turkey, Valley of Wolves: Iraq. The second Muslim Film Festival, one day only at the Naz in Fremont, wastes its precious time screening this hit. It's based loosely on a popular TV show, and even more loosely on a real life incident in 2003 where U.S. soldiers captured and humiliated 11 Turkish soldiers—who happened to be fighting on their side. Too bad: Valley of Wolves' website promises a tribute to the heyday of Israel's own Golan and Globus, featuring a brace of foaming craphounds: Billy Zane (Titanic) as the devilish Yankee soldier, and recent Cult Leader honoree Gary Busey as a conniving Jewish doctor moonlighting in the harvested-guts trade.

On a more edifying note, director Ovidio Salazar will be on hand to host his documentary, Al-Ghazali: The Alchemist of Happiness, about Ghazali (1058-1111), whose combination of skepticism and faith shaped Islam. His belief in the personal experience of faith defended the Sufi tradition, and his rejection of Greek philosophy sent Islamic philosophy on its own unique course. Also at the Muslim Film Festival is Muslim Boarders, profiling, among others, Layla Shaikley, a UC-Irvine student who is a devout Muslim and a devoted snowboarder. Whose Children Are These? is a U.S. documentary on the aftermath of Sept. 11 and its effects on three Muslims living in the United States. Le Grand Voyage is a charmant road-trip movie about an elderly Moroccan on haj, bonding with his unimpressed Westernized son.

In Mountain View, the 26th Annual San Francisco Jewish Film Festival has a six-day road show of its films July 29-Aug. 3. There's marquee value in Natalie Portman's appearance in Free Zone, about an American girl trying to get through Jordan with the help of a female Russo-Israeli cabbie. Forgiving Dr. Mengele is a documentary about Eve Mozes Kor, an elderly victim of Der Weiss Engle, who has determined to free herself by publicly forgiving the archetypal mad Nazi doctor. Bringing more evidence for President Ahmadeinejad to ignore, KZ's director Rex Bloomstein goes to the Austrian resort town of Mauthausen. There, he finds vacationing Danube river-rats whooping it up very near the entrance of one of the Reich's least-remembered yet most horrific labor camps. Yiddish Theater: A Love Story and From Shtetl to Swing chart the influence of Jewish theater on American popular entertainment. The Living Orphan, newly restored, is a 1939 Yiddish-language film about the plight of latchkey kids on the Lower East Side.

The long and involved Live and Become is a fictional chronicle of the airlift of Ethiopian Jews to Israel, and how this act of humanitarianism was tarnished by prejudice. Speaking of prejudice, the juxtaposition of these two film fests, with their focus on faith, hope and history, is more proof that the Muslim and Jewish cultures have more commonalities than differences.


Movie Times The Muslim Film Festival plays July 29 at Naz Cinema in Fremont (see www.mffusa.org for details). The San Francisco Jewish Film Festival runs July 29-Aug. 3 at Century Cinema 16 in Mtn. View (see www.sfjff.org).


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