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Challah at my ladies!

From Chantal Akerman to Natalie Portman, this year's Jewish Film Festival gives women centre stage. Plus a dippy documentary and many more choice flicks about the chosen people, Jun 4-19.

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A focus on the ladies and a dippy documentary are just some of the interesting, engaging and tasty-sounding treats at the Jewish Film Festival Berlin & Brandenburg, on June 4-19.

“If women were in charge of our government, we would have lived in peace ages ago,” says one of the female protagonists of the documentary short Women in Sink” (June 18-19). Iris Zaki’s film is part of a special focus on women at this year’s Jewish Film Festival, which sees some 32 features, documentaries and shorts from around the world screen at cinemas across Berlin.

Zaki, who works at a hairdresser in northern Israeli port-town Haifa, attached a camera directly above the washing basin where she attends to clients and recorded their conversations. Although structurally rigid, the film manages to capture some candid moments and presents them in such a way to create a lively and rich discussion. Here women are given an opportunity to speak freely on many topics, particularly on the religious tensions that plague the country.

Also showing is Chantal Akerman documentary I Don’t Belong Anywhere (June 10) about the life of the Belgian arthouse filmmaker who took her own life last year. It serves not only as an introduction to Akerman’s work, but reveals some rare private moments as she openly talks about her working process.

The documentary explores the personal side of Akerman’s films, both in their content and in their nature. At one point, Akerman states, “I don’t want to take part in Jewish festivals. I just want to take part in regular film festivals.”

Contrast this with Natalie Portman, whose Jewish identity takes front and centre in her directorial debut A Tale of Love and Darkness (June 9 and 11). The film, an adaptation of Amos Oz’ autobiography, focuses on Fania, Oz’s mother, and their strong intellectual and emotional relationship.

Although the film portrays Fania as a delicate and marginalised woman who resorts to living her life through her son, it attempts to explore the character more deeply than in the source novel. It also reminds us how easy it is to confuse the personal with the sentimental.

Among the less high-profile feature films, Nitzan Gilady’s Wedding Doll (June 13) stands out. It tells the story of Hagit, a young woman with a mild mental retardation who is consumed with the desire to find love, and must struggle against her protective mother who projects her own fears and limitations onto her child.

Lastly, though it’s not particularly focused on women, don’t miss the quirky documentary Hummus! The Movie (June 18). The film examines the origins and processes of the popular (and contentious) chickpea dip through four different protagonists. Although a tad short, it does well in exploring hummus not only as a popular food, but also as an object of desire; one of financial opportunity and national pride.

22. Jewish Film Festival Berlin & Brandenburg, Jun 4-19 | various cinemas, check website for full programme