Putting Israel in the ‘front and center’ of discussion

Denver Jewish Film Festival takes place Feb. 5-19

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So what’s it like to boss around Billy Crystal on a movie set?

Matt Ratner chuckled at the question, then thanked Crystal, who’s starring in Ratner’s film director debut, “Standing Up, Falling Down.”

“The thing that was amazing working with Billy is he’s such a talented actor who cares so deeply about getting it right,” Ratner said. “To work with people who are committed to telling the story is just a dream. From our first meeting, he had always been that way.”

In the film, Crystal plays Marty, a dermatologist and “charming barfly with a penchant for karaoke.” He becomes friends with failed stand-up comedian Scott, played by Ben Schwartz of “Parks and Recreation.” They form a friendship as they try to muddle through life.

“It’s a film that will have you laughing uproariously, but there are real moments of humanity,” Ratner said.

The Denver premiere of “Standing Up, Falling Down” shows at 9:15 p.m. Feb. 8. It is one of 43 films that are part of the 24th annual JCC Mizel Arts and Culture Center’s Denver Jewish Film Festival.

Ratner will attend the showing of “Standing Up, Falling Down” and will be answering audience questions afterwards.

“They’re always incredibly rewarding,” Ratner said of showings, seeing “people respond to the humor and pathos in the movie.”

This year’s Denver Jewish Film Festival takes place Feb. 5-19. It is presented by the Sturm Family Foundation.

“The film festival remains our signature program,” said Steve Wilson, executive artistic director of the JCC Mizel Arts & Culture Center. “It brings Israel front and center to the discussion, no matter where you sit in Israeli politics.”

Wilson added that the JCC Mizel Arts and Culture Center’s primary mission is to get people together and talk.

“The film festival does that almost better than anything else we have,” he said.

The festival’s films focus on Israeli-and-Jewish cinema from around the world. This year’s festival features films from 12 countries.

The films carry a variety of themes, such as coming-of-age debuts and intergenerational heart-warmers, for example. Genres include dramas, documentaries, comedies and biographies, such as one about Moe Berg — a Major League Baseball catcher who also was a U.S. spy — a fashion designer, Israeli politicians and a media mogul.

Wilson and Amy Weiner, director of the JCC’s festivals, work on the event year-round. With lots of help from two volunteer review committees, they chose this year’s films from a selection of about 75 candidates.

Among Weiner’s favorites this year are “Leona,” a romance from Mexico that shows on Feb. 12, and “Tel Aviv on Fire,” in which an inexperienced young Palestinian man becomes a writer on a soap opera after a chance meeting with an Israeli soldier. It plays Feb. 16.

Wilson’s picks are “Aulcie,” which is about Aulcie Perry — a basketball legend who led Maccabi Tel Aviv to an upset victory in the 1977 European Championship — that shows on Feb. 15; and “Those Who Remained,” a Holocaust narrative that was Hungary’s submission for 2020 Foreign Language Oscar. “Those Who Remained” shows on Feb. 9.

“The Denver Jewish Film Festival,” Wilson said in a news release, “provides an opportunity for people of all faiths and backgrounds, film lovers and international film buffs to watch a variety of one-of-a-kind movies that are not available in other theaters in Colorado.”

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