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Maine Jewish Film Festival continues exploration of gender, identity
By TONY GIAMPETRUZZI  |  March 15, 2006

TORAH WORDS: And teenager's heart.You’ve likely heard what are now widely considered the urban myths that Portland has more restaurants and lawyers per capita than any other city in the US.

Pure bunk.

But, according to Bess Welden, the director of the Maine Jewish Film Festival, Portland is the smallest city in the nation to boast an independent, professional Jewish film festival — and it’s been a weeklong event for seven years now. What’s more, Portland is the smallest city in the nation to host a Jewish film festival with a dedicated gay and lesbian component, adding to its superlative uniqueness. And last year the festival was honored with Equality Maine’s Media Award for outstanding commentary on lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender and civil rights.

This year, the festival will present three films that explore Jewish gay and lesbian issues, Lover Other, Love Story: Berlin 1942 and Hineini: Coming Out in a Jewish High School.

“The goal of the MJFF’s annual LGBT Film Project is to develop awareness and understanding of the uniqueness of the Jewish LGBT experience, its particular joys and rewards, as well as the many challenges and complexities. It’s an opportunity to open dialogue and share in an entertaining evening with friends and family,” suggests Welden, adding that the LGBT Film Project is one of festival’s highlights and often sells out, though there are standby tickets available too.

This year, Welden worked with five volunteers to choose the films. “We discussed them at length before choosing Love Story: Berlin 1942 and Lover Other. The films are very different from each other but both are historical documentaries about the same time period, and we thought it would be very interesting and thought-provoking to show them as a pair,” says Welden. “We were also pleased to be able to include Hineini: Coming Out in a Jewish High School in a separate screening. All three films are stories about courageous women and their important struggles.”

Love Story: Berlin 1942, directed by Catrine Clay, tells the story of Lily Wurst, a model Aryan hausfrau with a husband in the army and a German motherhood medal for bearing four sons. Her unexpected feelings for Felice Schrader, a 20-year-old woman hiding her Jewish identity, challenged everything Wurst knew about herself. It’s an intimate and poignant documentary, anchored by detailed interviews with Wurst, now 82, and Schrader’s former comrades from the Jewish underground, describing the deep and joyful relationship that developed between these unlikely lovers.

Lover Other, directed by Barbara Hammer, illuminates the story of surrealist writer, photographer, and lesbian Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore, her lover, step-sister, and artistic collaborator. Capturing the spirit of this Jewish couple who refused to live by any standards but their own, the film employs photographs of the women and their artwork interwoven with voiceovers and insightful interviews. Lover Other brings art, politics, and gender identity to the fore in a thought-provoking investigation of artists and resistance during World War II.

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