The 20th edition of the Minneapolis Jewish Film Festival is a diverse array of documentaries, episodic TV, shorts, comedies, dramas, biographies, war stories and romance. It’s a global survey of touching and provocative films, most receiving their local premieres. There are entries from France, Germany, the United States, Russia and Israel, several followed by discussions with the films’ creators. It tells the stories of heroes and artists, dreamers, lovers, oddballs and cranks. There are some familiar faces (Lena Dunham of HBO’s “Girls” and Mélanie Laurent from “Inglourious Basterds”). Though the films are united by their Jewish focus, the program transcends cultural barriers and touches our common humanity. If you can’t find a film in this lineup that pleases you, maybe movies aren’t your thing.
If movies are your thing, check out “Roman Polanski: A Film Memoir,” a documentary of a life so fantastic it could never work as fiction. Even casual film fans know the general outlines of the Oscar-winning director’s biography. The film fills in the fascinating details. In emotional interviews, Polanski recounts his childhood escape from the Krakow ghetto during World War II, his rise through Poland’s state-run film system, his Hollywood triumphs with “Rosemary’s Baby” and “Chinatown,” the 1969 murder of his pregnant wife, Sharon Tate, by the Manson family, and his 1978 flight from the United States while facing jail for drugging and having sex with a 13-year-old girl. The interview, conducted by his friend and sometime film producer Andrew Braunsberg, is more of a testimonial than a warts-and-all portrait. Still, the film offers intriguing insights into the way Polanski’s unique experiences shaped him as an artist. (7 p.m. March 13, Sabes JCC.)
In the sentimental Israeli drama “The Other Son,” two clans learn their infant boys were switched at birth in the chaos of a hospital missile attack in the first Gulf War, and deal with the resulting identity crises. The French-reared Israeli Silbermans (Emmanuelle Devos and Pascal Elbé) and the Palestinian Al Bezaaz family (Areen Omari and Khalifa Natour) attempt to make sense of complex issues of nationality, ethnicity, religion and belonging. The college-aged boys meet and bond, each visiting the other side of the military checkpoint that separates their worlds and reaching out to the biological families they have never known. The women in this Prince and the Pauper situation are quicker to open their hearts than the men, who are burdened by resentment, machismo and pride. (7 p.m. March 12, Sabes JCC.)
Can a 1960s Jewish Canadian Freedom Rider become friends with the Klansman who assaulted him during a Mississippi voter registration drive long ago? That’s the riddle of “The Last White Knight,” a documentary about the reconciliation between Paul Saltzman and Byron de la Beckwith Jr. The “odd couple” relationship between these cordial polar opposites seems to represent a mannerly truce rather than a genuine meeting of the minds. (7 p.m. March 6, Sabes JCC.)
“The World Is Funny” is a clever, sharply directed comedy-drama that gradually draws surprising connections between several seemingly unrelated characters. There’s a young cleaning lady with literary ambitions, a middle-aged man who reaches out for companionship through matchmaking services then drives every potential mate away, a travel agent stunned to find herself pregnant, and a radio producer whose cancer-patient lover refuses his urging that they get married. The tragic aspects of each plot strand don’t quash the film’s hip, upbeat attitude. It’s a quirky lesson in smiling through tears. (4 p.m. March 17, at Walker Art Center, followed by the closing reception.)
For the full schedule, movie trailers and tickets, visit sabesjcc.org.