Wrestling, baseball share spotlight at 13th Maine Jewish Film Festival

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PORTLAND — Maine’s annual celebration of Jewish film will feature talks with visiting directors and a larger venue this year.

The 13th annual Maine Jewish Film Festival begins Saturday, March 20, with a reception at Greenhut Galleries followed by a screening of the Oscar-nominated film “Ajami” at the Patriot Cinemas Nickelodeon on Temple Street.

“Ajami” was co-directed by Israeli filmmaker Yaron Shani and Palestinian filmmaker Scandar Copti. The film explores life in an impoverished and violent Israeli neighborhood.

“It took them seven years to make,” festival Executive Director Kari Wagner-Peck said. “It is not an upper.”

“Ajami” screens at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Nick, following the 6 p.m. opening reception. For information and tickets to opening-night events and all other films showing during the week, go to mjff.org or call 831-7495.

The director and two baseball players from the documentary “Holy Land Hardball” will be in Portland March 22 to discuss that film, prior to its showing at 7 p.m. The documentary is a comical look at the creation of Israel’s first professional baseball league – which was spearheaded by a middle-aged Jewish baker from Boston with no sports management experience.

“(Boston Red Sox player) Kevin Youkilis makes a brief appearance in it,” Wagner-Peck said. “It’s really pretty funny.”

Director Erik Kesten, Petach Tikva Pioneers pitcher Ari Alexenberg and Bet Shemesh Blue Sox infielder Jim Pierce will talk about the film, from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m., at Salt Institute for Documentary Studies. The event is free and open to the public. Salt is at 561 Congress St.

Wagner-Peck said that for the first time, the film festival is collaborating with Salt to host to director discussions.

In another first this year, the festival will feature a locally made documentary about a local celebrity. “Canvasman” chronicles the life of Portland’s Rob Elowitch, art gallery owner and professional wrestler. Elowitch has wrestled for the past 40 years under the name Robbie Ellis and for a long time kept his wrestling career a secret.

The film is directed by Portland native Gary Robinov, and he and Elowitch will be at the screening March 24 at 7 p.m. at the Nick. People who attend the screening should keep their ticket stubs and join Robinov and Elowitch at 9 p.m. at Salt.

The festival features nearly 20 feature and short films during its six-day run. Go to mjff.org for more information.

Kate Bucklin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or kbucklin@theforecaster.net

A scene from Maine Jewish Film Festival entry “Hey, Hey Esther Blueberger.”

Sidebar Elements

Portland art dealer Rob Elowitch, a.k.a. wrestler Robbie Ellis, is the subject of the documentary “Canvasman,” screening at the Maine Jewish Film Festival.