Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Atlanta Jewish Film Festival celebrates 10 years in reel time

Posted By on Tue, Jan 5, 2010 at 2:00 PM

click to enlarge MUD BUDDIES: Director Adam Elliot's Claymation feature Mary and Max reveals the redemptive powers of friendship.
  • MUD BUDDIES: Director Adam Elliot's Claymation feature Mary and Max reveals the redemptive powers of friendship.

The documentary Herskovits at the Heart of Blackness zeroes in on an idea shared with most of the other films at the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival. An anthropologist suggests that Jewish-Americans grappled with their identities as "Jews" vs. "Americans" sooner than other ethnic groups, because Jews didn't have a home country in the same way other immigrants did.

The nature of identity, Jewish and otherwise, recurs so often in the work showcased at the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival that it may be part of the subtext to nearly every film in the organization's 10-year history. With a mission "to explore universal stories with Jewish themes," the festival's programming frequently returns to ideas of how individuals define themselves as part of religions, cultures, communities and even history. The 50 documentaries and features that comprise the 10th annual festival prove to be no exception.

Herskovits at the Heart of Blackness (3 out of 5 stars, Mon., Jan. 18, 2:15 p.m.) overtly takes cultural identity in America as its subject. Director Llewellyn M. Smith profiles anthropologist Melville J. Herskovits, who's credited with establishing African studies in America throughout the 1920s-1950s. At a time when anthropology was obsessed with measuring skulls, lips and other physical traits, Herskovits' scholarship proved that "biological inheritance does not dictate cultural behavior," and identified the African roots in African-American culture.

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(Photo Courtesy Mary and Max)

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