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19th Annual San Diego Jewish Film Festival

The Little Traitor will have an encore screening next Tuesday. It serves up relevant themes about politics, independence, and what happens when an enemy unexpectedly becomes a friend. The muti-national production of Lemon Tree also serves up an analogy about a country divided.

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Hiam Abbass in Lemon Tree (IFC Films)

When the Israeli Minister of Defense moves into his new home, security concerns disrupt the neighborhood. The person most affected is Salma, a Palestinian widow whose 50 year old Lemon grove is deemed a security threat and must be uprooted. The film boasts an exquisite performance by Hiam Abbass, who scored well in The Visitor last year. As Salma takes her case through the court system relationships grow more complex and we're asked to consider what it means to be neighbors in both the narrowest and broadest sense of the word.

The San Diego Jewish Film Festival has a reputation for bringing quality documentaries to town. This year is no exception. But instead of highlighting the fine work about the Holocaust and the Middle East conflict, I'd like to steer filmgoers to something more unexpected -- Darling! The Pieter-Dirk Uys Story.

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Darling! The Pieter-Dirk Uys (Grrenlight Productions)

Pieter-Dirk Uys' drag persona has been called the Dame Edna of South Africa. The film is Darling!The Pieter-Dirk Uys Story, and it was the best documentary I screened at the festival. Pieter-Dirk Uys is a half-Jewish Afrikaner political comedian. This fascinating documentary shows how he used scathing satire to fight apartheid while miraculously avoiding repercussions. His fans include Nelson Mandela and the Reverend Desmond Tutu. Now Uys uses his drag queen persona to fight HIV/AIDS, which is devastating South Africa. Uys has dedicated himself to giving lectures at schools to teens. He proves an amazing subject and what's most impressive is the way he engages the students and actually gets them to start thinking.

The festival is also known for showcasing the works of young filmmakers and nowhere is this more impressive than with the locally made documentary We Must Remember . Broadcast journalism students at Carlsbad High School set out to change the way eighth-graders learn about the Holocaust by making a documentary. Sixteen students decided to get a firsthand look at history by going to Europe to visit concentration camps, interview Holocaust survivors, and meet with German high school students. The result is a film that shows how history came vividly alive for these students. There's a sense of both touching sincerity and discovery as these teens research their project and are moved by the results.

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Meg Ryan and William H. Macyin The Deal (Peace Arch)

As is often the case, the festival closes on a much lighter note with The Deal , a Hollywood satire starring William H. Macy as a suicidal producer who finds a most unlikely reason to live. The film examines the business rather than the art of movie making. It has some hilarious moments thanks to Macy's smart yet laidback performance as a man who knows the ropes but hasn't found anything to really care about. So that's just a sampling of the dozens of features, shorts and documentaries playing at this year's San Diego Jewish Film Festival. So enjoy.

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